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Gathering with family in Blackville, South Carolina, for Easter is a cherished tradition for me. Easter dinner holds a special place in our hearts, alongside other family occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Food always takes center stage at these gatherings, bringing everyone together. Sadly, I did not make the trip this year, but I thought about what those dinners would have been like 30, 40, 50 years ago.

I often think about the various branches of my family tree. Some branches don't get together often, while others have regular reunions and celebrations. But no matter the frequency, the joy of being with family, sharing delicious food, and enjoying each other's company is unmatched.

Recently, I found myself wondering: What if I could host the ultimate family dinner and invite all my great-grandparents? Picture it: eight wise and wonderful individuals, all sitting around the table sharing stories and memories. The main topic of conversation? Our family history, of course. I'd tell them about the research I've been doing, emphasizing its importance in preserving our heritage.

The following is a small portion of my family tree, showing my grandparents and great-grandparents.

I was fortunate enough to know all of my grandparents, two of my maternal great-grandmothers, Louise May-Walker and Myrtis Byas-Kinard, as well as one great-grandfather, Clarence "Buck" Walker. While Grandma Louise would occasionally share family stories, Grandma Myrtis and Granddaddy Buck kept their stories closer to their chests. Still, I managed to gather some information from their siblings at the start of my research journey. Memories of them, often centered around food, bring a smile to my face. But meeting my paternal great-grandmothers, Cora Williams-Woodard and Dosher Smalls-Hicks, would be a fascinating experience. I've only heard positive and loving things about them and their loving nature, especially towards their grandchildren.

Sitting down with my great-grandfathers would be equally intriguing. However, one of my great-grandfathers, Hayne Sanders, is a bit of a mystery. He's the one no one seems to know much about. He might be the only one to decline my dinner invitation, having abandoned four of his children, including my maternal grandfather, Richmond Byas. Despite the lack of connection with his side of the family, I'm making progress in piecing together our history.

I can imagine the men, my great-grandfathers, sharing stories of their lives—stories of farming, labor, perhaps sitting on the porch smoking pipes or cigars, chewing tobacco. I'd be eager to learn about their upbringing, their struggles, and the joys they experienced. And I'd ask about those elusive relatives who seem to have disappeared from records, hoping to uncover more about our family's past.

In turn, I'd update them on their legacy—sharing stories of their children, grandchildren, and even their great-great-grandchildren. I'd highlight our achievements, from military service to professional success, ensuring they know their sacrifices were not in vain. Despite the challenges they faced—the aftermath of emancipation, the hardships of the Great Depression, and the brutality of segregation—they paved the way for us. Their resilience lives on in each of us.

And then there's the food—a centerpiece of any Southern gathering. I can imagine a spread fit for royalty, with succulent ham, crispy fried chicken, and all the fixings: collard greens, candied yams, macaroni and cheese. And let's not forget the cornbread, washed down with pitchers of lemonade and sweet tea. I can almost hear my grandmothers debating over whose pie reigns supreme, while my Grandma Myrtis whips up her legendary pound cake and my Grandma Louise showcases her apple jelly cake. Truly, this would be my ultimate Sunday dinner.

This "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" event would be brimming with curiosity, excitement, and above all, love. It's a celebration of family, history, and the enduring legacy of our Southern roots. So, who would you invite to your dinner table?

#herstory 👩‍🎓

#mystory 📖

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Ever since I was a child, I have loved books. Throughout my school career, trips to the library were my favorite part of the day or week. As an adult and a seeker of knowledge and information, 2 or 3 hours in a bookstore is as good as being on a tropical island, however, in a room filled with books, you can let your imagination travel almost anywhere! For genealogists, libraries hold rare pieces of family history that are most likely, not available in online databases.

In a world fueled by technology and fast-paced living, the significance of libraries often gets overshadowed. However, on National Library Week, we take a moment to recognize and celebrate these invaluable institutions that serve as pillars of knowledge, learning, and community engagement. Established to honor the essential role libraries play in our society, National Library Week is a testament to the enduring importance of these spaces.

National Library Week, is being observed this year, April 7 - 13. It was established to raise awareness about the importance of libraries and to celebrate their contributions to education, culture, and democracy. The date coincides with the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who famously said, "I cannot live without books." This day serves as a reminder of the transformative power of literature and the enduring legacy of libraries in fostering a literate and informed society.

As we celebrate National Library Week, it's fitting to shine a spotlight on two of my favorite and most iconic libraries in the United States: the Library of Congress and the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City.


The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C., is the largest in the world by shelf space and number of volumes. Established in 1800, it serves as the research library of the United States Congress and is open to the public. Boasting a collection of over 170 million items, including books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and recordings, the Library of Congress is a treasure trove of human knowledge and creativity.

During my six years working at the Library of Congress, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand its commitment to preserving and disseminating information. From rare manuscripts penned by historical figures to cutting-edge research publications, the library's collections span diverse subjects and cater to a wide range of interests.

The Library of Congress, located in Washington, DC, is the largest in the world.

