Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - A New Addition

On November 19th, my dear Aunt Sue joined her parents and siblings in Glory. Though I know she was welcomed by the Ancestors, I will miss her, tremendously.  May she rest in peace.
The Calvin Yarborough family plot in the "Cemetery on the Hill" in Louisburg, NC.
Here rests my grandfather, Calvin, grandmother, Anna, my uncle, Calvin III, and now
my aunt, Susie Yarborough Hawkins.  (My father, Arthur YARBOROUGH, Sr., is memorialized in the Hampton National Cemetery, in Hampton, VA. I hope to one day be able to place a marker for him here, too.)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

(My) History Destroyed in Franklin County

On Friday, December 6, 2013, history was destroyed in Franklin County, North Carolina.  That's right, d-e-s-t-r-o-y-e-d.  I know that is the opposite of what we are accustomed to hearing.  History is supposed to be made.  It's supposed to be honored.  And, more than anything else, it's supposed to be PRESERVED.  But, nothing about what happened at the Franklin County Courthouse on that fateful evening was what it was supposed to be.  On that Friday, just as all of the courthouse workers were shutting down their computers, and grabbing their belongings to leave for the weekend, and just as daylight was turning to dusk, employees of a county-hired removal company were donning hazmat gear, and were quietly, with almost no ado, invading the courthouse basement, armed with boxes from Lowes, and rolls of tape to fulfill the assignment they'd been given: Box up and remove over 170 years of the county's history, and transport it to the local animal shelter (which houses an incinerator) to be BURNED.

Just a few of the bound books the were destroyed. (This picture courtesy of Diane Taylor Torrent)
Franklin County, NC is the location of the heart of my genealogy research. ALL of my paternal ancestry hails from this county, and those ancestors represent just about every demographic of the county's population in the 19th, and early 20th centuries.  I have conducted numerous hours of research in that courthouse since the mid-90's, and have been pretty confident that I've uncovered all that was there which pertained to my ancestors. Interestingly enough, I've often asked, "Are you sure there's not more?", or I've commented, "It seems as though there should be more records."  Other than the one time, very early in my research years, where I think I vaguely remember someone saying that there might be more something more in the basement, my inquiries were always met with rather blank, nonchalant responses, and/or shoulder shrugs. Little did I know, there really was more - a lot more - and it was right below me in the courthouse basement.
This was the scene from the front and the back of the courthouse last Friday evening.

From my formerly-enslaved YARBOROUGH and SHAW great-grandparents, to my slave-owning HAWKINS family (one of whom, my gg-grandfather, was actually a "negro trader" who had six children with my mulatto gg-grandmother, Anna GREEN); from my DUNSTONs, who were Free People of Color, just like my BIBBYs, at least three of whom were Revolutionary War Patriots; I am truly a product of Franklin County's past.  It was my history that was carted away in those boxes, and so senselessly incinerated.  As fate (or perhaps, the Ancestors) would have it, I was right there to witness this travesty as it took place, even though I live three hours away.  As heart-wrenching as it was to watch, I'm glad that I just happened to be in town that day, because if I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I might not have truly believed it was actually happening.  Not only were precious records destroyed on that evening, but, so too was much of the hope I've held onto of ever uncovering more knowledge of the lives of my Franklin County ancestors, whose stories were, without question, waiting in that basement to be told.

(A very sad),
I took this picture of the inside of one of the boxes
after it was brought up from the basement.

This picture, which was posted on FB by Diane, is by far the most devastating for me. This is a box filled with bundles of LETTERS.
*What follows is a Facebook post which was written by Diane Taylor Torrent, member of The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC.  She has graciously granted me permission to share this timeline on Into the LIGHT, and I am doing so without changing it in any way. It is long, but is well worth reading, and gives a comprehensive "inside" look at what has transpired, with regard to very valuable records.  Please read.
"Timeline of the Destruction of 100 Year Old Franklin County, NC Records
December 8, 2013 at 11:33pm
I am Diane Taylor Torrent  with The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC.  I want to thank everyone for your involvement and the help that each of you offered us on Friday, December 2013 when the Franklin County management acted upon their decision to destroy the 100 year old records discovered in the courthouse basement. This has been a long 7 months and we were hopeful up to the end that the outcome would be different.                                                                                                  
I know you have a lot of questions so here is a timeline of what lead to this event. In May, a new Clerk of Court (Patricia Burnette Chastain) was appointed following the resignation of the long serving clerk, Alice Faye Hunter.   Mrs. Chastain soon discovered that the basement had been unopened for some time. Upon opening the basement we found stacks and stacks of books, boxes, loose papers, ledgers, etc. dating from approximately 1840's to the 1960's. They were strewn everywhere. There was obvious mold in the back section and evidence of water damage.                

After much investigation it was revealed that through the years the basement had been used for overflow of records awaiting retention dates as well as other items deemed unnecessary or non-vital. They were then forgotten.  The basement was also used for storage of old furniture, cleaning supplies, broken or no longer used doors, and whatever else there was no room for upstairs.  The two rooms were in a mess.  We could barely open the door and had to crawl over everything to reach the back room.  The boiler flooded the basement at one point. It was also discovered that an air conditioner unit was venting into the basement causing the majority of the mold.                                                                                                                 

