Motivational Monday: A Slave’s Story Makes History

 

When “12 Years A Slave” won an Oscar for best picture last night, it made history.  It is the first film directed by a black person to ever win the best picture Oscar in the Academy Award’s 86 year history.

When I told my 14 year-old this, she didn’t believe me.

“That’s ratchet,” she said, which means messed up.  That it took so long is messed up on the one hand, but hopeful on the other.  That Solomon Northup’s story would reach such prominence after almost being forgotten is hopeful, even if it took over 150 years.  That his story of enslavement has resonated with so many people and is recognized as American history, (not only black American) is also hopeful. That the actress, Lupita Nyong’o spoke so eloquently of the joy she is awarded based on the pain of the people she and the cast portrayed is also hopeful. That she was born on the same day as my 14 year-old who also wants to be an actress is just a bonus.

While no one has (yet :-) ) made a film about my family’s history, there is a book that touches on some of it.  “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom” by Herbert Gutman is a detailed portrait of the life of people once enslaved by the Stirling family (and other plantation owners) in Louisiana.   My third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton was enslaved by the Stirlings. While I haven’t found evidence of her referenced in its pages, Gutman’s book gives me a glimpse into how those in similar circumstances to Eliza lived before and after slavery.  Speaking of books, let me get back to writing mine – I need something to pitch to Hollywood!

Before I go, listen to what Solomon Northup’s third great-grandson had to say about the Academy Award-winning film based on his grandfather’s life and what he would say if he won an Oscar.

Sentimental Sunday: Family History Field Trip

My family and me on a post vacation field trip to the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

This year, as in years past, we had a  five generation vacation on Hilton Head island. I’ve been taking this trip to the Low Country with my family for the past decade, the generations growing over the years.

My husband and I tend to drive because flights are expensive and we have a lot of accoutrements like boogie boards, shovels for the sand and this year, lacrosse sticks since my daughter is learning this game invented by Native Americans.  On the way down, we’re too excited for our vacation to get started to make any stops, but on the way back, we like to break up the sadness of our vacation’s end and the monotony of driving home by a post vaca field trip.  In the past, we’ve stopped at the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Monument and the National Archives. But this year, we stopped at the Maryland Historical Society to do a little family digging.

My fifth cousin alerted me to the fact that extracts from a Stuart family bible, my paternal ancestors, were in the historical society’s library.  So, after driving eight hours up route 95, we stopped in Baltimore.  I sifted through ancient wooden boxes with peeling parchment inside trying to find the family Bible extracts while my husband and daughters walked through the museum.  In one of the exhibits, they ran into John Wilkes Booth, whose family was from Maryland and a man who had fought in the War of 1812.  The veteran said something like 20 percent of the combatants of that war were Africans.  Never learned that (or about the War of 1812 for that matter) in my history class.    The  200 year-olds wandering around the exhibits were actually the Maryland Historical Society Players who act out and interpret parts of Maryland History.  My own family’s history seemed to be coming to life in the reading room, albeit not so dramatically, rather with serendipity.

As I leafed through the papers of Sarah Elizabeth Stuart,  I discovered that this woman was a genealogist.   She didn’t seem much interested in my family’s history – after about a half hour of searching, I realized the family Bible extracts were submitted by someone else – a female family member with a different surname. But Sarah’s meticulous records of other family’s lineages were arranged in neat piles and stuffed into thin brown envelopes with typed written requests for her services attached. One such request was from an officer of the Daughters of the American Revolution who had used her services to track people’s Revolutionary War ancestors several times before.   I wonder if Sarah and I are actually related and what the going rate was for a genealogist back then.

Speaker Saturday: Talking Genealogy at the Mocha Moms National Convention

Picture of the Paris Las Vegas hotel where I'm staying and speaking about tracing my roots at Mocha Moms' national convention. (Photo courtesy of expedia.com)

When I was pregnant with my second child and still getting my bearings as a mother, I joined Mocha Moms, a national organization that supports mothers of color.  I was one of a group of about ten women who founded our  chapter in Northern New Jersey and was honored to be that group’s first vice president.  Being part of Mocha Moms was very grounding for me, similar to how it’s felt to trace my roots and reclaim my family’s lost history.

So, when my friend, Kuae Mattox, Co-founder of our Essex County Mocha Moms chapter and now president of the national organization asked me to speak at their  national convention about tracing my roots, I was both excited and thrilled.  True to their purpose of supporting mothers of color, they’ve had some fantastic workshops at this year’s conference on everything from preventing cyber-bullying to saving money. Author Amy Chua will share her experiences raising her daughters chronicled in her best selling memoir, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Before wrapping up tomorrow, conference goers get an advance screening of the movie, “The Help” based on the book by Kathryn Stockett.

What a gift it was for me to find the Mocha Moms, to find my roots and to connect them now here at this conference.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: New Year gifts

My cousin, Monique made this pillow for me as a Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year's gift. It displays our ancestor Tempy Burton's 1891 newspaper ad, looking for her family whom she had been separated from by slavery.

During our New Year get together while the kids were busy playing Wii, Monique and I poured over the book "History of Queen Anne County" by Frederick Emory. It's full of information about our Stuart ancestors during their time in Chestertown, Maryland.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Dionne Ford

Friend of Friend Friday: Slave Burial Ground in Virginia

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.

Photo Friday: My ancestors and me at the Maryland Historical Society

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?

Talented Tuesday on Wordy Wednesday: My talented, prosperous ancestors

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.)

Amanuensis Monday: How My Ancestor Celebrated Columbus Day.

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!

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?

Obituary Sunday: Alfred B. Stuart’s death notice

Last week, my friend, Shannon Brock sent me a couple of death notices that she thought pertained to my family.  I’m not sure about one of them, but the following is definitely the death notice for my kin, Alfred B. Stuart. He was great, great-grandfather to  my cousin Monique and my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford’s brother.  Here is the transcribed death notice as it appeared:

Times Picayune, Thursday, October 4, 1928:

STUART – On Wednesday afternoon at 4:45 o’clock.  ALFRED B. STUART, beloved father of Mrs. Lillian Boyd, Mrs. Temple Smith of New York,  one sister, Mrs. Viola Battle of New Orleans, LA. Remains to be shipped to  Ocean Springs, miss., Thursday morning, October 6, 1928 at 11 a.m. via L. & N. R.R. Funeral services Thursday afternoon 3 p.m. at St. James Church, Ocean Springs, Miss. Los Angeles, Cal. papers please copy.  Arrangement by the Geo. D. Geddes Undertaking Company.

The next week, the family published this follow up:

Times Picayune, Wednesday, October 10, 1928

Thanks

WE TAKE this method to thank our many friends, both white and colored, for the beautiful floral offerings, kind words and loving care during the illness and death of our beloved brother and father, ALFRED BURTON STUART who died October 3, 1938.

The bereaved family,

MRS. VIOLA BATTLE, A SISTER, MESDAMES TEMPY SMITH, LILLIAN BOYD AND BERTHA S. RICE, DAUGHTERS

Thanks again, Shannon for connecting us with more important family documents to help us in our research.


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