Broken Branches

Go outside and look around at all the trees and bushes you see. I guarantee that you will see some broken branches, some twigs that have snapped off and even some limbs that look like they might fall with the next storm or strong gust of wind…

The same is true for our family trees- they just might not be as obvious to spot, nor as easy to talk about. The broken branches in our trees come in all forms, much like those you see on physical trees. For me and my tree these broken branches are found in the form of mental illness.

Understand that by no means am I saying that the people in my family tree, who have dealt or are dealing with mental illness are broken. As you read further, you will see that they are, in fact, some of the strongest parts of my tree- the roots, even, metaphorically speaking.

I have to admit that this will be one of, if not the hardest thing I have ever written, because it is personal and it is extremely close to home and yet, I have to get it out. I am not the only one with broken branches…

You’ll remember I started my journey into genealogy as a way to occupy my mind, as I was (and continue) healing from a head injury. You may also recall that what sucked me into family history, for real, was Horace- who was struck by a train, while walking to visit his daughter in the hospital… Horace happens to also be the first (of what will be many) broken branches in my tree.

I was having a relatively good brain day and my Nana had come to visit. I was excited to show her all the work I had accomplished on our family tree and I had questions, too. My main question was about Horace. I wanted to know who he was visiting in the hospital. I wanted to know what kind of man he was (especially since the newspaper had called him ‘beloved colored man’ and she was the one to ask, because Horace was her grandfather).

“I don’t know” was the response I got as we sat on the couch together. I didn’t understand how she would not know what kind of man her grandfather was. Sure, he died two years before she was born, but my children know about their grandfather, my dad, who went into the light when I was still a mere child and we all know about my great aunt and uncles, Nana’s sister and brother, who went on the great migration years (maybe ions) ago… So, why would she not know about her own grandfather. It didn’t make any sense to me and so I began probing further. Sometimes, having had a head injury works to my advantage, because I am practically given carte blanche when it comes to being blunt and no one ever considers it rude, so on that day I pushed the envelope. “Nana. you always tell us about how much family is important and that we need to always know where we come from and you don’t even know where you came from. You have to know something. Otherwise, you are just being a hypocrite.” I didn’t see it then, but as I am remembering that day, I can clearly see the hurt that stung my Nana’s eyes- or maybe, that is just the way my brain is choosing to remember things and interjecting how I would have felt onto her. I’m honestly not sure…

“My mother never really knew her father. He went away when she was a young girl.” My Nana explained to me, with so much patience and love and I still didn’t understand. I remember asking her what she meant by that and that what she said next astonished me, but most of all I remember the shut down that happened almost immediately after the next words out of her mouth… “He was sick. Mentally. And when my mom was young he was in the state hospital.” Because even I could see that there would be no more discussing this, I let it go- but not before dashing to my room to write myself a quick note to quietly look into this further.

After doing some research into the matter, I came to understand that dear Horace was in the state hospital very shortly after the Civil War. I have also done enough digging to have enough information to reasonably believe that Horace’s parents were enslaved and that Horace, himself, was either bought as a slave by a BLACK woman named Sally (possibly his own aunt) and continued to be labeled ‘slave’ or was made free after Sally purchased him. At any rate, it is Sally who raised him. It is with Sally that he is listed on the Census until 1870, when he begins to be listed with his parents. That is a lot. Especially for a child. So, in my own mind, I concluded that Horace had every reason to be in a mental institution. I never questioned what happened to lead him there. I decided I would not look further into it.

This worked well, until I began discovering other broken branches. All in my grandmother’s line. They were everywhere. Distant cousins, close cousins (here I begin to use the term ‘cousins’ in a very loose fashion, as not to disclose the actual relationship between myself and any living relative, who suffers and struggles with mental illness currently). These broken branches were found so frequently- it was mind boggling. And it became obvious that mental illness can be inherited and passed down the line. I think the old people refer to this as generational curses and they couldn’t be more spot on.

I started to take a more in depth look at all this brokenness. It became easier to spot the possible moment of when the break occurred in the midst of all the documents, stories and information I had gathered. It was murky waters for sure. It was painful, because it made me look at my own life in a not so positive manner. It was depressing and it hurt. My head injury stems from one of these broken branches- a real life snapping point for this cousin and I just happened to be underneath of the falling pieces. I have never blamed this cousin for this breaking. I will never blame this cousin for the breaking. Sure, I’d had anger, but isn’t that to be expected? But, here I was getting angry all over again and this time, I wasn’t angry at the cousin. I was angry with the tree itself.

Having broken branches has become such a stigma, a great thing to be kept hidden and secret, that I wasn’t prepared for the falling pieces. And, I’m not just talking about this cousin. I had to look at my own life… My dad died when I was 12 and my behaviors and actions that followed were horrendous. I spiraled into a deep depression and hatred of self. I was locked in a mental hospital for two weeks. I had no idea why I was doing the things I had done or said. Some doctors said I was grieving and we all grieve differently, while others were quick to label me as bi polar and others still repeatedly said I was a bad apple. But, what if my family had shared the stories and the histories of all these broken branches? As I grew into young adulthood, I fell in love and got married, but I was so ashamed of my thoughts, I didn’t know how to talk to him or trust his love. At times, I couldn’t bring myself to even crawl out of bed and so there I stayed. The way my home looked at times was an embarrassment and I’m sure a thread of the discord we faced. Eventually, we divorced and went our separate ways, but after discovering all of the broken branches, I wonder if things might have been different- if I’d only known what I was up against, instead of allowing me to think I was an isolated incident, wrapped tightly into this bubble of space and shoved to the back of the closet.

