Monday Madness: Finding Tempy's People

My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton's 1925 death certificate.

Call me greedy, but finding out what happened to my great, grandmother Josephine was not enough for me.  It just left me wanting more.  Now, I’m determined to discover where and from whom Josephine’s mother, Tempy Burton came from.

Genealogy buddy, Ghita Johnson forwarded Tempy’s death certificate pictured above which I hoped would shed some light on her family. (Thanks, Ghita!) I was crestfallen to see that there were no names written in the spaces next to “father” and “mother,” just some indecipherable letters that I can’t decode. It was also heart-breaking to see that this woman who lived to be 104 and endured a good part of her life as a slave succumbed to”carcinoma of the left breast.”  To find anything about her people, I’d just have to keep chasing down more information about Tempy’s last known owner, Hill Jones.

A longtime resident of Canton, Mississippi, Jones was originally from North Carolina. Scrolling through the volunteer run US Gen Web Project’s North Carolina database turned up no information on him. Last night, I turned to Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Afro Louisiana History and Genelaogy site which has a database of Louisiana based slaves, since some census records list Louisiana as Tempy’s place of birth.  But neither of the  2 Tempys that came up in the search were my great, great-grandmother.  I tried several of the databases in the extensive resource guide listed in about.com (thanks for retweeeting the list LowCountryAfricana) but still nothing. In defeat, I logged on to my ancestry.com site, figuring I could at least feel like I was getting my money’s worth by trolling around the for pay site for a while.  Wouldn’t you know, it actually elicited a clue.

As I looked for documents on Hill Jones, the green leaf blinked on his wife, Judith Jones, indicating that there was a hint for her.  When I clicked on Judith Boddie Jones’s name, my screen filled with several other members researching her line.  Included in each of their trees were Judith’s siblings. Three names stood out:  Elizabeth, William Willis and Temperance.

Elizabeth McCauley was my great, great-grandmother Tempy’s final owner.  Family lore  has it that Tempy was given to Elizabeth when she married my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart.

William Hill Howcott was one of Elizabeth’s cousins and Willis was his slave, immortalized in a Confederate monument erected in his honor.  Willis followed his master into battle against Union forces and died in the process.

Temperance seems to me to be a variation of the name Tempy.

I don’t know if this was the case of a slave being  named after someone in the master’s family, but it gave me a clue.  The same way Tempy came to be in the colonel’s family through his wife, Elizabeth McCauley, is perhaps how she got to be in Hill Jones’s family -through his wife, Judith Boddie.

Who knows if I’ll every find Tempy’s parents, but at least I found all these great new resources and have another place to look: in Nash County, North Carolina with the Boddie family.

Where are you looking for new clues to blast through your brick walls?

Monday Madness: The lost and found Ancestor

Is my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford buried in one of the unknown and unmarked plots pictured here in Evergreen Cemetery, Ocean Springs, Mississippi? (Photo courtesy of Ann Nash)

As happy as I am that I finally have some concrete information about what happened to my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford, the documents that laid the mystery to rest have also raised more questions.

I did a happy dance when I received her funeral record which listed May 15, 1922 as her date of death, the following day as her date of burial, and Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs, Mississippi as her final resting place.  But when I ordered her death certificate based on this new information, it listed May 25, 1922 as her date of death.  The doctor who signed the death certificate even stated that he’d last seen Josephine alive on May 24th.  That’s more than a week after the May 16th funeral date indicated on the funeral record.

And speaking of  doctors, did the same Dr. A.B. Powell who is the certifying physician for the funeral record also sign the death certificate?  His name is very clear on the Bradford O’Keefe Funeral record, but less so on the Mississippi State death certificate.  Another discrepancy between the two documents is Josephine’s age.  She’s 46 on the funeral record and 44 on the death certificate.   What can account for all of these inconsistencies?

