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!



Filed under Uncategorized

16 responses to “Treasure Chest Thursday: Another enslaved ancestor found!

  1. that is wonderful! i am on my way to Afrigeneas!

  2. My gosh, that is the sort of find everyone dreams about! How absolutely wonderful to read your gg-grandmother in her own words. I look forward to reading your post about Sharon.

  3. Liz

    The Attakapas Post was around today’s St. Martinville, LA in St. Martin Parish, but the Attakapas region encompassed today’s parishes of Vermilion, Iberia, St. Martin, St. Mary & Lafayette. Hope that helps. 🙂
    (sorry if this is a double comment — couldn’t post, perhaps b/c previous comment had a link in it)

  4. What an incredible discovery!

    Your great-great grandmother is still finding her family, all these years and generations later.

    Happy Day! :0)

  5. Good for you, again. Keep up the good work!

    Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  6. Patricia M. Armstrong Watkins

    Congratulations on your new find, I am so, so very happy for you and Monique. God Bless.

  7. Dionne, WOW. You have some kind of luck!! (Maybe that’s not the right word for it, though). Seriously though, this is FABULOUS! I am so very happy for you, and so deeply touched. I, like so many others, have been following Tempy’s story, and as you know, Tempy, and some of my ancestors seem to have originated from the same area (and possibly the same family of owners) in NC, so I am just doubly – no triply excited about this! Can’t wait to hear more.


  8. What a find! So happy for you!

  9. Diane

    I have chill bumps running up and down my arms. I am so happy for you that you found the names of another branch of your family. And the slaveowners and ad to boot! People who are not Genealogist don’t get it why we are so excited to find out who slave massa was. Good Luck on your continued quest.
    And I was thinking of putting my research down a bit, but I think I’ll keep on going.

  10. What an interesting and wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Dionne,

    What an incredible find this is! This is the kind of thing left to our dreams, never thinking it will become reality.

    I am just learning about the Souhwestern from your post. My great grandfather and grandfather were itinerant A.M.E. ministers. I have found info on them in several newspapers; now I have another resource to check.

    Thanks for sharing this incredible find. Congrats!!
    Best of luck as you continue your research.


    • Shannon

      Dear Sandra,
      This is Shannon from the above story. I noticed your last name & have to ask: are you by any chance searching for a Valentine Taliaferro / Tolliver – born GA, grew up in MS, sold to AL, ended up in Shreveport, LA? His was the very first “Lost Friends” advertisement I ever read – the one I came across by accident while looking for something else – and he advertised repeatedly for his siblings Emanuel, Stephen, Frank, Mary & Phoebe, who moved from MS to Bossier Parish, LA, with slaveholder Louis Taliaferro, but ended up in Texas. He also had a sister Penine, married to Robin Green, who was in AL. Please let me know if any of this sounds like it might be your family – I would be happy to give you all the details.

  12. What a dream! And and incredible story. What fascinates me most is that it was 25 yrs after emancipation. The spirits are really shining down on you, Dionne. Anyone doing slave research would give anything to have something like this…..WOW!!!!!!

  13. Thanks, Everyone for all of your kind comments. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by this revelation that I so treasure. I know it is such a blessing. Be well, Dionne

  14. What a blessing to find your ancestor Tempy mentioning the names of several new relatives.

  15. Pingback: Talented Tuesday on Wordy Wednesday: My talented, prosperous ancestors « Finding Josephine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s