I remembered another cousin who seemingly snapped and meta morphed into a completely different person and tried to beat her child and infant grandchild into nonexistence and then days later, when the child and grandchild were placed into a domestic safe house, she believed and acted as if she had done nothing wrong. Would that outcome have been different? Would there have been such a strain on the family relationship, if we had all known about the broken branches?

Even more recent than that, I have had to watch one cousin struggle with their broken branch, which resulted in a baby being born and taken. I have had to watch the fight against governmental powers that be to bring this baby home and out of a system designed for children who are abused, neglected or all around unwanted and all because not one person ever spoke up and said beware of the broken branches.

And that’s the point of this diatribe, isn’t it? No one ever spoke up. No one ever bothered to connect the dots that were sitting there, numbered and everything, for all to see- if  they had just bothered to look. Everyone was so quick to clean up the mess, that they forgot to post the highway sign, ‘Beware of Falling Branches’. If they had, at least we would have been looking up. Not so much ready to point a finger at the slightest change in wind, but ever ready to jump in and say, “you are not alone.” Those four words can make huge change and have tremendous impact. Yet, no one (not in my tree or yours) attempts to calm the storm before it has a chance to cause the broken branches. This alone, is why I believe those broken branches are some of the strongest in our trees, because they whether it without any help or comfort from others.

BUT. I am breaking the cycle. I am pulling back the shade. And I say to those broken branches, “you are not alone. We will get past this. You can talk to me and most importantly, you can count on me.”

What’s In A Name? Ephraim.

When I woke up this morning, I made myself a promise. I was going to pick one name from my tree and I was going to search every available record for that name and that name only. There would be no squirrels to chase or bright shinny objects for me to play with today. Time is valuable and if I am truly serious about wanting to put a Family History Book together and have ready for publishing by Christmas time, then I have to be serious about my work and more so about my time. This is the lecture type pep talk I gave myself as I was working on the elephant set before me. I gave strict instructions to the dead people that they were not to bombard my mind with a thousand thoughts that would send me on a zillion wild goose chases, which undoubtedly, would leave me miles from where I started with nothing to show for a day’s work, except callouses on the pads of my fingers from having to press so many keys for such a long time. And guess what? They listened. Or maybe I just figured out how to successfully ignore them… Yeah right.

Anyway, I decided that I would open my Family Tree and I would focus on whatever name came up. (I guess this would also the last person to have lead me on one of the above mentioned detours, but like I said, there would be no strolling off the paths and into the gardens today.) It was time to get to work and Ephraim it would be.

Ephraim, born in 1845, is my 2x great grandfather, on my granddaddy’s side of the family. I thought this would be an easy search through the available online records (as I surely was not venturing into any place beyond the warmth and comfort of my own front door, because you know, snow and all…) because how common a name could Ephraim really be. I mean, it’s Ephraim, not like Betty or James or Virginia or any other of those names that show up repeatedly in my tree of ancestors. As I began my search, I quickly realized how wrong my thinking had been. Apparently, Ephraim was very popular name. But I determinedly plotted onward, continuing on the course I had set for myself.

Ephraim. What did I really want to know about him? I wasn’t sure. I guess whatever I didn’t already know- which left a whole lot more to learn. Ahh, land records. What better place to start. I know he was born in King William, Virginia and at some point he up and moved his family to Beverly (okay Stafford, but Beverly sounds so much more enticing and alluring, doesn’t it?) Anyway, northward migration happened. The Aquia District of Stafford, Virginia. But did he own land or was it more likely that he worked on the land of someone else? Oh, goodness. I couldn’t even remember what the census said he did. Had I even found him in the Census or had I plucked his name from some other equally as important historical document? Clearly, Ephraim had been an excellent choice. With a quick glance of the records, I realized that I had found dear Ephraim in the 1880 Census and he was working on a farm. He was not a land owner. Does this mean he was a sharecropper?

Well, I had some basic questions in mind and so I was ready to really dig in. And just as I was getting started, there it was. A whisper urging me off the beaten path. I am sure it was Ephraim talking to me. Why were there so many people named Ephraim? I mean, why? I tried to stay the course, I really did. But then I absolutely had to know. What did Ephraim mean. So, there I went. Trodding through the muck to play with that squirrel way off in the distance. According to, “Ephraim is a Hebrew baby name. In Hebrew the meaning of the name Ephraim is Fruitful; Famous bearer; one of the Biblical Old Testament Joseph’s sons.” Whoa. I wonder if my 3x great grandparents know this when they picked such a strong name? As I can find no evidence of him having siblings, had his parents given him such a lofty name so that they could heap all of their dreams, passions and wants upon his head? And incidentally, Ephraim was fruitful and he multiplied, having eight known children.

I wonder did Ehpraim’s parents believe in God? Was faith a part of his and their everyday life? Glancing down the line, I saw that it was composed of may Reverends, Pastors and Preachers. Could this mean that indeed, Ephraim’s parents passed a love of Christ down to him. I feel strongly that this had to be the case. As I am typing these words on the paper, I am under a powerful influence. This could have been the start to what would be my own personal Christian love walk…

And even though I didn’t really gather as much information on Ehpraim as I had hoped, I am glad he nudged me in the direction of searching his name, because today I found more than just a name on a page. Today, I just may have found an heirloom and it comes in the form of such a strong impassable name. And based on the man, I call Granddaddy, I am certain that Ephraim was all his name said he would be and then some. Today, I am proud to be a descendant of Ephraim and it doesn’t seem like such a silly or weird name anymore.

