Three (Genealogy) Cheers for High School Yearbooks!

Women’s History Month Honoree: “Beautiful People” Mentor Mary Dean Harvey Evans

Omaha (Nebr.) Central High School Yearbook 1973

This photo collage from my high school days in Omaha, Nebraska, is a precious find, a true jewel. The photos showcases the members of Wantu Wazuri, an organization of Omaha Central High School Black students. It was formed and mentored by our ancestor, noted educator and children’s advocate Mary Dean Harvey (later Evans).

It was Mrs. Harvey — as we referred to her then — who listened to the small number of Black students attending Central HS. We wished to be “heard” and “seen” in a more significant way while matriculating among a larger number of peers comprised of European, Jewish and Caucasian ancestry.

Mrs. Harvey saw it fit to include Wantu Wazuri in her busy teaching day that began with our meetings in her homeroom at 7:30 a.m. Looking back, it must have been quite a power move for Mrs. Harvey to gain the school administration’s permission to allow an all-Black club to form. Central HS was and remains one of the nation’s top college prep high schools with an outstanding listing of alumni. Omaha CHS alumni include famed actors (Inga Swenson, Henry Fonda, Dorothy McGuire), celebrated musicians and philanthropists (Wyonnie Harris; Peter, Susie Jr. and Susie Buffett), stellar athletes (Gayle Sayers, Ahman Green), politicians, human rights advocates and authors (Brenda Council, Dr. Rodney Wead), my grandmother (Helen Wilks Owen Douthy), other relatives and my parents (Dr. Rodney, Angeline Wead).

Mrs. Harvey chose the name of Wantu Wazuri because of its Swahilli word for “beautiful people” and linkage to a larger organization. We routinely celebrated with song, recitations, and group sharing of triumphs and struggles. It was quite a time in Mrs. Harvey’s room that established our success strategies in academics and community outreach.

Beyond High School History lessons

What I re-learned as I researched the genesis of the Central HS name of Wantu Wazuri is that our gathering was a quasi-branch of the 1970-organized college student group by the same name at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. I am not sure if Mrs. Harvey formally connected with the UNC organization. However, I am sure the Louisiana-born educator was intentional in ensuring her Central HS students focused on positive academic and social objectives in a mirrored way as the original Wantu Wazuri organization. UNC’s Wantu Wazuri was later renamed the Black Student Union. According to its Facebook page, the UNC Black Student Union “… we’ve been observing and improving the general welfare of Black students at @uncwilmington.”


The Central HS Wantu Wazuri club clearly modeled the college organization. The CHS photograph features one of our Wantu Wazuri community service projects, a Christmas food drive. My sister, Denise “Candy” Wead Rawles and brother, Owen “Gene” Wead, and I were members of the Wantu Wazuri group. My best friends, Debbie Marshall and Leilani Garret, were also members. We were joined by other cool friends such as Drusilla Dillon and John Pennington (see above photo). I recall our Black History Month programs, wearing our African-themed clothing and singing our theme song. These memories bring forth the importance of the extended village serving as a central circle of love during those great years at Central before my family moved to Chicago, IL at the beginning of my junior year.

My sister, upon seeing the photograph that I retrieved from www.ancestry.com, told me that “it made her day.” I told her the same was true of me for findilng this gem.


The Take Away for Genealogy Researchers

  • Start your research with a hunch to locate an ancestor.
  • Mrs. Harvey was the primary ancestor I was seeking.
  • Go to the source of your interaction with the ancestor. I chose my Omaha High School and the year of my oldest sister’s graduation year to locate Mrs. Harvey.
  • The initial hunch paid off: I gained a photo collage that led to other revelations.
  • My find is resulting in at least three other ancestral stories involving Mrs. Harvey who was not a “blood” relative, yet was my favorite mentor and influencer from my high school days.
  • Let the research lead you: Mrs. Harvey’s obituary and newspaper tributes also opened additional information about her that I temporarily forgot. It unlocked other brick walls about family ancestors.
  • Celebrate your great find(s).
  • Publish your findings — no matter how limited.

