Motivation Monday: Finding Ancestors in the Stirling Family Papers

Finally, the Stirling Family papers have arrived on five rolls of microfilm at my local library!

The Stirling Family papers are a collection of deeds, wills, diaries of slave life, and letters that belonged to the Lewis Sterling family, owner of several plantations in Louisiana.  I learned this summer that the Stirlings owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton, her children, Nancy and Albert Burton, and her sisters Peggie Manrow and Bettie Matthews.  They all lived on the Stirling’s Attakapas plantation. Now, all I have to do is carefully comb through the microfilm reels to see if they contain any information about my enslaved ancestors. It took me four hours to get through just one roll, so this could take awhile. For the foreseeable future, scouring and transcribing these papers will be my number one genealogy goal.

In just one sitting on Friday, I found over 100 names of slaves owned by Lewis Stirling in these papers, and I only minimally diminished my eyesight squinting at my library’s out-of-focus microfilm screen in the process. Too bad none of the listed slaves were my relatives. But on the bright side, those slaves could be related to some other family genealogist who’s looking for their people the way I’m looking for Eliza.  So, on Friday, I’ll put as many of the names that I can transcribe along with the source information on this site under the tab “Stirling Family Slaves.”   I’ll try to update this page as often as possible to coincide with the Geneabloggers Friday theme, Friend of Friends. A Friend of Friends was the password used along the Underground Railroad to signal those assisting runaway slaves on their journey North to freedom. (See Sandra Taliaferro’s inspiring essay and the  A Friend of Friends site she helped create with Luckie Daniels.)

The other good news about transcribing these papers is that they’ll give me a chance to visit with my cousin, Monique, since she’s offered to risk her eyesight to help me.

Talented Tuesday on Wordy Wednesday: My talented, prosperous ancestors

Article about the pianist, Tempe Stuart (my great-aunt) and her wealthy father, Alfred Stuart (my great, great-uncle) in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1901.

Not only is this newspaper article about my talented great-aunt Tempe Stuart a point of pride for this woman who would go on to make her living teaching and performing music, but it’s also full of information that I didn’t know about my paternal family’s ancestral home, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I want to thank my friend, Shannon, for bringing the article to my attention.*

The article states that Tempe Stuart’s dad, Alfred was among the wealthiest colored men in the town, supplying its residents with milk.  (Not bad for a man born a slave at the end of the Civil War).  At also says that this small Gulf Coast town had about 120 “colored” families and over two-thirds of them owned their homes.   That number has to break some kind of record for black homeowners in the south during that time, just a little over 30 years after the end of slavery. contends that the number of black residents was even higher than the article suggests with 331 compared with 925 white residents, citing the federal census as the source. So, in 190o, roughly one-quarter of Ocean Springs residents were blacks and 2/3 of those blacks owned their homes.  According to US Census data from 2000, Ocean Springs now has a population of about 17,000 people and about 1200 of its residents are black.  About 72 percent of all residents own their homes.

I wonder what made Ocean Springs so conducive to property ownership for former slaves and their families?

(*I’ve gotten so used to Shannon forwarding me amazing newspaper articles about my family, that I neglected to thank her in my original post, so the asterisk refers to updated information.)

Amanuensis Monday: How My Ancestor Celebrated Columbus Day.

My great, great-grandfather's exhibit of Stuart pecans at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893 as pictured in The Stuart Pecan Co. book, "The Pecan and How to Grow It."

Today, my family and I are celebrating Columbus Day by taking advantage of the day off and going to a beautiful farm-lined part of our state to do some apple picking.  But back in 1893, the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America on a grand scale with the World Columbian Exposition .  Chicago beat out New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the honor of hosting this world fair which took three years to organize, pushing back the  celebration a year later than planned.  Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame designed the grounds visited by over 25 million people including my second great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.  His Stuart pecans exhibit was one of tens of thousands on display at the fair.

Happy Columbus Day!

Motivation Monday on Tombstone Tuesday: My Ancestor in a Slave Narrative?

My grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford's tomb at Lake Lawn Cemetery, New Orleans. She's at the top of the end row. I'm standing beneath.

Only my third week of Motivation Monday and already, I’ve fallen down on the job.  I blame my stuffed nose for not posting my goals yesterday as part of this weekly theme I instituted only three weeks ago.  That’s also my excuse for not fulfilling the genealogy goal I set last week to transcribe one of my third great-grandfather’s letters.  The letters are still sitting in their big manilla envelope where I left them the week before.

But last night as my sinuses were finally starting to clear, I couldn’t resist googling and found something unexpected on the MSGenWeb site, the online source of Mississippi genealogical resources and branch of the larger US GenWeb.  In the late 1930s, writers from the federal Works Project Administration (WPA) recorded the life stories of more than 10,000 men and women including ex-slaves and MSGenWeb transcribed as many of the Mississippi slave narratives as they could and have them available at their site.   I didn’t expect to see my enslaved ancestor, Tempy Burton listed since she died in 1925 before the project began, but there were two narrations for Jackson County where she lived. I read them out of curiosity.  In Nat Plummer’s narrative, this ex-slave makes no reference to Tempy, but he does refer  to Tempy’s master, my great, great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.  It’s just a reference to his house and the last name is misspelled Stewart,  but it was exciting nonetheless, that his house could be mentioned as a point of historical reference in a context broader than just my family’s history.

My goal for next week is to fulfill the one from last week: transcribe another letter from my third great-grandfather’s collection of papers.  Also, I plan to get rid of this cold.

Celebration Saturday: An Ancestry gift for my Blogiversary

My cousin, Monique outside of the Jackson County Land Records Office in Pascaguola, Mississippi where we discovered our enslaved ancestor Tempy Burton was a property owner .

It was a year ago today that I first introduced my family to the blogosphere and began sharing about my search for my roots.  So, it was a nice little anniversary surprise to receive a message from the Historic Society in Kent County, Maryland with more information about my family.

A few weeks back, I sent an email to the Historic Society inquiring about a piece of property that used to belong to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart.  Stuart lived most of his life in Kent County and wrote about his property, Denbeigh or Denby (he spells it both ways) several times in his voluminous letters.  In them, he states that his wife and several sons are buried at Denbeigh.  From his letters, it seems he lost the property because he could no longer afford it.  At one point, he even asks my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart to buy it back for him.  From subsequent letters, it’s clear that his son never fulfills this wish.

Since learning about this property earlier this year, I’ve tried to locate it.  I think the Historic Society of Kent may have found it.  According to the voice mail their staffer, Joan left for me, they found a place called Denbeigh in Queen Anne County mentioned in a book written by someone named Emory.  The book cites the property being owned in Centerville in 1806.    The book also mentions a William R. Stuart owning a packet business in 1805, describes him as a noted horse breeder in 1822 and as an elected representative to the legislature as well as an officer of the public lottery.

Horses come up several times in Stuart’s letter as does his public service as both a legislator and President of Maryland’s State Senate.  I think this is my William Stuart referred to in the book.  But I’ll have to wait until Monday when Joan  is back at work before I can find out how to get my hands on that book and pinpoint the location of Denbeigh.

What a great anniversary present.  And what a great year of discoveries.  I thought it couldn’t get much better than finding out that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton went from slave to property owner.  But I’m realizing each new discovery is sweet in its own way. Thanks to all of you geneabloggers for sharing your stories.  It inspires me to share mine too and thanks for the anniversary wishes!

Motivation Monday: My Third Great-Grandfather’s Role in History?

I’m happy to report that I actually accomplished all of my genealogy goals last week set in my inaugural “Motivation Monday” post.

I contacted the Maryland State Archives for direction on Maryland laws passed on absconding slaves and also checked out, a resource  new to me that has interesting historical tidbits.  I also followed up on the Stirling Papers. Good thing I did.  My initial request somehow was never processed, so I’m still waiting for those papers which could have information on my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton and her life as a slave to the Stirling family.