The Library of Congress is not only a repository of knowledge but also a hub for cultural enrichment and academic exploration. Its iconic Thomas Jefferson Building, with its grand architecture and ornate interiors, serves as a testament to the importance of intellectual pursuits in shaping our society.

As a genealogist, I rely on two amazing online resources at the LoC, Chronicling America and Genealogy Reading Room.

Chronicling America is a digital repository of historically significant American newspapers, maintained by the Library of Congress. Launched in 2007, it provides free access to over 17 million pages of newspapers published between 1789 and 1963, representing a diverse range of regions and perspectives across the United States. This vast collection allows users to explore American history through the lens of local news, gaining insights into various events, trends, and cultural shifts throughout the nation's history. Chronicling America also offers advanced search capabilities, making it a valuable resource for researchers, historians, educators, and the general public interested in delving into the rich tapestry of American journalism.

The Main Reading at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building.

The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room at the Library of Congress provides a wealth of online resources for individuals interested in exploring their family history and genealogy. These resources include access to digitized historical documents such as census records, military service records, immigration records, and vital records like birth, marriage, and death certificates. Additionally, the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room offers access to online databases, genealogical guides, reference materials, and tutorials to assist researchers in their quest to trace their ancestry. The online resources cater to a wide range of skill levels, from beginners to experienced genealogists, and serve as a valuable tool for anyone seeking to uncover their family's past.


The FamilySearch Library

On the other side of the country, nestled in the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah, the FamilySearch Library stands as a beacon for genealogists and history enthusiasts alike. This haven for those tracing their family roots is a testament to the power of preserving heritage and connecting generations. With its extensive resources and deep ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), it serves as a hub for genealogical research worldwide.

Each year, thousands of visitors pilgrimage to the FamilySearch Library, drawn by its wealth of records, knowledgeable staff, and state-of-the-art facilities. Boasting over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, 727,000 microfiche, and hundreds of thousands of books and other resources, it offers an unparalleled treasure trove for anyone delving into their family history. Whether you're a novice researcher or a seasoned genealogist, the library provides invaluable assistance and support, making the journey of discovery both enriching and fulfilling.

The FamilySearch Library's connection to the LDS Church is deeply ingrained in its history and mission. Founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah by dedicated Latter-day Saint leaders, its primary purpose was to help individuals discover their family histories and perform sacred temple ordinances for their ancestors. Over the years, it has evolved into a global initiative, transcending religious boundaries to assist people of all faiths in uncovering their heritage.

The FamilySearch Library, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the world's premier genealogical research facilities. It is operated by FamilySearch, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

One of the most notable aspects of the library's association with the LDS Church is its expansive collection of records, meticulously gathered from around the world. Through initiatives like the Family History Library Affiliate Program, which partners with local organizations to make genealogical resources more accessible, the library extends its reach far beyond its physical location.

Furthermore, the library's commitment to innovation is evident in its embrace of technology. With digitization efforts underway for millions of records, researchers can now access vast repositories of information from the comfort of their homes, fostering collaboration and exploration on a global scale.

Having worked at the Library of Congress and serving as a volunteer genealogy at a local LDS Church Family History Library, I gained a profound appreciation for the diverse ways in which libraries enrich our lives. Whether through preserving rare manuscripts or facilitating genealogical research, these institutions serve as guardians of our collective memory and champions of intellectual freedom.

As we celebrate National Library Week, let us not only acknowledge the importance of libraries but also reaffirm our commitment to supporting and nurturing these invaluable institutions. Whether you are a voracious reader, a curious researcher, or a community member seeking connection, libraries offer something for everyone.

National Library Week is a time to honor the enduring legacy of libraries and the vital role they play in our society. From the grand halls of the Library of Congress to the intimate spaces of the FamilySearch Library, these institutions embody the spirit of knowledge, discovery, and community. So, let's raise our voices in appreciation of libraries and librarians everywhere and ensure that they continue to thrive for generations to come.

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April is here, and along with it comes the strange Washington, DC weather (hot and cold), vibrant colors of spring, blooming Cherry Blossoms, and a special focus on understanding and celebrating neurodiversity during Autism Awareness Month. During this time of the year, I like to advocate, highlight, and bring awareness to the unique talents, perspectives, and challenges of individuals on the autism spectrum while promoting a culture of acceptance and support. And what better way to explore this topic than by delving into the crucial role that family support and acceptance play in the lives of those with autism?

My son, Eric was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. At this age, my happy, healthy, and energetic 1-year-old was doing all of the things toddlers like to do. Ran, everywhere! He walked at 9 months old. Played with his cousins and ate everything from everyone’s plate; because he was too busy to sit down and eat his own food. He was always yelling, “See!” whenever he saw something interesting for the first time. He was an average toddler, with an adequate vocabulary and did well in communicating his wants and needs. I saw nothing wrong with his development. He was lovable and independent and then at 18 months, I began to notice a change.

