Category Archives: African-American history

Wordy/Wordless Wednesday: My Great, Great-Grandmother’s Appraisal

This probate court record appraised my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton and child at $1,600.

I’m not quite up to the task of expressing my thoughts upon seeing this document.  Nothing, not even seeing my great, great-grandmother bequeathed in a will drives home the true state of her situation as does this 1860 probate court appraisal of the “goods & chattels and personal estate of Judith B. Jones.”  Mrs. Jones was one of several family members that owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.   The appraisers placed Tempy’s value and that of an infant child at $1,600.  She would have been about 40 years old when this document was written.

This document was so dispiriting that I considered not sharing it at all until I realized that the specifics included in it, like the names and ages of slaves, might prove useful to some other researcher.  So here they are (they’ll be familiar from the wills earlier posted in which my grandmother was bequeathed):

Tiller a woman, about forty-eight years of age, black….$450

William, a man, twenty-two years of age………………….$1,000

Reuben, man, aged 33 years of age…………………………..$1,400

Tom, a boy, 17 years of age, tall, well grown………………$1,600

Tempy, a woman & child, year old……………………………$1,600

Vincent, a man, 24 years of age……………………………….$1,700

Susan, woman, 23 years of age………………………………..$1,400

Offa, a boy, 11 yrs of age………………………………………….$1,100

Tanny, girl, 10 yrs of age……………………………………………$900
Thanks to historians Ray Bellande and Joel Brink for getting this document to me and to any other researcher whom may consider it useful.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family history, geneology, Mississippi, race, slavery

Carnival of African American Genealogy: Grandmother’s Hands

My great-grandmother, "Lucy" Marie Anderson, 1899 - 1988.

My great-grandmother, Marie Watson Anderson, was always busy. Born Lucy Marie Anderson in Texas in 1899, she spent most of her life in Oklahoma. At some point, she had her name legally changed to Marie because she liked it better than Lucy. She worked as a housekeeper, raised seven children, outlived two husbands, and lived to meet two of her great, great-grandchildren before she died in 1988 at age 89. I don’t remember what her voice sounded like. Can’t remember any words of wisdom she passed down, but I remember her nimble fingers always moving.

They were slender like her and I can picture them perfectly arched, reaching out to pluck the spatula from its appointed space when I visited her in Clinton, Oklahoma when I was about seven. She’d use the spatula to expertly flip her beyond brag-able buttermilk pancakes or scoop the Canadian bacon out of the frying pan. So delicious were her buttermilk pancakes that back home in New Jersey after the trip, I begged to drink some buttermilk from my grandmother’s refrigerator, sure it would taste as sweet and perfect as her mother’s breakfast treats. Let’s just say, it’s a long way from the milk itself to the pancakes. One experiment with it was enough to make me think there was just something special about Great-Granny Marie’s food. For many years after eating her breakfast that year, I would order Canadian bacon whenever I came across it, convinced that it was a delicacy, but every time, it disappointed. It never compared to the Canadian bacon that came out of Great-Granny Marie’s kitchen. Speaking of, I spent most of that first visit on the floor of her spotless kitchen. She had an old-fashioned formica table with metal legs that I loved to sit under where I could take in, undisturbed and without detection, my family’s interactions with each other. Plus, it was the best smelling place in the house.

Great-Granny Marie was a perfect picture of composure and grace as she performed various tasks around her home. Her hair kept at a respectable length just beyond her ears, rested on the nape of her neck. She never rushed, but moved in a dignified manner in the dresses and skirts she wore hidden under a flowered or floral colored full apron. She knew I was under the table, but never addressed me except to sneak me an extra piece of her bacon or even as I recall a piece of cornbread. Somehow, she made me feel adored, even though I can’t think of any words that passed between us.

Sadly, I have not inherited Great-Granny Marie’s penchant for tidiness or cooking. I do my best to keep from being buried alive under accumulated laundry and papers and have about five stock meals that I can make for my family in under a half hour. I don’t aspire to her good housekeeping standards (I’d rather have a live in housekeeper), but the love she somehow engendered with all those meals served in perfect comfort are indeed a legacy I hope to pass on.

