Surname/Synchronicity Saturday: How My Third Cousin Found My Great Aunt

A copy of the Straight University catalogue for 1914-1915 class

A copy of the Straight University catalogue for 1914-1915 class, archived at Amistad Research Center.

Aunt Rosa Belle listed in the 1914-1915 Straight University catalog, archived at Amistad Research Center.

Aunt Rosa Belle listed in the 1914-1915 Straight University catalog, archived at Amistad Research Center.

 In less than a month, I begin graduate school so I don’t know how much time I’ll have to dig into my family’s past, let alone blog about it.  I’m thrilled beyond belief to be getting a masters in creative writing, but I know that this beginning will mean other things will end, maybe even this blog. Endings are always hard for me and make me feel guilty. But some recent ancestry news I received is easing my transition.While my third cousin was on a research/anniversary trip to New Orleans some weeks back, she found a Rosa Belle Ford listed as a student at Straight University. The name was in a college catalog archived at the Amistad Research Center. Because of the last name and the fact that Rosa Belle’s hometown was noted as Ocean Springs, Mississippi, our ancestral home, my third cousin wondered if the woman was my kin. She wondered correctly. Rosa Belle Ford was my grand aunt.  Other than seeing her name on some census records and a different cousin’s recollection that she may have been a teacher, I knew nothing else about this woman, my grandfather’s sister.  

But it looks like my other cousin’s recollections were also correct.  Rosa Belle is listed in the 1914-1915 Straight University catalog in college preparatory to become a teacher.  Now, 100 years after my great aunt began her professional training, I’m beginning mine.  That has to be a good sign, or at the very least, a kiss from my ancestors.

For Valentine’s Day: A History of Love

UntitledMy great-grandparents, Josephine Burton and Rev. James Ford most likely met through their affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  I know from my great-grandmother Josephine’s frequent editorials in “The Southwestern Christian Advocate” newspaper that she regularly attended ME sunday school, church and camp meetings in and around Ocean Springs as early as 1890 when she was sixteen years-old. The same newspaper also has frequent mentions of my great-grandfather, James Ford preaching at the camp meetings, Sunday schools or churches in the area. He was an itinerant minister and appears on the rolls of the Methodist Episcopal Church  Mississippi Conference book as early as 1879.  One of my favorite things published in the “Southwestern Christian Advocate” is my great-grandparents’ May 3, 1894 marriage announcement (pictured to the left).  It’s simple and sweet the way love should be.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

What history of love have you uncovered about your ancestors?

 

My African American History: A Lynching

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthew, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from his

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthews, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from an 1892 pension file.

Long time no blog!

I’ve been working hard to finish a book about researching my family’s history which hasn’t left much time for anything let alone blogging. But African American history month is here, so I had to post something about my family’s story.   I’ve posted on this before, but it’s worth the repeat. (I don’t want to forget that this month isn’t just about the triumphs of black people but also what our ancestors suffered.) What follows is an excerpt from the Feb. 2nd, 1901 issue of the “Daily Herald” newspaper of Mississippi about the lynching of Warren Stewart who I’m pretty sure was my second great-uncle:

PRISONER LYNCHED

When the prisoner, Warren Stewart, was conveyed to Ocean Springs, a great wave of indignation spread over the place, and the mutterings were ominous.  It was concluded to give him a trial, and while the examination was in progress a mob of about 300 persons took him from the officers, carried him across the bayou, and hanged him, after which his body was riddled with bullets about 100 being fired into it.

According to the paper, Warren was lynched for the alleged assault of a white girl and the story was covered in at least eight newspapers from Ohio to Idaho. (My cousin, Monique has posted some of the newspapers on the Our Black Ancestry page on Facebook, so join to have a look and to read her post on this painful part of our past.)

