Tag Archives: biracial

An Oral Tradition

My Grandma Louise told me her stories while we swam on Hilton Head Island

My Grandma Louise told me her stories while we swam on Hilton Head Island

When I read the New York Times article last week about Michelle Obama’s ancestry, the fact that her family lore had suspected a white relative for years underscored the importance of gathering oral history.  For blacks, the paper trail often runs cold since many slave births and deaths weren’t documented.  Even my grandmother, born in 1910 never had a birth certificate.  This was the case for many poor  people (not just blacks) as well as those born in very rural areas around the turn of the century.

It’s easy for family history in general, but the history of African Americans in particular to die with our ancestors. That’s why I’m  so grateful for all the story tellers in my life like my grandfather Martin Ford, and my grandmothers, Lillie Mae Ford and Louise Coleman Walton.  When Martin and Lillie Mae were alive, they were generous with their stories of their lives in segregated Mississippi and Louisiana, and Louise at 93 continues to regale me with her tales of picking cotton and potatoes as a sharecropper, first in Oklahoma and then in California often with my mother, then just a baby in tow.

I’ve inherited my grandparents’ storytelling genes  and for the next two weeks, I have the privilege of spending uninterrupted time spinning tales at a beautiful hilltop artist’s colony in Amherst Virginia. While I’m here at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I hope to work on a fictionalized version of my maternal grandparents’ adventures.  (No one would believe the true stories).  So, I’ll turn this story over to  my fourth cousin, Monique and let her tell you how we found each other in our parallel quests for our family’s history.

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Filed under family, family history, geneology, Hilton Head, S.C., Uncategorized, vacation

Finding Dionne

Monique, Dionne and daughters, Desiree, Jade, Amber and Devany.  Can you match the children with the correct mother?

Monique, Dionne and daughters, Desiree, Jade, Amber and Devany. Can you match the children with the correct mother?

by guest blogger, Monique Smith Anderson

Early in the summer during the middle of the night, I came across a post that caught my eye on a popular ancestry website, but for some reason it took me three more nights to respond. Once I did, I was thrilled just hours later to find a response from someone who knew details of My Family Tree as their own. As it turns out, that was the day that my new ancestry website contact had returned home from her grandmother’s funeral.

I was overjoyed with our internet communications, with my new found cousin describing in detail, stories of her Dad and Grandfather being raised on the very property I’ve pictured so many times in my head as an old sepia-toned movie. I can still hear the joy in my Father’s voice when he called me after getting his own e-mail from our new cousin which answered questions they’ve both had for many years. We have many more answers to find, but the load is now lighter and merry.

Ironically, my new cousin and I live just forty miles apart, 1500 miles away from the Mississippi town I now call home, but have never been to. Our first face to face meeting brought the peace and comfort that makes families Family. We wept openly possibly for the loss of our lone searches for our ancestors, followed by an afternoon of schoolgirl giggles finding more and more in common. I was tickled pink to share the 150 year old sword and scabbard that belonged to our Great Great Great Grandfather, Colonel W.R. Stuart. I had acquired the item on Ebay of all places, just two months earlier, also from a contact of that famous ancestry website.

My Cousin Dionne, my Dad, & I take searching for our roots very seriously. We all have binders two inches thick and forward each other every bit of information no matter how big or small. We have an unwritten rule of opening what could be “big hits” together, as we did a month ago with a 124-page package from the University of Southern Mississippi Archives. We are thankful for advancements in archival collections and access to public records, but have hit the proverbial wall with finding any information on Josephine Burton. Suddenly it hit us to go full circle and concentrate on word of mouth from elders as it used to be. We are taking big steps to make that happen right now.

We realize that searching can also be half of the thrill as well. When we’re disappointed from hitting another wall, we joke about who is going to play Tempe, The Colonel, and both of us when our journey is made into a movie. Just last week we forwarded each other a video clip on the life of Alex Haley with that haunting tune that none of us can ever forget for inspiration!

It took me writing this right now to realize that all of this research we are compiling is to literally put into the hands of our daughters as we would have wanted passed onto us. They are too young to understand or appreciate now, but I look forward to the day that I can pass on the full story of our roots from royalty in Scotland, slavery in the south, and all the way to Carnegie Hall.

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Filed under family, family history, geneology, Multiracial families, race, slavery