Some records had been ruined by the mold, but most were completely viable.  A quick investigation of the records revealed boxes from most every department of the Franklin County government.  There were items from the court as well as register of deeds, county finance, board of education, sheriff's office, county jail, elections board and many others.                                                                                                                                                                                       
 Mrs. Chastain and I spent the 3 day Memorial Day weekend hauling away trash from the basement.  We pulled out trailer loads of bagged trash, broken furniture, torn carpeting and used cleaning supplies in order to be able to get to the records.  Furniture was up righted and arranged in a make shift office in the front room. We were then able to begin picking up some of the records that were strewn about the floor.                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Over the years the boxes had weakened from either time, carelessness or water damage.  We were told that when the boiler burst and the basement flooded years ago, workers repairing the boiler (not courthouse clerks) retrieved many of the papers and books from the flooded floor and simply laid them on the shelving, resulting in more mold and destruction of the wet papers.  Most boxes fell apart when you moved them resulting in many of their contents spilling out. Many times these contents had been piled on top of other boxes and combined with other records so that most of the boxes actually contained a variety of items. A box with records on the top level dating in the 1960s actually had records from the 1800s on the bottom.  We quickly learned that each and every box and piece of paper would need to be investigated.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
We collected as many boxes as we could find to hold the loose papers.  Boxes were used from other departments as well as local businesses, the liquor store, retailers, anywhere we could find an empty box. Some of these boxes had writing or labels and 2013 dates from the department they came from which would later lead to misinterpretation by county officials that there were records of a "sensitive" and current nature in the basement. Had they looked inside the box they would have discovered their true contents.                                                                                                                                                                                            
Now that the area was more accessible a plan was needed to be developed to find the true value of what had been discovered and what could be done to preserve the documents and best share the information with the public. The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC presented a program on May 16th to its membership along with members of the community to discuss the best way to proceed.  Present were local historians, genealogist, friends of the library, the arts council, the new Clerk of Court and County Commissioner Sidney Dunston.  All present were shown photos of the basement and the condition of the records.                                                                                                                                                                                                              
Mrs. Chastain recognized the value of having a group of genealogist and historians available who were willing and able to ascertain the historic worth of these records to the community and asked the Heritage Society to review, record, digitize and preserve the records.   Due to space constraints and conditions in the basement it was decided that only a few would be allowed to begin the work.  The Heritage Society provided the appropriate protective gear for the work to begin.  Masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc. were bought by the Society and placed in the basement for the use of everyone entering.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
We were very excited and went to work immediately straightening, organizing and investigating.  Immediately we found Chattel Mortgages from the 1890's, court dockets from post civil war to prohibition, delayed birth certificate applications with original supporting documents (letters from Grandma, bible records, birth certificates, etc), county receipts on original letterhead from businesses long extinct, poll record books, original school, road and bridge bonds denoting the building of the county, law books still in their original paper wrappings, etc., etc. etc. The list goes on and on.   Our original feelings of shock that the records were there and in such bad condition led to feelings of joy that they were still there and that someone had thought to retain them for us to discover so many years later.                                                                                                 

Each book or box opened produced a new treasure. A letter, stamped and in the original envelope, from a Franklin County soldier serving in France during the First World War asking the court to be sure his sister and his estate was looked after while he was away. A naturalization paper from the late 1890s for an immigrant from Russia escaping the tyranny of the Czar. A document from County Commissioners in the early years of road building requesting another county repair their road as it entered the county. Lists of county employees and what their wages were in 1900.  A court document paying the court reporter who took the depositions in the "Sweat Ward" case, (Ward beheaded a man in the 1930s and later became the last man to be lynched in the county).   Postcards, county bills, audits, cancelled checks, newspaper clippings, store ads from long gone businesses.  Boxes and boxes of court cases covering the years of prohibition, a docket from an individual accused of running a "baudy house" within the city limits, a photo tucked now and then inside a book, one of the courthouse unseen since the 1920s. Again, nothing was in any order and many of the boxes were combinations of records from many decades.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
In June, we requested new, clean file boxes from the county management so that we could begin saving some of the more important documents.  We received around 40 office type white file boxes which we then filled with records from the floor as well as from boxes that were falling apart.                                                                                                             
Understandably we were thrilled. Out of an abundance of caution and because we wanted to handle each document and treasure with the respect it deserved, WE (The Heritage Society) contacted the NC State Archives for advice on handling old documents and the best archiving method. This was where we began loosing the battle. The Archives stepped in and decided that they should have control over ALL of the basements contents. They sent a representative who looked through the basement and said that they would get back to us with a report on the next steps.  We continued working when we could in the cramped, dusty and moldy environment of the basement while we waited for an assessment from the Archives.   June and July were very wet months and many days we were unable to enter the basement.  It was becoming obvious that we would not be able to continue working under these conditions and certainly would not be able to bring in all of the researchers who were waiting to begin the task of preserving these documents.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
On August 5, 2013 a request was made at the County Commissioner's meeting, on the behalf of the Heritage Society, by Steve Trubilla to provide adequate space for the preservation to continue.  JM Dickens, a local business owner, had graciously donated the use of office space across the street from the courthouse and many citizens had made offers of supplies.  The Commissioners agreed to provide electric and water to the offices for 6 months.  Keys were turned over to the Society and we began stocking the offices.  Holt Kornegay, the county librarian attended the next meeting of the Heritage Society and expressed that he would be able to train the volunteers to use a computer program designed to archive the records so that they would integrate into the system and would be accessible to the public.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
A request was made to The United Way to supply the Society with computers and Steve Trubilla donated a scanner/copier.  By August 13th the offices were ready to go and Mrs. Chastain provided trustees to begin moving the first set records up the 23 flights of stairs to the newly donated space.  All of the new file boxes, repacked with the old, dusty records from the basement floor, were moved to the upstairs space  We were ready to begin once I returned from a two day business trip out of town.

When I returned everything had changed.                                                                                                                                                                      
 First, on August 15th, the issue of insurance for the office space and the Society arose and halted progress. Superior Court Judge Bob Hobgood offered to pay for the insurance for the 6 months that the offices were in use. At this point the Society felt that the support of the community was behind them and everyone was coming together to preserve this exciting time capsule of their history.

We were then told by the county management that the Heritage Society had to "stand down" as the issue of "chain of command" had arisen.  We were told that management had become concerned, four months into the process, that there were items of a "sensitive", i.e adoptions, social services, etc., nature in the basement  that should not be made public.  This had resulted from the misinterpretation mentioned earlier regarding reused boxes with labels that did not denote the actual contents of the box.

