Sentimental Sunday: My Great Grandmother’s Poem?

In honor of  National Poetry Month celebrated in April, I’ve been meaning to post a poem that I believe my great grandmother, Josephine wrote over 100 years ago.

On March 2, 1893, this short death notice appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate:

Ocean Springs, Miss.  On Feb. 6, little Frankie C., daughter A.B. & C.H. Stuart, aged 1 year and 10 months.     J. Burton, P.C.

Josephine had not yet married my great grandfather, James Ford, so she was still Josephine Burton. A.B. & C. H. Stuart were her brother, Alfred Burton and his wife, Clara Harding.

A week later on March 9th in the same paper, this poem appeared:

Another sweet spirit from us has flown;
Another little angel has gone to her heavenly home.
Our Father watched her night and day,
To Him you all must lift your voices and pray;
So you may meet her there some day,
When from this earth you’re called away.
Little Frankey has gone to the realms above,
To be comforted by Our Father’s love,
And join the other little angels there
Who never know of any want or care;
Only happiness and rejoicing forever there,
Over the beautiful things so grand and rare.

The poem doesn’t appear to be attributed to anyone. I guess it could be a known poem that was just personalized with little Frankey’s name, but because it appeared in the same paper in which my great-grandmother, Josephine made frequent contributions almost all about her love of God, I believe Josephine wrote this poem to mark the passing of her young beloved niece.

My very first attempts at creative writing when I was little were all poems, all about God, like Josephine’s other publications in the Southwestern. The thought that Josephine may have written this poem makes me feel like I knew her, and her sentiments, even though we never met. It’s as if she handed down, and I picked up “the heritage of mind and heart” that Antoine de Saint-Exupery spoke of in his poem, Generation to Generation.  He wrote that, “Love, like a carefully loaded ship crosses the gulf between the generations.” Discovery of this poem and all of Josephine’s writings (our common love) shrinks that gulf between my great-grandmother and me.

I hope you enjoy the following poem about forgotten history by Pulitzer prize winner and Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who hails from Gulfport, Mississippi, a stone’s throw from Josephine’s home, Ocean Springs:

Elegy for the Native Guard / Poem of the Day : The Poetry Foundation.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Friends from our Family Footsteps Tour

Ms. Lois celebrating her 89th birthday at the Jackson County Archives in Pascagoula, Mississippi where she works full time!

The first stop my cousin Monique and I made on our Family Footsteps tour was to the Jackson County Archives which had copies of court records, land deeds and wills pertaining to our family.  Our new friends “Ms. Lois” Castigliola and Linda Cooper  helped us navigate the books, gently nudged us out the door at quitting time, and let us share in Lois’s birthday celebration.  89 years young, Ms. Lois is still working full-time!

Linda Cooper, Archive Assistant and Ms. Lois in front of the books that contained information on our ancestors.

Madness Monday – Was My Ancestor Lynched?


Yesterday, I shared how my great, great-grandfather escaped the Ku Klux Klan.  Well, not all of my relatives may have been so lucky.

A few weeks ago I heard a new family story – that one of my great, great-grandmother’s sons was lynched.  The news came from a 92 year-old man who actually met my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton when he was a child.  He remembered hearing that her son was lynched, but nothing more.  I don’t know why he was lynched, if it was the Klan that lynched him or someone else. I don’t even know which of Tempy’s sons may have been lynched.  Besides her oldest boy, Alfred, she had two:  Warren and Louis born in the late 1860s probably in New Orleans, Louisiana or Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Both boys probably died sometime after the 1870s when they last show up on the Jackson Educable Index cited on

Investigating a lynching is not exactly what I signed up for when I started this blog  less than a year ago. I just wanted to find out what happened to my great, grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.  But, now that I have this clue, I have to follow it.  This man was Josephine’s brother. His history is my history. He deserves to be found too even if it’s exceedingly painful to see where he ended up.

So far, I’ve checked the following databases that list lynching victims in the United States:

Anywhere else I should look?

Thank you for always sharing your stories.  It gives me the courage to share mine, even when they’re not pretty.

Wordy/Wordless Wednesday: Fun Family times in the Mississippi Gulf, Pre-Oil Spill

My cousin posing for the camera on a beach near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 1976.

The poor area that fostered four generations of my paternal family has been taking a pounding the past two weeks.  First an oil spill, then tornado and this past weekend more storms!  So, here are two pictures from a more tranquil time in the Gulf Coast.  This beach is somewhere near Ocean Springs where my father, his father, and his grandmother were all born and where my great, great-grandmother lived most of her life.  Those are my cousins -  Nicky and Dalvin Ford running from the camera and Haile Ford posing.  Knowing me, I was trying to get one more dip in the water or find one more broken seashell before it was time to call it a day.

My cousins running, probably from the camera on a beach near Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1976.

Do you have any memories (photos or words) of your times on the Gulf Coast?  Please share them and send good thoughts for the people there and the environs. Click to hear an Ocean Springs resident telling National Public Radio how the oil spill is affecting him.

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 (thanks for retweeeting the list LowCountryAfricana) but still nothing. In defeat, I logged on to my 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?

Follow Friday: Oil Spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast


My head’s been too congested all week to track many of my fellow genealogy bloggers, but reports of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have preoccupied my foggy brain.

About a week ago, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf some 50 miles from Louisiana’s shoreline leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead.  A broken pipe attached to the rig fell into the ocean and has been leaking thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico ever since.

