Follow Friday: Ancestry Inspired Reading


Ever since I started this journey to trace my family’s history, I’ve broadened my reading tastes.  I’ve been inspired to read books that I might not otherwise and have even reread some books with a new eye.

Here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months that have enlightened me about the south, bettered my understanding of conditions for my slave ancestors, and given me compassion for the many genealogists who come up against a big family secret:

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs – I first read this book touted as fiction, but based on a real slave’s life when I was in college.  I decided to reread it this summer when it came to my attention that my family is connected to the real story.  The master that Jacobs escapes from, Dr. Flint, was based on a Dr. James Norcom.  If I’ve followed the history correctly as outlined in Joel Brink’s book, A Tale of Two Families, Norcom was related through marriage to the family that owned my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton. The genealogy world is very, very small.

One Drop by Bliss Broyard – Broyard’s discovery of her father’s black ancestry sends her on a journey to learn more about her family’s history.  Like mine, Broyard’s paternal family hails from New Orleans and her search takes her to my ancestral home, the heart of her father’s secret identity.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag. This novel offers a slice of Southern American life centering around the owners of Whistle Stop Cafe in Alabama.  The L&N railroad line also plays a dominant role in the novel as it did in my family’s life.  At least one of my ancestors worked on this train line and as a child my father used to make spending money by selling fish to its passengers when the train would stop in his town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Genealogy, science and ethics intersect in this fascinating story of a poor, black woman whose cancer cells are used for the benefit of science unbeknownst to her or her family and long after her death. My book club had a robust discussion on the ethics of using her cells without her or her family’s knowledge and if her descendents should benefit from the profits that some companies have gained from said usage.

Annie’s GhostWashington Post editor, Steven Luxenberg tries to uncover his mother’s motivation in keeping a family secret in his riveting journey to learn more about the disabled aunt he never knew he had.  A lot of the story takes place in Detroit, his hometown and I smiled when he mentioned a place I recognized from my own ancestry research:  Mount Clemens, Michigan.  None of my maternal family has roots in Michigan to my knowledge, but my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton and her daughter, Josephine Burton Ford seemed to have visited there in 1905.  My cousin  has two decorative glasses inscribed with their names, the date and Mount Clemens.  At the time, it was known as a resort town.

Next on my ancestry-inspired reading list are Buzzy Jackson’s, Shaking the Family Tree and Pulitzer Prize-wining poet Natasha Trethewey’s memoir, Beyond Katrina.

What ancestry inspired reading can you recommend?

Follow Friday: My Third Great Granddad’s College Blog

This week, I contacted administrators at Washington College, alma mater of my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart to make arrangements for a visit.  I found out that Stuart went to Washington College while reading his obituary written by his friend and fellow Washington College alum, Ezekiel Chambers. Chambers and Stuart grew up together in Chestertown, MD where Washington College is located.  The college website boasts a picture of Chambers and describes him and his family as important pieces of the college’s legacy. My third great-grandfather and Chambers would have been among the college’s earliest graduates.  The two went on to serve in the Maryland State Senate together.

According to their website, Washington College, founded in the early 1780s was the first college chartered in the new nation.  Our first president, George Washington was founder and patron of the institution which says it’s committed to a broader understanding of our country’s history.   I’m so looking forward to traveling to the college this fall and seeing the places my grandfather may have roamed and studied which no doubt shaped his opinions and prepared him for a career in the Maryland State Senate. Until I can get to the college itself, I’ll be following their Poplar Grove Project blog.

Poplar Grove is an historic home in the area and students from Washington College found a treasure trove of letters and other papers in the attic there a couple of years ago.  Under the direction of history teacher Adam Goodheart, and in conjunction with the Maryland State Archives, the Poplar Grove Papers have since been archived.  And guess what?  In the index for the Poplar Grove collection on the State Archive’s website, there is mention of a William Stuart.  Professor Goodheart tipped me off to my ancestor’s possible connection with the papers when I contacted him to make arrangements to visit their college. I’m not sure if it’s my William Stuart, but I’ve already started going through the archived material available online to find out.  I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the story of Washington College’s students finding the Poplar Grove papers on NPR.

Monday Madness: Ancestral Property Found, Lost & Found Again


Ever since my cousin, Monique and I returned from our trip down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to do some ancestry research, I’ve been thinking about all the property my ancestors accumulated and then lost.

It was a source of inspiration to me that my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton who had been a slave and could not read or write purchased an acre of land in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1887.  It never even occurred to us that she had owned her own property.  We always assumed that she lived with her former masters, Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart after she was emancipated until she died in 1925 at the age of 104.  Indeed, Tempy was listed living with Elizabeth on the 1900 census.  But turns out she bought property of her own. The way we found what was known as “Tempy Burton’s Lot” in the Jackson County Archives was as surprising as the fact that she was a homeowner.