This is a picture of my great-aunt Pearl's kitchen which looks exactly like her mother's and my great-grandmother Marie's.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family history, Multiracial families, Uncategorized

Sentimental Sunday: Family Griot, Uncle Henry Ford

My uncle, Henry Ford and me in the late 1970s. He was undoubtedly telling me a good story.

When I was finally ready to start digging into my paternal family’s history about 15 years ago, I went to our family griot, my uncle, Henry Ford.  Born and raised in New Orleans when his family moved there from Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the early 40s, Uncle Henry filled in some details on my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.  He showed me around his Nola stomping grounds from the best spot for a po’ boy sandwich to his most beloved attraction, the Audubon Zoo.  Then we drove through the deep Mississippi pines until we reached the other side of the gulf in Ocean Springs. There, he introduced me to family friends from my grandparents’ time living there and even showed me the spot where my great-grandfather, the Reverend James Ford had preached.

Henry’s enthusiasm for our history helped fan the flames of my budding ancestry ardor.  Now, I hope to bring that genealogy love full circle and give him some modicum of the joy he showed me for our shared history.

This weekend, my dear Uncle Henry’s foot was amputated and I’m sure his spirits could use a boost.

Back in December, his house in the 9th ward of New Orleans burned down and he suffered injuries in the fire further complicated by his diabetes.  The house had survived Katrina and a number of previous storms during the 60 plus years my uncle, dad and the rest of their family lived there.  When my grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford died last August, she left the house to Henry.  It was his last connection to her.

I’d guess Uncle Henry’s never been far from New Orleans for very long nor from his mother.  Now in the space of a few short months, he’s lost both mother and home. There’s no replacing either, but at least we still have our family stories.  I hope whatever new pieces of our family history we find will bring him some joy and comfort.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family history, geneology, New Orleans, Uncategorized

Follow Friday: A3Genealogy’s hints for Finding Josephine

Funeral book memento provided by Payne & Sons, Bakersfield, California Funeral Directors upon the death of my grandfather, Nathaniel Jones.

There are so many informative and compelling genealogy blogs that have helped and inspired me on my own journey that it seems impossible to give them all their due.  But I can give it a try, one Friday at a time.  I’ll start with Kathleen Brandt’s A3genealogy.

A professional genealogist, Brandt’s blog is chock-full of helpful information and interesting things I’ve never come across before.

A few weeks back, her excellent post on Funeral Home Documentation caught my eye.  She noted that a funeral home record might have more personal information on the deceased written in its margins that might not be included in the death certificate.  This gave me another avenue to take for finding Josephine:  a funeral home.

I’d been stumped about where to look for my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford, for whom my blog is named.  I’d never asked her son, my grandfather, when she died, so I had to guess.  Based on the fact that she was last listed in the census in 1920 and that my father, born in the mid 30s never met her, I estimated around 1930 as her date of death.  I filled out a death record application, sent it to the Mississippi Vital records department in Jackson County, Mississippi where I assumed my grandmother had died and crossed my fingers.  Without an exact date of death, the vital records  department can only look so far.  In Mississippi’s case – that’s five years in either direction.  Their search fell just shy of Josephine’s date of death, 1922.

Because of Kathleen’s post, I was just beginning to track down funeral homes in Ocean Springs that may have catered to blacks in hopes of finding Josephine. But greater forces were at work.  Before I could finish searching, Ocean Springs historian, Ray Bellande found the funeral record at the Biloxi Library in a Bradford O’Keefe funeral home book, unraveling the mystery of what ever happened to my great-grandmother, Josephine!

Stop by A3genealogy if you haven’t already and maybe you’ll get some helpful hints for redirecting your search.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family, family history, funeral records, geneology, Mississippi, Uncategorized

Treasure Chest Thursday: Great-Grandmother, Josephine: FOUND!

