WINNSBORO — Frustration with historical research for her own family led amateur history buff Kadena Woodard on a journey. That journey now can help fill in the blanks for other residents of Fairfield County who are looking into their family history.
In the early 2000s Woodard was looking for information on the family of Henry Yongue, from whom she is descended, but she could not find a record of her grandfather’s grave.
“So, I made the decision to walk every cemetery in the county looking for his grave,” she said.
Woodard found the grave of an uncle from that era but not of her grandfather. Along the way, however, she found a calling. Thus far she has walked through 182 cemeteries in Fairfield County and has recorded the names and dates from the tombstones there into a 15-volume collection, a collection she is currently updating.
Woodard did the collection as a hobby and the volumes were printed and bound in plastic, not published by a major publishing company. She started them in 2006 and completed them by 2009. In addition to a record of burial places, Woodard has added obituary records whenever possible. Thanks to the help of Glover’s Memorial Chapel, McCutcheon’s Funeral Home, Gibson’s Funeral Home Palmetto Funeral Home, she has a collection of funeral bulletins that she calls obituaries, rather than newspaper clippings.
Sharing ties that bind
Woodard will be available by appointment at the museum with her laptop to use www.ancestry.com to help people look up their ancestors. Call her at 803-718-1298 to check on hours of availability during the Museum’s visiting hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In addition, Virginia Shafer and other Museum volunteers have been putting together some reprinted volumes of former slave interviews that were collected in the 1930s. These documents are full of historical details and genealogical information from 19th century communities and residents, both black and white. The testimonials were related by individuals still living in Fairfield County in 1936-37 who had been born nearly a century before in slavery times. For more information call the Fairfield County Museum at 635-9811.
The research event, sponsored by the Fairfield County Museum and the Fairfield Genealogical Society, seeks to get people of all races and backgrounds interested in tracking their ancestry. Though this outreach project launched during Black History Month, Fairfield County Museum Director Pelham Lyles and Woodard want to make sure resident realize this genealogical research takes place throughout the year and that it reaches, as their example shows, across racial differences and can in turn bring people closer together as they share a history and culture. Woodard’s goal is for all of the American history — black white and Native American — to become one historical narrative.
Though Woodard is interested in history in general, her primary focus is on documenting the people buried in Fairfield County. The oldest obituary she has collected is from 1959. When she enters a cemetery for her research, she begins in one corner and works quadrant by quadrant until she covers the entire area.
The largest cemetery she has worked up is that of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Blair. Other cemeteries of note include White Hall A.M.E. in Jenkinsville, Mt.Pisgah in Ridgeway, and Bethlehem A.M.E. in Winnsboro.
Lyles said that Woodard’s work brought the African American Historical Records up to par with what the Work Progress Administration did in the 1930s and the Daughters of the American Revolution did in the 1980s for white cemeteries.
One nation, one history, one narrative
According to Lyles, the genealogical material is useful for both black and white and Native American research. In her case, Lyles who is white, found out she was a cousin of Woodard and also of Sheriff Herman Young, who are African American. DNA testing confirmed that the late Bill Lyles was a match connecting Woodard and Pelham Lyles. Bill Lyles, a great-great-uncle of Pelham Lyles, fathered two children by Kadena’s slave ancestor prior to the Civil War. That shared lineage might have been kept quiet years ago during the days of segregation.
Lyles and Woodard recently have worked with their cousin Susan McLane who was researching slave narratives. Woodard keyed into a computer about the cemetery and the date of birth and death on the grave maker. In the books, names with an asterisk beside them are graves she could find an obituary about.
Each time the Yongues lose a family member, they send the bulletin to Woodard to add to her collection, which is stored in her home. People from as far away as Massachusetts have come by to do research in her personal library. The Richland County Library purchased an entire set of her work as did the library at USC. Parts of the collection can be found in the Newberry County and Chester County libraries. The Fairfield County Library also purchased all 15 volumes from her.
Continuing a historical tradition
In addition to Woodard’s extensive work, other materials will be available on the first floor of the museum in February to make ease access. Interviews by journalist W.W. Dickinson are compiled in several books. Those interviews were done in 1936 and 1937 and are slave narratives from people who were slaves in Fairfield County. Lyles said dialect can make the journals a bit tedious to read in spots, but she is thankful that this chapter of local history has been preserved. Now the goal is to make sure that this generation and future generations make contact with their heritage.
Woodard is thankful to Omega Thomas and to Mary Lee Hendrix for their research help and for their getting her copies of obituaries. Her father also accompanied her to some of the more remote cemeteries that were harder to access. Though she is an avid cemetery hunter, Woodard said her two sons show little interest in the hobby. She has high hopes for the Rev. Teresa Hill, her cousin from Athens, Ga., to carry on this tradition as she has a passion for Fairfield County and history. Also Penny Russell Smith said she will carry on the tradition should Woodard become unable to keep up with the documentation.
Woodard also collects historical information on people who were born in Fairfield County but she mostly focuses on the people who were buried within the county. At Purity Baptist Church off S.C. 215 in Blair, the oldest African American grave she found to date was of Sally Tobias, age 96. Tobias was born in 1744 and died July 22, 1840.
This month she, Lyles and students from Gordon Odyssey Academy will go on a field trip to a cemetery at Camp Welfare in the Great Falls area of the county where the grave of at least one slave in the collection of narratives has been identified. She hopes that showing the students the importance of history will give them insights into where they have come from in life and help them realize the opportunities that lie ahead of them, unlike ancestors who were trapped within the bonds of slavery and oppression.