Archive Assistant, Linda Cooper was helping me look through the massive deed books for Josephine Ford’s property.  (The books are so big, Linda needed another person to hold the book whenever she made a copy of a page).   Monique was trying to keep her mind off her hunger (it was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet) so she was randomly browsing through indexes, looking for any familiar names. That’s when she yelled to me from across the office.  She’d found Tempy Burton in an index for land owners in 1889.

With a trip to the Jackson County Chancery Court office around the corner from the Archives, we found that Tempy paid $60 for her acre of property. (Deed Book 9, p. 395)  She would later convey some of this land to my great-grandmother, Josephine and another daughter, Violet Matthews Battle for a dollar each.(Deed Book 45, p. 304 & 305)   Not only was Tempy a landowner, but she made sure her daughters were too.  As we continued digging through the land rolls in the Jackson County Archives, we found that all of these properties were lost to tax debt decades later.  It bummed me out that a later generation of my family had lost something so precious, land acquired by their slave ancestor.

Driving around town earlier in the day, we’d come across a lot owned by Monique’s great-grandmother, Tempy Elizabeth Stuart.  The lot was for sale. At the time, we didn’t know about Tempy’s lot and how her younger generations had lost it.  Can’t help but wonder if it’s still for sale…

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Trip of a Lifetime

Beautiful Front Beach, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, apparently unaffected by the oil spill (not one tar ball found)!

We found so much new information, and made so many happy memories, but here are  five treasures  from our dig that immediately come to mind:

  • 5. Standing in front of the stained glass windows dedicated to my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley which decorate the sanctuary at St. Paul’s Church in Ocean Springs. The lovely employees there took pictures of us in front of the windows.  And parishioner, Terry Linder drove us out to the cemetery to pay our respects to our people.
  • 4. Visiting the graves of my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton, great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and their children all at  Evergreen cemetery in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  In New Orleans, we  visited my grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford at Lakelawn Cemetery,  my third great-grandfather William R. Stuart who rests across the street from her in a mausoleum at Cypress Grove, and my grandfather, Martin Ford at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metarie.
  • 3. Discovering that Col. W.R. Stuart  had a family bible that used to be stored at St. Paul’s.  Sadly, it’s been lost.
  • 2. Talking to a 95 year-old woman who knew Monique’s great-grandmother, Tempy Elizabeth Stuart.  She remembered Tempy Elizabeth playing the piano for her and her family at her home.
  • 1. Learning that great, great-grandma Tempy Burton who had been a slave and couldn’t read or write, owned a home! In deed books it was called Tempy Burton’s Lot.

Tombstone Tuesday: Great, Great-Grandma’s Gussied Up Grave

Great, great-grandma Tempy Burton's grave looking spiffy! The colorful rocks are mementos prepared by Monique, myself and our daughters before we left on our journey.

While on our research trip last week to the Mississippi Gulf, my cousin Monique and I paid our respects to our ancestors’ graves, including great, great-grandma Tempy Burton’s located at the Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  We were overcome with emotion (and mosquitos) when we came upon her tombstone, covered by a canopy of trees and overlooking a bayou. We were also struck by how clean and white the tombstone looked especially since it’s almost 100 years old!  Could it be that someone gave Tempy’s tombstone a makeover?  (Maybe Granny told them her people were coming!)

But seriously, this is what her tombstone looked like a few months back when Find A Grave volunteer Ann Nash discovered it:

Tempy's grave at Evergreen Cemetery a few months ago, courtesy of Ann Nash.

Searching Saturday: Still Tracing my Ancestors’ Footsteps

Beignets and Iced Coffee at the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

On the second leg of our Ancestry Tour today, my cousin Monique and I visited with my uncle, Henry, paid our respects to our ancestors at three different cemeteries, then bought some voodoo dolls.  In the evening, we tracked our ancestors all over town from the Cotton Exchange where my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart conducted business to the Dauphin Avenue house where his brother Alexander cared for their father, William Stuart,  while he battled and eventually died of yellow fever.

In between pounding the cobblestones of the French Quarters, we stopped at Cafe du Monde to refuel with some beignets and cafe au lait.  They were worth every carb!

Treasure Chest Thursday: Six Degrees of Slave Owner Separation


It’s nice to be back from a great vacation where I unplugged from my computer and soaked up the surf and sun.