The age and the story of the Warren Stewart in the article match up with my information about my second great-uncle, but I still need to confirm that this is my ancestor, the son of my great, great-grandparents, Colonel Stuart and Tempy Burton. Unfortunately, vital records like death certificates weren’t recorded in Mississippi before 1912.  So, I’m checking funeral and court records from Ocean Springs in hopes of finding a case on file that might include information about Warren’s family and the details of the crime he was accused of. Whether he was innocent or guilty of the attempted assault, his lynching was a murder, an act of domestic terror and it served its purpose. It scared one whole line of my family right out of the south. My Smith cousins left Mississippi for good in the 1920s, and the lynching, my cousin, Sylvia  told me, was an impetus.

Are there lynchings in your family history?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sentimental Sunday: My Great Grandmother’s Poem?

In honor of  National Poetry Month celebrated in April, I’ve been meaning to post a poem that I believe my great grandmother, Josephine wrote over 100 years ago.

On March 2, 1893, this short death notice appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate:

Ocean Springs, Miss.  On Feb. 6, little Frankie C., daughter A.B. & C.H. Stuart, aged 1 year and 10 months.     J. Burton, P.C.

Josephine had not yet married my great grandfather, James Ford, so she was still Josephine Burton. A.B. & C. H. Stuart were her brother, Alfred Burton and his wife, Clara Harding.

A week later on March 9th in the same paper, this poem appeared:

Another sweet spirit from us has flown;
Another little angel has gone to her heavenly home.
Our Father watched her night and day,
To Him you all must lift your voices and pray;
So you may meet her there some day,
When from this earth you’re called away.
Little Frankey has gone to the realms above,
To be comforted by Our Father’s love,
And join the other little angels there
Who never know of any want or care;
Only happiness and rejoicing forever there,
Over the beautiful things so grand and rare.

The poem doesn’t appear to be attributed to anyone. I guess it could be a known poem that was just personalized with little Frankey’s name, but because it appeared in the same paper in which my great-grandmother, Josephine made frequent contributions almost all about her love of God, I believe Josephine wrote this poem to mark the passing of her young beloved niece.

My very first attempts at creative writing when I was little were all poems, all about God, like Josephine’s other publications in the Southwestern. The thought that Josephine may have written this poem makes me feel like I knew her, and her sentiments, even though we never met. It’s as if she handed down, and I picked up “the heritage of mind and heart” that Antoine de Saint-Exupery spoke of in his poem, Generation to Generation.  He wrote that, “Love, like a carefully loaded ship crosses the gulf between the generations.” Discovery of this poem and all of Josephine’s writings (our common love) shrinks that gulf between my great-grandmother and me.

I hope you enjoy the following poem about forgotten history by Pulitzer prize winner and Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who hails from Gulfport, Mississippi, a stone’s throw from Josephine’s home, Ocean Springs:

Elegy for the Native Guard / Poem of the Day : The Poetry Foundation.

Treasure Chest Thursday: The man who met my enslaved ancestor

Peter Rene Monrose 1917-2011. He met my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton, when he was a little boy.

If ever I had a top 10 list of genealogy moments, speaking to Peter Monrose would be right up there along with finding the picture of my ancestors pictured in the header of this blog and the newspaper ad my great, great grandmother Tempy Burton wrote looking for her family whom she’d been separated from through slavery. When he was a little boy, Peter Monrose met Tempy Burton.    He said he didn’t remember much about Tempy except that she was very old  (probably nearing 100) and that he’d heard that her son had been lynched in the bayou near where she lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. In our brief telephone exchange, I felt like I’d reached out and touched my great, great-grandmother via his memories. From his distant recollection almost a century later, I was able to find a newspaper article that seems to corroborate the rumor of the lynching. While all knowledge about my ancestors is welcome, that discovery was bittersweet just like my connection to Peter Monrose.   His distant cousin Elizabeth McCauley Stuart owned  my great-great grandmother Tempy. We’re linked through slavery.

One of the things that has happened to me on this journey of researching my ancestors is that my idea of family has expanded. On the phone, he called my great, great-grandmother Aunt Tempy. Now, in grateful acknowledgement of the treasure of his shared stories, I can’t help but call him Uncle Peter.

He passed away in December. May he rest in peace.

Peter Rene Monrose 1917-2011

The photos are courtesy of Peter’s daughter, Renée Monrose.

