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Murphy, Shelley

Baby Boomer (born 1943 to 1963)


Shelley Viola Murphy was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Her father was an accountant and real estate broker, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Her mother, also born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, worked at General Motors.


She is the fourth child of her parents and has four brothers.  As a Brownie and Girl Scout, Shelley was likely the only African American in the troop.  Shelley dropped out of Ottawa Hills high school in 1970 during her senior year and then tried to join the Army, but she didn't pass the test.  She then went back to school in the summer and finally graduated in 1971.


Shelley became a young mother at the age of 20. Her second child came four years later.  She married in 1978 and traveled to Arkansas, California and Hawaii with her husband, who was in the Air Force, until a divorce in 1990, at which time she relocated to Florida to help her parents.


After 28 years of persistence, Shelley earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology from Park University.  She then forged ahead and obtained a master’s in Organizational Management and then a doctorate in Management of Organizational Leadership from the University of Phoenix in June 2013.


She began her career working for General Motors and then worked in the housing field, becoming a Realtor and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Counselor, until retiring in Dec 2018.  She has held several positions throughout her career from being a secretary to becoming the director of a department.  Although she is retired, she continues to advocate for affordable housing, and against fair housing discriminations, and homelessness.  She serves on the Virginia Housing Advisory Board on homeownership.



Dr. Murphy is currently working in her dream job, for the University of Virginia, finding descendants of the enslaved laborers who built Thomas Jefferson's university.  She is also an adjunct professor for Averett University out of Danville, Virginia.


An avid genealogist for over 30+ years, Shelley presents Genealogy 101 workshops at the local community college and state and national genealogy conferences.  She is known for her inspiring and interactive “Getting Started” Methods and Strategies for genealogy research, “Time and File management”, along with interesting problem-solving methodology lectures. Shelley currently has 20+ publications with Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner and the Central Virginia Heritage, a publication of the Central Virginia Genealogical Association. Since 2014, Shelley has written and published countless genealogical blog posts on her website,  She is currently working on a book right with the draft title of  "Finally Remembered: African American Revolutionary War Patriots from Central Virginia."


Shelley is a member of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, National Genealogical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, Central Virginia History Researchers, and the Central Virginia Genealogical Association among other societies.  She serves on the Boards of the Albemarle Charlottesville (President) and Fluvanna Historical Societies and the Library of Virginia. She the President and faculty member of the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI), the only genealogical institute in the United States that focuses on African ancestry.


Shelley volunteered for several years for the American Red Cross as a Disaster Services Instructor in Florida and Virginia.  She is an avid book collector, enjoys cooking and homeopathic remedies, and facilitates financial education workshops.


Shelley describes her most significant life accomplishments as being a mother to her son and daughter, who she is so proud of who they have become, and becoming a college professor, despite all of the humps and bumps of her young adult life.

Murphy, Shelley

  • Oral History Summary

    Listen to Shelley Murphy's oral history podcast episode


    Shelley Murphy: From survivor to Jefferson’s enslaved laborers researcher.


    Shelley tells about her journey from surviving as a high school drop-out, victim of domestic abuse, and a young single mother to earning her doctorate and becoming a University of Virginia researcher, investigating president Thomas Jefferson’s beloved university and the enslaved laborers who built it.  She talks about growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan; her fervent love of the military and dropping out of high school out of anger since she was not allowed to graduate early to join the Army; living on her own since the age of 16; completing her bachelor's degree after 28 years; earning a master's and doctorate while working full time; her children’s father being killed by his nephew over a drug deal; leaving a violent relationship; the stressors that living with a mother-in-law afflicted with Alzheimer’s had on her later marriage; being forced to identify as either black or white when living in the South after not having color lines in Michigan and Hawai’i; the shock of learning about her slave ancestry and mixed race heritage; realizing her family makeup reflects American history; the emotional impact of researching Thomas Jefferson's enslaved laborers; her Ancestor Calvin Davis, a radio gunner passing for white, who was killed in a WWII plane crash during a 1941 bombing run in Meresburg, Germany; her black ancestor who owned slaves- James Roper,  the son of a slave and Nicholas Roper who left everything to his mulatto son including slaves; half of James's kids deciding to pass for white and their descendants’ reaction when they learn of their black ancestry; mission to find great grandfather William Michael Murphy; Revolutionary War patriot John Boyer and meeting white descendants; ten years ago, thinking DAR was a whites only organization and not knowing about black patriots and members; working on getting seven additional patriots approved by DAR; joining the DAR and serving as chair membership chapter; “my folks helped lay the foundation of this country”, “we’ve served”, “we have to tell these stories”.  


    Shelley Murphy's oral history was recorded on September 26, 2020

  • DAR Service

    Membership State: Virginia

  • DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)

    Boyer, John: New York

    European Descent Male

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