Have you ever discovered a name that at fist you thought was silly or maybe even weird and then you learned that it was so much more than that?





What Happened to My Mom???

In the last couple of years, (since I have had kids of my own, really) I have often wondered, what happened to my mom… It seems as if I am the only one of my siblings who is worried, but I am serious. There is something wrong with my mother.

When I was growing up, my mom was this strict, no nonsense woman. You didn’t back talk her. She didn’t curse and she was always proper. Don’t get me wrong, my mom was great. Awesome, in fact. She still is all of those things, but something isn’t quite right. It’s off…

We went shopping and had lunch out as kids. Okay, we still do that as adults, but I am telling you, there is something wrong with my mom. I have even thought about taking her to the doctor. But after my own doctor laughed for ten minutes straight in my face- after I mentioned to him my concern- I decided against it, for now. But that doesn’t mean I think there isn’t anything wrong with  my mother. It just means I am rethinking my approach to this. Because it is a HUGE problem and I am highly concerned about my mom.

Take for example, a younger me, maybe about 6 or 7 years old… I remember it, like it was yesterday (and honestly, it wasn’t THAT long ago). It was a summer evening and it was dinner time. My dad had promised us that we would go for ice cream at Carl’s (if you have never been there, you MUST go. I mean, it is worth a flight around the world and a hour drive from the airport to have Carl’s. I lie to you not.) after dinner and then we would all go swimming in the dark. (We had a pool in the backyard, but night time swimming was a rare and extremely special treat.) But, I am getting off track. It was dinner time. I can’t tell you everything we had for dinner, but I can tell you spinach went with it. I am not now, nor have I ever been Popeye. I hate spinach. I dislike it so much that I don’t even want to walk by it in the grocery store. It can’t even be described as a love-hate relationship. It is a relationship of pure hate, disgust and any other word you can think of that means to care not in a strong way. Yep. That’s me and spinach. But there it was; spinach on my plate. In my little mind, I thought that certainly it was a mistake that it had ended up on MY plate. It had to be. My mom knew then and knows now about my relationship with spinach. I remember eating everything around the spinach. After which, I was ready to go. I hopped up from the table, ready to go get some ice cream, when I heard my mother’s voice… “Kimberly, come back and finish your dinner.” I walked slowly back into the kitchen, where my mom sat and with what I can only imagine was a solemn and innocent look, I must have said something along the lines of, “I did”. Maybe I said it in a cheeky way (okay, I probably did, because cheeky should have been my name), but next thing I know, I was sitting at the table while my dad, sister and brother went to Carl’s. Surely, they would be bringing me something back, right? Nope. Not at all. When they came back home those goody two shoes got to go swimming in the dark. And where was I? Still sitting at the kitchen table with a now cold plate of spinach for company. If memory serves me correctly, I fell asleep at that table- with the spinach sitting right there. Eventually, my mom came in and told me to go to bed. I think I was so relieved that I wouldn’t be forced to deal with that spinach anymore that I wasn’t even hurt about missing Carl’s or night time swimming anymore. When I woke up the next morning, my mom was fixing pancakes and other delicious breakfast foods. Yum. But when it was time to eat, you know what she put in front of me? That darn plate of spinach!!!! She seriously wanted me to eat the spinach and I seriously was not going to. It was a game of wills, that I am sure starvation would have made me lose- if fate (well, my dad, really) hadn’t intervened.

Now take my own daughter and my mother. It’s dinner time. My daughter comes to the table. “Momma J (that’s what she calls my mom, who refuses to be a grandmother- 4 grand kids in and 1 great grand) I don’t like this.” says that girl of mine. Oh boy, I think to myself. Here it comes. She is finally going to know what I mean when I say things like you have no idea how good you have it compared to when I was your age. My mom is going to lay into her. A part of me is a bit excited. I want to see my mom in action and not against me (for once). My mom opens her mouth. I sit at the edge of my seat. My eyes frantically move between my child and my mother. My dear child is going to get knocked out (completely figuratively) of her chair. She will not know what hit her. “Oh you don’t like this? Well, what would you like to eat then, my dear?” I am the one who has been knocked into the floor. Is she serious? Has this really just happened? I have to rub my eyes in disbelief, as I hear my daughter name some food or another and then watch my mom fix the requested food item.

And this is when I began to realize that there was something wrong with my mother. There had to be. Maybe aliens have taken her captive and this is a replacement figure head. Maybe these are the early stages of senility. A trip to the doctor is definitely in order.

To further complicate matters, my mother now issues threats of punishments to come and yet they are NEVER fulfilled. Who is this woman? What has happened to my mom? This is truly a horrible thing. Clearly, my mother has lost or is loosing her mind. Like I said earlier, as of right now, I am  the only one who sees this. So, maybe, there is more convincing to do…

Another story then. As you already know, swimming was a major part of our lives. We, my whole family, were born fish (possibly in another life, perhaps). The corner of our back deck extended just so over the pool and we found great excitement and thrill climbing to the top railing of said deck and plummeting to the pool below. My father tried it. My sister tried it. My brother tried it. My friends tried it. Everyone tried it. Again and again. Everyone, that is, except my mom. She said she was to old to be breaking bones pulling stunts like that. No one ever said anything, because she was a nurse and the sensible care taker and she was probably right, after all. Now fast forward to present day. Thanksgiving to be exact…12232833_1096482210364526_4997452523434999089_o

This is my mother. And yes. She is riding a Hover board. I am definitely, extremely concerned. I do not know what happened to my mom. She must be overcome with some illness that has yet to be discovered- or something.

