Yesterday, Christmas showed up a little early and in my email. That seems to be the way I get all of my best genealogy-related surprises.
First, a third cousin, once removed shows up in my ancestry.com email a year and a half ago and jump-starts my ancestry research with her common obsession and appreciation for all things “relative.” A year later, a complete stranger emails said cousin and me information about a third great-grandmother we didn’t even know existed, helping us reclaim another generation of our family’s tree. Then last night, a fellow geneablogger I haven’t “met” yet named Yvonne posted a comment on my blog, congratulating me on the nomination which then showed up in my email.
“What nomination?” I wondered. Between my daughters’ swim practices and meets, Holiday Pageant rehearsals, PTA meetings, a book proposal that I’m writing, and Christmas shopping that mocks me from my ever-increasing list of things to do, I’m a little out of the loop.
Then I remembered. Last month, my cousin, Monique sent me an email saying she’d nominated Finding Josephine for Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs.
Family. Gotta love em!
And I love finding out whatever I can about them, discovering new members of my extended tribe, and sharing what I find and how I find it with all of you.
You can vote for Finding Josephine or any of the other hundred plus nominees at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ft40-2011voting.
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 ancestry.com. Now, she’s done it again. Monique found another one of our cousins, again on ancestry.com. (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.
View from the Slave Burial Ground, Sweet Briar College, Amherst, VA.
While at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’ve had the chance to visit the slave burial grounds at nearby Sweet Briar College. Over the years that I’ve been coming to the VCCA to write, I became aware of the grounds and was happy to learn that they were being preserved. Sweet Briar College was once a plantation and dozens of enslaved people are buried there. Thanks to the work of a team of preservationists headed by Dr. Lynn Rainville, these grounds are safe from disappearing and another descendant is closer to finding their ancestor.
Rainville, a research anthropologist and historian at Sweet Briar College, received a grant earlier this year from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the African American Family Database. The project is a model for researching African-American families from antebellum to post-bellum times and when completed will help descendants find their enslaved ancestors.
My third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart and me at the Maryland Historical Society. Photo by Flannery Silva. Fuzziness courtesy of my iphone.
Yesterday, on my way down to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I’m working on my family history project, I stopped in Baltimore to see some relatives – some living, some dead. The living one is my niece, Flannery, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art. She accompanied me to see my ancestors whose portraits are housed at the Maryland Historical Society, just blocks from her school. Funny the way things work.
Flanny was kind enough to take photos of me with the portraits of my second great uncle, Alexander Stuart, his wife, Matilda (who was sporting an amazing ermine robe), my third great uncle, Andrew Stuart, and my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart pictured above. See any family resemblance?
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:
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.
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. Oceanspringsarchives.net 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.)
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!
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.
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!
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 Blackpast.org, 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?