Follow Friday: Hackers, then and now

This week, someone hacked my twitter account and sent out advertisements in my name extolling the virtues of  working from home.  It was pretty annoying, but I tweeted that I’d been hacked, deleted the ads, then changed my password.  Hopefully that’s the end of it.  But it made me think of something similar that happened to my great-grandmother over a century ago.

In between an editorial condemning separate but supposedly equal rail cars for blacks and a report that the annual Colored Methodist Episcopal conference had voted against admitting women, my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton published the following notice in  the  March 17, 1892 issue of the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper:

“-Miss Josephine Burton, of Ocean Springs, Miss., justly complains against certain persons who have been writing letters to this paper in her name.”

What was the offending party writing I wonder and attributing to my great-grandmother? Did Josephine ever figure out who co-opted her name?  Did her no-nonsense declaration take care of the problem once and for all? I’d like to be that no-nonsense myself both in the virtual and three dimensional world.  So, in the spirit of Josephine, I, Ms. Dionne Ford of Montclair, NJ  justly complain against certain persons who have been tweeting in my name.

Wedding Wednesday: Genealogy Genie Strikes Again

Marriage certificate of Alfred Burton Stuart and Clara Harding.

Yesterday, our genealogy genie, Shannon made another one of our unspoken wishes come true.  She sent my cousin, Monique and I the above copy of Alfred Burton Stuart’s and Clara Harding’s marriage certificate.  Alfred B. Stuart was my great, great-uncle and Monique’s great, great-grandfather.   He was the oldest child of our shared ancestor, Tempy Burton.

The marriage certificate includes Alfred’s signature – the first time we’ve ever seen his handwriting. It also shows that the couple was married in St. Mary’s parish. From school rosters to census records, every other document we have regarding Alfred shows him in Ocean Springs, Mississippi or New Orleans.   What was he doing in St. Mary’s in 1881 and what kept him there long enough to meet a girl, fall in love and get married?

We first heard of St. Mary’s the first time we met Shannon.  Last year, she sent us a newspaper ad written by our ancestor, Tempy Burton.  In the 1891 ad, Tempy was looking for her mother and the rest of her family whom she’d been separated from through slavery and had last seen in Attakapas.  St. Mary’s parish is part of the region known as Attakapas.

Was Alfred already trying to help his mom find her people a decade before she placed that ad in the paper?  Did he travel alone the 200 miles southwest to St. Mary’s from Ocean Springs or did his mom, Tempy or anyone else in the family come with him?  I traveled alone when I made a similar kind of journey looking for my ancestors shortly after I got engaged to be married.  Before I started a new life and became a part of someone else’s family, I wanted to know more about my own. It seemed a quest for me alone at the time, but 15 years later, I’m still at it with a small army of people helping me, some of whom, like Shannon, I’ve never even met!

Finally, just how did Alfred meet Clara?  Was Franklin, the town Clara is from a stop on the way to Attakapas?  Did Alfred get sidetracked from finding his ancestors by love?

The plot thickens.

I’m not sure what Monique or I did to deserve such great unsolicited gifts as Shannon has showered on us that help us put meat on the bones of our ancestors, but we’ll take them.

Thanks Shannon!

Fearless Females: My great-grandmother, Josephine

In honor of Women’s History Month, Lisa Alzo at the Accidental Genealogist blog has been providing prompts all month to honor our female ancestors.  Today’s prompt is to write a mini profile on one of our fearless female family members. So, on the last day of Women’s History month, I’m honoring my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.

According to census reports and marriage and death certificates, Josephine Burton was born in 1875 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to a former slave, Tempy Burton and her master, Col. W.R. Stuart. She was the youngest of Tempy’s seven children, probably all fathered by the Colonel, and was 14 years younger than her oldest sibling, Alfred Burton Stuart. Like Josephine, I’m the youngest in my family and I am also 14 years younger than my oldest sibling.