The truth is, my mom is just living life and she is enjoying every moment of it. But, in truth, there is a huge difference between the woman that raised me and the woman I have come to know now, as an adult. I can only hope to be as vibrant and fun as my mom when I am a grown up.

So, am I the only one who knows there is something wrong with my mom? I’m not. Am I? Please help me with this. I know there are others out there. We must band together. Let’s start here. Share your stories of discovering the ugly truth about your mom or dad’s ‘sickness’. I would love to hear them!


For many of us along the East Coast, this weekend has shown near record snow falls. We have seen children sledding, laughing and giggling all the while and when their play is done, they have made their way inside and with red cheeks, they have guzzled hot chocolate. Most can be heard exclaiming, that this was the best snow ever!

Hmmm… Was it really? If you ask most adults, they will tell you in a heart beat, that it was pretty when it was coming down and they were glad for the extended weekend- BUT they are ready for it to be gone, because, you know there is this thing called ‘adulting’ in which being able to get out of parking lots and driveways to head to work plays a pretty important (okay, major) part in everyday life.

All of this got me thinking about the dead. Surprisingly, they have been quite quiet during all of this pondering, thus leaving me to my own imaginations and devices… Oh boy.

On January 27, 1772, snow began to fall around the home of my 5x great grandfather, William D. Massey (1743-1815). He was 29 years of age. He had not yet found his wife or began his family. As of yet, I have not discovered his means of employment, but I believe he had to be a man of some means as his son, Lewis owned slaves and thus it is presumed that he also owned slaves. Anyway, it begins to snow. I wonder if he or his family thought or realized that this snow was to be different than others past or were they aware that a blizzard was a comin’? As the day grew longer and the snow grew heavier, what were the thoughts going through his mind? Did he still live at home with his parents or did he make plans to check up on them? Did he have younger siblings or older siblings with children that were anxious to frolic in the snow? Were these imagined children even allowed to romp in the snow and build snowmen or make snow angels or have snowball fights amongst their friends? How would the house have prepared for the snow? Would the women (or the slaves) have cooked up mounds of food in preparation for the coming weather?

It continued to snow until the evening of January 28. It was a record snow (as recorded in both Washington and Jefferson’s diaries) of 36 inches! We had a mere 18 inches and EVERYTHING came to a complete standstill. Did life come to a halt as it did presently? And by life, did that include the slaves? How did these ancestors of mine make it through with their sanity intact? I am sure they sang and enjoyed music and played chess and read books and had their needle point, but… cabin fever has to set in at some point, right? I mean, I for one, have banned Frozen and all her companions and it has only been 4 days… and the snow isn’t really going anywhere. I absolutely must know how they managed and yet, I haven’t a clue…

Another January, another storm rages upon the home of my ancestors. It is 1857 and it is the 18th. The storm will come to be called, “The Cold Storm” and temperatures fell nearly to 0 degrees and it will last for at least two days, followed by a reinforcement storm days later for three more days. My 2x great grandmother, Lucy Lilly Chambers is 7 years old. She, along with her parents (no known siblings to date) are black. I am certain they were not afforded the same creature comforts William had. Does this also mean that she did not suffer the same restrictions of the women of his era? Was she, at 7 allowed to run through the snow? Did her mother bundle her up in layers and shoo her outside, ‘to get some fresh air’ much like I have found myself saying this weekend? What was her home like? Surely, this family didn’t have anyone cooking meals for them, so how did they endure these horrid temperatures? Did neighboring families come together and enjoy the company of each other for the duration of the storm? I do not know what kind of home they had, but I imagine it to be a one or two room building (kind of like what is described in Maya Angelou’s ‘I know Why the Caged Bird Sings) but then I quarry with myself that it wasn’t that extreme, was it? I mean M.A.’s story takes place in the DEEP SOUTH, whereas, my people are in Central Virginia, surely they had it a little better than a shack in Arkansas, right? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t even think this branch of the ancestors had a mule…

Alright, so I guess the point I am coming to make is that every generation has their own version of ‘the best snow ever’ and the parents in those generations, each have their own versions of Frozen hell to deal with. What are some of your traditions for snowy weather? Do you go outside and play with your children or did you, if they are grown now? Do you make lots of food, just in case the power goes out? Do you raid the grocery stores or do you muddle through with quiet determination? I would love to hear your winter tales and woes! Leave me a note in the comments and tell me all about them! Let’s commiserate together. Also, don’t forget to like and share!


For more on Virginia’s weather history, please visit



Who’s Cooking In The Kitchen?

How do you feel about cooking and baking? I love it. I love working in the kitchen and producing wonderful treats and goodies to eat. I enjoy the work that goes into providing nourishment for my family. And I especially like the feeling I get when my daughter joins me in the kitchen and works with me.

Tonight, we made a cake. Or rather, I tried to make a cake. My daughter and my Godson made a mess. By the time it was all said and done, the kitchen was a mess and each of us was pretty well covered in icing and flour- because along the way, someone thought it would be a splendid idea to make cookies from scratch in addition to our cake.

