Yesterday over lunch, I got to talk to the grand niece of Edna Ferber, author of Giant, Show Boat and So Big. All epic family stories, it’s no wonder that Ferber’s grand niece, Julie Goldsmith Gilbert would want to keep her great aunt’s literary legacy alive. Julie wrote her great aunt’s biography and championed Giant’s move from the page to the stage. Thanks in part to Julie’s stewardship and the generous support of my in laws, Ted and Mary Jo Shen, Giant the musical is at the Public Theater in New York City until December 16th.
Julie’s passion about her great-aunt’s literary legacy is I’m sure what made my sister-in-law get us together for lunch. (My sister-in-law has a gift for matching people. She’s the one who introduced me to her brother, my husband of 16 years!) She recognized in Julie and me two keepers of the family flames.
I left lunch inspired to attend to some of my own ancestry business that I’ve been neglecting and set an information gathering goal for the week. I want to follow up on a lead I have on my great-grandfather, James Ford.
The man who gave me my last name was a reverend with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi. While his name appears in several issues of the ME Church’s official newspaper, the Southwestern Christian Advocate, from the late 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s, he disappeared from records after the 1920 census. After checking out the United Methodist church’s official website, which gives an overview of the church’s split over slavery, I discovered they have a repository called the African American Methodist Heritage Center. Turns out the Center is located at Drew University Library, a stone’s throw from the town I grew up in. The kind librarian there forwarded a few pages from the church’s 1924 Mississippi Annual Conference journal. James Ford was listed among the honored dead. According to the journal, my great-grandfather died in 1923, just a year after his wife, my great-grandmother Josephine.
Unfortunately, the state of Mississippi couldn’t locate his death certificate. I ordered it in hopes of learning his parent’s names which are sometimes listed on death certificates. But I’m not deterred. Later this week, I’m heading over to Drew to see this Conference journal in person. There is nothing like seeing an original document up close to illuminate an otherwise hidden clue, forge a new path to discovering more about an ancestor, or just reignite a spark to keep the ancestry fire burning.
What will you do this week to stoke your family’s flame?
*note – Edna Ferber’s book is Show Boat, not Showboat as written in the original post.