Concern was that chain of command and protocol should be followed for each pair of eyes that viewed the records.  The problem existed that with the records being in such jumbled order and no way of knowing what box belonged to which department without going through it, there was no easy way for each department to view only their own records.   It should be noted at this point that every piece of paper, book and box touched by the Heritage Society had been carefully logged and organized.  Nothing had been removed and the time capsule was intact.

It was now that I discovered that during my absence, access had been obtained (not through chain of command and the Clerk of Court) and county management had allowed people from the elections board, education, register of deeds and the State Archives and others to go through the basement and the office and remove items that they deemed to be under their control.  Items were strewn about the office floor and boxes that had been carefully stacked were opened and askew.  ALL of  the new white file boxes were gone, taken by the State Archives.  There was no way of knowing who took what or what was missing.  No one had left a log.

Our immediate question was how did this action fall within the chain of command?  How was it better to have so many hands and eyes on the records searching for what may be theirs rather than a few careful historians organizing and sorting?   The time capsule was now compromised and we no longer had control of the integrity of the records.

We had been asked to stand down.  We were still waiting for an assessment from the State Archives on the value of the records and the AOC (Administrative Office of Courts) was preparing a report on the retention dates of the court records.  A more complete inventory was needed so I was allowed to do a cursory accounting of what remained in the basement by simply labeling boxes by year range and approximate contents.  Again, none of the ledger books were opened and investigated due to time and space restraints.

The assessment from the State Archives finally arrived in October with the rules as they applied to retention dates of each box that had been cursory inventoried.  Remember, each box still contained a variety of records even though they were labeled according to approximate dates and contents.  It was the position of the Archives that since all of the records had long since met  their retention dates and there was some mold present in the basement that the records were of no value and should be destroyed.  ALL OF THE RECORDS should be destroyed and could not be preserved by the Heritage Society because of the chance of contamination.

Of course we were upset and immediately appealed to the county management to reconsider.  I questioned as to why so many of the white file boxes were taken by the State Archives if they were dangerous and of no value.  The reply was that they were "clean".  The same records that had been picked up off the floor and placed in the new, clean white boxes were no different from the records that still remained in the basement, they were just in a pretty box.

The County management concurred with the Archives. I asked many times who was actually in control of the records?  Was the advice from the Archives a suggestion or a mandate? My biggest question was at what point does a public record go from being a simple piece of paper with a retention date to a historic document simply because of its age? My questions were unanswered.

We appealed to the County Commissioners, our state representatives, the Governor was even contacted. We talked endlessly to the state Archives, we contacted the state Genealogical Society, the newspapers, anyone that would listen.   I requested to at least be able to view and review as each item was removed from the basement so that items of extreme interest could possibly be set aside and photographed before destruction.  I was denied. Unfortunately, I believe that no one actually believed that they really would destroy these documents until it was too late. 

I would like to say that I believe that everyone involved did what it was that they felt had to be done.  There are rules and laws that dictate the handling of state, county and public records.  Protocol should be followed and certain privacy issues need to be adhered to.  However, there comes a time when common sense and doing what is right should be part of the process.  These records were a special circumstance.  They had outlived their retention dates by many, many years.    They survived and existed in spite of the passage of time, water damage, neglect and mismanagement.   I cannot tell you the thrill you feel when you hold in your hands a piece of paper, 100 years old, that survived to tell the story of  those that came before you.  How do you make the decision to destroy something that has survived so long?

The sad thing is that since we were not allowed to complete the inventory of ALL of the basement's contents, we will never know what was lost. Hopefully, that is a question that the County's leadership will be able to live with."
One last look at our lost history: These boxes of records were completely unaffected by the mold.
You can see more of the bound record books in the background - also unaffected.
(Picture by Diane Torrent)

An UPDATE to this post was made on January 9, 2014. Click HERE to read the first update.

To read ALL of the posts on this subject, click HERE. You will have to read from the bottom up for chronological order, though.

Permalink to this post:  http://justthinking130.blogspot.com/2013/12/history-destroyed-in-franklin-county.html

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Many Rivers to Cross - MY Priscilla

     Ever since the first episode of the PBS series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which was created by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I’ve been pondering this blog post.  I’ve wanted to write, but each time I’ve tried, the words seemed stifled because of the lack of information I have about the subject of this essay.  You see, in Episode 1, Dr. Gates shared with viewers the story of Priscilla, a young girl who was purchased at a South Carolina slave auction by rice planter, Elias Ball.  In response to this episode, many in the blogging community have written beautiful, expressive posts about “their Priscilla”.  But, for me, doing so presented an awkward challenge.  Why, you might ask?  Well, because I have a real-life Priscilla, and she has been one of my most challenging ancestors to research.
    Prescilla Yarborough was my great-grandmother.  She was born in May of 1844, reportedly (by Census) in North Carolina (although one document, my grandfather's death certificate, says she was born in Virginia), and she died after 1900, but before NC began recording death certificates in 1913. She was enslaved. She had at least two granddaughters who were named for her: Priscilla "Trookies" Yarborough (my father's half-sister), and Evelyn Precilla Yarborough (daughter of Calvin and Prescilla's youngest son, Eugene). At this time, that's all I know about MY Prescilla.
     I list Prescilla in my family tree as Prescilla SHAW, because that is how her name is given on the cohabitation record for her marriage to my great-grandfather, Calvin Yarborough.  However, I have also seen her maiden name given as Eaton, on one of her children’s death certificate, and White, on another.  All others either give her name as Shaw, or unknown.

On August 25, 1866, Prescilla and Calvin recorded their marriage date as December 27, 1860.  By that time, they’d had the first three of their 11 children together.

