Presenter's Bios

Ashley, John
Current Secretary/Historian for the Bethel Dukes Branch, ASALH® (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) in Washington, DC and former ASALH® national board member.
Attorney at Library of Congress Copyright Office - specializing in intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, patents, and entertainment law. Frequent presenter on rights of ownership in, and clearing rights to use, personal and family papers, records, documents, and ephemera (items that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectible memorabilia.
Bennett, Bernice Alexander
Genealogist, author, producer, and host of the popular, Research at the National Archives and Beyond! Blogtalkradio show. Her guests include nationally recognized historians, genealogists, book authors and family researchers. Bennett is the recipient of the first Ida B. Wells Service Award from the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passages for her dedication to broadcast the stories about enslaved and indentured ancestors of African descent.
Bennett's book - Tracing Their Steps: A Memoir - was honored as a winner from the International AAHGS Book Awards program in the Non-Fiction Short Story category at the annual AAHGS National Genealogy Conference in October 2020.
Collier, Melvin J.
Melvin J. Collier has been conducting historical and genealogical research for over 25 years, starting at the age of 19. He is a former civil engineer, who used his passion for African American history and historical preservation to foster a career change. He then earned a Master of Arts degree in African American Studies, Clark Atlanta University, in 2008, with additional graduate coursework in Archival Studies from Clayton State University. For seven years, he worked as an archivist at the Robert W. Woodruff Library - Atlanta University Center, processing the Morehouse College Dr. Martin Luther King Papers, the Maynard Jackson Administrative Papers and Photographs, the Dr. Asa Hilliard III Papers, and other collections. He now works for the Department of Defense in the Washington, D.C. area.
Collier has appeared on the NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are, as one of the expert genealogists on the Spike Lee episode (2010). He has given numerous presentations on genealogy, slave ancestral research, and genetic genealogy at many events and conferences around the country. He was also a guest speaker for African Heritage Day at the 2017 RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City. He maintains a genealogy blog, Roots Revealed, at
The Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS) awarded Collier with the 2012 Marsha M. Greenlee History Award and the 2016 Paul Edward Sluby, Sr./Jean Sampson-Scott Meritorious Achievement Award. His books, Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery (2008), 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended (2011) and Ealy Family Heritage: Documenting Our Legacy (2016), have been used by genealogical and historical scholars as great reference sources for genealogical methodologies.
Ellis, Ted
Ted Ellis is a passionate man. He is passionate about his family - passionate about his heritage and passionate about his art. Just ask him and he proudly declares, "I paint Subjects that are representative of the many facets of American life, particularly, African American culture and history, as I know it. I like to think of myself as a creative historian. I was put here to record history - all aspects of American culture and heritage. My sole purpose has always been to educate through my art."
Ellis grew up and was educated in New Orleans, a city known for its rich African American heritage history. A city full of style, and artistic exuberance. This backdrop inspired Ellis to capture the essence of the subjects of his childhood in the glory of their rich cultural heritage. Extremely dedicated to his craft, this artist draws on a style that was born in his childhood from impressions of his native city. Ellis is self-taught and boldly blends realism and impressionism in his work, evoking nostalgia and inspiration.
Ellis, who currently resides in Friendswood, Texas, continues to be recognized for his artistic talent and is now being applauded for his intellectual capital and depth of understanding the power and use of art. He is an artist with vision. His legacy is still growing. This awareness continues to garner Ellis more and more collectors. as they are scattered throughout the globe. Major corporations have commissioned Ellis, which include - Walt Disney Studios, The Minute Maid Company, Coca-Cola, Phillip Morris, and Avon, Incorporated.
It's not folk art, but "Tedism", his own unique style of art. The art of this man both reveres and celebrates the traditional values of his culture. African American culture and lifestyle is a vital part of the tapestry of American history. Ted Ellis captures that lifestyle on canvas, the man, lives the life he paints about. He is cementing himself in history as one of those Famous African American artists you so often read about.

Petranek, Carol Kostakos
Carol is Co-Director of the Washington, D.C. Family History Center where she coordinates classes, conferences and community outreach projects. The Washington DC Family History Center (FHC) is open for genealogical research for the general public. FHCs provide local access to microfilmed family history records, family history computer resources, and internet genealogical websites. Carol volunteers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. as a Citizen Archivist for the Civil War Widow's Pension Project and as a Genealogy Aide in the Research Room.
Smith, Robyn
Robyn Smith has been researching her family and others for 20+ years. An engineer by day, Ms. Smith applies those research and problem-solving skills to the field of genealogy. She specializes in Maryland research, African American and slave research, and court records. Ms. Smith promotes the documentation of communities and emphasizes the use of proper genealogical standards. Robyn taught Advanced African American Genealogy part-time at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland from 2008-2015.
She also lectures and writes about family history research. She is the author of numerous genealogy articles and a genealogy teaching blog called Reclaiming Kin ( In 2015, Ms. Smith published the book version of her blog, "The Best of Reclaiming Kin", which can be viewed at and is available for purchase at the website.
Sorrels, Chiquita Clark
Since she was a teenager, Chiquita has been interested in her family history. She is originally from West Chester, PA and both her maternal and paternal families have resided in Chester County, PA for over 150 years. She is currently the President of the Montgomery County Maryland Chapter of AAHGS.
Chiquita served as an active member on the 2019 AAHGS National Conference planning committee - "400 Years of Black History: The Struggles, Challenges and Perseverance"; and the 2020 virtual AAHGS National Conference planning committee - "1619 Virginia to Present Day, Correcting the National Narrative, in the Midst of Covid-19"
Chiquita has a Master's Degree in Library Science from Drexel University, a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland and is an adjunct professor at Montgomery College.
Williams, Margo Lee
Award winning, genealogy and history author, former editor of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, she is particularly interested in community and family histories of free people of color in the southeast, especially those in North Carolina and Virginia, who often had mixed race origins.
Her writings include: Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme Publishing), tells the story of both her personal and research journeys that led to the discovery of her fourth great grandfather, Miles Lassiter. From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme Publishing), picks up where her first book left off, a social history that follows the development of the school and church, founded in 1880 by a mixed race, former slave, and 19th century poet, the Rev. Islay Walden.
Williams is a graduate of Marquette University. She has her M.A. in Sociology from Hunter College and her M.A. in Religious Education from The Catholic University of America. She worked for over twenty years at various churches in the suburban Washington DC area, and another eight years as a National Service Officer with Vietnam Veterans of America. She is currently the Project Historian for the Historical Black Communities of Sandy Spring (Maryland), at the Sandy Spring Museum. She has one daughter.