Transcribing my third great-grandfather’s letters was by far my favorite genealogy chore last week.  In January, 1826 he wrote a letter to the President of the Senate of New Jersey introducing a few delegates from Maryland’s State Senate and requesting a meeting so that they could discuss “the measures best calculated to prevent the absconding of slaves from Maryland and to facilitate their recovery by their owners…” I still can’t find out what if anything became of that meeting like  actual legislation, but I’ve got plenty of leads to follow to find out what my ancestor’s role was in this part of history.  Meanwhile, I’m getting a kick out of reading his less official letters. Stuart had a way with words and was even a little bit gossipy:

“Richard, you know is a ladies man and takes great pleasure in their company,” he writes to Maryland’s Governor Thomas in an 1842 letter.  In a previous letter, Governor Thomas had reported that a mutual friend was jealous of this flirty Richard.  Transcribing my third great-grandfather’s letters is definitely on my Motivation Monday list for this week.

Since I’ll be out of town for a few days, I think I’ll keep my goals to just that one task.  I’m sure I’ll still be surfing the net trying to find any information on any bills introduced in the Maryland State Senate in the 1840s regarding slavery.

What are you working on this week?

Motivation Monday: My Weekly Genealogy Goals

With my children finally back in school, I can return my attention for at least part of the day to shaking my family tree. My cousin and I have made a lot of progress since we started searching together last year, but each new discovery invariably leads us to another clue, another agency to call, or piece of history to look into. Following all of these threads requires organization, so I’ve decided to give myself a weekly list of genealogy goals to keep me focused.  I’ll do this on “Motivation Mondays,” and if you find this theme useful, I hope you’ll join me.

Goals for this week:

  • Transcribe one letter from the Stuart Papers.  Pictured above, the collection of letters, sermons and personal documents belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart. (If I do one letter a week, I’ll have them finished by 2012!)
  • look into some of the laws regarding slaves in Maryland.   Stuart was president of the state’s senate and mentions pending legislation regarding slavery  a few times in his letters in 1826 and again in the 1840s. I wonder if he helped craft laws regarding slavery and if they were pro or anti the institution.
  • Follow up with the local library to find out when the Stirling Papers will arrive on microfilm, on loan from Princeton University. I’m dying to find out if these papers have any information on my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton, who was owned by the Stirling family.

I’m thinking three goals for the first week is enough. Thanks to Mavis at Georgia Black Crackers and  Tonia at Tonia’s Roots for the goal-setting inspiration. What are you working on this week?

Sentimental Sunday: Blogging Award

Happy Sunday everyone.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank my friend, Lisa Rivero for the blogging awards she sent me a few weeks ago, right before I left for vacation. I met Lisa through She Writes, an online organization for women writers. Lisa started a group there called Family Diaries and Documents.   A versatile writer who has published several non-fiction books and has some fiction in the works, she also manages to pen three blogs including Hattie’s blog, as told through her great aunt’s diary entries.

I’ve learned a lot from reading Lisa’s blogs and I feel lucky to have met her in this vast community.

As a recipient of The Versatile Blogger Award I’m supposed to:

  • Thank and link back to the person that gave me the award.
  • Share seven things about myself.
  • Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that I think deserve it.
  • Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that I’ve picked for the award.

One Lovely Blog Award Rules:

  • Accept the award, post it on my blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
  • Pass the award to 15 other blogs that I’ve newly discovered.
  • Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

One last amendment added by Lisa: “To all award recipients, please know that I only wish to express my admiration and appreciation for your time and talent, and the last thing I would want is for anyone to feel pressured to do anything that is not comfortable, so please do with the award what you will. All I ask is that you continue to blog!” Ditto.

Here are the seven things about myself:

  1. I hate cheese, but I love pizza.
  2. I’m the youngest of 5 kids.
  3. I have a thing for redheads (see previous blog post, “Ginger Men”)
  4. I once stood at the point where three countries meet in South America (do you know where I mean?)
  5. I still have a scar on my head from a dart accident over 30 years ago.
  6. I love being from New Jersey, no matter how often our Garden State is maligned.
  7. I drink a kale shake for breakfast almost every day.

