When I was finally ready to start digging into my paternal family’s history about 15 years ago, I went to our family griot, my uncle, Henry Ford. Born and raised in New Orleans when his family moved there from Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the early 40s, Uncle Henry filled in some details on my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton. He showed me around his Nola stomping grounds from the best spot for a po’ boy sandwich to his most beloved attraction, the Audubon Zoo. Then we drove through the deep Mississippi pines until we reached the other side of the gulf in Ocean Springs. There, he introduced me to family friends from my grandparents’ time living there and even showed me the spot where my great-grandfather, the Reverend James Ford had preached.
Henry’s enthusiasm for our history helped fan the flames of my budding ancestry ardor. Now, I hope to bring that genealogy love full circle and give him some modicum of the joy he showed me for our shared history.
This weekend, my dear Uncle Henry’s foot was amputated and I’m sure his spirits could use a boost.
Back in December, his house in the 9th ward of New Orleans burned down and he suffered injuries in the fire further complicated by his diabetes. The house had survived Katrina and a number of previous storms during the 60 plus years my uncle, dad and the rest of their family lived there. When my grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford died last August, she left the house to Henry. It was his last connection to her.
I’d guess Uncle Henry’s never been far from New Orleans for very long nor from his mother. Now in the space of a few short months, he’s lost both mother and home. There’s no replacing either, but at least we still have our family stories. I hope whatever new pieces of our family history we find will bring him some joy and comfort.