Even though I wasn’t blogging or researching, genealogy was never too far from me.  As we made our way down to Hilton Head, South Carolina,  we passed a town named Burtonville (Burton is my great, great-grandmother’s surname) and saw a sign for Nash County, NC where many of my ancestor’s slave owners were from.  If there is one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that the genealogy world is small, and all relative.  And my ancestors’ world was just as small if not smaller and it seems their owners really were related.

A few months back when I realized that one of the women who owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempy was Judith Boddie, I started searching for information about the prominent North Carolina Boddie family and found a Google book with extensive information about their lineage.   The book, Lineage and Tradition of the Herring, Conyers, Hendrick, Boddie, Perry, Crudup, Denson and Hilliard Families shows the interconnection of all these families through marriage.  When I found it,  I didn’t know that another family listed in this book also owned my ancestors.  While Tempy was owned by the Boddies, her sisters, Polly and Liberia were owned by Dr. Robert Hilliard. Hilliard settled in Louisiana but was originally from Nash, NC.  The Google book shows generations of intermarriage between the Boddies and Hilliards.  There is even one family member named Tempe Boddie Hilliard!  (Tempe was a popular name among both families).

Six degrees of separation?  I think a lot less.

Can you connect yourself to the president through six people or less?  A woman at my gym works for him.  Your turn.

Treasure Chest Thursday: My Happy 101 Award

Thanks, Liz for this award!

Now that my daughters are out of school (and it’s 93 degrees!), it really feels like summer.  I’ll be checking in less frequently, but I’ll still be digging up my history between digging in the sand and lying in the sun. Before the relaxation begins, I wanted to acknowledge the Happy 101 Award I was honored with from Liz at My Big Fat Family blog.

Recipients of this award are supposed to name 10 things that make them happy and then pass the award onto others.

My happiness list:

  1. My daughters’ laughter,  distinctive sounds guaranteed to cure depression or anger.
  2. My husband, for too many reasons to list.
  3. The smell of turning leaves on a fall day.
  4. Samba.
  5. Dancing with my friends.
  6. Genealogy bloggers.
  7. My new cousins that I’ve found on this journey.
  8. Museum trips on rainy days.
  9. A good play, book, or movie any day.
  10. Story-telling.

A few of the many genealogy bloggers who also make me happy that I pass this award onto:

Renate at Into the Light, Robyn at Reclaiming Kin, and  Sandra at I Never Knew My Father

Thanks, Liz for the award and comraderie.  Happy summer (number 11) and keep digging up that history!

Follow Friday: Finding my Enslaved Third Great-Grandmother


Yesterday, I shared with you all that I’d found another generation of my family tree.  I now know that Eliza Burton was my third great-grandmother, a slave on a plantation in Attakapas, Louisiana and was owned by a Dr. Sterling.  Along with my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton, Eliza had three other children and two sisters. I know all of this because Eliza’s daughter, Tempy told me so in her own words.  in 1891, Tempy placed an ad in the Southwestern Christian Advocate looking for her family, separated by slavery.  So how did Tempy’s 120 year-old petition to find her family then find me, her great, great-granddaughter now?   The following e-mail from my new friend, Shannon (reproduced here with permission and edited for privacy) explains it all:

Basically, I’m fascinated by historic newspapers.  My husband does a great deal of historical work, and before I moved (to Louisiana) to marry him, I was a curator at a  museum in New Orleans.  So I subscribe to Ancestry, GenealogyBank, and – although this will surprise you as the place where I found Tempy’s advertisements – the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which has a fantastic run of 19th century newspapers (from all over the country, not just New England) available on its website.  One of the newspapers is the Southwestern Christian Advocate.  I came upon the Lost Friends column purely by accident, while searching for something else.  It is compelling, if harrowing, reading.  Sometimes if a story really grips me, I’ll do a Google search to see if any of the person’s descendants are looking for them.  Sometimes I’ll lurk on the Afrigeneas board to see if I can find someone who connects – I’m white but an ardent admirer of the work that Afrigeneas does – but until today I’ve never actually found anyone looking for the writer of the article.  So, this morning, I was just in the mood to read Lost Friends, and I picked one entirely at random, and it was Tempy’s, and it gripped me.  And there was your cousin’s old posting (on Afrigeneas) looking for information about her.  I think it must have been fate, pure and simple!

I joined the New England Historic Genealogical Society within 24 hours of getting Shannon’s email and like Shannon, I’m pretty hooked on their newspaper collection.  If you haven’t already, leave a message on AfriGeneas or any other genealogy board that might help you find your ancestors.  They want to find you as much as you want to find them.

What historic society have you joined and which of their resources do you most utilize?

Treasure Chest Thursday: Another enslaved ancestor found!