Cohabitation Record for my great-grandparents, Calvin and Prescilla Yarborough
Transcription: 124 North Carolina Franklin County August 25th AD 1866
Before me TC Horton Clerk of the County Court for said County personally appeared Calvin Yarbro and Priscilla Shaw residents of said County lately slaves but now emancipated and acknowledge that they do cohabit together as man and wife and that said cohabitation commence 27th Dec 1860
                                                                                                                TC Horton Clerk

My grandfather's death certificate, showing that my grandmother gave Prescilla's name as White, and said she was born in Virginia.  I have noticed, though, that these two items appear as though they were added by someone after the orginal was written.  I've pondered this with folks at the NC State Archives. So far, no one has any answers.
Although I don’t know anything else about Prescilla, she is the ancestor whom I believed most purposefully, and pointedly left me a genealogical gift for my research.  This gift, I believe, was in the naming of her children.  You see, many of Calvin and Precilla’s offspring have middle names that are the surnames of local families in and around Franklin County, NC, where they lived.  I believe that Precilla was most likely separated from her family, and my sense is that she may have never seen them again, once that separation took place.  I also, believe that she, like Calvin, may have had a series of owners, and she wants me to know who they were, so that maybe I can find her (my) family. 
These are the (known) children of Calvin and Prescilla YARBOROUGH, with their middle names capitalized:
  •             Louis NEAL Yarborough (1862-1931) - Calvin was owned for most of his slave years by the Neals, and I believe that his father may have been, also, but I haven’t been able to prove that the Louis in the inventory was actually his dad. He became a Yarborough slave by marriage, just a few years before emancipation
  •      Samuel EATON Yarborough (1864-1922) – The EATON family was prominent in Franklin and surrounding counties.  I believe Precilla may have been owned by one of them, perhaps William Eaton, whom I’ve written about in earlier posts, re: Letters from Louisburg.
  •      Sarah H Yarborough (1866-1870) – Sarah was “burned” and died at age 4, according to the 1870 Mortality Record for Franklin County. I believe that Precilla may have been once owned by Sarah Helen Shaw, and that she may have named her first daughter after her.  However, I also often wonder if she may have been named Sarah after either Priscilla or Calvin’s mother.
  •      Thomas W Yarborough (1867 -?) – I’ve never seen what the W stands for in Thomas’ name, but I have to wonder if it might be, “White”, since one of the children gave that as Precilla’s maiden name
  •       Henry KING Yarborough (1872-1936)  – The King family was also prevalent in Franklin County.  Sarah Shaw, who I believe may have once owned Precilla, married Joel KING.
  •      Quinea A Yarborough (1874 -?) – I don’t know what the A stands for in this name.
  •        Caroline or Carolina B Yarborough (1876-1914) – Again, I don’t know what the middle initial stands for.
  •      Jose -phine S Yarborough (1878 -?) – I have no way of knowing, but could this be SHAW  
  •      Mattie Louise Yarborough (1879-1919
  •      Calvin Roy Yarborough (1882-1929) – This is my GRANDFATHER. There are ROYs in the area, but I’m not sure if there is any connection
  •      Eugene CARTER Yarborough (1864-1954) – This is the most vague (to me) of all the middle names.  The CARTER surname doesn’t appear in Franklin County until 1880, but because I don’t know where Precilla came from, originally, I won’t rule anything out.
*  I’ve noticed that (if my naming theory is correct), Prescilla seems to only use it with her sons, and not so much her daughters.  I wonder if the daughters were named for particular people?

     Nothing remains of my great-grandmother, Prescilla, except for my belief that she left me these clues in the naming of her children.  There are no family stories about her, nor heirlooms which belonged to her. Nothing.

     Thank you, Great-Grandma Precilla, for giving your children these names.  I promise not to ever give up trying to follow the trail you’ve left for me to explore.


Yarborough Family bible, owned by Susie Yarborough Hawkins, Louisburg, NC
Cohabitation Records, Franklin County, 1866: North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC
Franklin County Death Certificates: Franklin County Register of Deeds, Louisburg, NC

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sentimental Sunday - In Honor of "Aunt" Doris

I grew up in a great neighborhood, called Granger Court (East).  It was an all-Black, middle class subdivision, in historical Aberdeen Gardens, in Hampton, Virginia.  Our neighborhood was filled with children, most of whom had at least one active-duty, or retired military parent. But the story of my neighborhood is for another day.

This Sentimental Sunday post is in memory of one of the many mothers of Granger Court; a woman whom I admired greatly, and who welcomed me into her home, and treated me (for the most part) like one of her kids, even though she already had five of her own.  I never took Mrs. Graves' welcoming outreach for granted, for I was consciously aware that, at least during the years that I was hanging out with her daughters (my "cousins" Tonya and Tasha), that not a lot of extra children from the neighborhood were allowed to visit inside their home.  (Even for me, there were those "wait on the porch" times, but that didn't happen very often.) 
The Graves Family, except for "Daddy"
Front (l to r): Dorey, Lazarus, Doris
Back (l to r): Tasha, Junior, Tonya
More often than not, when I would get invited in to the Graves' home, I would be offered a seat in the front room, which was the formal living room, and Mrs. Graves would sit down to chat with me, while I had to wait for (usually) Tonya to complete some unfinished chore, before she could come outside or have company.  During these moments, Mrs. Graves, or "Aunt Doris", as I sometimes began to call her, would inquire about my family, my grades, my job and/or my extracurricular activities.  She always would compliment me on something, which I always bashfully appreciated, because I had very low self-esteem, and didn't get compliments, often. She would even often tell me how glad she was that her daughters and I were friends, and that she thought I was a very nice young lady. Her regular show of appreciation for the person I was meant more to me than I've ever let anyone know.  
Mama Graves - just as I remember her
In later years, when I would return to the Graves' Pamela Drive home with my oldest daughter in tow, both Mr. and Mrs. Graves continued the habit of building me up.  They adored my daughter, Natasha, and always commented on how smart and well-mannered she was.  They sang my praises for how well I was raising her (alone), and always encouraged me to continue doing the best I could.  I loved how they both called my daughter, "Tasha" (rhymes with ash), the same as they did their own daughter, Natasha.  This just made me feel even more like a true part of their close-knit, loving family.
Doris Reid Graves
April 5, 1931 - November 5, 1998