This got me thinking about the ancestors… I wondered about Mary. Was she a house girl? Someone’s maid servant, who dressed and cared for the Mrs. of the home or someone’s mammie, whose sole purpose was to feed and care for the children? Might she have been relegated to the kitchens of a large house (here, my imagination begins to run rampant and I am picturing sprawling lawns, with rolling hills and a huge Gone With The Wind type mansion of a home) or was she a field girl, destined to spend her days under the harsh sun, driving rains and icy winters?

If Mary was anything but a cook, how and when did she learn to cook for herself? I know that slaves had their own way of doing things and that food preparation usually was done by one person (generally another slave, whose duties allowed them to return to the slave quarters earlier than the others). I also know and can imagine the work of a slave was hard and laborious, making extra chit chat and fun almost nonexistent. So, who taught Mary how to cook? And what did she cook? Was it trial and error? I remember the first time I ever cooked anything- I was trying to help my mom out and I made spaghetti. I used absolutely NO kind of seasons whatsoever. It was the most bland thing I have ever tasted (yes, even to this day). But my mom ate it. Another time, I tried my hand at bake chicken… the outside looked absolutely delicious, while the inside (the parts near the bone) were red and cold. I think my husband made a McDonald’s run or something to save us from the horrors of that chicken dinner. Is that how it was for Mary and her family? Is it possible that some other slave or free person took her under their wing and teach her?

Growing up, I remember my grandmother dawning an apron and pinning one on me and telling me each step as she prepared whatever dish or meal- even though I was only knee high to a broomstick. Obviously, Mary did not starve as she birthed several children that eventually led to my Nana and clearly, each of those generations starved not, so someone was cooking. I just wish I knew what. Were there special dishes that were passed down that were ‘crowd favorites’ or were these ancestors of mine concerned less about tradition and more about nutrition that they just made do with whatever food sources available?

Ahhhhh the unknowing is killing me! I see some research on popular foods of the early 1800’s in my future. I wonder if once I find these ‘lost’ recipes, if I will be brave enough to try them or if my family will be brave enough to eat them.

Anyway, you all should tell me your favorite family recipes and how they have been passed down through the lines of your generations? When it comes to food, have you started your own food traditions within your own families? I would love to hear about them in the comments! And don’t forget to like and share!

“Wake Me Up Before You Go Go…

… Cause I’m not planning on going solo”. Yep. That’s what those pesky dead people were talking about. Not the WHAM UK song, but the ‘urge’, ‘relief’, ‘potty’, you know the ‘go go’. I guess someone had to talk about it, might as well be my dead people, huh?

While giving the baby a bath last night, my daughter asked me how people took baths “back in the day”? I asked her what she meant and she looked at me like I was stupid, with this complete look of incredulousness, as she replied, “you know the family people that aren’t living anymore.” Oh my. My genealogy antennae (which are always close by, anyway) immediately popped up. My child was asking a genealogy question!!! Okay, so it was really a history question, but that’s just a little detail… Anyway, I got all excited and I hurriedly finished bathing the baby (I might have even left some soap under the chin, who knows..) and my daughter and I did some research. I love research, well research into the past and how it could possibly affect my dead people, at least. She looked at the family tree for five (agonizing) minutes, deciding  which person we would research along with our foray into bathing. Finally, she settled upon Lewis D Massie (1794-1866) and Mary (1790-?). Lewis was a white man and Mary is presumed to be his slave girl/woman with whom he fathered my grandmother’s maternal line.

I told my daughter that people bathed in tubs, usually made of copper and that people, generally slaves or other types of help, would fill the tub  with water that had been heated over the stove. I also told her that in poorer families, the whole family would bathe in the same tub of water- starting with the father, then  the mother and then the children from oldest to youngest. Being a former Early Childhood Education Specialist, I ran outside, grabbed a handful of grass and dirt and threw it into the toilet. “This,” I told her, “is what the water would have looked like by the time the baby would have his bath and the water would have been super cold.”

But, as we delved more into bathing, we learned that in the mid to late 1800’s more and more people of wealth, people like Lewis, would have had primitive indoor plumbing. (go here to view a primitive shower and toilet during the 1850’s… Imagine that. There were showers and toilets and believe it or not, they were inside!  And, the toilets flushed. So, I was surprised. After discovering that Lewis, could have had indoor plumbing and possibly even hot water to go with it, it was time to move on to Mary…

Since it is presumed that Mary was a slave of Lewis, we assumed that Mary would not have had a tub, copper or otherwise. Our first question was what would Mary have used to bathe or would she have even bathed at all? The best that we could determine was that slaves bathed in the river, when the chance to ‘slip away’  happened and if a river was relatively close by or they used the same pot they cooked in to bathe in. Both were not done on a regular  basis and were considered a genuine luxury. The hard part was explaining how using the bathroom went… How do you tell a 10 year old that her ancestors, or people in general, were made to drop trow and go- all the while continuing to work or holding the go go until the work was done- whenever that was. She was understandably, appalled. She couldn’t imagine having to go to the bathroom in front of people or having to do it while she was working. And she especially could not fathom life without TP… The awful truth is neither can I. I have huge issues with the ‘go’ anywhere outside of the privacy of my own comfy home. Time and time again, I am surprised at the strength my ancestors must have possessed to deal with the things they did…

