Category Archives: family history

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: New Year gifts

My cousin, Monique made this pillow for me as a Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year's gift. It displays our ancestor Tempy Burton's 1891 newspaper ad, looking for her family whom she had been separated from by slavery.

During our New Year get together while the kids were busy playing Wii, Monique and I poured over the book "History of Queen Anne County" by Frederick Emory. It's full of information about our Stuart ancestors during their time in Chestertown, Maryland.



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

Searching Saturday: Still Tracing my Ancestors’ Footsteps

Beignets and Iced Coffee at the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

On the second leg of our Ancestry Tour today, my cousin Monique and I visited with my uncle, Henry, paid our respects to our ancestors at three different cemeteries, then bought some voodoo dolls.  In the evening, we tracked our ancestors all over town from the Cotton Exchange where my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart conducted business to the Dauphin Avenue house where his brother Alexander cared for their father, William Stuart,  while he battled and eventually died of yellow fever. 

In between pounding the cobblestones of the French Quarters, we stopped at Cafe du Monde to refuel with some beignets and cafe au lait.  They were worth every carb!


Filed under family history, geneology

Sentimental Sunday: The Ancestor Clock

The handmade clock by my cousin, Monique Smith Anderson which includes images of my ancestors.

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.


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

Wordless Wednesday: A picture of past, present and future

On my way home from jury duty in Newark, New Jersey yesterday, I noticed a cemetery crunched between a row of new houses on one side and an impending construction project on the other.  It struck me, past, present and future all shoved together on one urban city block.  So, today after fulfilling my jury duty, I stopped and took these pictures with my cellphone (so please excuse the poor quality):

A Jewish cemetery on South Orange Avenue in Newark, NJ with new housing on one side of it...

and a construction project on the other.

Stone plaque at the South Orange Avenue entrance of a Jewish cemetery in Newark, NJ


Filed under ancestry, family history, Uncategorized

Monday Madness (the good kind): Freedom’s Child

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:

S.C. author Carrie Allen McCray Nickens, 94, dies | The Herald – Rock Hill, SC.


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

Madness Monday – Was My Ancestor Lynched?

Yesterday, I shared how my great, great-grandfather escaped the Ku Klux Klan.  Well, not all of my relatives may have been so lucky.

A few weeks ago I heard a new family story – that one of my great, great-grandmother’s sons was lynched.  The news came from a 92 year-old man who actually met my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton when he was a child.  He remembered hearing that her son was lynched, but nothing more.  I don’t know why he was lynched, if it was the Klan that lynched him or someone else. I don’t even know which of Tempy’s sons may have been lynched.  Besides her oldest boy, Alfred, she had two:  Warren and Louis born in the late 1860s probably in New Orleans, Louisiana or Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Both boys probably died sometime after the 1870s when they last show up on the Jackson Educable Index cited on

Investigating a lynching is not exactly what I signed up for when I started this blog  less than a year ago. I just wanted to find out what happened to my great, grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.  But, now that I have this clue, I have to follow it.  This man was Josephine’s brother. His history is my history. He deserves to be found too even if it’s exceedingly painful to see where he ended up.

So far, I’ve checked the following databases that list lynching victims in the United States:

Anywhere else I should look?

Thank you for always sharing your stories.  It gives me the courage to share mine, even when they’re not pretty.


Filed under ancestry, family history, lynching, Mississippi, slavery, Uncategorized

Carnival of African American Genealogy: Honoring my Great-Grandfather’s World War I Service

My great-grandfather, Lifford Emerson Coleman's World War I draft registration card

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 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.


Filed under African-American history, ancestry, family, family history, geneology, National Archives and Records Administration, Uncategorized