At the age of 16, Josephine started writing to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist Episcopal newspaper based in New Orleans.  Over the years, her writing went from short letters about her attendance at camp revivals to Uncle Cephas, probably the newspaper’s editor, to long impassioned editorials about prayer and every day life as a Christian.  With her passion for Methodism, it’s no surprise that she married a Methodist reverend, James Ford when she was 19.  They made their home in Ocean Springs along with the rest of her family and had six children, including my grandfather, Martin Luther Ford. Most of her time probably went into caring for her home and children single-handed, since, from newspaper accounts, James was often preaching throughout the Delta and attending church conferences out of town.

She also had an interesting way of disciplining according to my cousin, Shawnique who heard a few stories about her from our grandpa, Martin. Grandpa loved baseball and when he misbehaved, Josephine would make him wear a girl’s dress in an attempt to keep him inside away from his beloved baseball.  The shame of being dressed like a girl was no deterrent to Grandpa.  He just went outside in his dress and hit the ball and ran the bases all the same.

But Josephine did not live to meet any of her grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  She died in 1922 of tuberculosis when she was about 47 years-old. But her passion for writing and religion survived in her newspaper articles. Here’s a transcription of one of her first letters to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, February 5, 1891:

Dear Uncle Cephas: I must write and tell you that the dear old Southwestern is a welcome visitor every week to my house.  I love it more and more every time it comes.  Our Presiding Elder, Rev. B.L. Crump, was with us recently and preached a soul-stirring sermon.  Our pastor is Rev. J.K. Comfort.  He has gone to conference.

Your niece,

Josephine Burton, Ocean Sprins, Miss.

A few years later on November 30, 1893 in an editorial entitled “Hindrances to Prayer” she wrote:

The church is being sorely afflicted by the materiality of the times; earth is shutting out heaven; time is eclipsing eternity; a bold and specious humanitarianism is destroying worship; the essential idea of God is being depraved;

Strong words, from a strong woman.

Follow Friday: Finding a lynched ancestor

Back in May, I posted a new piece of oral family history, that one of my second great uncles may have been lynched.  You were all helpful with ideas of where to look to try to verify if the rumor was true. The following excerpt from the Feb. 2nd, 1901 issue of the “Daily Herald” newspaper of Mississippi seems to confirm this oral history:

PRISONER LYNCHED

When the prisoner, Warren Stewart, was conveyed to Ocean Springs, a great wave of indignation spread over the place, and the mutterings were ominous.  It was concluded to give him a trial, and while the examination was in progress a mob of about 300 persons took him from the officers, carried him across the bayou, and hanged him, after which his body was riddled with bullets about 100 being fired into it.

According to the paper, Warren was lynched for the alleged assault of a white girl and the story was covered in at least eight newspapers from Ohio to Idaho.

“(N)ewspapers were giving black violence top billing, the most breathless outrage reserved for any rumor of black male indiscretion toward a white woman, all but guaranteeing a lynching,” Isabel Wilkerson wrote in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” the story of the great migration of blacks from the south at the beginning of the 20th century.

Warren Stewart’s case fits this bill.

The age and the story of the Warren Stewart in the article match up with my information about my second great-uncle, but I still need to confirm that this is my ancestor, the son of my great, great-grandparents, Colonel Stuart and Tempy Burton. Unfortunately, vital records like death certificates weren’t recorded in Mississippi before 1912.  So, I’m checking funeral and court records from Ocean Springs in hopes of finding a case on file that might include information about Warren’s family and the details of the crime he was accused of. Whether he was innocent or guilty of the attempted assault, his lynching was a murder, an act of domestic terror and it served its purpose. It scared one whole line of my family right out of the south. My Smith cousins left Mississippi for good in the 1920s, and the lynching, my cousin Sylvia recently told me, was an impetus. Same thing for so many of the subjects in Wilkerson’s book.

I don’t expect a retrial of Warren’s case like the “Injustice Files” is doing on the Discovery Channel. This show picks up the trail of racially motivated homicides during the Civil Rights era that went cold and tries to bring the killers to justice. But I do hope to reclaim this kin by finding out as much as I can about how he lived and never forgetting the unjust way in which he died.

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