Here are some versatile writers with lovely blogs:

The Media Beat

Finding Agnes

Finding Eliza

Restore the Ancestors

Mariah’s Zepher

Lisa Romeo Writes

Christina Baker Kline

And For Poorer

Diva Indoors

Paula Whyman

Georgia Black Crackers

Reconnected Roots

Ancestral Archeologist


Between the Gate Posts

Follow Friday: My Third Great Granddad’s College Blog

This week, I contacted administrators at Washington College, alma mater of my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart to make arrangements for a visit.  I found out that Stuart went to Washington College while reading his obituary written by his friend and fellow Washington College alum, Ezekiel Chambers. Chambers and Stuart grew up together in Chestertown, MD where Washington College is located.  The college website boasts a picture of Chambers and describes him and his family as important pieces of the college’s legacy. My third great-grandfather and Chambers would have been among the college’s earliest graduates.  The two went on to serve in the Maryland State Senate together.

According to their website, Washington College, founded in the early 1780s was the first college chartered in the new nation.  Our first president, George Washington was founder and patron of the institution which says it’s committed to a broader understanding of our country’s history.   I’m so looking forward to traveling to the college this fall and seeing the places my grandfather may have roamed and studied which no doubt shaped his opinions and prepared him for a career in the Maryland State Senate. Until I can get to the college itself, I’ll be following their Poplar Grove Project blog.

Poplar Grove is an historic home in the area and students from Washington College found a treasure trove of letters and other papers in the attic there a couple of years ago.  Under the direction of history teacher Adam Goodheart, and in conjunction with the Maryland State Archives, the Poplar Grove Papers have since been archived.  And guess what?  In the index for the Poplar Grove collection on the State Archive’s website, there is mention of a William Stuart.  Professor Goodheart tipped me off to my ancestor’s possible connection with the papers when I contacted him to make arrangements to visit their college. I’m not sure if it’s my William Stuart, but I’ve already started going through the archived material available online to find out.  I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the story of Washington College’s students finding the Poplar Grove papers on NPR.

Monday Madness: Ancestral Property Found, Lost & Found Again


Ever since my cousin, Monique and I returned from our trip down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to do some ancestry research, I’ve been thinking about all the property my ancestors accumulated and then lost.

It was a source of inspiration to me that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton who had been a slave and could not read or write purchased an acre of land in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1887.  It never even occurred to us that she had owned her own property.  We always assumed that she lived with her former masters, Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart after she was emancipated until she died in 1925 at the age of 104.  Indeed, Tempy was listed living with Elizabeth on the 1900 census.  But turns out she bought property of her own. The way we found what was known as “Tempy Burton’s Lot” in the Jackson County Archives was as surprising as the fact that she was a homeowner.

Archive Assistant, Linda Cooper was helping me look through the massive deed books for Josephine Ford’s property.  (The books are so big, Linda needed another person to hold the book whenever she made a copy of a page).   Monique was trying to keep her mind off her hunger (it was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet) so she was randomly browsing through indexes, looking for any familiar names. That’s when she yelled to me from across the office.  She’d found Tempy Burton in an index for land owners in 1889.

With a trip to the Jackson County Chancery Court office around the corner from the Archives, we found that Tempy paid $60 for her acre of property. (Deed Book 9, p. 395)  She would later convey some of this land to my great-grandmother, Josephine and another daughter, Violet Matthews Battle for a dollar each.(Deed Book 45, p. 304 & 305)   Not only was Tempy a landowner, but she made sure her daughters were too.  As we continued digging through the land rolls in the Jackson County Archives, we found that all of these properties were lost to tax debt decades later.  It bummed me out that a later generation of my family had lost something so precious, land acquired by their slave ancestor.

Driving around town earlier in the day, we’d come across a lot owned by Monique’s great-grandmother, Tempy Elizabeth Stuart.  The lot was for sale. At the time, we didn’t know about Tempy’s lot and how her younger generations had lost it.  Can’t help but wonder if it’s still for sale…

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