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.)

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.


Monday Madness: Ancestral Property Found, Lost & Found Again

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-nrPgD3LIc&feature=channel]

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.

Wordy/Wordless Wednesday: Fun Family times in the Mississippi Gulf, Pre-Oil Spill

My cousin posing for the camera on a beach near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 1976.

The poor area that fostered four generations of my paternal family has been taking a pounding the past two weeks.  First an oil spill, then tornado and this past weekend more storms!  So, here are two pictures from a more tranquil time in the Gulf Coast.  This beach is somewhere near Ocean Springs where my father, his father, and his grandmother were all born and where my great, great-grandmother lived most of her life.  Those are my cousins -  Nicky and Dalvin Ford running from the camera and Haile Ford posing.  Knowing me, I was trying to get one more dip in the water or find one more broken seashell before it was time to call it a day.

My cousins running, probably from the camera on a beach near Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1976.

Do you have any memories (photos or words) of your times on the Gulf Coast?  Please share them and send good thoughts for the people there and the environs. Click to hear an Ocean Springs resident telling National Public Radio how the oil spill is affecting him.

No Place Like Home

A black and white photo of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, an ancestral home

My first cousin recently moved a stone’s throw from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, pictured above.  As I plan a visit to see her as well as our ancestral home, it made me think how  so many of us in my family end up back where we started.

When I was a kid, I thought for sure that I’d end up living some place far from the home I grew up in like Paris or L.A. At 16, in pursuit of my quest, I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student but ended up next door to a town called Americana, named for it’s founders who hailed mostly from the Southern states of the USA, just like my ancestors.  Since then, I’ve never lived more then an hour from my old stomping grounds where my parents and a lot of my old high school paraphernalia still reside.  None of my four siblings have strayed far from the family hearthstone either.  One is as close as 15 minutes from my parents, another as far as an hour and a half.

I think I’ve inherited this desire to stay close to my roots from my ancestors on both sides.  My grandfather, Alonzo Walton lived the last 25 years of his life on a tract of 150 acres of Ozark land he spent a life time accumulating.  He shared the tract with his brother, his sister, and his nephew.  Before retiring to his childhood home in Arkansas, he lived in New Jersey, less than 10 miles from his daughter and five grandchildren (including me).  If it hadn’t been for his Air Force duties stationing him on McGuire’s Air Force Base, I’m sure my grandfather would have never left Arkansas.

I loved growing up with my grandparents so close by.  They let me wait on customers in their candy store, eat more than my share of Reggie bars (remember those?) and Slim Jims, but most importantly they told me their stories and brought me to their childhood homes in Arkansas and Oklahoma.   I got to walk through my great grandfather Bud’s garden with him, his old shotgun slung over his shoulder and  eat my great grandmother Marie’s delicious buttermilk pancakes, memories to this day I consider my greatest treasures.

The story is similar on my father’s side of the family.  My father lived in a house on property that once belonged to my great great grandfather, Col. W.R.  Stuart.  Census records show that his cousins, the Stuart Smiths lived just down the road.  My grandfather, Martin Ford was also born in that seaside town, Ocean Springs, Mississippi as was his mother, Josephine Burton Ford.  And her mother, Temple Burton lived all of her free life there (she was born a slave), died there, and is buried there in the same cemetery with the colonel, their son, Alfred, and the colonel’s wife, Elizabeth.  That’s some interesting eternal company – a master, his slave/mother to his children, one of those seven children, and his wife who couldn’t bear him any children.

Whether you’re Dorothy or Toto, a master or slave, I guess there’s just no place like home.

Evergreen Cemetery, Ocean Springs, where my great great grandparents Temple Burton and Col. W.R. Stuart, their son, Alfred Stuart, and the colonel's wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart rest. (photo by Terry Linder)

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