Honoring the “Champion for Children” Mary Dean Harvey Evans

History lives through the legacy of Mary Dean Harvey Evans. She not only served the Omaha Central HS students for seven years and worked in the Omaha Public School System for nearly 20 years, Mrs. Harvey was a highly regarding state leader for two governors in Nebraska and Georgia.

Mrs. Harvey continues to teach me valuable lessons. She emphasized education, contextual thinking and sharing our stories. Her leadership has added great value to my genealogy research.

Thank you, Mrs. Harvey, for providing me with this jewel of a find through the hunch that she often told us to follow. She insisted that our internal controls — our hunches — would never let us down. Mrs. Harvey, again was right.

Let the spirit of Mrs. Harvey be your guide in genealogy research.

Great resources to gather your family history

To gain more information along the family I use our family Bibles, lots of conversations filled with questions, journals and books as seen below.

… and the February 2023 Sankofa workshop book

This workbook accompanies the two-part workshop
  1. Go to GoodGenesGenealogyServices.com
  2. Next, select the Genealogy Store.
  3. Select e-book.
  4. The customer information will populate for payment of the $5 workbook especially designed for Hillside International Truth Center February 2023 workshop participants.

Meet us Saturday, Feb. 11th for the 3rd Annual Sankofa Month Genealogy Workshop

Get your workbook! On sale now

February 2023 workbook for genealogy workshop

As half of the Good Genes Genealogy Services Team, I am honored to  facilitate offer our third annual Black Genealogy workshops, 10 – 11 a.m., Saturdays, Feb. 11 and 18, 2023, in partnership with Hillside International Truth Center, Atlanta, GA.

It’s free! Sign in for the virtual setting via Zoom.

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/86148300328?pwd=R2djSXUrNXI1SFF1TTM1NlJ3S2lZdz09

Meeting ID: 861 4830 0328
Passcode: 02112023
Dial: 929 205 6099 US

Hillside’s leadership generously is offering our workshops for free. My maternal first cousin , Mark S. Owen, and I are genealogists and facilitators for our genealogy workshops. The workshops are open to our worldwide audience.

We specialize in “breaking down brick walls” to find the “hard-to-find” Black ancestors whose histories are usually intertwined with others from contrasting backgounds, such as former slave owners. We have several success stories in helping genealogy workshop participants and other clients to locate their “lost” loved ones. Hillside’s Presiding Bishop Jack L. Bomar, is among those who learned a “great blessing” of family history through the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ research about his family.

Sankofa Genealogy workshop attendees are asked to purchase the companion workbook. Go to our website and select “Genealogy Store.” You will be able to download your copy after selecting the book cover image (see below) to pay for your book. All proceeds offset our free and low-cost, year-round genealogy consulting services.

Mark and I are also the co-authors and Veverly Byrd-Davis is the book designer and illustrator of the cover.

As a preview to the first workshop, we will explore the “natural” and online ways to find your ancestors whose heritage is from the African diaspora. Participants will also learn helpful tips and receive encouragement from the valued benefit of locating and celebrating our individual and collective Black family ancestries.

Coming Soon!

Good Genes Genealogy Services is offering its 3rd Annual Black Genealogy Workshops

We’re offering our next installment of workshops centered on researching and locating Black family ancestry results.

When: Saturdays, Feb. 11 and 18, 2023, 10 – 11 a.m.

Who: Good Genes Genealogy Services in partnership with Hillside Interational Truth Center

What: You will need to purchase the e-workbook, available online, beginning Feb. 7, 2023.

Where: Via Zoom

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/86148300328?pwd=R2djSXUrNXI1SFF1TTM1NlJ3S2lZdz09

Meeting ID: 861 4830 0328

Passcode: 02112023

Dial: 929 205 6099 US 

Treat yourself to a sweet deal for Black History Month: Our E-book

We published our January 2023 e-book in honor of our grandmothers.