Moving past the sentimental stuff- after all, I was rapidly loosing the awe and interest coming from my offspring- I quickly recounted a story from my own childhood… When I was around 7, I remember visiting with my great Uncle, one of my grandmother’s brothers and I had to use the bathroom. I was presented with two options… I could use the outhouse (which required someone accompanying me) or I could use the ‘piss pot’. I cried. (Read the aforementioned, issues with the go) I mean, huge, giant crocodile tears. No way was I going to the outhouse. AND the thought of sitting on a pot in the middle of my Uncle’s bedroom repulsed me. (Well, at least I imagine I was repulsed.) I remember eventually making my way to the dreaded ‘pot’ and trying to perch/sit or whatever it is you do on the ‘piss pot’ and then I couldn’t go. The go just disappeared. I remember being happy that I wouldn’t have to use the ‘piss pot’ or dump its contents in the out (whatever that was). The visit dragged on and on and on. I ended up falling asleep on my Aunt and Uncle’s bed and (you guessed it) I peed ALL OVER THE BED. By this time, my daughter’s interest had lapsed and she left my room awash in giggles. Much like I am sure you are right now.

If you can find the time in between your bouts of laughter, I would love to hear your input on the history of the ‘go’. Have you ever had to use an outhouse? What was that like? What kinds of things have you discovered about your own ancestors and the ‘go’? Did they have indoor bathrooms or privies or outhouses? I can’t wait to hear your stories! And don’t forget to like and share! Thanks!

I Had to Walk Five Miles in the Snow…

We’ve all heard the stories from our elders that start “Back in my day, I had to walk 5 miles in the snow and it was all up hill and I didn’t have shoes…” Or something to that effect, right? I mean, my grandparents can’t be the only people in the world who tell these whoppers, can they? “I didn’t think so.

But after the day I had on Tuesday, I’m beginning to think that maybe there just might be some truth behind those large tales. I think after reading this, you just might think so too or at the very least, you will get a good laugh (at my expense, no doubt, but a laugh nonetheless.)

Okay Tuesday. (You will recall me telling you how I first got into genealogy because I was recovering from a head injury, right?) Well, I am still in ‘recovery’ and some days its like I haven’t gained any ground (no worries, most days are getting better and better). Anyway, hindsight is 20/20. Tuesday was one of those days when I probably should have just phoned it in- but I didn’t. First, I overslept and missed the bus. After finding a ride, I ended up in downtown RVA, where I missed the bus again! Ugh. But then another (different bus) came along and my brain remembered that I had rode this bus before and had been able to walk to where I needed to go. So I got on this bus. Except, my brain remembered wrong and I ended up being 40 minutes away from where I actually needed to be. Seriously. No way was I walking this. Nope. Just wasn’t going to happen. So I waited at the bus stop for the right bus to come along- 45 minutes later. ( Yes, it is understood that I could have walked in the time I waited and yes, it is understood that the city needs a better, more convenient transportation. But both of those are beside the point and reserved for a later conversation. Maybe.) Anyway, 45 minutes to wait. In the cold. What to do? Catch up on my email, right? Of course. Except, I only really read one article. It happened to be from a fellow genealogy blogger about what kind of genealogy work could you do when you only had 15 minutes. So I started thinking about what I would do with only 15 minutes to work on something genealogy… Duh. I had 15 minutes. So, I started working on the very thing you are reading  right now. (I know, it’s Friday.  A far cry from Tuesday. Just keep reading, okay?) Anyway, that’s when I started thinking that maybe there was some truth behind the stretches of imagination the old folks love to talk about.

But back to me waiting for the bus… I started digging for a pen in my suitcase of a purse and when I finally came up with one- the only one- it didn’t write! Of course. So I pulled out my phone, pocketed my gloves and began to click clack away. And 5 minutes in, the bus came. Once on the bus, I had to put everything away and pay attention, cause you know, the brain thing. Except, I wasn’t really paying attention, I was thinking. A dangerous thing in and of itself, I know. And, you guessed it. I missed my stop. Three stops later, I get off the bus. Oh good. I looked up and there was a building I needed to go to anyway. Go in. Take care of business. Need a potty break. Walk into bathroom. Use the bathroom. Come out of stall to go wash my hands and walk past guy using the urinal. Yep. I walked into and used the men’s bathroom- without even noticing it. (If you haven’t already, you can go ahead and start laughing.) I was so embarrassed. I ran out of the bathroom and down the stairs and hid under them- all so the guy in the bathroom wouldn’t see who the crazy girl who used the men’s bathroom was.

After I was sure the bathroom guy was not looking for me ( and by the way, if you are bathroom guy or you know bathroom guy, please convey my embarrassed apologies.) I got my stuff together and decided it was time for me to call it a day and just go home. As I walked outside, the bus to take me to the place I most wanted to go drove by. Excellent. Change of plans. I decided to walk to the place I originally needed to go and go ahead and reschedule my appointment. A mile and a bunch of thoughts later, I was able to reschedule said appointment and on my way back to the bus stop. Just as I was cresting the hill to catch the bus, it drove by me. Again. And so I found myself waiting another 40 minutes for the next bus to come along. Great. More time to meditate on the legendary stories my grandparents tried to pass off as truth… Anyway, by the time I finally made it home, my brain hurt, I was cold and I had no desire to do anything except curl up in the fetal position and sleep. Which is why, here it is Friday and I am just writing about Tuesday.

