Henry Louis Gates on How Far Back One Can Trace Their Black Family


Dear Professor Gates:

I have a lot of questions regarding my family’s history. With my grandfather’s recent passing, I was compelled to finally write in. My maternal grandparents, Woodrow Kimble Jr. and Martha Belle Kimble, were born and raised in Shreveport, La. My grandfather was born on Dec. 30, 1943, and died on Nov. 7 of this year.

I know that my grandfather’s father was Woodrow Kimble Sr., son of Kingston and Georgiana Kimble from Campti, La. I believe that Woodrow Kimble Sr. served in the military during World War II. My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Logan, and her parents were Allen Logan and Katie Bush. I believe they were from either Campti, La., or Alexandria, La.

Can you help me find out more about Woodrow Kimble Sr.’s family line, including his parents and perhaps theirs, too? —Brandon M. Greenhouse

First of all, please accept our condolences for the recent loss of your grandfather. During our research, we came across a Feb. 19, 1984, article in the Shreveport Times that revealed him to be a Baptist pastor who was very committed to his local community even when it faced hard times (as were two brothers who had answered the same calling). We also came across the obituary for Pastor Woodrow Kimble Jr. on the website for the newspaper, which confirms his birthdate of Dec. 30, 1943.

Tracing Backward From Your Great-Grandparents
When we began searching for records of Woodrow Kimble Sr., we located the marriage record for Woodrow Kimble and Martha Belle Logan on March 24, 1941, in Howard County, Ark. This record does not include their parents’ names, but it does provide their ages. According to it, Woodrow Kimble Sr. was born about 1920 and Martha Belle Logan was born about 1917.

You noted that you believe Woodrow Kimble served in World War II. A draft registration card for Woodrow Kimble at Colfax, Grant Parish, La., states that he was born May 22, 1919. We believe this is your ancestor, but we would like to alert you to a close match that may come up in additional research that you may do on your own.

While searching the 1940 census (the most recent year that is publicly accessible), we found a Woodrow Kimble born about 1919 in Mississippi who was married to a Gerthelee Kimble and residing in Heth, St. Francis, Ark. This did not seem to be a good match for what we know about your ancestor, though the age was close. This Woodrow Kimble registered for the draft at Heth, St. Francis, Ark., the same location of his marriage, and the record says he was born on May 18, 1919. These records confirm that there were two men named Woodrow Kimble born within days of each other, so you’ll want to be mindful of this when searching for more records.

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