Josephine Burton Ford's funeral record.

One of the biggest mysteries in the search for my family’s history was that of my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford for whom this blog is named.  Born and raised in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, she was married there, raised a family there, but disappeared after the 1920 census, the last record I had of her existence.  Since I’ve been searching for her, my thoughts about what may have become of her have run the gamut from her being the victim of a  brutal murder to her running off to start over somewhere she wouldn’t be found.

Thanks to volunteer, Ann Nash, art historian, Joel Brink, and Ocean Springs historian, Ray Bellande, the mystery has been solved.

According to the funeral record that my genealogy buddies forwarded to me, Josephine died on May 15, 1922.  The cause of death was tuberculosis.  She was 46. Her funeral was handled by Bradford O’Keefe Funeral Home in Ocean Springs and she was interred at Evergreen Cemetery.  That’s the same place where her brother, Alfred Burton Stuart and her mother, Temple Burton were laid to rest.  Josephine’s father, Col. W. R. Stuart is in a different part of the cemetery in a family plot with his wife, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart. My great-grandmother is at peace with her family.

I’m still in a euphoric shock to finally have this big piece of my missing history illuminated. Perhaps this post would have been better left to Wordless Wednesday since I don’t quite have the words to express how grateful I am to know what happened to Josephine.  Thanks again to Ann, Joel and Ray for getting this vital document to me and to the wider genealogy blogging community for sharing in this journey.  You all are the best bunch of friends I’ve never met.

Now, I’m going to go look for Josephine’s burial spot at Evergreen.  It appears there are a lot of unknowns in unmarked graves around the area where Josephine’s mother and brother were buried, the first place I’ll look.

What ancestry mystery are you trying to solve?


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, geneology, Mississippi, Multiracial families, U.S. Census

Surname Saturday – Daniel Ancestors

My paternal grandmother, Lillie Mae (Daniel) Ford.

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Some of my fondest Easter memories come from celebrating with my grandma, Lillie Mae.  Here’s the story behind her maiden name.

The other day while poking around online, I found my uncle’s social security death index record and listed under mother’s maiden name was “Daniel.” But my paternal grandmother’s name was Lillie Mae Daniels, with an “s.” I assumed the informant got it wrong or the recorder dropped the S until, I was chatting with my cousin in Mississippi and she mentioned our grandma.

“I always thought Granny’s maiden name was Daniels, but it’s Daniel,” my cousin said. She was reading from our grandparents’ marriage certificate, tickled over the fact that they were married on Halloween. It’s funny how both of us had somehow absorbed the same erroneous information. Just goes to show the importance of documentation.

Our paternal grandmother, Lillie Mae Daniel was born on August 3, 1909 according to census records. Grandma didn’t have a birth certificate and she always assumed she was a little bit younger (a woman’s prerogative, no?). Her father was Walter Daniel but he and Granny’s mom died when she was just a little baby. We don’t know anything more about the Daniel line and I haven’t been able to find anything more about them – maybe because I was researching the wrong name.

Turns out that Daniels is a variation of the surname Daniel, according to several online sources. From the Hebrew personal name, “Daniel” it means “God is my judge,” after the prophet and eponymous book in the Bible. Daniel has various European roots and is most prominent in France, Australia, USA, the United Kingdom and Hungary according to World Names Profiler.

I wonder how much difference a little letter s can make? I guess I’ll find out as I go forward researching Lillie Mae Daniel, not Daniels and her ancestors.


Filed under African-American history, geneology, Uncategorized

Monday/March Madness: Getting Organized – Genealogy Style

We celebrated my daughter's birthday at "The Lion King" where she met cast members, Marquis Kofi Rodriguez and Shannon Skye Tavarez who play young Simba and Young Nala.

March is always hectic.  Both my children were born in March and as you saw from my last post, so was my grandmother.  It’s pretty much non-stop celebrating all month-long, especially since my husband likes to stretch out a party. (Who could blame him?)  That doesn’t leave much time this month for vacuuming, let along ancestry filing.  This morning, my daughter slipped on a pair of jeans that seemed better suited to fit her doll and this weekend, sorting through emails, I found one months-old  from my genealogy buddy and cousin that really should be looked into. Both my house and my ancestry research are in dire need of some TLC.