November 5th marked 15 years since my "Aunt Doris" transitioned, and on that day, her fourth child, Kenyatta Dorey Graves ("Dorey", to most), who is a phenomenal writer, posted this tribute to his mother on Facebook:

Fifteen years ago today Mommy crossed a river of light and joined the ancestors. The Earth surged forward but, for a while, nothing moved in me. Now, here, I am differently aware of what it means to be my mother's child. Language leaves my mouth and as words make naked the presence of older values, a sense more country than I've ever been appears; I could almost mistake the masculine bass tones I hear for her voice. Her wit is my wisdom. The days of company I crave are inherited. Being real and genuine, genetic. Fifteen years can go where years go without slow-counting, without noticing the day your dreams no longer visualize a chance to say goodbye, embrace, and wish her peace on the next phase of her journey. The Earth surges. And I'm doing what I can with a life that resembles nothing I expected. Ear to the ancestors, eyes on my dreams, breath by breath, to be a man a mother might think on with pride.

Immediately upon reading this, I commented, asking Dorey if I could please post this to my blog.  He granted me permission, so now, here it is.  As you can see by this short example, Doris Graves' fourth child is a gifted writer! His way with words ranks right up there with those whom we most celebrate, always touching me deeply, in a place where only the written word can. 
The writer, Kenyatta "Dorey" Graves, just as I knew him :)

I wanted to post this because I loved Dorey's mother, and because I miss her, too.  Many thanks to her children, Natasha, Tonya, Jesse Jr., Kenyatta, and Lazarus for sharing her light with me; and an extra special thanks to Dorey (who I've never called Kenyatta a day in my life...lol) for allowing me to share his writing, and his pictures on my blog.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

AAHGS 2013 - A Reflection

It's been three days since I returned home from Nashville, where I attended my very first (history and) genealogy conference.  I'd thought that I would sit right down and author a nice, long reflection about my experience, but as soon as I got in on Sunday night, reality hit me HARD.  I'd barely closed the door behind me before I was deep into lesson planning, data reports, grading papers, and a plethora of other tasks that keep me (and other teachers) busy for hours and hours, each day.  And so it has been for the past three days.  There's not been a minute to spare, until now, and still the idea of writing a long post right now is out of the question!

That said, I will just say what's most important:  I HAD A WONDERFUL TIME AT THE 2013 NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE AFRO-AMERICAN HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGY SOCIETY! The leadership of AAHGS really put together a nice event!

As with any affair of this magnitude, there were a few things that could have been better, and a lot of things that could have been worse.  AAHGS provided conference attendees with evaluation forms, which I believe they sincerely intend to take seriously.  It was evident that their intent in planning this conference was to meet the needs of all attendees, and to provide participants with valuable learning experiences, as well as opportunities to socialize and network with each other, with the goal of supporting and enhancing our research efforts.  They did this in a classy, and professional way, and I believe that everyone who attended got something out of the conference experience! (And, the food was good, too!)

For me, the most valuable part attending the conference was being able to meet and spend time with several of my genea-friends, whom I've "known" for years, online, but had never met, in person.  Toni Carrier, Taneya Koonce, and Mavis Jones have each provided me with support, encouragement, and even (dare I say?) friendship for many years.  I am so very happy to have met them! (I also met, and got to spend quite a bit of time with Mavis' lovely mother, who accompanied her to the conference.  What an added treat!)

Not only did I meet three of my online friends for the first time, but I was also privileged to see and spend a bit of time with two other special ladies from my online genealogy circle. Angela Walton-Raji and Dr. Shelley Murphy are leaders in the genealogy community.  I've had the pleasure of meeting each of them, previous to the AAHGS conference, and it was wonderful to be in their presence, again!

Last, but not least, I also got a chance to get to know a young lady, Dinah W., from my own AAHGS chapter, whom I'd seen and chatted (briefly) with at meetings, but had never spent any time around, and I got to see my chapter president, Selma Stewart, in another environment.  (Somehow, Selma and I didn't really get to spend any real time around each other, but we did see each other, often, in passing!)

Yes, for me, being able to share this experience with people I "knew" was the best part of the deal.  Being somewhat of an introvert, I know that if these ladies hadn't been there, my experience would have been quite a different one.  But, our online connection gave me a comfort level with each of them, that made me feel as comfortable as if we'd been old friends, which made me want to socialize, more than I probably would have if I hadn't known anyone there.  So, thanks, ladies!  (Hopefully, you're reading this!) :)
Top left: Mavis & Renate; Top right: Angela, Toni, Mavis, Renate
Center-L-R: Dinah, Mavis' mom, Mavis, Renate
Bottom left: Toni, Renate; Bottom right: Taneya, Shelley, Renate

I'd like to publicly thank AAHGS for putting on a fabulous conference, and for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of it. I don't know if I can do it every year (yet), so Pittsburg 2014 is up in the air, for now.  However, 2015 brings the AAHGS National Conference to Richmond, VA, and my chapter (Hampton Roads) is sure to share in some of the work of hosting, so I know I'll be there!

