Category Archives: African-American history
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?
Check out the amazing handmade gift my cousin, Monique gave me today when she came over for a bar-b-que.
The picture hardly does justice to her ancestor clock. It includes images of things we’ve found during the year that we’ve been on this journey together, decorated with her special flourishes and finished with a ton of love. Originally, she was going to give me the quote in the bottom part of the clock and have it framed, but then she got inspired to give me something that I might one day pass down to my children. I love that she gave me our family history in the face of a clock, something I can share with my family every day, and a constant reminder that my ancestors are always with me informing my future.
I’ve just finished reading, Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter by Carrie Allen McCray. It tells the story of McCray’s remarkable mother, the child of a former slave and Confederate general who goes on to become a lifelong activist for what she calls “full freedom” for black people.
Anyone following my blog knows that my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton was a slave and had several children with her former owner, Col. W.R. Stuart, a confederate like McCray’s grandfather. (Stuart wasn’t a colonel in the Confederate Army, however. This honorary title probably came from his association with a fraternal order).
Our parallel ancestries are crazy on their own (the hypocrisy of fighting to preserve slavery while fathering children with slaves still makes my eyes cross), but the places where our own lives connect is really wild:
- The author spent most of her life in the same town that I live in now. I pass her family home just about every day.
- Before moving to New Jersey, she lived in Lynchburg, Va. I’ve been traveling to a town just outside of Lynchburg annually for the past four years as part of a writing retreat.
- The person who lent me the book was my minister. It was a present to him from the writer. While McCray did not belong to my congregation, research for her book brought her there. Her mother collaborated on many anti-segregation causes with former ministers in my congregation.
I’m sorry I didn’t know about Ms. McCray before she died two years ago. How wonderful it would have been to meet her, perhaps here in our own town or down in Lynchburg during one of my writing retreats. I would have liked to thank her for her book. It’s both a moving tribute to her mother whose tireless efforts I continue to benefit from, (among other things, she helped integrate our town’s movie theaters) as well as an important addition to our country’s history.
You can read her obituary which includes a summary of her book here:
As part of celebrating Mother’s day with my mom last week, we went through her box of old photos and reminisced.
We rediscovered a bunch of treasures that I’d forgotten about, including the one above, a picture of my maternal great-grandfather, Sam Jones and mom recounted my favorite story about him.
Born July 18, 1882 in Alma, Arkansas, the Rev. Sam Jones lived a good part of his life in Oklahoma. But an incident there with the local Ku Klux Klan chased him out of town. No one can remember now what the incident was, but everyone recalls that when Sam learned that the Klan was after him, he had himself nailed into a pine box, placed on a wagon and driven out of town like he was already dead. He would settle in Bakersfield, California where he was known as an entrepreneur and mentor to many young black men.
I don’t know how long Sam had to stay nailed up in that box, and even though I’ve heard the story plenty of times, it still makes me shake my head in awe. I never met my maternal great-grandfather. He died on December 16, 1976 when I was just seven years-old. But because of this story and all the good things I’ve heard about him over the years, he has always seemed heroic to me and loomed large in my mind. Indeed he was large, almost 7 feet tall! Only my brother, at 6′ 4″ inherited any of great-grandpa’s height, but I hope if need be we descendants have somehow garnered even an iota of his courage.
So what’s your favorite family tale?
From my brother to my great-grandfather, four generations of men in my family have served in the United States Armed Forces. I grew up not far from the New Jersey Air Force base where my father and grandfather were stationed and the Army base where my brother was stationed before being deployed to Iraq. (He’s back now with more stripes on his arm and ready to serve again if called). But I never met or knew much about my great-grandfather who served in World War I, so this month’s Carnival of African-American Genealogy theme honoring our ancestors who served gave me a great opportunity to learn more about him through some research.
My great-grandfather, Lifford Emerson Coleman was born in Tennessee on July 28, 1890, something I first learned when I came across his World War I draft card shown above. I’d always assumed that he was born and raised in either Oklahoma where he met my great-grandmother and had two children with her, or in Texas where my great-grandmother was from. Lifford was 28 when he registered for the draft and had a wife and two young children at home. My granny, Louise Coleman Walton was just 2 at the time and her younger brother Bill may have just been on the way. This draft card also shows Lifford’s signature, the only one of his that I’ve ever seen.
This draft card alone isn’t proof that Lifford was actually enlisted.
