Treasure Chest Thursday: Great-Grandmother, Josephine: FOUND!

Josephine Burton Ford's funeral record.

One of the biggest mysteries in the search for my family’s history was that of my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford for whom this blog is named.  Born and raised in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, she was married there, raised a family there, but disappeared after the 1920 census, the last record I had of her existence.  Since I’ve been searching for her, my thoughts about what may have become of her have run the gamut from her being the victim of a  brutal murder to her running off to start over somewhere she wouldn’t be found.

Thanks to findagrave.com volunteer, Ann Nash, art historian, Joel Brink, and Ocean Springs historian, Ray Bellande, the mystery has been solved.

According to the funeral record that my genealogy buddies forwarded to me, Josephine died on May 15, 1922.  The cause of death was tuberculosis.  She was 46. Her funeral was handled by Bradford O’Keefe Funeral Home in Ocean Springs and she was interred at Evergreen Cemetery.  That’s the same place where her brother, Alfred Burton Stuart and her mother, Temple Burton were laid to rest.  Josephine’s father, Col. W. R. Stuart is in a different part of the cemetery in a family plot with his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart. My great-grandmother is at peace with her family.

I’m still in a euphoric shock to finally have this big piece of my missing history illuminated. Perhaps this post would have been better left to Wordless Wednesday since I don’t quite have the words to express how grateful I am to know what happened to Josephine.  Thanks again to Ann, Joel and Ray for getting this vital document to me and to the wider genealogy blogging community for sharing in this journey.  You all are the best bunch of friends I’ve never met.

Now, I’m going to go look for Josephine’s burial spot at Evergreen.  It appears there are a lot of unknowns in unmarked graves around the area where Josephine’s mother and brother were buried, the first place I’ll look.

What ancestry mystery are you trying to solve?

Negro? Please.

My grandfather, Martin Luther Ford, referred to as "mulatto" in some census documents.

In the 2010 Census, people will be able to classify themselves as Negro.  The U.S. Census Bureau has added “Negro” to its forms again because some people prefer to be called by the term an official said.

I’d love to meet the people who refer to themselves as Negro.  Seriously.  I’m always interested in people’s personal philosophies when it comes to identity.  Why someone would want to call themselves something that conjures up the Jim Crow south is particularly intriguing.

My grandmother referred to herself and other black people as colored well into the 1980s, but she’s 93. That’s what blacks were called in the early 1900s in Oklahoma where she grew up.  Her father, my great grandfather, Bud Anderson had a penchant for calling everybody the n word, but only if he liked you. He also liked to carry around a shotgun, so I’m sure people just swallowed his generous use of the n word whether they found it offensive or not.  My great grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford and my grandfather, Martin Ford were classified as mulattoes in a 1910 census.  I wonder if that’s how my great grandmother saw herself, as a mulatto.  I know that’s not how my grandfather saw himself.  When I asked him if he was white, he made it clear he considered himself a black man.  But I’m grateful that the census made this distinction however distasteful the word mulatto may be.  “Mulatto” helped me find them in census reports and their ancestors in archives.

I like to call myself black even though some might consider African American the politically correct term. I’ve tried to use African American for myself, but it never feels right.  The term didn’t come into popularity until I was in my late teens and I was used to and liked the term black by then.  Besides, Africa is a big continent encompassing a plethora of cultures.  Would an American whose parents were born in Egypt call herself African American, or one with parents born in India consider himself Asian American?  I’d like to know.   How do you identify yourself?

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