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

AAHGS 2013 National Conference - Day 3

Day 3 - October 12,2013 
     Whew!  I'm TIRED!  AAHGS has had us going from sun up to sun down, without a break (until now), but it's been fun!
     Today, I attended three great sessions.  I started the morning with the energetic, and enthusiastic presenter, Mr. Dwight Fryer, of Memphis, Tennessee.  In his talk, "Unlocking Memphis History An Inclusive Look at the Colorful History of Tennessee's Largest City",  Dwight told the story of the often overlooked impact of the contributions made by African-Americans to the history of Memphis. In his own entertaining way, he kept his audience interested and engaged, as he told us stories about how the first mayor of Memphis married a woman of (1/16th) color, and got run out of town, The Battle of Memphis, Yellow Fever taking over the city, and more.  This was a very enlightening session!
Dwight Fryer

     I stepped out during the question/answer portion of Mr. Fryer's session, so that I could slip in and hear a minute or two of the classes my genea-friend's Angela Walton-Raji, of My Ancestor's Name. The USCT Chronicle, and African Roots Podcast, and Taneya Koonce, of Taneya's Genealogy Blog.  Both of these knowledgeable ladies had packed rooms, with thoroughly engaged audiences.  I was in Angela's room long enough to take her picture, and hear her (as she shared the story of uncovering and discovering her Uncle Sephus) remind her audience that "Spelin doznt cownt!" :)  In Taneya's room, I stepped in just in time to hear her explaining the importance of finding the RSS ID numbers for web sites we wish to track.  She shared that she loves to use findmyfacebook.com, a site I wasn't even aware of!

Angela Walton-Raji
Taneya Koonce

    After this, we had a delicious lunch, followed by three more blocks of concurrent sessions (one hour, each).  First, I attended another Dwight Fryer session, "Unlocking Our Southern Mosaic: Examining A Family's Life Near Its Slavery Origins. Here, Fryer shared the processes he used to verify oral history from the lips of his family's 105 year-old matriarch about incidents that occurred during slavery. Next, I participated in the presentation, "Understanding African American Genealogical Patterns as Remnants of Slave Culture: Demographics, Family Dynamics, and Religious Practices", which was presented by Rev. Dr. Richard Gardiner and graduate student, Ms. Ceteria Richey. This session incorporated audience participation, in the reading of excerpts from the WPA (Former) Slave Narratives, and was followed by a very lively, and emotion-filled question/answer period, during which members of the audience directly challenged each other, and the presenters with impassioned arguments of their points. It was getting "hot" in there, but it was all in love, and we closed on a good note. :)
     My last session of the day was with Dr. Shelley Murphy, who was this time presenting on the topic, "Hitting the Genealogy Brick Walls & Challenges: The Search for Information about Joseph Brand Davis".  Shelley shared the research strategies she used to overcome "challenges" (not brick walls) she encountered while researching her ancestor, Joseph Brand Davis.  She identified common challenges, as well as those particular to African and Native American research.  Shelley suggested several useful strategies to researchers, such as listing what you know and don't know, keeping a checklist, having a map of the area you're researching, and most importantly, remembering to ALWAYS develop a plan! 
   After the third, afternoon session, we actually had a two-hour break before dinner, which is actually when I started writing this post.  However, fatigue took over, and I didn't get to finish it, until now (Sunday morning). The evening continued (after the break) with "Nashville's African American Music History Dinner and Award Presentations".  We were served another delicious meal, and were entertained by a young violinist and her brother, who sang for us. Then, our keynote speaker, Thomas Cain, took us back through Nashville's (Black) musical history, stopping to sing and play for us, as well as to share recordings from a very popular former radio station (which I neglected to write down the call numbers of), which were very entertaining.  AAHGS awards followed, with author Michael Henderson ("Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation") receiving the organization's highest honor, The James Dent Walker Award.  A very special Lifetime Achievement award was given posthumously to the founder of AAHGS, James Dent Walker, and was accepted by his wife.  The evening ended with a Cake Walk and Ball, which I decided not to attend, because I was sooooooo tired.
     So, that was Day 3 of my first genealogy conference.  It was a wonderful day of learning, sharing, meeting, greeting, and eating!  Today will be my last, here in Nashville.  I will recap my experience with one last post, later this evening. 

Thanks for reading!



Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Very First Genealogy Conference - AAHGS 2013

Woo-hoo!  I've finally done it!  I am here in Nashville, Tennessee, attending the 34th National Conference of the Afro-American History and Genealogical Society!  Although I've been a member of this organization (Hampton Roads Chapter) for several years, I've never attended this, or any other genealogy conference.  I'm so excited!

Day 1
I arrived in Nashville yesterday, early in the morning.  After picking up my rental car at the airport, I rushed over to what I thought was the conference hotel, to try to catch the bus that was heading out to tour the Wessynton Plantation.  However, I went to the wrong hotel, missed the bus, and ended up driving the 35 or so miles out to the plantation.  It all worked out perfectly, though.  I pulled up at the same time as the bus, and actually was able to help out with my vehicle to transport some of the folks up the long drive to the property (since the bus couldn't go up). And, although I'd been a bit nervous about joining the group, "cold", they were all so welcoming and warm, that I immediately felt right at home with them.  And, to put the icing on the cake, my genea-friend, Angela Walton-Raji, was one of the first people I saw!  I'd met Angela before, in Washington, DC, so hers was a familiar face, and it was really great to see her!
       Angela Walton-Raji, and another conference attendee on the grounds of Wessynton Plantation.
Anyway, once we all got up to where the main house is located, we had a presentation by our host, John F. Baker, a direct descendant of Wessynton Plantation slaves, and author of the book, "The Washingtons of Wessyngton.  He talked to us for about 45 minutes, sharing his knowledge of the property, the original owners, and of his enslaved ancestors. He also had many oversized, laminate photos to share, not only of the Washington homeowners, but also of the plantation's slaves!  These, he passed around, after describing the subjects and telling what he knew about them.

After John's talk, we began our walking tour of the property, beginning with the "Big House" and the family cemetery.  Next, we took a very long (and unexpected) HIKE through high grass and brush, and up, down, and around hills (dodging "cow patties" along the way), to visit the slave cemetery.  Sometime ago, the White Washington descendants funded the creation of a monument on this site, with the names of 35+ slaves who John has been able to document as being buried there.  Plans are in the works to use sonar-wave technology to determine exactly how many bodies are interred there, and where.  Once we accomplished the long, hot, exhausting walk back to our starting point, I left the plantation to head back to the (right) hotel to get checked in, and to attend the "First Time Attendees" session.

