Posted by Ancestry Team on August 9, 2015 in Who Do You Think You Are?

One of the exciting opportunities in our work as genealogists is showing how one person’s life reflects the experiences of Alfre_1hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others during a particular time. The way we document that person’s life can also instruct us in how to research others who shared similar life events.

In the case of Alfre Woodard, her very personal journey to learn about her great-grandfather Alex Woodard is instructive for all African Americans with ancestors who were born in slavery and later gained their freedom. In fact, what she learned about her ancestry is what we help many of our African American clients learn about their own family.

Alex’s life reflects three major themes in the African American experience during the 19th century: slavery, citizenship, and property ownership.


Alfre learns that Alex Woodard was born a slave in Georgia in the early 1840s. His owner, John Woodard, died when Alex was very young. At about age 14 or 15, Alex was legally made the slave of William E. Woodard, one of John’s sons. William moved his family—and Alex—to Louisiana, permanently separating Alex from his own immediate family back in Georgia.

We proved Alex’s owner’s identity primarily through inventories and receipts from the estate of John Woodard. In the distribution of John’s estate dated 10 July 1856, “One Negro boy named Elic valued at Seven hundred Dollars” was given to William Woodard.

Alfre Woodard_Who Do You Think You Are Research

Slaves were counted in federal censuses every 10 years, but their names were not listed. William Woodard had moved to Jackson Parish, Louisiana, by 1860 and his three slaves were listed by age, sex, and color (black or mulatto). Although we cannot be completely sure, we are almost certain that the 16-year-old black male slave in William’s household was Alex.


One of the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens is the right to vote. Alex became a free man with the close of the Civil War in April 1865, when he was in his mid-20s. Alfre finds out that Alex’s first opportunity to exercise his right to vote in a national election came in 1868, which led to his being listed on multiple records.

Alfre Woodard_Who Do You Think You Are Research

Leading up to the national election of 1868, eligible men across the South registered to vote—including virtually all African American men age 21 or older. (Women would not gain the right to vote until 1920.) This was the first time that black men in the South were able to participate directly in the process of government through voting. It is also the period when all black men across the South were first recorded by name in important government documents.

Poll taxes had been in use in the United States since the 1770s. At the beginning, they expanded the ranks of voters beyond just white landowners, but following the Civil War they were used to restrict black participation in elections. Alex was assessed his poll tax in Jackson Parish, Louisiana, in 1867. Poll tax assessments can be found in tax lists that are generally held at state archives.

Alfre Woodard_Who Do You Think You Are Research

Property Ownership

Private land ownership has been one of the defining characteristics of the American economic system since its early years. Former slaves immediately went about trying to acquire land following the Civil War, which was a difficult task. They were starting with no money and had to work hard for cash to buy their own land.

By 1881, Alex had purchased 80 acres in Jackson Parish. We know that because he was paying taxes on the property. We also found the deed created when he sold the land. On 15 April 1898, Alex Woodard and his wife Elizabeth sold their 80 acres to Aaron Stell. Aaron was Alex’s brother-in-law. Alex had moved to Wharton County, Texas, by then.
Alfre Woodard_Who Do You Think You Are Research

Alfre Woodard_Who Do You Think You Are Research

Through Alex, we can see how many other African Americans experienced slavery and the transition to freedom. As a slave, Alex was at the mercy of his owners, separated from his immediate family, and moved over 500 miles away. As a free man, Alex exercised his political freedom through voting. He worked hard and saved enough money to be able to buy his own land, allowing him economic freedom and his own chance at living the American Dream.

Learn more about Alfre’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.





  1. Angela Jones

    My husband and I are watching the program. His grandfather was John Dick Woodard. He was born in Oklahoma and passed in Vinita, Oklahoma. We are going to research to find out where my husband’s great grandfather came from! I do know this, my husband’s family is part Cherokee.

  2. ddrypka

    I am currently looking for the names of slaves owned by my 4th great grandfather so was very interested in this program. How did you determine that Alec was born in Perry GA? Did you just trace the slave owner’s surname? I realize there is only so much you can put into these shows, but a short statement of ‘how’ would be helpful at times. Thanks.

  3. RoxyAnn Casper

    How do you choose the celebrities for Who Do You Think You Are? How many celebrities never get on the show because there is no story in their family tree? How many months does the average research and planning take?

    I want to know more about the background of the show. It would be fund to see an episode on how the show is produced.

    Thanks. Roxy Casper​

  4. Tarah

    My 3rd great grandfather was a William E Woodward/Woodard from Bienville and Lincoln Parish. Do you know the middle name of this one? Mine was Emmett, and admittedly, he usually went by Emmett. There was another William Edmund Woodward/Woodard in the same area. I cannot trace my William E Woodward back beyond himself. I know he was born in SC, and I think I found him in Alabama, right across the line from his future wife’s family in Georgia. He may have stopped in Georgia first. Then he came to Louisiana right about the start of the Civil War and enlisted in the 13th partisan rangers. Some people give his dad as a Judge Isham Woodward in NC, but that is incorrect. Isham’s son who was named William went on to Georgia and we can definitively say that he is not the father of mine, no matter what people online want to say. However, we do not know who the father of my William was. I would be very interested to know if he is this one. I was contacted by a woman of African American descent a while back who was descended from a slave owned by a William E Woodward, but we never could determine if it was mine or the other guy. She may have determined it by now, but I have so little information on my William that I have not been able to determine it yet. Would love to know if it was so we can continue her research as well as mine.

  5. Tarah

    Okay, I did a little bit of research on William Edmund Woodward, and found that he came to Jackson Parish first and his father was John in Georgia. Oh well. I do think that he is related to my Woodwards as well, but not sure how. Perhaps cousins or something, but not certain.

  6. Katherine

    I’ve been researching families and Black history of Wharton County for years and was quite surprised when this episode found land documents, specifically a loan, to Ellick (Alex) Woodard. Then the show ended! I wish they had a chance to follow up on the family there. I assume the show completed her story for her and had to edit it out for time.

  7. Dena (Wohlsein) Reiter

    Visited Krefeld, Germany 2004 looking for Wohlsein’s
    who still live there. Great grandparents came from there but TWIN BROTHER Jacob Wohlsein remained…could not speak German so could not communicate! : – ( birthdate of my Great Gfather & his twin Jacob 25 Dec 1843. Would like to confirm burial place of Jacob…tried while in Germany.

  8. Serita woodard harper

    I was born and raised I. Wharton texas. I am of a woodard decent. My dad often spoke about family I Louisiana and Oklahoma.

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