STL family uses retirement gift to unlock its past

Thanks to courthouse documents from the 1800's, more than 100 descendents of William Wood connected in a way they never imagined.

Mostly, buses take us from point A to Point B and that's it. But a recent bus trip took a St. Louis family on a journey that started with a retirement gift and ended with an emotional connection to the past.

The Wood family is on a journey of discovery.

It's a journey that might not have happened if it hadn't been for a retirement gift given to Carolyn Creager. She received an Ancestry.com testing kit and it's connected her to family members in Tennessee she didn't know.

Creager has always wanted to know more about her family and where they come. Thanks to DNA evidence pointing the way, Creager became a genealogy detective looking into her family's past, fact by family fact.

"Georgia reached out to me and said I believe that your grandmother and my grandmother were sisters," said Creager.

On day one of the Wood family reunion trip, thirty-four family members, many of them strangers, boarded a bus from St. Loius bound for Chattanooga.

Tracie Heron traveled from California to learn more about her great grandmother's family.

"I was just so excited. Granny, granny's people and I figured that being that she was the youngest of 18 kids that there's a whole lot of us out there and some of us don't even know each other," said Heron.

"We never expected to learn our great-great-great grandfather who was a slave," said Creager.

Buried in a Georgetown, Tennessee, cemetery is the former slave Wilson Wood. He was born around 1815 in Virginia according to family records.

His father was his owner, a white man named William Wilson Wood. His mother was a slave named Mary. They moved to Tennessee in 1838.

First stop for the Wood descendants, a Chattanooga park, where the St. Louis Woods hugged the Tennessee Woods, who hugged the California Woods.

Like many reunions, hugs gave way to good food, storytelling and a new appreciation for family history.

"I think that it's just a privilege that many African American families don't get, to be able to trace our roots," said Tawnay Brown.  "We may make it back a couple of generations but that usually isn't enough to tell our whole story."

"To me, it's to have history, to have a better understanding," said Kylah Green.  "It kind of makes it real to see the document."

On day two, the Wood family traveled to the Meigs County Courthouse to see a remarkable document from America's slavery era.

Meigs County Clerk Janie Myers is the person who found Wilson Wood's bill of sale and is about to share it with the Wood family.

"It's a piece of history I cannot wrap my head around," said Myers. "A bill of sale for a person it's just hard for me to even imagine."

Myers also came across a bill of sale for a 9-year-old child.

"I have a grandchild that's eight and a half years old and for him to be torn from his family. So it's not just a piece of paper, these were people's lives," said Myers.

Thanks to courthouse documents from the 1800's, more than 100 descendants of William Wood connected in a way they never imagined.

"I can feel the history and the suffering it's just giving me perspective," said Brown.  "I feel thankful I can see this and know where I came from."

Carolyn Creager marvels at the impact of her DNA kit. It's a retirement gift that keeps on giving.

"We all recognize that if Wilson Wood had not lived, if Wilson Wood had not been a slave that none of us would be here today," said Creager.

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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