So the truth in those fables. I am certain that my grandparents never walked 5 miles uphill, both ways, in the snow, with no shoes on and it was raining and they had to carry the groceries on their head and hold a crying baby or whatever else they happened to say at that particular moment. But I started thinking about what they really had to do. My grandmother told me once that she did in fact have to walk to school and that some kids didn’t go to school because it was to far for them to walk. My grandfather was in the military during WWII- I can’t imagine all the things he had to do. Both of them are black, living in a time where one HAD to know their place in a Caucasian world, again, can’t imagine it. Which left me thinking about their parents and grandparents and all the hardships they had to endure. I am sure there was no such thing as calling in sick or phoning the day in or even staying in bed because you just couldn’t. The point is, they ENDURED. So, maybe the tales were (a bit) exaggerated, but now, as an adult, I get it. It is all in perspective. Change your perspective and your outlook changes too. And once you change those things, you will find you really can do anything.

So, Tuesday, even though I was physically and mentally exhausted, I made it. I endured. Thanks to the dead people who were talking to me even when I didn’t really want to hear it, because it is through their chatter that I realized this important lesson. I wonder what, if any, lessons you have learned from exploring your own gaggle of dead people. Please leave me a comment and share- I can’t wait to hear them!

PS- If you are interested in reading the post I referenced earlier, you can read it here.



Hello From the Other Side…

HAPPY MONDAY!!! I hope it isn’t a Manic Monday… How was your weekend? Mine was pretty low key. I spent the weekend trying to get someone, anyone from the other side to say hello. But no one was speaking. I think every single dead person that has happily kept me awake for the past umpteen months went on vacation. Without me. It kind of hurt my feelings, a little… I mean, I spend hours upon hours trying to decipher these little paper trails (most of which are few and far in between) in order to tell and share their stories. These people are my friends! I spend all day, every day with them and they just leave me! Ugh. I think I need some new friends…

Wait. That’s not really true. They didn’t actually leave me behind. Instead they took me on a wild scavenger hunt akin to ‘Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego’. Except only in this little hunt of theirs, I had to spend money. First I traveled to the land of eBay… Don’t laugh, but I had never been there before- like ever. Anyway, I searched the homeland of my people and came up with GOLD. Pure d gold, I swear. I found maps from 1862, 1865 and 1845. I don’t even know where I am going to put these maps as they are gynormous wall hangings, but it had the imprints of my ancestors all over them, almost as if they (my dead relatives and friends) had a Pow-wow and danced all over those maps and I just could not resist being able to see what was way back then… I also found myself buying postcards- again depicting a time gone by. On one such card, a black man from 1930 stood at the ‘old’ slave trading block. There were cars and businesses all up and down the street and right there on the corner was this massive stepping stone, on which slaves were made to stand as they were being auctioned off. The thing is, that stone still stands today, complete with a ‘commemorative’ marker and everything. Before I moved, i drove by it all the time and never once thought about it, really. But seeing this picture in 1930 did something to me. I mean 1930 isn’t that far removed from slavery… is it? I wonder if the older generation of black people were bothered by that block? After all, it is feasible to believe or think that the older black people’s parents or grandparents had been made to stand on that very block or maybe forced to watch as friends and loved ones were pushed up onto that block. And they couldn’t say or do anything to stop it. I wonder how that block remaining there might have affected them. I wonder who decided that the block would remain there through the ages? Now, in 2016, I am grateful that it remains because I can go and touch it and maybe the ancestors will touch me back, but would I have felt the same way back then in 1930? Eh. I honestly don’t know. But that whole thought process left me wondering what other relics are left out there in the world that might have made people uncomfortable ‘back in the day’ but are considered treasures today? Anyone of you ever come across something like that? I would be interested in knowing what your experience was and what that relic was.

But, back to what I bought… In addition to what I have already listed, I bought a civil war toy soldier and horse dug from a local Civil War ground, because, maybe (okay, BIG MAYBE) my ancestors played with somethings like those that I bought and I wanted to hold it in my hands and imagine what play might have looked like back then from the eyes of the children… (That was probably the educator in me coming out to get a piece of the spending action.) And I bought some county parish books and a genealogy CD which contains over 200 genealogies of people and families from my old stomping grounds.

So, now its Monday… I am not suffering from buyer’s remorse (though I probably should be and more than likely will, if I get these things and there is nothing even remotely useful to be found in them for me and my search. Instead, I am still bright eyed and hopeful and just going to say that I need to find some paid work (research, genealogical help, writing- anything pretty much will suffice) to replace the missing lump from the nest egg.

Have a fabulous Monday and I can’t wait until we chat again tomorrow!




Knowing When to Shut Up…

I truly believe that a person needs to know when to shut up. Its a valuable lesson to learn, if you think about it… If you shut your mouth to soon, then you never get all of the information out that you need to, likewise, if you keep talking long after you have made your point, you have the ability to drag on about, while those around you begin to lose focus and tune you out. Right now, I think this is the most important lesson you can take with you to the grave… Yes. Take this lesson to the grave, because those currently and passed dead do not understand this. Or maybe, they just don’t care… Either way, someone needs to pass this valuable lesson on to them.

Clearly, my panties are all up in a knot. I can’t help it. I am tired and I am cranky. Why am I so irritable, you ask? Well, if you really want to know… It’s because those darn dead relatives talked to me way into the wee early hours of morning. And what irritates me even further, is that they didn’t even give straight answers! Ugh!!!