I’d much rather tackle my genealogy to-do list than the one for my house, but where to begin?

It’s a good problem to have – so much information that it needs organizing.  But getting overwhelmed usually leads me to inertia.  I don’t want to stop now when I feel so close to finding more about my ancestors.

I still have tons of letters from the Stuart Papers to transcribe.  (These are a collection of letters, obituaries, poems and sermons that belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart, Sr. that have already yielded important information like the names of his parents and siblings). To add to that, I received several more letters a few weeks ago with personal insights into said third great-grandfather’s time in the Maryland State Congress.Then there are the dozens of census reports, wills, pictures and deeds stored in my computer that are finally backed up, but still need to be printed out.  That’s before I’ve even begun to research anything new. My  to-do list is feeling pretty long.

Every good business keeps an inventory, so I guess I’ll start by detailing what I have.  Printing out the documents that I have and categorizing them is probably a good place to start.  My new friend, Joel Brink also inspired me to write a timeline.  It’s really helping me see what was happening in my family’s lives against the backdrop of the wider world. It also quickly accentuates gaps in their lives where people go undocumented.  Lastly, I think I’ll give myself a weekly genealogy to-do list, the same way I do for household chores, and hope to check a few things off by week’s end.

I’ve got to go bring cupcakes to my daughter’s school for the final March birthday celebration.

How do you get organized in your house or in your genealogy research?  I could use help with both.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family history

Treasure Chest Thursday: My 60 year-old Grandparents earn their GEDs

My maternal grandparents, Alonzo and Louise Walton featured in a New Jersey newspaper after graduating High School in their 60s.

When my maternal grandparents were in their 60s, they decided to go back to school to get their GEDs. Alonzo Walton and Louise Coleman Walton both grew up on farms around the turn of the century.  The Waltons owned theirs, and the Colemans were sharecroppers.  Like a lot of farming/sharecropping children, their hands were needed to work the land more than to do math equations in school. Alonzo in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Louise in Clinton, Oklahoma both quit school around sixth or seventh grade to help their families survive.

But their thirst for learning didn’t end there.  So, when my grandfather retired from the Air Force after about 40 years of service and all of their grandchildren but me were attending college, they enrolled in PembertonTownship’s Adult Evening High School Program in New Jersey. It took them two tries to pass the final exam.  But pass they did and in 1980 they received their GEDs.

The above photo is from a story in Pemberton’s “Time Advertiser” newspaper featuring the Waltons, the only grandparents enrolled at Burlington County College. After the article came out, the newspaper sent my grandparents the black and white photo they used and my grandparents framed it and hung it on the wall.  I’d stare at that photo and read the article tacked under it every time I went to their house.  It was a constant reminder that the education I was receiving as a right, my grandparents treasured as a privilege. The value of education is probably the biggest lesson I learned from my grandparents without them ever having to say a word.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln, African-American history, family history, Ford, mulatto, Multiracial families

Monday Madness – Dealing with Ancestral Anger

Tempy Burton's glass

My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton's glass inscribed with her name, date August 1905, Mt. Clemens, Michigan. (Courtesy Shawnique Ford)

One of my friends sent me an encouraging note today, complementing this blog before posing the following question:

“Doesn’t it make you angry to uncover this stuff? Even just the language that is used in some of these documents- “sale” and “slave” -make me cringe…..yet your writing doesn’t have an angry tone. How do you do it?”

I think that by the time I write about my discoveries here, I’ve had a chance to digest them.

