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Descendants of slaves, slave owners share family history
Date published: 6/9/2009
Sherry Kiebert's family history spills across her dining room table.
Black-and-white photographs of young men in Confederate uniforms. Decades worth of newspaper clippings.
Audio interviews with late family members. Birth dates, marriage dates, death dates.
An amateur genealogist, she's spent the last 25 years adding to the information first gathered by cousins, aunts and uncles.
So she read with interest a May 26 Free Lance-Star story about Marion Woodfork Simmons, a Maryland woman the same age who was tracing her Caroline and Spotsylvania ancestry.
Simmons' ancestors had been slaves before the Civil War.
As it turns out, Kiebert's ancestors were the slave owners.
Kiebert reached out to Simmons through the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center, which had helped Simmons with her research. At first, she wasn't sure Simmons would want to talk to her.
"I was a little apprehensive," said Kiebert, who lives in Stafford and works as a hairdresser in Fredericksburg. "For goodness sakes, it was my ancestors, and good and bad things went on."
But Simmons called her, and the two women met a few days after the story ran to trade information.
They've e-mailed daily ever since.
"I thoroughly enjoyed talking to her," said Kiebert. "Did our ancestors ever think that in 2009 their great-great-great-granddaughters would ever meet?"
Simmons, 48 and an IT consultant, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare.
Kiebert, also 48, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Elijah and Mary Wigglesworth, who operated a plantation straddling Caroline and Spotsylvania counties.
Kiebert said she'd heard stories growing up that some of the former slaves stayed on the plantation after the war, working as servants. Kiebert's great-grandmother is said to have learned nursing skills from those servants.
She feels certain that some of them may have been Simmons' ancestors, though documents are scarce.
Simmons has wondered why her ancestors chose the surname "Shakespeare" when the war ended. Kiebert suggests that it might be because her family members--many of them educators as well as farmers--exposed their servants to tales by the English playwright.
It's a "delicate" time period for many Southern families to acknowledge, said Kiebert, who hopes that the cooperative efforts between her and Simmons usher in a "time of healing."
Each said she gleaned some useful family history from the other. Simmons, who's pretty computer savvy, even sent Kiebert some online records about a Wigglesworth ancestor who'd literally been rubbed out of the family Bible for fighting for the Union.
"Sometimes it doesn't take but one fact to lead to something else," said Kiebert, who hopes to one day publish a book about her family. "Just even little tidbits can take you a long way."
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428