At least I know where she is buried…sort of. When I saw on the funeral record that she was interred at Evergreen Cemetery, I thought for sure it would just be a matter of a phone call to determine what plot she was buried in.  Three phone calls later to the city, the funeral home and the county record department,  none of them had a record of a plot in that cemetery with her name on it.  They do have several unknown persons buried in plots near Josephine’s mother, Temple Burton and brother, Alfred Burton Stuart.  I assume one of those unknown plots could be her.  But how can I ever know for certain which one if any is her?  Just when I thought Josephine was found, she’s kind of lost again.

"Wench" – Stranger than fiction truth about slavery

Old sketch of Mount Clemens, Michigan where Temple and her daughter, Josephine visited in 1905

Just as I’m finishing up the 700-plus paged tome, The Hemingses of Monticello (only 200  more pages to go!), I’ve found another ancestor-related book to add to my research list.  This one is a début novel, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez about masters on vacation with their slave mistresses at a resort in free state Ohio.

In an interview on NPR today, Perkins-Valdez said she got the idea for her novel after reading about Tawawa, a real resort in Ohio that was a popular place for masters to relax with their mistress slaves.  WEB DuBois mentioned Tawawa in passing in a biography, she said.

I was as intrigued listening to her describe happening upon this hidden piece of history as I was when I stumbled on to the secret of my great great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and his slave mistress, my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton.

When the interviewer went  on to explain that Tawawa was near mineral water and people retreated to it for what they believed were its healing qualities, I almost stumbled across my own feet for real.  Temple and her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine also traveled to a town known for  its mineral waters, Mount Clemens,  Michigan in 1905.  The premise of Perkins-Valdez’s historical novel made me wonder if Temple had ever visited Mount Clemens or anywhere else with her master, the father of her 7 children, before he died in the late 1890s.

Masters and their slave mistresses vacationing together?  A slave having 7 children with her master even after being freed and living with him and his wife for the rest of their lives?

The truth is stranger than fiction.  I’m looking forward to both in the novel, Wench.

I’ve now come across two books that seem closely related to my family’s history.   What books best describe your family, current or in generations past?

No Place Like Home

A black and white photo of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, an ancestral home

My first cousin recently moved a stone’s throw from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, pictured above.  As I plan a visit to see her as well as our ancestral home, it made me think how  so many of us in my family end up back where we started.

When I was a kid, I thought for sure that I’d end up living some place far from the home I grew up in like Paris or L.A. At 16, in pursuit of my quest, I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student but ended up next door to a town called Americana, named for it’s founders who hailed mostly from the Southern states of the USA, just like my ancestors.  Since then, I’ve never lived more then an hour from my old stomping grounds where my parents and a lot of my old high school paraphernalia still reside.  None of my four siblings have strayed far from the family hearthstone either.  One is as close as 15 minutes from my parents, another as far as an hour and a half.

I think I’ve inherited this desire to stay close to my roots from my ancestors on both sides.  My grandfather, Alonzo Walton lived the last 25 years of his life on a tract of 150 acres of Ozark land he spent a life time accumulating.  He shared the tract with his brother, his sister, and his nephew.  Before retiring to his childhood home in Arkansas, he lived in New Jersey, less than 10 miles from his daughter and five grandchildren (including me).  If it hadn’t been for his Air Force duties stationing him on McGuire’s Air Force Base, I’m sure my grandfather would have never left Arkansas.

I loved growing up with my grandparents so close by.  They let me wait on customers in their candy store, eat more than my share of Reggie bars (remember those?) and Slim Jims, but most importantly they told me their stories and brought me to their childhood homes in Arkansas and Oklahoma.   I got to walk through my great grandfather Bud’s garden with him, his old shotgun slung over his shoulder and  eat my great grandmother Marie’s delicious buttermilk pancakes, memories to this day I consider my greatest treasures.

