Finding Josephine in the Newspaper


I’ve written about my great-grandmother Josephine’s letters to the editor on this blog several times.  But today, I had the chance to write about her editorials and the newspaper-writing vocation she and I share in TueNight - a weekly online publication.   I hope you’ll check it out.

Samba Saturday: Slavery History in Brazil


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?

Treasure Chest Thursday: Thanks to, Another Cousin, Found!

My third cousin, Sylvia!

My cousin Monique is now the queen of all Internet searches.  It was her voracious searching that turned up my second great-grandfather’s Civil War era sword on ebay, a portrait of one of our ancestors at the Maryland Historical Society on their online database, and me on  Now, she’s done it again.  Monique found another one of our cousins, again on  (I think that internet genealogy site is going to have to start paying her soon – she’s a walking commercial for their services!)

Meet cousin Sylvia Smith Isabel.    She lives a short bus or train ride away in New York and is as passionate about uncovering our family’s history as Monique and I.

Keeping track of all these cousins can be confusing so here is how we’re all related:

The ancestors that all three of us have in common are Tempy Burton and Col. W.R. Stuart, aka The Colonel.  Tempy was a slave in  Elizabeth McCauley’s family.  When Elizabeth married the Colonel, Tempy was  given to the couple as a wedding gift.  Elizabeth couldn’t have any children but Tempy could and did have seven, probably all with The Colonel.  But two of her children were definitely The Colonel’s, documented through their death certificates.  They were Alfred Burton Stuart, Tempy and The Colonel’s oldest child and Josephine Burton Ford, their youngest child.  Alfred was Monique’s great, great-grandfather and Sylvia’s great-grandfather. Josephine Burton Ford was my great-grandmother.  Using the cousin calculator that makes Sylvia and Monique first cousins, once removed, Monique and I third cousins, once removed and Sylvia and I plain ole third cousins.

Two days after Thanksgiving, Monique and her family came over to our house and we had a few good hours of laughs over all the things we’ve found this past year and we were feeling pretty thankful, like we’d reached the peak of our genealogy mountain and could just take in the view.  Then, two days later, with the discovery of Sylvia, we had even more to be thankful for, and more history to uncover (her dad grew up on Alfred’s farm and told her stories of  Alf  working as an unofficial town vet – news to us!).  It feels like we’re at the beginning of another journey.

Check out the other cousin we found earlier this year, Renee Smith.

Friend of Friend Friday: Slaves of Alexander Stirling

I found the above will in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at the Louisiana State University.  The Stirling family, wealthy Louisiana planters, owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton.  I’ve been scrolling through the microfilmed documents hoping that they will include some information about her.   The Stirlings kept receipts for everything  from purchases at their favorite New Orleans clothing store to  ferry trips across the bayou. So far, Eliza hasn’t turned up in their voluminous records but scores of other enslaved people have.  Here are slave names included in Alexander Stirling’s 1808 will:

Lucy, 15

Nan, 7

Old Kitty



Betsy, mulatto child of my negro woman Sarah

Lucy and Nan were to be left to Alexander’s daughter, Anne.  Old Kitty was to be freed upon Alexander’s death and Hercules and Tennance would be freed when Alexander’s son, John turned 21.  For “(his) own reasons,” Alexander puts the mulatto child, Betsy and her mother, Sarah under his son, Henry’s care. (Sarah could also be under her son John’s care if she wants, but her daughter, Betsey will have to be under John’s will).  I can’t help but wonder what that’s all about.  But more importantly, I can’t help but hope that this information can be helfpful to someone searching for their ancestors.

I’ll keep posting any slave names I come across as I go.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Wordless Wednesday: A Confederate's Monument to His Slave

Confederate fighter William Hill Howcott erected this monument to his slave, Willis Howcott in Canton, Mississippi (Photo courtesy Joel Brink)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, while the Howcott/Howcutt family are not blood relatives, our families are connected.  Their ancestor, Hill Jones is the earliest owner I can find of my great, great-grandmother, Temple Burton. William Hill Howcott, Hill Jones’s grandson, erected the monument pictured above in Canton, Mississippi to honor his slave, Willis.  William Hill was a member of Harvey’s Scouts, a special unit in the Confederate Army. According to Joel Brink’s Howcott family memoir, the young slave, Willis was killed accompanying his master into battle…with the Confederates. The strange institution of slavery never ceases to amaze.

Read more about this unusual monument at the website of my quasi-cousin, Francis Howcutt.

Monday Madness – Dealing with Ancestral Anger

Tempy Burton's glass

My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton's glass inscribed with her name, date August 1905, Mt. Clemens, Michigan. (Courtesy Shawnique Ford)

One of my friends sent me an encouraging note today, complementing this blog before posing the following question:

“Doesn’t it make you angry to uncover this stuff? Even just the language that is used in some of these documents- “sale” and “slave” -make me cringe…..yet your writing doesn’t have an angry tone. How do you do it?”

I think that by the time I write about my discoveries here, I’ve had a chance to digest them.

It was heart-breaking to see my great, great-grandmother, Temple Burton listed as property in a will after farm animals and equipment.  The description of her owner,  my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart as a “distinguished Southerner” in his obituary catapulted me into a temporary rage.  But these two titles, slave, and slave owner are single aspects of my two ancestors’ stories. They’re hard truths, but they’re not the only truths and to focus on them solely leaves me with labels for  great, great-grandparents as opposed to full people with aspirations and desires that I hope to discover.   Information empowers me.  Discovering that Tempe took a trip with her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine that was important enough to commemorate with the pictured decorative glasses is balm to a wound. Knowing that the Colonel cultivated the Stuart pecan, named for him and still grown today engenders a certain amount of pride.

Of course my great, great-grandmother’s enslavement angers me and that my great, great-grandfather was her enslaver is a double whammy. But what’s harder to take is no information at all.

It still boggles my mind that Temple stayed on with the Stuarts after emancipation for another 60 years! Her son Alfred Burton Stuart lived in Ocean Springs as well, married with children, so why not just go and live with him?  And then there is Josephine.  Born and raised in Ocean Springs, married and raising children in her home town, she virtually disappears after the 1920 census.  How does someone who lived her entire life in the same place just vanish?

These unanswered question are like a lead weight on my head. Maybe it’s my journalism background, but I’d rather know the truth than be in the dark, even when the truth is dirty and mean.

Which motto do you live by: “The truth shall set you free” or “What I don’t know won’t hurt me?”

Josephine Burton Ford's glass

My great-grandmother, Josephine Ford Burton's glass inscribed with her name, date and Mt. Clemens, Michigan. (Courtesy Shawnique Ford)

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