That part of Louisiana contains some 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands and is spawning grounds for countless fish and birds according to the New York Times.  Fisherman must be concerned for their livelihood and residents must be worried about the black smoke cloud that controlled burning, one possible remedy to get rid of the oil would leave in the atmosphere.  As the reports kept getting worse with each passing day, I couldn’t help but worry that  swimming might eventually be effected too.

One of my fondest summer memories is driving with my paternal grandfather and cousins from Grandpa’s home in New Orleans to his old stomping ground in Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast and spending an afternoon playing in the Gulf’s surf.  Grandpa mostly watched from the beach, but you could see the sheer delight on his face as his grandchildren played in the Gulf, his Gulf.  We cousins were children of three of his four sons.  Two of those sons were along for the afternoon.  It was almost a Ford family reunion.  To my memory, the only thing whiter than Grandpa’s big smile was that beach.  I’m always surprised to look at pictures from that day and discover that the sand was more gray than white.  But in my memory of that perfect day, the water, the shore, my family were all pristine.

I hope the team of engineers and scientists from BP, Exxon and other oil companies in conjunction with the government can come up with a solution to stop the spill and save the wildlife it’s threatening. (It’s the ecosystem and not swimmers that is currently threatened by this spill).

In the meanwhile, my thoughts are with the families of those missing workers and all of you now affected by this disaster.

If you live in that area, has anything similar happened before? How was it handled and how did it effect you?

Wordless Wednesday: A Family Memento

Joel Brink presenting me with Martha McCauley's cup, probably touched by my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.

The silver child’s cup that I’m holding left me speechless as did the sentiment behind it when  Joel Brink gave it to me during our first meeting this past Sunday.  Joel is an art historian who has published several books about his and his wife’s families.  His wife, Joan descends from a family who owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.

The cup belonged to Martha “Mattie” McCauley who died at age 18 in 1860.  Her mother owned my great, great-grandmother, Temple Burton. Tempy was later given as a wedding present to Mattie’s sister, Elizabeth when she married my great, great-grandfather, Colonel W.R. Stuart.  Undoubtedly, as their slave, Tempy was in charge of keeping this beautiful cup looking shiny in the McCauley’s Mississippi home.  Joan and Joel gave it to me because it was something probably touched by Tempy. As Joan wrote in  her beautiful note that sent me sobbing more than once, this cup is a reminder of the connection between our families, now renewed.

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.

Wordy/Wordless Wednesday: My Great, Great-Grandmother's Appraisal

This probate court record appraised my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton and child at $1,600.

I’m not quite up to the task of expressing my thoughts upon seeing this document.  Nothing, not even seeing my great, great-grandmother bequeathed in a will drives home the true state of her situation as does this 1860 probate court appraisal of the “goods & chattels and personal estate of Judith B. Jones.”  Mrs. Jones was one of several family members that owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.   The appraisers placed Tempy’s value and that of an infant child at $1,600.  She would have been about 40 years old when this document was written.

This document was so dispiriting that I considered not sharing it at all until I realized that the specifics included in it, like the names and ages of slaves, might prove useful to some other researcher.  So here they are (they’ll be familiar from the wills earlier posted in which my grandmother was bequeathed):

Tiller a woman, about forty-eight years of age, black….$450

William, a man, twenty-two years of age………………….$1,000

Reuben, man, aged 33 years of age…………………………..$1,400

Tom, a boy, 17 years of age, tall, well grown………………$1,600

Tempy, a woman & child, year old……………………………$1,600

Vincent, a man, 24 years of age……………………………….$1,700

Susan, woman, 23 years of age………………………………..$1,400

Offa, a boy, 11 yrs of age………………………………………….$1,100

Tanny, girl, 10 yrs of age……………………………………………$900
Thanks to historians Ray Bellande and Joel Brink for getting this document to me and to any other researcher whom may consider it useful.

Follow Friday: A3Genealogy's hints for Finding Josephine

Funeral book memento provided by Payne & Sons, Bakersfield, California Funeral Directors upon the death of my grandfather, Nathaniel Jones.

There are so many informative and compelling genealogy blogs that have helped and inspired me on my own journey that it seems impossible to give them all their due.  But I can give it a try, one Friday at a time.  I’ll start with Kathleen Brandt’s A3genealogy.

A professional genealogist, Brandt’s blog is chock-full of helpful information and interesting things I’ve never come across before.

A few weeks back, her excellent post on Funeral Home Documentation caught my eye.  She noted that a funeral home record might have more personal information on the deceased written in its margins that might not be included in the death certificate.  This gave me another avenue to take for finding Josephine:  a funeral home.

I’d been stumped about where to look for my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford, for whom my blog is named.  I’d never asked her son, my grandfather, when she died, so I had to guess.  Based on the fact that she was last listed in the census in 1920 and that my father, born in the mid 30s never met her, I estimated around 1930 as her date of death.  I filled out a death record application, sent it to the Mississippi Vital records department in Jackson County, Mississippi where I assumed my grandmother had died and crossed my fingers.  Without an exact date of death, the vital records  department can only look so far.  In Mississippi’s case – that’s five years in either direction.  Their search fell just shy of Josephine’s date of death, 1922.

Because of Kathleen’s post, I was just beginning to track down funeral homes in Ocean Springs that may have catered to blacks in hopes of finding Josephine. But greater forces were at work.  Before I could finish searching, Ocean Springs historian, Ray Bellande found the funeral record at the Biloxi Library in a Bradford O’Keefe funeral home book, unraveling the mystery of what ever happened to my great-grandmother, Josephine!

Stop by A3genealogy if you haven’t already and maybe you’ll get some helpful hints for redirecting your search.

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