Synchronicity Saturday: Cousin Connections

Anne Andrews and me at lunch while on vacation.

Cousin, Anne Andrews and me taking a lunch break while on vacation.

This week, I had a chance to meet another distant cousin. Our common ancestor is my fourth great-grandfather, Alexander Stuart who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Remarkably, we both happened to be on vacation in Hilton Head, S.C. during the same week.  Stranger still, her lodgings were across the street from mine.  In our conversations, we discovered that I live in the same neighborhood with a woman that Anne went to school with…in Japan! The more I learn about my family’s history, the smaller the world seems.

What ancestral synchronicity have you experienced lately?

Follow Friday: Summer Reading, National Book Award Winner, The Good Lord Bird

One of my summer reads, 2013 National Book Award Winner "The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride

One of my summer reads, 2013 National Book Award Winner “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride

 

This week, I finally started reading “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride.  This story of a young slave boy who gets swept up in John Brown’s antislavery crusade while passing as a girl won the National Book Award for fiction last year. I have laughed out loud repeatedly in every chapter in between underlining points made by the fictional characters that come off as wisdom of the ages.  If you like historical fiction, or just good fiction, check it out. You also might enjoy this Interview with James McBride, The Good Lord Bird, 2013 National Book Award Winner, Fiction.

What are you reading this summer – historic or otherwise?

Sentimental Sunday: Celebrating Juneteenth on AriseTV

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the last slaves in Texas learned of their freedom.  Known as Juneteenth, I got to celebrate that day in history by talking about my family’s history and the organization Coming to the Table on AriseTV. The interview begins at 39:51.  I hope I honored my ancestors and that you all had a Happy Juneteenth!

Wordless Wednesday: Mapping your support of Bill HR40 Study of Reparations

More than 500 people from 44 states (and a few other countries) have signed a petition telling Congress to Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations for slavery.  Thank you.  Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Maine, won't you sign too?

my push pin map of  states represented by signers of Coming to the Table’s petition telling Congress to pass HR40 to study reparations for slavery.

More than 500 people from 44 states (and a few other countries) have signed Coming to the Table’s petition telling Congress to Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations for slavery. Thank you!

Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Maine, won’t you sign too?

Motivational Monday: Pass Bill HR40 to study reparations

HR40Petition

Have you seen the June Atlantic Monthly cover article, The Case for Reparations?

I saw it over Memorial Day weekend while I was attending the National Gathering of Coming to the Table. This organization is composed of both descendants of slaveholders and the enslaved and aims to heal the historic harms of slavery.   It might sound hard to believe but, I was actually in my second reparations session of the weekend when I learned of the article.  (The Gathering facilitators polled participants beforehand to see what kind of subjects they’d want us to focus on during our weekend together.  Reparations was so popular, that our planning committee felt two “reparations” sessions were needed.)

I helped facilitate the first session and was inspired to hear the variety of forms reparations might take, in particular how my co-facilitator put the idea into action.  After connecting with descendants of the people her ancestors enslaved, she set up a scholarship fund to help support those descendants’ and others’ educations.

In the next session, my cousin pulled the Atlantic Monthly article from her bag.  The facilitators had already read it as had many of the other participants. As we went around the table talking about our own experiences of ancestors lost to lynchings, land lost to shady dealings, faith lost to the forced and unpaid labor of generations of people without recompense, all of us agreed that at the very least, Congress should pass bill HR40  to study reparations.

As I drove the six hours home from our conference site at Eastern Mennonite University campus in Harrisonburg, VA past rolling hills, pregnant pastures, grazing cows and horses, I felt inspired. I’d arrived at the conference feeling lackluster.  As a board member, I had participated in strategic planning sessions before the conference got started where we brainstormed ideas on how to partner with organizations that lined up with our missions and values while also getting the word out about our young organization. I couldn’t imagine how we would do this. But then, I could never have imagined being on any board or that an organization like Coming to the Table would even exist.  I ended up at Coming to the Table because I was researching my family’s history and came across descendants of the family that had enslaved my ancestors:

  • which led me to an article about the kin of slaves and masters, featuring my reparations co-facilitator of the education fund fame
  •  which led me to more researching and the cousin who pulled out the Atlantic Monthly article
  • which eloquently outlined that there is already an easy solution to looking at reparations in bill HR40
  • which lines up with CTTT’s missions and values.

Gotta love serendipity.

Thanks to everyone in the reparations groups and to all who came to Coming to the Table’s National Gathering for the inspiration of your individual stories. You motivated Coming to the Table to start a petition to urge Congress to pass HR40. Please sign it here.  A study of reparations is long overdue.

What has ancestral serendipity inspired you to do?

Samba Saturday: Slavery History in Brazil

image

My family in Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil.

Last night, my family and I explored Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. This part of the town is named for the whipping post where slaves were punished during colonial times. The post is visible on the far right of the above photo. I was an exchange student in Brazil in the 1980s and have observed how much parallel history my native and adopted countries share. Both the USA and Brazil were discovered around the same time, colonized by European powerhouses and used slavery to capitalize the rich American crops and natural resources.

The Africans enslaved in Brazil left an indelible mark on the country from the music and dancing of samba to feijoada stew. While the USA also has similar soul food, derived from slaves like beans and rice and gumbo, and a mardi gras in New Orleans similar to Brazil´s African- influenced Carnaval, our celebration of this culture is mostly regional. Brazil´s is national.

