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?

 

Happy Emancipation Day, 2013!

My grandmother, Louise Walton and our family's dog, Sheffy.

“On January 1, 1892, Miss Josephine Burton, Ocean Springs’ charming belle gave a very nice surprise party for her pastor, Rev. I. C. Rucker, assisted by Mrs. A.B. Stuart and Miss Violet Matthews.  A collection of $6.05 was taken, after which cake and lemonade were served.”

So, 119 years ago today, my great grandmother was throwing a party with her sister, Violet and her brother Alfred’s wife.  When I first read this notice in the personal section of the Southwestern Christian Advocate’s January 14, 1892 edition, I assumed it was a regular New Year’s Day party.  But after reading the next week’s issue, I noticed how another writer, Ada Smith of Sturgis, Mississippi, referred to January 1st as Emancipation Day.  During her church’s evening service, Ms. Smith stated that a professor read and explained the Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all slaves. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the historic document.

Since her mother and brother were born into slavery, I have a feeling that my great-grandmother, Josephine was celebrating the signing of that monumental document as much as she was the beginning of a new year and her beloved pastor. Josephine was also a devout Christian, her husband, James was a Methodist Episcopal minister, so perhaps the party was also an extension of Watch Night.

Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services, according to the United Methodist website. But Watch Night has a  special significance in in the African-American community dating back to the days of slavery.
At the end of the year, owners tallied their property and often sold slaves to pay debts, the website said. New Year’s Eve was often the last night a family of slaves would be together.  Then, when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863, slaves sat up the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.

Even though I grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church and went to church on New Year’s Eve with my parents, I never knew the history behind Watch Night connected to slavery.  I only learned of that part last night because some friends at Coming to the Table mentioned how they would be participating in Watch Night as well as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder why the slavery piece of the Watch Night tradition was never addressed in my AME congregation? Was it deliberate or simply never passed down from one generation to the next and, like a faulty link, broke the chain of this history?

This can easily happen.

I thought I knew all there was to know about my grandmother.  I lived just a few miles from her growing up and spent most summer days with her until I was 11.  She was like a second mother. So, I was shocked to learn several new things about her while she was visiting with me this holiday season – things that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for my new dog.

On the first night of Kwanzaa while eating dinner, Granny commented that our new dog was so big, he reminded her of the pony she had as a girl.  I never knew she had a pony.  It was a Shetland pony she said, which is funny since my dog’s name begins with the same “she” sound. Her pony was her transportation to school. She hated when she had to miss school because first off, she liked school and second, it usually meant she had to stay home and slaughter the pigs on her family’s farm.  She thought of them as pets, not food.  In solidarity with her condemned bovine friends,  she swore she’d never eat chitterlings the way her school pals did, but  eventually, she caved.  Indeed it was my grandmother who gave me my first (and last) taste of pig intestine.

I also never knew that my grandma could handle a gun.  She learned how to use a winchester rifle when she was about seven she said for hunting rabbits.  My grandma was a regular Laura Ingalls Wilder, just black and from Oklahoma.  Had my dog not cozied up to her during dinner, these details about my grandma’s first decade of life, the time she refers to most often now that she is nearing 100, would have been entirely lost.  And to think, I didn’t even want a new dog.

How are you celebrating Emancipation Day?

Sources: The Southwestern Christian Advocate, January 14, 1892 and January 21, 1892.

Motivational Monday: Stoking the Family Flame

My daughters with Brian d'Arcy James who plays, Bick in GIANT at the Public Theater.

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.

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.

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.

Wordy Wednesday: Mystery Relatives’ Obituary?

Back in June, I was introduced to a turn-of-the century Methodist Episcopal newspaper,  the Southwestern Christian Advocate when a good Samaritan alerted me to one of its ads placed by my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.  Tempy was looking for her family who she’d been separated from by slavery.  You can read her ad and how I found it here.

Turns out my relatives show up in the Southwestern quite often. My great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford frequently wrote into their column, “Uncle Cephas” and her wedding announcement was featured in the paper as well.  This obituary also appeared in the Southwestern’s February 9, 1888 edition with several familiar names and locations:

Sister Martha Burton departed this life Dec. 22, 1887, aged forty-six, at Ocean Springs, Miss.  She was a native of North Carolina, lived several years in New Orleans, and finally moved here in 1885, whence she left for heaven in triumph.  She shouted the harvest home.  -J. Ford, P.C.

Tempy Burton’s original slave owners were from North Carolina.  Like Martha, Tempy also lived in New Orleans for a time. My great-grandfather, who married Tempy’s daughter, Josephine was James Ford, a local minister in the Ocean Springs area.  Could J. Ford, P.C. be my great-grandfather?  Could Martha Burton be a relation to Tempy?

Unfortunately, Mississippi did not keep death records in 1887.  According to their Vital Records department, Mississippi was not required to keep them until November 1, 1912.

Any suggestions on what I should do to find out if the woman in the obituary is one of my relatives?

Follow Friday: Finding my Enslaved Third Great-Grandmother

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wNklqfgInw&feature=geosearch]

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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