It is a genealogy treat. Go to our bookstore, Lulu Publishing and enjoy! You can also check it out on the major book sites — Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. — beginning Feb. 1, 2023.

Thank you for your support.

Keep digging to find “lost” ancestors in cemeteries, burial records

Pay attention.

Olivia J. Garland did just that and pushed memories from her childhood to discover a forgotten cemetery where her great-grandmother, America Virginia Fields, was buried in Henrico County, Virginia.

Garland remembered the rural path to funerals that she traveled as a girl. Garland’s remembrance of those county roads in Virginia and her interest in locating her great-grandmother’s grave, led to the uncovering of a “buried” cemetery. The great-granddaughter of Fields, also utilized land records, historical and cemetery records, volunteers and her determination to find the final resting place of her precious relative and nearly 20 other persons.

The campaign to locate others buried at the site continue.

Her story is encouraging to those who believe they’ve reached brick walls in Black family research that cannot allow for great outcomes. America Virginia Fields

Pay attention to the conversations, remembrances of childhood experiences, Bibles, diaries and other family materials.

How the passing of ancestors brings us life

Paying tribute to loved ones and building family histories

Camden, Tenn. – About 340 miles northwest of Atlanta, lies a small community with a big heart that was originally named “Tranquility.”  The community counted as one of its more than 3,000 residents a special lady, Delia Mae Tharpe, mother of Dr. Jack L. Bomar, Executive Bishop/Senior Pastor of Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center.

Ms. Delia, as many called her, was funeralized on the third Saturday of January admist a mountainous cool afternoon. It would have been an ordinary “homegoing” service, except Ms. Delia was anything but  ordinary. Her extraordinary life on earth for 81 years is one for the history books.  I barely knew Ms. Delia, meeting her perhaps once. Yet, nearly 55 persons, including my mother, Angeline Wead and me, traveled five hours each way to share with hundreds of others to celebrate the life of this lady.

What caused us to travel early on Saturday morning and return late that evening, is what I will share later in this blog.

Delia Mae Tharpe, September 28, 1941 – January 14, 2023


Just one day earlier, was the funeral for my maternal cousin, M. Madeline Wilks Matthews, who I’ve known all of my life. Her service took place in St. Louis, Missouri. My mother was the eldest cousin to Madeline. I was asked to write her obituary, which was delivered to her church secretary with all the love and care that I could deliver. Madeline was a bright light who was on this earth 93 years.

Margaret Madeline Wilks Matthews, Aug. 30, 1929 – January 7, 2023


The lives of Madeline and Ms. Delia were different and yet there were a few similarities. Both ladies lived full lives, sang in their church choirs, held many positions in church leadership, and each worked more than four decades in their respective fields. Madeline did not have children; while Ms. Delia bore nine children and had many grandchildren. Madeline was active in politics and in her retirement years, she gained additional education and served as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional in special education.

In short, I am proud of Madeline’s accomplishments that began in her college prep Omaha Central High School years where she excelled in academics, music, other creative endeavors, and as student government leader. As a young high school graduate, she was denied employment in her hometown because she was Black. That’s why she ventured south of Nebraska to Missouri where she lived the next nearly 80 years and endured the sadly typical ups and downs of trailblazing, independent thinking and working women.

Madeline in high school

Ms. Delia’s life couldn’t have been easy by usual, societal measures. She was a “dedicated and hard worker for more than forty-three years at Henry I. Siegel, ‘the H.I.S. factory’ in Bruceton, TN as a press operator,” according to her obituary.  She bore nine children and raised them in humble conditions with such love, leadership and purpose as shared with laughter, sympathy tears and memorable message.

Her life was inspiring as experienced by hundreds in the near standing room-only chapel where the roomful of upright flower displays served as fragrant reminders of the depth of her influence in this hamlet of about 3,000 residents within 5.7 square miles of the Tennessee hills.