The First Time Attendees session was nice.  It was led by Dr. Shelley Murphy, President of the Central Virginia Chapter of AAHGS, and a genea-friend I'd had the pleasure of meeting, about a year ago.  Shelley did a great job of acclimating all of us to the conference atmosphere, and of encouraging us to get the most out of the conference by talking, sharing, and networking with others. At the end of the session, we took a group picture, which I'm told will be on the AAHGS Facebook page (but I don't see it there, yet). :)
Moderator Shelly Murphy works the room.

One of the greatest joys about being here is that I'm meeting people "in the flesh", whom I've known and communicated with, online, for several years.  While standing in the 4:00 p.m. registration line, I "met" my long-time genea-blogging friend, Mavis Jones.  It was so funny, because we'd been standing very near each other, but I didn't realize it. I turned around and saw her, and went right over to her with a questioning, "Mavis?  Is that you?"  She responded, that it was, and showed me that she had her phone out.  She'd seen me, and was about to call or text me to ask if I happened to be standing in the registration line...lol.  We both got a laugh out of that. :)  After registering, Mavis and I, along with her beautiful mother (who accompanied her to the conference), and another member of my chapter, all went out to a great dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we shared stories and laughs, and just got to know one another.  Then, we returned to the conference site, where we attended the "State of the Society" Meeting, and the Prelude Reception.  At the meeting, the first-timers were recognized, again!  We were called up by name, and were presented with AAHGS pins, which were put on us by chapter presidents. I thought that was a very nice touch!  The reception featured heavy h'orderves, hot and cold beverages, and a cash bar.  It was a nice, relaxing way to end the evening


Day 2
My second conference day was fun and information-filled.  It began with a light breakfast in the hotel's atrium, followed by the opening plenary session.  The planned speaker was unable to be here, due to a family emergency, but her last-minute stand in Pamela Foster, did a very nice job of discussing the role of music in the lives of our ancestors, and focusing us all in on the genre of "country music", as it may relate to our African-American family histories.  We watched a video of a current-day, African-American country musician, Darius Rucker, and I have to say that I was amazed at how much I enjoyed his song, "Wagon Wheel"!  We also listened to, and looked at the original wording of, "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny".  I was surprised that I'd never heard these lyrics, nor did I know that the song was written by a Free Person of Color from New York.  I plan to follow up with a bit of study on that!

I attended two sessions today.  In the morning, I thoroughly enjoyed, "Port Royal: The Birthplace of Freedom in the Old South", which was presented by another online genea-friend, Toni Carrier.  Toni was one of the very first people I connected with in the online genealogy community, way back so far that I don't even know what year it was.  But, I'd never had the opportunity to meet her in person. I was honored to do so, today, because she has highly-respected, researcher, and is as personable and friendly in "real life", as she is online!
I'm so glad to finally meet Toni Carrier!

I left the conference at midday, and took a self-guided, driving tour of Fisk and Tennessee State Universities, accompanied by my fellow Hampton Roads Chapter member.  In addition, we checked out The Parthenon, a replica of the real one, which is (for some reason) located here in Nashville.  I can't wait to show my students, who will be learning about this structure, soon.  I plan to tell them that I went to Greece! (But, I will come clean after I see the expressions on their faces.) :)  We got a good look at downtown Nashville, with it's impressive state government buildings, before returning to the conference for our afternoon sessions.
                                     Jubilee Hall at Fisk
For my second session of the day, I attended, "Finding Your Ancestors in Unusual Places", presented by Leigh Ann Gardner.  This session was probably not the best choice, for me, because I didn't get any new information.  It was probably better targeted towards the more novice researcher.  However, I did learn that African-American benevolent societies often sued one another over things such as property rights (to cemeteries and such), and that the records of these suits can provide helpful genealogical information. So, wow... I guess I did actually learn one thing! I left this session (after the presentation) to do some networking.

This evening ended with a DELICIOUS southern barbeque buffet dinner!  I've been to lots of conferences in my day (not genealogical), but I've never had a meal like this at any of them!  We had ribs, pulled pork, freshly carved beef brisket, sweet potato casserole, collard greens, potatoes, potato salad, cole slaw, apple cobbler, and ice cream!  It was good!  After most of us had finished pigging out eating, we had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Muriel D. Roberts, who has started an oral history project called, "Slave Grandchildren Remember".  Mr. Roberts is interviewing people who knew, and remember, their formerly-enslaved grandparents.  We got to watch a 12 minute video snippet from one of his subjects, a Mr. Northern.  It was very well-done, and inspiring.  We were all encourage to make a similar effort to reach out to any of the elders in our area who might fit the criteria for this project.

After the dinner, I spent some time socializing and sharing.  Before retiring to my room, I perused the books in the "Free to Read" Book Fair, and chatted with some of the authors.  One, Michael Henderson, whom I'd talked with a bit on Thursday, really encouraged me to write, and publish the story of my gg-grandparents, Anna and Nathaniel, which has a few similarities to his own, which tells in his book, "Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation".  We'll see what happens!

Well, that's a wrap for the first two days of my first-ever genealogy conference.  The last couple of hours have been put into writing this post. :)  Now, it's off to bed to catch some zzzz's, so that I can get up and be ready for Day 3, tomorrow!  Stay tuned, and, as always, thanks for reading!

It's so great to be here with so many of my online friends!


Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Box of Letters - I'm so excited!

                       (Scroll down for update posted on July 24, 2013)

It's been a lonnnng time since I've had the opportunity to do the genealogy happy-dance, but tonight I'm dancing with sheer excitement, and with the anticipation of what's to come!  What's got me so genea-happy? (Why, I'm glad you asked!)

