Tag Archives: genealogy
While at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’ve had the chance to visit the slave burial grounds at nearby Sweet Briar College. Over the years that I’ve been coming to the VCCA to write, I became aware of the grounds and was happy to learn that they were being preserved. Sweet Briar College was once a plantation and dozens of enslaved people are buried there. Thanks to the work of a team of preservationists headed by Dr. Lynn Rainville, these grounds are safe from disappearing and another descendant is closer to finding their ancestor.
Rainville, a research anthropologist and historian at Sweet Briar College, received a grant earlier this year from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the African American Family Database. The project is a model for researching African-American families from antebellum to post-bellum times and when completed will help descendants find their enslaved ancestors.
Yesterday, on my way down to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I’m working on my family history project, I stopped in Baltimore to see some relatives – some living, some dead. The living one is my niece, Flannery, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art. She accompanied me to see my ancestors whose portraits are housed at the Maryland Historical Society, just blocks from her school. Funny the way things work.
Flanny was kind enough to take photos of me with the portraits of my second great uncle, Alexander Stuart, his wife, Matilda (who was sporting an amazing ermine robe), my third great uncle, Andrew Stuart, and my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart pictured above. See any family resemblance?
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.)
Today, my family and I are celebrating Columbus Day by taking advantage of the day off and going to a beautiful farm-lined part of our state to do some apple picking. But back in 1893, the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America on a grand scale with the World Columbian Exposition . Chicago beat out New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the honor of hosting this world fair which took three years to organize, pushing back the celebration a year later than planned. Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame designed the grounds visited by over 25 million people including my second great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart. His Stuart pecans exhibit was one of tens of thousands on display at the fair.
Happy Columbus Day!
With my children finally back in school, I can return my attention for at least part of the day to shaking my family tree. My cousin and I have made a lot of progress since we started searching together last year, but each new discovery invariably leads us to another clue, another agency to call, or piece of history to look into. Following all of these threads requires organization, so I’ve decided to give myself a weekly list of genealogy goals to keep me focused. I’ll do this on “Motivation Mondays,” and if you find this theme useful, I hope you’ll join me.
Goals for this week:
- Transcribe one letter from the Stuart Papers. Pictured above, the collection of letters, sermons and personal documents belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart. (If I do one letter a week, I’ll have them finished by 2012!)
- look into some of the laws regarding slaves in Maryland. Stuart was president of the state’s senate and mentions pending legislation regarding slavery a few times in his letters in 1826 and again in the 1840s. I wonder if he helped craft laws regarding slavery and if they were pro or anti the institution.
- Follow up with the local library to find out when the Stirling Papers will arrive on microfilm, on loan from Princeton University. I’m dying to find out if these papers have any information on my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton, who was owned by the Stirling family.
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
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.
Ever since I started this journey to trace my family’s history, I’ve broadened my reading tastes. I’ve been inspired to read books that I might not otherwise and have even reread some books with a new eye.
Here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months that have enlightened me about the south, bettered my understanding of conditions for my slave ancestors, and given me compassion for the many genealogists who come up against a big family secret:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs – I first read this book touted as fiction, but based on a real slave’s life when I was in college. I decided to reread it this summer when it came to my attention that my family is connected to the real story. The master that Jacobs escapes from, Dr. Flint, was based on a Dr. James Norcom. If I’ve followed the history correctly as outlined in Joel Brink’s book, A Tale of Two Families, Norcom was related through marriage to the family that owned my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton. The genealogy world is very, very small.
One Drop by Bliss Broyard – Broyard’s discovery of her father’s black ancestry sends her on a journey to learn more about her family’s history. Like mine, Broyard’s paternal family hails from New Orleans and her search takes her to my ancestral home, the heart of her father’s secret identity.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag. This novel offers a slice of Southern American life centering around the owners of Whistle Stop Cafe in Alabama. The L&N railroad line also plays a dominant role in the novel as it did in my family’s life. At least one of my ancestors worked on this train line and as a child my father used to make spending money by selling fish to its passengers when the train would stop in his town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Genealogy, science and ethics intersect in this fascinating story of a poor, black woman whose cancer cells are used for the benefit of science unbeknownst to her or her family and long after her death. My book club had a robust discussion on the ethics of using her cells without her or her family’s knowledge and if her descendents should benefit from the profits that some companies have gained from said usage.
Annie’s Ghost – Washington Post editor, Steven Luxenberg tries to uncover his mother’s motivation in keeping a family secret in his riveting journey to learn more about the disabled aunt he never knew he had. A lot of the story takes place in Detroit, his hometown and I smiled when he mentioned a place I recognized from my own ancestry research: Mount Clemens, Michigan. None of my maternal family has roots in Michigan to my knowledge, but my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton and her daughter, Josephine Burton Ford seemed to have visited there in 1905. My cousin has two decorative glasses inscribed with their names, the date and Mount Clemens. At the time, it was known as a resort town.
Next on my ancestry-inspired reading list are Buzzy Jackson’s, Shaking the Family Tree and Pulitzer Prize-wining poet Natasha Trethewey’s memoir, Beyond Katrina.
What ancestry inspired reading can you recommend?
This week, I contacted administrators at Washington College, alma mater of my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart to make arrangements for a visit. I found out that Stuart went to Washington College while reading his obituary written by his friend and fellow Washington College alum, Ezekiel Chambers. Chambers and Stuart grew up together in Chestertown, MD where Washington College is located. The college website boasts a picture of Chambers and describes him and his family as important pieces of the college’s legacy. My third great-grandfather and Chambers would have been among the college’s earliest graduates. The two went on to serve in the Maryland State Senate together.
According to their website, Washington College, founded in the early 1780s was the first college chartered in the new nation. Our first president, George Washington was founder and patron of the institution which says it’s committed to a broader understanding of our country’s history. I’m so looking forward to traveling to the college this fall and seeing the places my grandfather may have roamed and studied which no doubt shaped his opinions and prepared him for a career in the Maryland State Senate. Until I can get to the college itself, I’ll be following their Poplar Grove Project blog.
Poplar Grove is an historic home in the area and students from Washington College found a treasure trove of letters and other papers in the attic there a couple of years ago. Under the direction of history teacher Adam Goodheart, and in conjunction with the Maryland State Archives, the Poplar Grove Papers have since been archived. And guess what? In the index for the Poplar Grove collection on the State Archive’s website, there is mention of a William Stuart. Professor Goodheart tipped me off to my ancestor’s possible connection with the papers when I contacted him to make arrangements to visit their college. I’m not sure if it’s my William Stuart, but I’ve already started going through the archived material available online to find out. I’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, you can listen to the story of Washington College’s students finding the Poplar Grove papers on NPR.
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…