In the
AfriGeneas Spotlight

Wanda Bennett

Wanda BennettFrom Accidental  Genealogist to Power Researcher

One day Wanda Bennett went to a presentation at work and heard two speakers talking about their genealogical research. One said she started because she wanted to do a simple book for her parents' 50th wedding anniversary but 25 years later she was still researching. She made it sound so interesting that Wanda thought she would try it. She did and she got hooked!

Wanda eventually found her way to AfriGeneas and posted her first tentative query on the AfriGeneas mail list: "I am working on my family tree . . . is there any information you can give me?" 

That was back in November 1997. It only took a few more months before she stopped asking questions and started to post the Kentucky and Indiana records that she came across in her own research in order to help others. 

At a meeting of the Indiana African American Genealogy Group, someone mentioned how useful obituaries were for African American research and Wanda knew she'd discovered her mission. She began transcribing obituaries from newspapers in Indianapolis, Evansville, IN and Owensboro, KY and placing them online in 1999. And she hasn't stopped since. 

When we asked her just how many she'd posted on the AfriGeneas list and in the Death Records Database since then, she said she wasn't sure. So we did a quick search of the Death Records Database and found that since August 2002 alone Wanda has transcribed and placed online over 4,900 obituaries from the Indianapolis Star, the Evansville Courier, the Messenger-Inquirer, and other newspapers. That's an average of 30 full obituaries per week over the past three years!

"I know that I do not get all the Blacks listed in the papers, but I get a good portion. I use the church names, funeral home and pictures to locate them. It takes me about an hour to do them on a daily basis.

AfriGeneas is a power tool for a researcher. You can post to aid others or find information and ask questions that can help guide you on your way." 

Wanda's personal research is on the the ROWAN and WICKLIFFE families mainly in Davies, Ohio and Muhlenberg counties, Kentucky. Her mother and her sister married brothers, so most of her research brings the two families together at times (her mother jokingly told her that if she found out that she and her father were cousins, not to tell her). She published her first family reunion booklet in 2004 and while her research was sound--she only published what she found in standard documents--not everyone at the reunion wholeheartedly embraced her findings. But that hasn't deterred her. She uses Family Tree 2005 software to organize her research and has amassed a database of over 3000 names.

Her favorite set of research documents are the Civil War records because they provide information that the soldier and/or his wife gave in depositions, as well as other family members in order to receive their pensions. 

"The most interesting thing I found in the Civil War records was a great uncle. 

I had an uncle Ed that I could not locate. I sent for his Civil War records, but they did not have them. When I sent for his brother James' records I discovered why I could not find Ed. Ed gave a statement for James to receive his pension. In the statement he stated that he was James brother, where he lived etc. But when he stated who he was he said that he was Ed ROWAN but that when he had been given as a wedding gift from his master to his daughter, the daughter's new husband changed his name to Edward BELL. So when the Civil War started he had to enter under his new slave name and he was to carry it for the purpose of his own pension."

Wanda lives in Indianapolis where she was born and raised. She has worked for the Federal government for over 33 years. She has one daughter, a son-in-law and five grandsons.  She is an active member of the Indiana African American Genealogy Group ([email protected]). You can contact her at [email protected].


15 Oct 2004 | 13 Jul 2005
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