If you are a regular reader, you know that my ancestors didn't leave a lot of documents behind for me to learn about their lives. But, tonight, my second cousin called me to tell me that he'd just come across this box filled with letters written to his grandmother by his grandfather, both of whom died before either of us was born.  His grandfather, William L. Greene, was my grandmother's brother.  And, because W.L.'s mother had died when he was very young, my grandmother (and her sister) helped to raise their little brother.  The three of them were very close, and supported each other throughout their adult lives.  My father (whose own father had died when he was four) actually went to live with W.L. and his family for his high school years.  Then, when W.L.'s wife died, my grandmother and aunt spent some time at their home, helping to care for their three sons, the youngest of which is my cousin's father, at whose home he just found this box!  (Whew!)  In addition to the letters (which were written in the 1920's), my cousin also found some photo albums, which he says "look like they're from that same time period"!
I doubt if I have to explain to anyone reading this how exciting this is!!!  Even though W.L. was writing to his (presumed) girlfriend, and future wife, it was during a period of time that I've been so curious about in my family's history.  I am hoping that that W.L. will tell about some of the events that were happening in the family during the years between about 1918 -1929. 
Oh, Uncle Bill, please say something about my grandmother's marriage to my grandfather, who was a widower with three children that she had to finish raising.  Please tell of that grandfather's battle with tuberculosis, and maybe tell me something about his funeral.  Can you tell me what my grandmother was like as a young woman? Oh, and my aunt has told me that your father did not want my grandma to marry my grandfather. Will you mention anything about that in your letters?  After all, my great-grandfather was still alive until 1927.  Will you talk about your decision to attend to Cornell University to get your graduate degree, and tell about your time there?  (I wonder if this is where you were writing from?)  After all, that had to be quite an experience for a Black man from N.C. at that time.  Will you say anything about what happened to your sister, Blonnie, or your brother, Joseph?  Both were present in your family in the 1900 and 1910 Census, but then, they just disappeared, and no one seems to know what happened to them! I wonder if you'll explain anything about your how, why, and when you started spelling the Green surname with an "e" on the end. Only your descendants spell it that way.  Did you want to separate yourself from your cousins, aunts, and uncles?  Maybe you told your future wife about this in one of your letters.
I could go on and on with the questions I'm hoping to get answers to from these letters! Of course, I realize that this was a young man writing to his beloved, so I know that there will be "other" matters of discussion. :)  However, this is such a fabulous find!  ANYTHING is going to be like treasure! Oh, and as for the pictures - If I end up getting to see what my grandmother looked like as a young woman, or if I get to see my great-grandparents (W.L.'s parent), whom I've NEVER seen.... Wow!  The possibilities are endless!
I hope I can keep calm while I wait for the opportunity to see this "loot" for myself.  Hopefully, my cousin will pacify me a bit by sending me a few scans, and/or reading to me over the phone.  If I could jump in the car and take the 5-hour drive to his house tonight, I would, but my students are in the midst of state testing, so I'd probably lose my job.  I guess I'll just have to wait...
So excited!
                                             UPDATE: July 24, 2013
My cousin sent me EVERYTHING!  Two weeks ago, I received all of the photo albums. (For some reason, he didn't think I wanted the letters. Ha!)  The albums were FILLED with valuable photos, which are already helping to enlighten this researcher, and are providing answers to some questions, and leading me to ask (and search for answers to) new ones.
Just a couple of days ago, I received the LETTERS!  Woo-hoo!  Such insight to an ancestors thoughts, feelings, and experiences has only been something I've been able to dream of!  Of course, the writers of these letters were not my direct ancestors.  WL Green(e) was my grandmother's brother, making him my great (or grand) uncle.  However, my grandmother helped to raise him after their mother died, and he was an important figure (like a father) to my dad.  So, I've always had a healthy curiosity about him, feeling that the more I could learn about him, the better chance I have of learning more about my own direct ancestors.  The letters and photos are helping with this!
Currently, I'm working on creating a timeline, showing where WL and Georgia were living during the span of years covered by the letters - 1926 to 1936 (with some gaps).  I've already digitized the photos from two of the albums, and have shared them with WL and Georgia's direct descendants.  My cousins are excited to be seeing baby pictures of their fathers (Georgia's sons), and are, for the first time looking into the eyes of their great-grandparents.  As for me, there was one picture of my Aunt Sue (my father's sister) at age 10.  She is now 93 years old, and I'd never seen her as a child, so that was exciting!
My Aunt Sue (age 10) with her cousins, baby George and little John Greene.

A very young Georgia (Royster) Greene

Georgia Royster Greene, with William L Greene, Jr., who took sick and only lived for16 days after this picture was taken.

Although the letters deal mostly with WL and Georgia's romance, schooling, work life, and monetary issues, there are a few mentions of my direct ancestors and family members, each of which is endearing and informative to me in its own way.  The most poignant are the two letters WL writes in which he discusses my great-grandfather's (John Green) health just prior to his death.  WL tells Georgia about his father's "wandering" mind, and how "someone must do everything for him".  He adds that his father "cant go out of the house unassisted without danger of falling and, really he is in a pitiful condition". These comments alerted me to what I now can assume is a genetic connection to Alzheimer's Disease, which each of WL's sons seem to have suffered, or be suffering with to some degree.  (Since WL died at the age of 60, he never reached this stage, himself.) 
In that same letter, WL mentions the death and funeral of a cousin of his (unnamed), but he mentions that "Betty and her brother and two sisters" were there and that they were "taking their brother's death bravely and in heroic spirit".  This tidbit allowed me to determine the name of the cousin to whom WL was referring, and to find his death certificate, document his death date, and learn the name of his wife!
First row-1926; Second row-1927; Third row: 1928-29, 1934, 1936
Top - The cigar box that held it all!
I will be posting more about my findings, soon.  I must publicly thank my cousin, Kelly Greene for sharing and trusting me with all of this!
Thanks, for reading!
The pictures and text of this post are not to be recopied or used without the express permission of the writer, Renate Y Sanders.