Biographical Sketch: Carolyn Earle Billingsley
18 February 2004
In 1948, Carolyn Earle Billingsley was born in Texas, into a military family with roots in Arkansas. She married James L. Billingsley in 1967 and had four children by the time she was twenty-three. Since 1973, she and her family have lived in Saline County, Arkansas, the same county to which one of her paternal 5-greatgrandfathers, Thomas Keesee Sr., migrated in 1836, and to which her maternal 3-greatgrandfather, Martin Gantt, and 2-greatgrandfather, John Wittenburg Sr., migrated in the 1870s.
Shortly before she was thirty, her great-uncle’s family papers were bequeathed to her, beginning a lifetime fascination with family history. Billingsley became a professional genealogist and, in 1986 was one of the three founders of the Saline County (Arkansas) History and Heritage Society, also serving as treasurer and editor of the quarterly for this organization for its first five years. Other activities during the 1980s and -90s include serving as board member, vice-president, program chair, and president of the Arkansas Genealogical Society; lecturing and speaking state-wide on genealogical methodology; co-founding (with Desmond Walls Allen) the Professional Genealogists of Arkansas organization and serving as co-editor of the newsletter; and authoring a number of genealogical publications, some in partnership with Allen.
After spending the 70s and 80s playing the role of suburban mom to the hilt, she enrolled as a forty-one-year-old freshman at University of Arkansas at Little Rock in January of 1990, when her therapist suggested Billingsley had procrastinated long enough in attending college, especially now that her children were essentially grown.
Before she completed her first semester at UALR, she was on scholarship, and by the second semester, she was accepted into the Donaghey Scholars Program (UALR’s honors program). At the time of her graduation, summa cum laude, with a BA in history and minors in German and Arkansas Studies in May of 1994, Billingsley had been the recipient of two UALR Phi Alpha Theta Research Paper first place awards, the Powell History Scholarship, the award for Best Family History in a Local or County Journal (Arkansas Historical Association), the Booker Worthen Memorial Award, the Stolthz Plaque for Outstanding Senior, a Phi Kappa Phi National Fellowship, and a Fulbright Scholarship for study at Karl-Franzens Universität, Graz, Austria. Billingsley was also listed in Who's Who in Genealogy and Heraldry (1990), Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and College (1993), and The National Dean's List, 1992-93.
After spending two years studying German translation, old German handwriting, and Austrian history at Karl-Franzens Universität in Graz, Austria, Billingsley moved to Houston, Texas, where she attended graduate school on a fellowship from Rice University. During her five years at Rice, Billingsley was an editorial intern at the Journal of Southern History and at the Jefferson Davis Papers. She received her MA in 1998 and her Ph.D. in Southern History in 2001.
Over the years, Billingsley has presented papers or served as moderator for the Arkansas Historical Society Annual Meeting (Hot Springs, 1990, and Benton, 2001); Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference (Memphis, Tennessee, 1992); Galveston Historical Foundation Symposium (1998); East Texas Historical Association Fall Meeting, (Nacogdoches, Texas, 1999); and Houston Area Southern Historians ( 2000).
She has also published papers and/or book reviews in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Journal of Southern History, The Alabama Review: A Quarterly Journal of Alabama History, Arkansas Family Historian, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, East Texas Historical Quarterly, Arkansas Biography, Pulaski County Historical Review, Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, The Jefferson County Historical Quarterly, Professional Genealogists of Arkansas Newsletter, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, and The Saline.
Billingsley is also a graduate of Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, Course V–Genealogy as a Profession (1989) and over the years has attended five NGS National Conferences.
Billingsley is the author of a book based on her dissertation, published in 2004 by the University of Georgia Press. Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier is a study based on over seven thousand individuals connected by kinship to the author’s Keesee family, which argues for the incorporation of genealogical methodology into historical research on migration, settlement patterns, political and economic power, and religion, and for the acceptance of kinship as a category of analysis in the study of antebellum southern society. The book won the 2005 Booker Worthen Litery Prize.
Billingsley now lives in Alexander, Arkansas, and works as an independent historian, professional genealogist, and manager of her family’s land. She is the Course Coordinator for Course 3: Research in the South, at Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. She currently serves on the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies Advisory Board, and is a life member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society, the National Genealogy Society, the Southern Historical Association, and the Arkansas Historical Association. Seven wonderful grandchildren, ranging from 8 months to 12 years grace her life.