Eric was speaking less. His vocabulary wasn’t increasing. He cried more and began throwing temper tantrums over the slightest little thing. If he couldn’t open something or if he were unable to get a toy to work, he’d just start crying. When he couldn’t get his way, he would bang his head on the walls or the floor. Instead of running everywhere, he went back to crawling. Initially, I thought it was strange and by his 2nd birthday, he was barely talking, barely eating, and just seemed to be whiny, fussing, and unable to tell us what was wrong. And it was like he wasn’t developing at all. What does any of this have to do with genealogy? Genealogy is about family, and family has been my greatest gift, my best resource, and a source of support on our autism journey.

Imagine a puzzle, each piece representing a different aspect of the autism spectrum. Within this complex pattern, families serve as the stabilizing force, providing love, understanding, and a safe haven for their loved ones with autism. Like the diverse colors in the picture, the puzzle pieces create each family's journey with autism is unique and filled with its joys and challenges.

For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of family support has been the ability to create a nurturing environment where Eric has been able to thrive. I am blessed that my immediate family, extended family, friends, and co-workers have always offered words of encouragement, especially in the very beginning, when I sometimes felt completely lost. From the earliest stages of diagnosis, all families embark on a journey of learning and adaptation. Trying to find the best ways to support Eric was a struggle, especially as a single parent.

But beyond those challenging aspects, there's something truly magical about the bond between families and individuals with autism. It's created with empathy and unconditional love, patience, and acceptance. In a world that often misunderstands or marginalizes those who are differently abled, family becomes a refuge—a safe place where quirks are celebrated, and differences are embraced. Eric gets love and support from so many family members. Many have supported his love of art from a very young age. Coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, paint sets, etc., have probably been the greatest gift he could receive. He is an avid lover of LEGO. Big sets, small sets, and personal designs can hold his attention for days!! Our family has attended art shows, purchased some of his work, and continues to send art supplies because he can NEVER have enough. They help us celebrate his gifts.

Another heartwarming example of family support in the autism community is the concept of "autism acceptance." Instead of viewing autism as a set of deficits that need to be corrected, acceptance encourages seeing it as a natural variation of human diversity. I share our story with everyone and anyone who asks. I have other family members who are on the autism spectrum. I try to offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and even a strong drink if necessary. Nobody understands what we deal with on a day-to-day basis, so I highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not for the sake of gaining sympathy, but so that if they meet others who have family members on the spectrum, they can share their stories and be a light to someone who feels like they are on this journey alone. Families champion the concept of autism awareness and acceptance by celebrating their loved one's unique strengths and talents, whether it's a passion for music, an exceptional memory, or a keen eye for detail. Eric possesses all of these characteristics, and it has allowed him to connect with various family members who enjoy talking about these things with him. He never feels excluded at family events because our family understands and knows how to engage him. And yes, he knows a lot about our family history!

Through their unwavering support, my family also serves as advocates, raising awareness and promoting inclusion within their communities. They share our story with people that they meet. Several of them are teachers and have students on the autism spectrum. From organizing awareness events to educating others about autism, families play a vital role in creating a more accepting and understanding society. I celebrate Eric’s milestones, proud and out loud, every small victory—from securing a seat in a program or registering for college courses, and our family reaffirms their commitment to ensuring that Eric knows he is loved and makes his family proud. It has helped to build his confidence.

Of course, it's essential to recognize that supporting a family member with autism isn't always easy. Every journey has bumps along the road. But it's precisely during these challenging times that the strength of family bonds shines the brightest. Whether it's rallying together in the face of adversity or simply sharing a laugh to lighten the mood, my family demonstrates incredible resilience and love in the face of challenges.

Whether it's finding the right therapies, advocating for inclusive education, or simply offering a listening ear, my “kinfolks” have played an essential role in facilitating Eric’s growth and development. Again, I am blessed to have the support I needed to help Eric achieve some successes and significant milestones.

Early intervention was key to Eric’s current well-being. Eric graduated from high school at age 21 in 2014. The 3 extra years allowed him to meet the requirements to obtain a Maryland State High School Diploma. He also completed Montgomery College’s Graduate Transition Program and the Arc of Prince George’s County’s Office Support Program. At age 30 He is self-sufficient and independent to a certain degree. Eric has held a few jobs over the years. He travels via Metro Access by himself to the Art Enables program in Washington, DC where he has been a resident artist since 2020.

Also, the lessons I’ve learned from supporting my son and his friends with autism extend far beyond the confines of the family unit. They have taught me about empathy, patience (which I’m still working with), and the beauty of embracing diversity. In a world that often values conformity, the autism community reminds us of the richness that comes from embracing our differences.

As we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, take a moment to honor the families who play such a vital role in the lives of individuals with autism. Their love, support, and acceptance are not only a source of strength for their loved ones but also a beacon of hope for a more inclusive and compassionate society.

So, here's to my family who have rocked the color on World Autism Awareness on social media with us, participated in the 3K or the 5K runs to raise money for various autism organizations or simply called to say, “Hey, I just called to check on you and Eric.” We thank you and appreciate you being a part of our world and doing it with love and understanding!

We love you all!

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