So impactful was Ms. Delia’s life that a young lady who was seated behind me said that she attended the service even though she lived in the area, yet did not know Ms. Delia “that well.” Eula Eikerenkoetter, widow of the late, popular minister, “Rev. Ike,” was there. So were several messages of condolences in the form of proclamations and recognitions that included many Atlanta City Councilmembers.

A guide for genealogy researchers

Family genealogists can learn many lessons from our new ancestors while honoring their time on this earth and their vibrant spirits. The obituaries, the services are the beginning of sharing the legacies of the families. Usually, many blanks are filled in that often break through the typical brick walls found in Black ancestry pursuits.

Tips:

  1. Ensure the obituaries are well-researched and well written. Many eyes are on the obituaries. Besides family and friends, other entities utilize the information for legal, government, insurance, retirement, military (if applicable), social and community purposes.
  2. The best way to achieve the best written obituaries is through preparation that is based on accurate written and oral information.
  3. When written and oral background is provided for the deceased loved one, engage at least one friend or family member to edit and fact-check. This is not the time to worry about whether anyone has hurt feelings about fact-checking another’s input. This is about getting things right for the legacy of the individual and accuracy for larger purposes.
  4. The way the services are rendered are usually the best examples  of how persons lived. Take notes.
  5. During the service, the songs that are sung, the scriptures that are read and the officiants are all indications of the best parts of the deceased lives.
  6. Meet the persons who spoke at the services. At minimal, offer condolences to them as well as the family members. As a maximum benefit for the family researcher, politely seek more information from the individuals either after the service or another time.
  7. The burial or final resting places provide additional insight into family histories. My cousin, Mark S. Owen, partner in Good Genes Genealogy Services, often teases me that I am fixed on cemeteries and death certificates. It is for good reason. There are details such as health information and other bits of information that can benefit the living from the official documents. At cemeteries, I walk the grounds, especially if the recent ancestors are placed in family plots. There are often other clues about our extended families and friends based on surnames and first names found on the cemetery markers.
  8. After receiving new and/or best information, please record and update family records. Family members deserve vibrant and verified information. Studies show the positive mental and spiritual health benefits from individuals learning more about loved ones.
  9. Step back a few times during this process and reflect on how you feel during the process. Often Mark and I take time to release and “breathe” to ensure that our emotional health is intact. Researching, updating and engaging in this process is sometimes taxing for individuals.
  10. Celebrate the lives of our ancestors. They deserve our respect, understanding and accurate depictions of their lives.  

Genealogy Column featured in Omaha hometown newspaper

A funny thing happened on the way to 2023. T. Sanders,publisher of my hometown Black-owned and operated newspaper, The Omaha Star, contacted me and asked if she could share my blog and post.

“Of course!” was my response.

With that, Sanders, publisher of weekly newspaper made a separate request for the “original” digital photograph of the Good Genes Genealogy Services team’s Maternal Great-Grandmother Edna and her daughter, our Grandmother Helen.

I also included a photograph of my family — sans my Dad who was usually in our family pictures. My mother, Angeline Wead, left; me (Ann); brother Gene; sister Denise “Candy”; Great Grandmother Edna and in the front row, sister Melissa.

Based on the background curtains, it appears we took this photograph at our grandmother’s residence, Evans Towers senior citizens building in north Omaha. It was probably taken in 1970 as I was about that height — 5’11” — when I was 12 years old.

The upshot? I encourage everyone to write and record something about your family. It just might end up in your hometown newspaper.

We have a great lineage of long lives. Grandma Robinson, center, celebrating.

1. Time to get in check (list) with our multi-generational chart updates

It’s 2023. Just in time for New Year’s resolutions to enhance our families’ five-generational check as supplied — for free — by the U.S. National Archives.

This is step one (1) of a multi-phase prep for the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ 2023 workshops and webinars. Stay tuned!

My big brother, Gene, and young sister, Missy, in our yard in Omaha, Nebraska sometime in 1967 or 1958.


Our Wilkes family gathering sometime in the 1920s.