“I desire to find my people.” That’s how my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton begins her June 4, 1891 ad in the Southwestern Christian Advocate.  Known simply as the Southwestern, this paper was started in 1877 and covered the African Methodist Episcopal community.  Like Tempy, I come from the AME tradition. I was baptized in the AME church where my father is now an ordained minister. Also like Tempy, I desire to find my people.  That desire led me to my cousin Monique who I met via email a year ago on June 3, just shy of the anniversary of Tempy’s ad.  Great minds think alike because  initially, Monique thought we should put an ad in an Ocean Springs, Mississippi paper where our people are from with the headline “Looking for the Burtons.”  But we figured a blog was cheaper with a farther reach, so Finding Josephine was born. Thanks to the Southwestern and a good Samaritan named Shannon,  we all found our people.

The Southwestern ad appeared in a column called “Lost Friends” which helped former slaves find their lost family, separated by slavery.  Tempy’s  humble, heartfelt petition names her mother, Eliza Burton, her sisters, Nancy, Polly and Liberia Burton, a brother, Albert Burton, and two aunts, Peggie Manrow and Bettie Matthews.

I’ve clung to the hope that I would be able to take my research back another generation and find Tempy’s parents, but I knew the chances were slim.  Like Tempy,  her parents  would inevitably be slaves whose names and places of birth were a mystery to me. If I did find either of them, I figured it would come way down the research road when my kids were older and I could steal a few days to take a genealogy jaunt to North Carolina where Tempy’s owners come from.  Even then, they would only turn up after many sweaty afternoons in the bowels of a municipal office, bent over ancient, dusty deed books or wills. (I can hear all you genealogy junkies out there getting excited just at the thought!) But instead, with one email from a woman I’ve never met who loves historic newspapers, impassioned pleas, and combing the AfriGeneas African-American genealogy website, I’ve reclaimed an entire generation of my enslaved ancestors:  A third great-grandmother, two third great aunts, three great, great-aunts, and a great, great-uncle.  Now, I even know the names of the people who owned this earlier generation of my Burton family.  The ad said, “My mother, sister Nancy, Bro. Albert, aunt Bettie, and aunt Peggy lived on the same plantation and belonged to Dr. Sterling’s people.  Liberia and Polly belonged to Dr. Robert Hilyard.  Liberia was salivated when a child.  I left them in Attakapas, La.” (So there is still a dusty records office somewhere in Louisiana in my future where I will be looking for Drs. Sterling and Hilyard and deciphering the meaning of “salivated.”)

I barely dared to believe I’d  find Tempy’s parents.  But I  never imagined I’d read Tempy’s personal thoughts in print. A slave until she was in  her 40s,  Tempy never learned how to read or write. (A 1900 census states she could do neither). But someone (probably her son, Alfred or daughter Josephine who lived near their mom in Ocean Springs, Mississippi) carefully wrote her petition and sent it to the Southwestern. And Shannon, 120 years later, struck by Tempy’s quest, took a chance, checked out the AfriGeneas message boards to see if anyone today was looking for her the way she looked for her people back then.

And here we are.

The treasure for me is not only that I now know the names of  my great, great-grandmother Tempy’s mother, siblings, and aunts but that the kindness of strangers that keeps raining down on me on this journey has helped me make a new friend.  She needs her own post, so I’ll tell you about Shannon and how she found Tempy’s ad through the New England Historic Genealogical Society next time. Until then, here’s Tempy’s ad and the follow-up:

Southwestern Christian Advocate  – June 4, 1891:

Mr. Editor:

I desire to find my people.  Mother’s name was Eliza Burton, sisters, Nancy, Pally, and Liberia Burton.  I had a brother Albert Burton who died, and two aunts, Peggie Manrow and Bettie Matthews.  My mother, sister Nancy, Bro. Albert, aunt Bettie, and aunt Peggy lived on the same plantation and belonged to Dr. Sterling’s people.  Liberia and Polly belonged to Dr. Robert Hilyard.  Liberia was salivated when a child.  I left them in Attakapas, La.  Any information concerning them will be thankfully received.  Address Mrs. Tempy Burton, Ocean Springs, Miss., care W.R. Stewart, Esq.

Southwestern Christian Advocate – August 13, 1891:

Dr. A.E.P. Albert:

Dear Brother:  The Southwestern has been the means of the recovery of my sister, Mrs. Polly Woodfork and eight children.  I owe my joy to God and the SOUTHWESTERN, and wish the editor success in getting 1,000 cash subscribers in the next thirty days.  I will do all in my power to get all the subscribers I can.  God bless Dr. Albert and crown him with success.    Mrs. Tempy Burton

*My new friend’s name is Shannon, not Sharon as I initially wrote.  All the euphoria over the find clouded my brain.  Sorry Shannon!

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