Okay, let me back up and give you some background information… Yesterday, in one of the Genealogy Facebook groups I belong to, someone posted this little tidbit of information, “Check out my latest blog post “School Records, Even If your Ancestor Didn’t Attend School”. Researching school records, in my opinion, is a must for any genealogist. If your ancestor didn’t attend school as a child you might be surprised that they are named in school records as an adult for various reasons.” Anyway, a discussion ensued and I have to admit this is something I was excited to delve into… but at a later time and certainly not at 0 dark hundred on the clock…

Oh, but those crazy dead people didn’t think I needed a pesky little thing like sleep. Because all night various ancestors- from my dad and granddaddy to people who were gone long before my mother was even a twinkle in her mother’s eyes- peppered me with all kinds of questions that I should ask when I contact these various institutions about the involvement (if any) my ancestors may have had with area schools or possibly (but highly unlikely) their own schooling. And the crazy thing is, is that they didn’t even have the decency to give me a glimpse of what they might have  looked like! Nope. They just kept chattering away… ALL NIGHT LONG. And now that I think about it, why didn’t they just give me the answers instead of screaming a bazillion different questions at me? Wouldn’t that have been more efficient and effective? Ahhh, if only.

Anyway, I had plans (I really did, I swear) of going to my local LDS Library and taking a lookeeloo around and finding out what they had available or what help they might be able to offer me in my plight to tell the stories of my ancestors, see if they had any volunteer (read JOB openings) and possibly taking a detour through the Virginia Historical Society and then coming home and sharing with you all the great new finds of the day. Instead, here I sit, venting and enumerating the frustrations of the day… I am so sorry that you came here and had to here all of this. It is really unbecoming of a lady to rant and rave and carry on so- my Nana would be appalled, I know it.

But, let’s try to clean this mess up, shall we? As I sit here typing away, I am also watching an episode of Finding Your Roots, and in the beginning one of the guests is presented with his life book and right there in the opening pages of his book are pictures of this person in school and their report card… An excited flutter has started in my chest. Maybe I don’t have as much pull as Henry Louis Gates, Jr, but  there’s gotta be some hope, right? I am now trying to remember all the questions that forced me awake last night and I am kicking myself because, like a dummy, I didn’t write a single one  of them down.

Story of my life, I swear. Well, maybe you can help me. If you had the chance to connect with your ancestors through school (whether through employment or schooling) what are some of the things you would want to know?

I would want to know if they played any sports, did they take advantage of their position as an employee to get ‘some learning’, being black, I would want to know if they were afraid of getting an education (though I am not sure how I would  definitively be able  to answer that) and how did they acquire their job with the school (was it appointed, were they in the right or wrong place at the right time, etc.

For more information on Finding Your Roots, please visit and for more information on the aforementioned Blog, please visit (shout out to Melissa LeMaster Barker- someone I am fast coming to admire and  look up to in the genie world)

PS- I truly hope I have given credit in the appropriate way. But, if I haven’t, please reach out to me. But don’t just tell me I did it wrong, please tell me how to do it right also. Thanks for stopping by and see you next time!


That’s Right. I am a Time Traveler.

I don’t quite know how to tell you this without sounding like I have a room permanently reserved in a state facilitated padded room… But, here it is. Plain and simple. I talk to dead people and they quite frequently talk to me. There I said it. Still there? Oh, good.

Let me explain… I have embarked down this lovely little road called GENEALOGY and I love  it. It is like picking up a really excellent book that you never want to put down and the good thing is that this book NEVER ends! Hooray! But, I digress…

Where was I? Oh yes, time travel. I am a frequent time traveler. I don’t need any kind of toll booth or a fancy out of this world car, but I travel back to the past several times a day and honestly, some times I don’t really want to come back. It sucks you in like that. Genealogy, for me, is not only the understanding of who the people generations before you were/are, but it is a telling of their story; an understanding of life then for the ancestors and for those around them. I vow to tell that story. So, obviously, I am into ‘family history’, but I’m more than just into it for my family. I would like to tell your story too. (I am pursuing a certificate in the study of genealogy and a degree in Professional Writing, among other things.) So, if you would like me to tell you the story of your ancestors, I would be more than happy to do so… you have my contact information, feel free to use it. I am specializing in the African American Story in Virginia. And before you get on your high horse and tell me that you can just grab a subscription to Ancestry or some other service provider and find everything you need to know… allow me to reiterate that I said tell the story, not just find the records… But to each his own, I suppose.

Oh bother. I’ve gotten off track again. You were interested in me talking to dead people, right? Hmm… where to begin? I’m not sure I really know where to start or that there is even a starting point to begin with. How did I realize that I could talk to dead people? Well, honestly, I needed a distraction. I needed to find something to occupy my time and entertain my brain as I recovered from a head injury. And so I started down this road not looking for much, but then I found an article about my great great grandfather… He died. But how he died struck me and sunk the hooks of genealogy story telling deep into my bones. And it was then that I started ‘talking’ to dead people. I tried to imagine what it would have been like in those last moments of life. I wanted to know if he had seen the train coming, I mean how could  he not have, right? I wanted to know who he was visiting in the hospital and did that have something to do with him getting struck by the train? The dead didn’t talk back right away, though. In the case of my great grandfather and this train, he still isn’t talking. But maybe someday he will. I hope that you will join me in my time travels and I am excited to share with you the little bread crumbs I find and the goldbricks that drop from Heaven’s gates.

henry hamn