ELECTRA KIMBLE PRICE can change your life forever. When you find out where you’ve come from and who you are descended from it can have a profound effect on where you intend to go with your life after that discovery.
"Sometimes it can bring tears to your eyes or make you very angry said Price, but she hastens to add that "discovering your family tree can also make you feel strong and proud." Price is a family historian who provides genealogy assistance. She can track down that long lost relative that no one thought would ever be found. And she can reveal secrets about your family that few thought would be revealed. She’s a super sleuth who digs up family roots and helps put families back together.
Her undying passion for family history and reunions comes from her own search of her family, which she’s traced to Africa.
Born at 24th and Linden streets in west Oakland, she attended Clawson, Hoover and Technical high schools. After serving the Oakland public schools for 25 years as a volunteer and administrator, she retired as the executive assistant to the superintendent in 1986. Price also served as dean of students of Holy Names College. She attended Holy Names, Cal State Hayward and UC Berkeley, and has a master’s degree in education.
"It’s the thrill of the search," Price says as she smiles and pauses while turning around in her swivel chair, navigating her genealogical searches like a pilot in a cockpit from her home. The thrill of digging has not always been fun she says as she holds up her wrists to emphasize delays brought on by many bouts with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Providing genealogy assistance is her modest description for the magic she works with her enormous collection of books, microfilm and computerized databases.
Price employs a vast array of research resources that can yield instant results. And "sometimes you seek for months. I sometimes follow a hunch and things appear. We call it the ‘law of serendipity’ - it just happens".
"My maternal great-grandfather, Jordan Hill, was a Union Army water boy in the Civil War. As a former slave he was considered contraband," said Price as she reached for a book entitled the "Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi in 1878."
She said Hill’s trail "got cold as he moved about to avoid retribution and revenge from disgruntled Confederates." The book covers a period of time that could help explain the flight of her paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Kimble, from Grenada, Mississippi.
Reading from other books like "Slave Testimony" and "Bullwhip Days," she described how a plantation master whipped a slave until he was too tired to continue and instructed his overseer to continue with, 800 additional lashes while forcing the other slaves to watch.
Searching your past can provoke a wide range of emotions, especially hostility, said Price, but it can also be "redemptive and rewarding."
When some people see the documentation of their family’s white blood, illegitimacy, unknown fathers, multiple wives, prison records and slavery status in wills as transfers of property, they can become hostile and sad.
"I was angry for a whole year;" Price said as she showed me the evidence of pre-Civil War records of the horrors of the legacy of the middle passage and the auction block. "Then I decided to convert that anger into energy to do something constructive."
Price is not alone in her diggings because the African-American Genealogical Society of Northern California has identified at least 550 people who are actively researching family histories.
Price encourages everyone through lectures, such as her recent appearance before Laney College instructor Margot Dashiell’s African-American history class, to save family records of births, graduations, church baptisms and membership, marriages, Social Security numbers and deaths.
"My father was a preacher’s kid and became a carpenter’s apprentice to Rev. G.J. Wildy at 85th Avenue Baptist (now Allen Temple) and they knew each other in Holly Grove, Ark., before moving to Oakland." Price said. She notes the Rev. J.D. Wilson of McGhee Avenue Baptist as her godfather.
Her priceless book collection includes:
UPON THIS ROCK: The miracles of a Black Church by Samuel G. Freedman, Harper Collins Publishers, 1984
CHURCH LIFE IN THE RURAL SOUTH: A Study of the Opportunity of Protestantism Based Upon Data From Seventy Counties. by Edmund deS. Brunner, Negro Universities Press (reprinted in 1969) Originally published in 1923 by the George H. Doran Company, New York.
THE HIGHER LAW, Relations to Civil Government, Slavery and The Fugitive Slave Law, by William Hosmer. Reprinted in 1969 by Negro Universities Press, a Division of Greenwood Publishing Corp., New York. Originally published in 1852 by Derby & Miller.
Electra Kimble Price
‘‘We must document our oral history by taping the family stories now,’’ Price pleads. Price agrees that churches can be the extended family for the modern single-parent and disjointed families through encouraging computer learning and genealogical searches.
"When our youth discover the hardships that slaves endured and see the records of the price they paid to survive, they will realize that the problems they face are a piece of cake." Price said problems such as drug abuse are another form of slavery that can be cured with renewed pride.
When she received an inquiry from a woman seeking help for an obituary, Price vowed to teach 50 families how to research their family trees. She kept that vow and said that it is not so important to be a descendant of a prominent leader. "We need to find out that they survived to sustain our own survival."
"For every family that I can help put back together. I count it as a victory over the slavery system that broke up our families," Price said.
"Mrs. Electra Kimble Price’s work is priceless in cyberspace," said David Glover, director of the newly formed Church Community Computer Consortium. "With her help we will be able to train and guide our community on how to connect to their heritage.
When one looks at Price’s family photos flanking a "Bill of sale of 25 south Sea Island Negroes" on her walls, it is difficult to fight back the tears.