When we took this picture, I thought that it might seem weird that we were smiling at a place where slaves were whipped and punished. But Pelourinho  is now a very joyous place full of music, dancing, laughter and remembrance of Brazil´s full history.  That´s something to smile about.

Samba and feijoada say, “Brazil” to me.  What says, “America” to you?

Wordless Wednesday: 96 and Still Swinging!

My 96 year-old grandmother, Louise Walton, having a swing in my backyard on Memorial Day. Granny said that her favorite thing to do at her granddad's house in Oklahoma was hop on the swing he made for her and see if she could get her feet to touch the tree branches. It's nice that she can share these memories with us as well as the swinging itself.

Wordless Wednesday: A White House Welcome

The White House sent this welcome letter to my daughter when she was born, a pleasant surprise arranged by my father-in-law, Jerry Kurtti. I put it in her baby book along with her first picture and locks from her first hair cut, but the book went missing about a year ago. Thanks to our movers, today it was found. I'll take that as a good omen that in our new home, we'll be making more precious memories and rediscovering lost history.

Friend of Friends Friday: 20 Slaves of William R. Stuart

Manifest of the Pioneer, a ship that transported 20 slaves from Baltimore, MD to New Orleans, LA. The passengers were enslaved by my third great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.

Yesterday, while she was looking for something else, my cousin Monique found the above manifest on Ancestry.com.  It names 20 slaves aboard the Barque Pioneer transported from Baltimore to New Orleans and owned by our ancestor, Col. W.R. Stuart.  It was a surprise to find this document because we’d searched for slave manifests before and never found anything connecting with our family’s history.  (Just goes to show the importance of going back and retracing your steps.  New documents are being added to places like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org all of the time.)

But it was no surprise that the Colonel owned many slaves. In 1853, he placed an ad in a newspaper in order to sell them because he was dissolving his partnership in a Baton Rouge-based cotton plantation. (I suspect the passengers on this ship went to work on the Colonel’s plantation). That article was hard to swallow, but this manifest is heart wrenching.   The last passenger, a boy, 4’4″  tall, was only 11 years old, the same age as my oldest daughter.  No other passenger with the same last name is listed, so little Tom Iona was probably sold away from his family.  But the painful reality of this document is assuaged by its value to researchers. It gives both first and last names of the passengers as well as their  ages.  That’s a lot more information than normally provided about slaves.  Hopefully this information will help a fellow researcher connect with their ancestor.

Here are the names and ages of the slaves aboard the Pioneer on July 20, 1848:

Joseph Cedars, 23

Charles Smith, 21

Richmond Lewis, 29

Lewis Fisher, 20

Edward Henderson, 20

Carter Lewis, 27

Elija Parker, 30

Dennis Snowden, 20

Wyatt Tabor, 26

Samuel Walker, 28

Ezekiel Mathews, 35

Gabriel Bayler, 37

Frank Taylor, 28

Ephraim Jackson, 28

Nelson Holoway, 30

Alford Bensen, 20

Ruffin Baker, 28

John Gordy, 22

Robert Mitchell, 28

Tom Iona, 11

Follow Friday: Government Shutdown & Genealogy

The Great Hall at Ellis Island, where immigrants waited to be inspected before entering the USA. (photo courtesy of Desiree Kurtti)

Among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who would be affected if the government shuts down tonight for failure to pass a national budget are those that work at National Parks.

I didn’t realize that Ellis Island is operated by our National Park Service until I visited there in February as a chaperone for my daughter’s fifth grade class.  Growing up in New Jersey and living in New York as an adult, I couldn’t believe that February was my first trip to this historic site.  As a school kid, we took frequent field trips to the Statue of Liberty.  Ellis Island was only open on a limited basis from the mid 70s to 80s and after that, closed for a massive renovation- that’s when I would have taken a school trip there.  It reopened in the early 90s when I was living in New York City, but it just didn’t have much appeal to me probably because none of my ancestors entered the country through this famous portal.  My European ancestors have been in the US at least since the early 1700s.  My African ancestors were brought here in chains. But, I imagined my daughter might feel a personal connection to this historic site since her paternal ancestors immigrated here from Ireland and England, two countries that imported many of their citizens through Ellis Island.

Her paternal great, great-grandfather, Martin Quinn was born in England around 1869.  According to census reports, he immigrated to the US around 1886.  Ellis Island didn’t open until 1892. Before then, individual states, not the Federal government, regulated immigration into the US. So, Martin Quinn probably came through Castle Garden in the Battery, New York State’s immigration station from 1855 to 1890.  My daughter’s great-grandmother, Lucille Kurtti (nee Mulchay) was born in  Ireland around 1907.  She immigrated in 1926. It’s possible that her name was misspelled and we’ll have to check the passenger lists for variations.  But with or without a personal connection to the place, it was a stirring experience to walk through the Ellis Island Museum.

In the Great Hall, our class was given pretend physicals like the newly arrived of yore.  My daughter got through with no problem so she would have waited only three to five hours before being allowed onto American soil.  I didn’t fair as well.  I had some kind of terrible eye disease. Inspectors would have detected it when they flipped my eyelid over with a with a metal loop.  (Yikes!)  Highly contagious and untreatable (anyone with this disease went blind), I would have been sent right back to wherever I came from!

16,000 people a day visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island this time of year.  Even if the government does shut down, genealogists and history lovers can virtually visit by going to www.ellisisland.org.

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