It was heart-breaking to see my great, great-grandmother, Temple Burton listed as property in a will after farm animals and equipment.  The description of her owner,  my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart as a “distinguished Southerner” in his obituary catapulted me into a temporary rage.  But these two titles, slave, and slave owner are single aspects of my two ancestors’ stories. They’re hard truths, but they’re not the only truths and to focus on them solely leaves me with labels for  great, great-grandparents as opposed to full people with aspirations and desires that I hope to discover.   Information empowers me.  Discovering that Tempe took a trip with her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine that was important enough to commemorate with the pictured decorative glasses is balm to a wound. Knowing that the Colonel cultivated the Stuart pecan, named for him and still grown today engenders a certain amount of pride.

Of course my great, great-grandmother’s enslavement angers me and that my great, great-grandfather was her enslaver is a double whammy. But what’s harder to take is no information at all.

It still boggles my mind that Temple stayed on with the Stuarts after emancipation for another 60 years! Her son Alfred Burton Stuart lived in Ocean Springs as well, married with children, so why not just go and live with him?  And then there is Josephine.  Born and raised in Ocean Springs, married and raising children in her home town, she virtually disappears after the 1920 census.  How does someone who lived her entire life in the same place just vanish?

These unanswered question are like a lead weight on my head. Maybe it’s my journalism background, but I’d rather know the truth than be in the dark, even when the truth is dirty and mean.

Which motto do you live by: “The truth shall set you free” or “What I don’t know won’t hurt me?”

Josephine Burton Ford's glass

My great-grandmother, Josephine Ford Burton's glass inscribed with her name, date and Mt. Clemens, Michigan. (Courtesy Shawnique Ford)


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family history, geneology, slavery, Uncategorized

Surname Saturday – The Burton Family

My great-grandmother, Josephine Burton's marriage license

After finding my great, great-grandmother Temple Burton’s tombstone this week, it seems right to focus on the surname Burton for Surname Saturday.

According to a myriad of ancestry and genealogy sites on the internet, Burton is of  English origin and means “settlement by a fort.”  Alternate spellings are Burtone, Bortune, or Bortone.

I also found a few Burton family crests and coat-of-arms, including this one at BurtonsCoast2Coast.

Tempe, aka Tempy or Temple Burton is the oldest ancestor of African descent that I’m able to trace on my father’s side.   According to an obituary included on Ray Bellande’s Ocean Springs website and archived at the Southern University of Mississippi,  Tempe was born in 1821 and her tombstone lists March 1, 1925 as her date of death.  That means she lived a whopping 104 years!  Census reports show that many of those years were spent with Col. W.R. Stuart and his wife Elizabeth McCauley Stuart in Ocean Springs, first as their slave and after emancipation as their cook.

My family believes that the Colonel and Tempe had several children together including, Alfred Burton Stuart and my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.

Alfred Burton Stuart was born in April, 1860 and died on Oct. 4, 1928 in New Orleans. With wife,  Clara he had nine children, including the musically talented,  Tempy Stuart Smith.  My grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford remembered Tempy Smith and  her family as “famous New York City musicians.”  After living in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Tempy and her family did relocate to New York City in the late 1920s.  My cousin, Monique Smith Anderson, also partner on this research journey with me, is a direct descendant of Tempy Smith.

Josephine Burton Ford was born around 1875 according to census records.  She raised her children in Ocean Springs, Mississippi after marrying the Reverend James Ford on April 17, 1894.  Census forms show she lived in Ocean Springs until 1920, but after that, I can’t find a trace of her.  Josephine and James had at least six children,  two of which stayed in Ocean Springs.  My grandfather, Martin Luther Ford was born to the couple on October 19, 1905.  He married Lillie Mae Daniels Ford and they  raised their five children there.  Eventually, Grandpa Martin moved the family to New Orleans where he  died in January, 1985.

My father,  Joseph Burton Ford is the last of Tempe’s descendants to carry her surname.

The only famous Burtons I can think of are Richard Burton and Tim Burton. (My husband reminded me of Roots’ LeVar Burton). But I’m sure there must be some historical figures that I’ve overlooked. If you know any, shout them out to me.

What historical figures share your name?


Filed under African-American history, family history, geneology, Multiracial families, slavery, Uncategorized