As stated on Ancestry.com where I found this record, “On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I. Six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, which authorized the president to increase the military establishment of the United States. As a result, every male living within the United States between the ages of eighteen and forty-five was required to register for the draft…but not all the men who registered actually served in the armed forces.”
But I know from my grandmother’s stories that he did in fact join the Army. She remembers her baby brother being dressed up like a soldier as well as a photo of her father in his actual Army uniform. (If only the ancestry fairy is listening and will make that photo appear!) But even better proof of Lifford’s service is the money she and her brother received from her father’s Army pension.
“When I was older, around 12 or maybe even 14, a man came by and told Mother that she could get benefits because her husband was in the Army and to get herself a lawyer. Sure enough, she did,” my granny said when I asked her about her father’s service in World War I. “I thought I was rich. I’d never seen so much money.”
A teacher told her she should save it, so she took it to the post office to deposit it.
The woman at the post office at first told her, “I don’t think they let colored do that,'” but Granny was patient, let the woman check with her boss and was granted a safe heaven for her benefits.
“I gave them my fingerprints, my money and from then on I always put my money in savings,” Granny said.
My great-grandfather died at a young age and met a violent end, but not in the Army. My grandmother once told me he was stabbed to death in a bar. But the other day when I asked her about it, she could only remember that someone killed him. Since he was taken from her when she was so young, she doesn’t remember much about him or what kind of work he did. On his draft card, under occupation it says “labor” and his employer is listed as a railroad company. I only noticed this after I got off the phone with my grandmother, so I look forward to being able to give her some information about her dad and hope that it will cheer her.
Armed with Granny’s recollections and this draft card to guide me, I’m sending a request to the National Archives for Lifford’s military records including any pensions received. I can’t wait to see what else his service records tell me about this World War I veteran. Thanks to Lifford and to all who served and thanks to this carnival for prodding me to find out more about my great-grandfather.
This week, I’ve been following people, places and things: two blogs, a North Carolina family, and derivations of my great, great-grandmother Tempe’s name. It’s all in pursuit of my next genealogy goal, to find Tempe Burton’s’s birthplace and her parents.
On Monday, I shared here that in researching Judith Boddie Jones, a woman who once owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempe, I discovered, Judith’s sister was named Temperance. Too much of a coincidence for me to pass up, I’ve been hunting down the Boddies of Nash County, North Carolina ever since in hopes of finding out more about my ancestor.
So far, here’s what I’ve found and where I found it:
- Temperance Boddie was also called Tempe. I’ve always wondered where the spelling “Tempe” and name came from as my great, great-grandmother is named on her gravestone and several census documents. It always struck me as a misprint (shouldn’t it be Tempy with a “y?”), or perhaps short for something else. Could it be that Tempe was named for a member of the family that owned her? Temperance Boddie’s sister, Judith Boddie Jones was one of my great, great-grandmother’s last owners. I found this information about Temperance “Tempe” Boddie in a google book.
- Boddie Family Bible This bible is filled with births and deaths for the Boddie clan spanning about a century. It didn’t mention Temperance, Judith or any slaves that I could see, but it gave me hope that more useful records about this family exist. I found this bible on Renate’s blog, Into the Light. I’ve enjoyed Renate’s posts since joining this community ranging from personal history to genealogy resources, but after she replied to my Monday blog that she had come across the Boddie name often in her North Carolina research, I decided to give her site a closer look. Listed as a resource on Renate’s site is the North Carolina Family Records online. That’s where I found the Boddie family bible.
- John William Boddie died in Jackson, Mississippi. That’s where Tempe lived as a slave to her final owner, Elizabeth McCauley, Judith Boddie Jones’ granddaughter. Could John be related to Judith B. Jones as well? I found Boddie’s obituary while perusing Taneya’s Genealogy blog. A medical librarian, Taneya’s penchant for gathering research materials is evident all over her blog and impressive website which boasts a thorough family tree. Taneya also coordinates several USGen Web projects including the North Carolina portal. It was there that I found Boddie’s obituary as well as election results that showed a W.W. Boddie was elected to the Senate in 1826. Incidentally, my third great-grandfather, William Stuart Sr. (Elizabeth’s father-in-law) was also in the Senate during that time, but in Maryland. This big genealogy world is growing smaller every day with every century retraced.
Thanks Taneya and Renate for all the great resources you share along with your family’s stories. They’ve inspired me to create a resource list of my own. But first a break to celebrate my b’day and Mother’s Day with my families. I’d love suggestions on where to look (and who to follow) on the next leg of this adventure. Who and what are you following?
Happy Mother’s Day!