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Genealogy Just Ask Blog Spotlight: Janice Cross-Gilyard

Genealogy! Just Ask! Group Members on Facebook are anxious to share with you how they have been researching during this covid-19 pandemic. They will share the miracles they have experienced with researching during a time that could be really difficult to find anything. You will also see the effects of their research experiences on members of their family.

This Genealogy Just Ask Blog Spotlight was submitted by Janice Cross-Gilyard, President of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society – New Jersey Chapter:

the President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society – New Jersey Chapter
Janice Cross-Gilyard

Sometimes - They Find You!

I am in tears and overwhelmed right now!!!!! I watched Joseph McGill from the Slave Dwelling Project for the first time today!!!! I was moved by the information he was sharing regarding the lives of the enslaved and where they lived. He is an excellent Storyteller! You have to understand that I did NOT plan to click on his live feed but for SOME reason, I honestly felt something within me telling me to watch. He was in Charleston, SC at Magnolia Plantation. Please don’t forget this part. It will be very important in a moment!

About four years ago, while vacationing in South Carolina, I asked my cousin and her husband to take me to Charleston, SC. There was a strong pull in my spirit to go. AND I mean strong to the point I could not explain it. My husband and daughter didn’t want to go. BUT I had to. So off I went with my cousins. We had a wonderful time and I felt a sense of peace and calm as they took me back to the hotel. It literally felt as if someone was saying within my soul, thank you for coming to see us. I was so happy, as I always wanted to

visit Charleston and FINALLY I did!

So here we go. I called my Grandmother to wish her a Happy 97th Birthday (She was born on the 4th of July and she is the ONLY reason I look forward to the 4th of July). I was already disappointed as I could not visit her in South Carolina because of the current covid crisis. Then I was really upset because I could not find the darn photo of my son holding a fish he had caught to include in a photo collage I was preparing to post on Facebook for her. You see, my grandmother was the first person to take my son fishing and everyone refers to her as the fishing lady.

I finally got around to posting the collage and called my Aunt and asked her to kiss my grandmother on the forehead and tell her it was from me. That is our “thing” if I can’t visit. Of course we started talking about family and then she started giving me names she hadn’t mentioned before. I’m the family historian for my maternal and paternal lines. I' m like what the heck!!!! I've been talking to you for 25 years and today you give me NEW names? So we kept talking and I decided to bring up my account to enter them.

WAIT – As I entered the names my Aunt gave me, the tree kept giving me new names that were definite matches. In fact, I had seen them before but because I could not make a definite connection, I ignored them (so WRONG of me).

All of a sudden, I saw a note that someone had written for ONE OF MY ANCESTORS. I was already excited that I was adding two additional generations and then BAM!!!!!

I S L O W L Y read a note that someone had shared, looked up the reference and what do I see? One of my favorite shows was listed!!!! The History Detectives (aired on PBS). What was the focus of the segment? A woman’s grandfather had purchased a lot of Civil War memorabilia (They live in Wichita, Kansas). WHAT was the last item included in the material he purchased? A SLAVE BILL OF SALE! WHERE did they start filming? CHARLESTON, SC! WHO was it for????? WAIT FOR IT…. My 5th GREATGRANDMOTHER!!!!!!!!!

Who was one of the featured researchers asked to assist in the research? JOSEPH MCGILL from the SLAVE DWELLING Project! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? IN 2012! WHERE was JOSEPH MCGILL when they filmed his segment, Slave Cabins in Florence, SC (Francis Marion University – Marion, SC) which I visited over 25 years ago WHEN I FIRST started doing my research!!! WHO else was featured? An Archivist in the same blasted town that my family is from and I’ve met him and talked with him several times about DIFFERENT lines of my family and he helped me so much!!!! Where did my enslaved ancestor live, not far from where we purchased a home in SC several years ago!!!!!

Don’t tell me that we are NOT on a SPIRITUAL QUEST when we do our research. I did not plan to do ANY of this yesterday into the next morning (It is now 3:45 AM AND I feel like I have a rubber band around my head because I should be sleeping but I can’t go to sleep until I finish getting this on paper) !!!!! I am stunned and in shock.

I beg of you to watch the segment!

History Detectives: Bill of Sale

I feel as if I’m typing this for someone else! I honestly can’t believe that this is my story. It doesn’t feel real! I’m a descendant giving life to my ancestor. She was 17 years old, treated as property, left in a will, and sold! I’m here because she survived.