The story is similar on my father’s side of the family.  My father lived in a house on property that once belonged to my great great grandfather, Col. W.R.  Stuart.  Census records show that his cousins, the Stuart Smiths lived just down the road.  My grandfather, Martin Ford was also born in that seaside town, Ocean Springs, Mississippi as was his mother, Josephine Burton Ford.  And her mother, Temple Burton lived all of her free life there (she was born a slave), died there, and is buried there in the same cemetery with the colonel, their son, Alfred, and the colonel’s wife, Elizabeth.  That’s some interesting eternal company – a master, his slave/mother to his children, one of those seven children, and his wife who couldn’t bear him any children.

Whether you’re Dorothy or Toto, a master or slave, I guess there’s just no place like home.

Evergreen Cemetery, Ocean Springs, where my great great grandparents Temple Burton and Col. W.R. Stuart, their son, Alfred Stuart, and the colonel's wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart rest. (photo by Terry Linder)

Winter Solstice – Hope in the Fire

Josephine Burton Ford's glass

My great grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford's glass

Tempy Burton's glass

My great great grandmother, Tempy Burton's glass

Just in time for winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year, my cousin gave me an invaluable gift. She called with news that she has the pictured decorative glasses that once belonged to our great great grandmother, Tempy Burton and our great grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.

She took them out of the house where our grandmother used to live in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina hit. I never even knew the glasses existed.

While I’ve seen pictures of Tempy as a slave in Mississippi, I’ve never seen a picture of Josephine. This glass is the first tangible item of Josephine’s that I’ve come across. Up until now, she’s been a statistic on a few census reports and a marriage certificate, a shared name with my father, Joseph Burton Ford. But with this discovery, she’s a real woman who according to the inscriptions on the glass was sometimes called Josie Ford and in 1905 visited Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Maybe she drank from that glass every night with dinner to be reminded of that town in Michigan known as Bath City because of its mineral waters or maybe she took a ceremonial sip from it just once a year on a special occasion. Maybe, she guarded the glass behind lock and key like my grandmother, Lillie Mae did and only brought it out at the request of inquisitive relatives.

Grandma Lillie Mae showed me a similar kind of glass trimmed with gold on a visit almost 15 years ago. She barely let my fingers graze the gold trim before she quickly returned it to the curio cabinet where she kept it and all of her other treasures literally under lock and key. I’d gone to see her at her home just outside of the French Quarters on the eve of my wedding with the express purpose of finding out about our family’s history. All I left with were a few scribbles on my notebook, an indecipherable tape recording, and a distaste for her house. It was in bad shape. Her cat and the detritus he liked to drag in from outside didn’t help nor did her penchant for hanging onto everything from 40 year old Christmas cards to old newspaper clippings. The house’s sagging porch and Grandma’s backhanded greeting of, “Is that you Dionne? You look like you’ve gained a little weight,” weren’t that welcoming. Grandma Lillie Mae and her house were a lot alike: hard to take, but enduring. Both managed to shelter five children, safeguarded our family’s treasures and weathered innumerable hurricanes including Katrina. Now, they’re both gone.

Grandma Lillie Mae’s house burned down this weekend. Grandma wasn’t in it (she died in May at the age of 98), but my uncle was. That’s why my cousin, Shawnique was really calling, to tell me her dad, my uncle, Henry suffered burns bad enough to put him in the hospital until the New Year. I’m praying for his speedy recovery. While I can’t say I’m sorry to see that old house go, I am sorry that my cousin and I, born only a month apart, who used to write each other with the same frequency that people now update their facebook status had to be reunited under the veil of bad news. We said we’d stay in better touch after seeing each other at Grandma Lillie Mae’s funeral back in May and indeed we have, sending a text here and there, trying to make plans for a visit. Now this.

It isn’t lost on me that this discovery about Josephine and Tempy’s glasses came on the heels of the fire.

Winter solstice ceremonies often involve fire, a symbolic cleansing to clear a path for hopes in the coming year. So, I’m hoping our family fire holds promise of renewed health for my uncle, renewed alliances for Shawnique and me, and renewal of our shared history through more discoveries about Tempy, Josephine and the rest of our clan.

Here’s to hope in the fire – Happy Winter Solstice everyone.

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