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Black funeral programs hold trove of genealogical treasure

A large plastic tote stuffed full with church programs, tax returns, Medicare information and other old papers also held a good yield of the items Bessida Cauthorne White of Middlesex had come to find: African-American funeral programs.

Invited by Fannie Ware of Cardinal to investigate the old records, White, who is co-founder and president of the Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society, explained the significance of her finds, which steadily mounted.

“By and large, it is a black folk thing,” she explained on Thursday as she sorted out the papers. She said the programs can be found in many black homes, sometimes by the hundreds.

Fannie Ware, who said she never throws anything away (although she has all these things neatly organized), produced funeral programs for many Gloucester and Mathews residents and some for her own family members. She would get up from her chair every few minutes, go through another drawer or cupboard, and come back wi...

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