Oh folks are going to hear about her!!!!!! I belong to a lineage society and will submit her information so that she is honored ! Here I come, Dr. Evelyn McDowell of Sons & Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage. Oh wait until they hear about this. I have my work cut out for me. I’m the President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society – New Jersey Chapter.

Oh … can you see the presentation? I can. I might even mask my entire body and drive to South Carolina looking like an alien to protect myself from the virus! I have to get there. I have to go and walk where my enslaved ancestor walked.

I encourage you to following the pulling and tugging at your spirit and to listen to the still small voice that guides you to do certain things. I personally believe it is God and our Ancestors directing us to find them and tell their stories!

One more thing! Please help other people with their research. I do this all the time and I’m convinced that I’m being helped along the way because I help other people as much as I can.

Following is the link to the show that aired. It is at the very beginning. Thank you for reading. From a proud descendant of a STRONG woman who endured, overcame, and refused to die during the struggle!!! Her name was Willoughby and I honor and celebrate her today with my entire being!

There are new questions that I must answer. I pray that the answers will be found and in my lifetime. They are:

  1. Were you born in Charleston, South Carolina, Africa, or the Caribbean?

  2. Who are your parents and where did you last see them?

  3. How and why were you separated from your parents?

  4. Did you cry?

  5. How were you treated by your enslavers? Ugh!

  6. Did you and Essex decide to be a couple or was the relationship/marriage forced?

  7. Were you ever reunited with your parents?

  8. Where is your final resting place?

  9. Other than me, who are your descendants?

All of these questions caused tears to stream down my face. I can’t imagine my children being ripped away from me and not know what their fate would be? Personally, I’ve experience a miscarriage, and the pain is still very real at times. But to have your child taken away and you don’t know anything is unfathomable. You were bought and sold three times. It is hard for me to even type these words.

Willoughby McWhite, you were victorious to me. You survived, you were married, you had children, and you purchased land! Because of you, I am. I hope that when you purchased the land (160 acres), that you felt free, empowered, and strong! I hope you felt safe that you could breathe freely.

When I found about you, I was stunned. Then I wondered why I didn’t find you sooner. Although I wish I had, I realize that I found you when God wanted me to find you, the 4th of July! This is a day that freedom is celebrated in this country. Yeah right! Settlers came to this country for religious freedom, yet they enslaved you and countless others. If one group is free and another is not, there is no real freedom!

Thank you for refusing to die. Many would have died from grief but you didn’t. Many would have died from disappointment, but you didn’t. Many would have died from loneliness, but you didn’t. In the segment for The History Detectives, they stated that you were alone twice! Unbelievable! You were still a child. Did you cry yourself to sleep? I was left with my grandmother whom I loved when my mother moved to New Jersey without me and I cried for three days!

I have so much more that I will share for your essay. It will include as much information as possible regarding what was going on in the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina as you were being transported/taken from Charleston, SC to Marion, SC. Who were your neighbors? Were there other enslaved people near you that might have been family members?

After speaking with my Aunt Ruby and then finding you and a part of your history, I know that I was supposed to find you on the 4th of July! I will celebrate you, tell your story, and make sure that as many people as possible know who Willoughby McWhite was. Thank you for finding me! Thank you for the tugging at my heart to go to Charleston, to visit the slave cabins, to meet Maxey Foxworth, the chat with Joseph McGill via Facebook. Oh yes, I can see clearly now that it was meant to be. Thank you Queen Willoughby! You are forever etched in my heart and soul! For your DNA exist in me!

Updates: We have a copy of the Slave Bill of Sale, the will listing Willoughby, her husband and other family members. We also found out that one of the researchers in the segment is related to Willoughby and she found out as she was working on the research for the PBS segment.

I’ve also been able to share Willoughby’s journey in three interviews: Academy of Legacy Leaders, BlogTalkRadio with Bernice Bennett, and Arizona State University/The Year of The Plague Online Journal.

9-23-20 On Sunday, my cousin, Teressa K., sent me a link to a newspaper article from 2013. The Daughters of the American Revolution (Marion, SC) honored several area women and historical figures. One of the historical figures was Willoughby! I immediately called the Museum where the event was held and asked if they had any information. Guess what? They did – a brochure! The Museum’s director texted a copy of the cover and the page that included a paragraph about Willoughby!


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