He Was The Son of a Preacher Man… Yes He Was…

And the only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man! Man, I am telling you, that is a catchy tune there! It is also a great way to lead into today’s adventures- exploring the wondrous life of Carlton Henry Tyler, established 25 August 1922.

If you didn’t already snatch this bit of info, he was the son of a Preacher man. But not just any preacher man, mind you. His father, the Rev. William Henry Tyler (1868- 1925) was one of the early Pastors of Stafford, Virginia’s FIRST black baptist church- Mount Olive Baptist Church (1818 to present). Through the information gathered, it seems as if his father was the third to Pastor this church- but that is my own personal hearsay. I wonder if the honor or weight and loftiness of such a title was significant even back then… hmmm… If his obituary is any clue, “It has been said that Carlton loved sitting on his dad’s lap as a child when he was in the pulpit.” I think that it was. I would like to think that his father, Rev. Tyler wanted young Carlton to follow in his footsteps and deliver the word of God to the people…

Carlton and his dad did not have much time together, as the Reverend would go on to glory when Carlton was just past the age of three. But all those Sundays of sitting in his lap, must have taken root, because he would live a servants life in the church. He would never see the pulpit as a Pastor, but he would serve in many other areas and capacities within- especially noted as a Deacon.

Before we continue on in my two times great uncle’s life, I think it only fair that I share with you some fascinating information- a pit stop or commercial break- if you will.

  1. as of last summer there was an elderly (very, very much so) Tyler still attending Mount Olive, whom I found out about after reaching out to the church to get information on the Rev. (A trip to the church is still being debated on- as I would truly only be going to look at the pictures on the wall- if there are any and not necessarily to hear the preached word, because the ONLY info the church could give me was the contact info of the aforementioned elderly lady.) When I reached out to said lady, I was told that we were not related because SHE DID NOT REMEMBER ANYONE EVER TALKING ABOUT THE PERSON I WAS TALKING ABOUT. #lesigh. I let it go, especially after members of my family said that it was possible that they had been slaves on the same plantation and taken the same sir name, blah, blah, blah… but then I realized that Carlton was born AFTER slavery had ended and he would have known who his father was and then whomever was working on the lady’s tree had SEVERAL (more than 20) people in her tree of my people… so, obviously, I haven’t gotten any info from the lady or her immediate people… I think I might have even been blocked from her tree. Oh well, such is life sometimes. Keep in mind that neither she nor I have met DNA before- EVER…
  2. Carlton is my grandfather’s uncle. This is no big deal really, except for the fact that he was born only a few years before my grandfather. This, I tell you stressed my mind for more nights than I care to admit right now… (my granddaddy was born in 1928), He does not share the same mother as my grandfather’s mother, however- this information was not revealed to me until after I had spent several of my summer nights agonizing over how this was possible or plausible and thinking up other more sense-making stories…

Alrighty. We are back from our commercial break! I hope you enjoyed all that information I wanted to tell you, but couldn’t really figure out how to fit in anywhere else in this little jaunt we are on together.

Now, where were we?… Oh yes. We had just discovered that his father had died when he was just a bit over three. He was born in Brooke, VA- of this, I am sure. But what happened to him after his father’s death? I am not really sure. More investigative work is required to tell those tales, but let us time hop to 1942. Carlton is now twenty years old and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to his WWII draft card, he is single and he identifies his next of kin as a Hattie F. Parker. (Who the heck is that? I’m glad you ask… You should probably go find out and let me know, cause I haven’t the foggiest.) It isn’t his mother; not unless she remarried and changed her name and then moved to Philly to be a helicopter mom and remain unidentifiable in every record I have only haphazardly searched as of yet… Point is, I don’t know who she is and honestly I wasn’t all that interested until I decided that we were all going to visit Carlton today… I don’t think it is his wife, as it is not the wife that is listed later in life- but that really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, you know? Anyway, I shall eventually endeavor to find out who she is or perhaps she shall make it her mission to be known and she shall begin to talk to me- I love it when they do that, makes my life as a writer and a story teller so much easier. This particular draft was kind enough to bless me with some other (even more challenging information)- as if I don’t have enough of that going on in my life…  Carlton’s employment is listed as “Sydney Wortman”. Google was absolutely zero help here. But honestly, with all the ‘confusion’ being brought to light, I didn’t really expect that it would be useful to me, but it was worth a shot, right? Here’s another shot… If you know what it is, please clue me in. I might even reward you handsomely… yeah right, I only pay in smiles and long distance high fives and if you’re truly deserving I’ll record myself doing a happy dance for you and put it on the gram…

One last bit of information that this draft card was charitable enough to leave for me… Carlton, was 5’3. You may read this and think to yourself so what? But, in a world full of people with my granddaddy’s genes, 5’3 is laughable… My granddaddy and ALL of his siblings rest easily and comfortably in the 6 foot plus family. They have strong genes. For some reason, probably subconsciously. my relating them to the proximity of slavery and the ‘Mandingo slave illustration’ that was painted for me throughout my early educational experience, I attributed these features to my grandfather’s grandfather; Carlton’s dad- the Reverend. 5’3 has me wondering if I have been wrong all these years. Has it been Reverend Tyler’s face I see when I look upon the faces of my granddaddy and his brothers and sisters or their pictures and my 2x great grandmother’s height that has teased me all these years? (My brother got it, I did not.)

Carlton Henry Tyler  Deacon Carlton Henry Tyler (1922-2014)

Alas, it has come to the time where we must bid adieu to dear Carlton. However, let us not say goodbye before we say hello to his wife, Doris Louise Hamn. Ahh, yes, my lines have crossed yet again. One must begin to question at least to themselves, if not aloud if all this ‘inbreeding’ is the reason for so much crazy happening  on these twisted and gnarled branches within this tree… Can it even be a tree if nothing ever branches out? Carlton didn’t you know that your brothers had already married into this family??? And produced heirs? Just jokes, folks. Just jokes. But seriously. Were the Hamns and Jacksons and the various roots thereof the only families in Brooke, Virginia??? I am starting to feel like the Montagues and the Capulets here.

Well, at least presumably, you found love and for that you were blessed with at least one son. Master Royce Hamn, where have you run off to?

I hope you enjoyed today’s little stray into yesteryear! Who are you researching right now? I would love to hear an enchanting little story about him or her! Leave me a comment telling me all about them! And as customary, please hit both the like button and share buttons! See you next time!

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Lewis Dawson Massey- You Are Not The Father… Maybe.

When I first started researching my family, long before I had decided that I wanted to tell the stories of my ancestors; I learned or maybe I was taught that records NEVER lie. That is to say that any information I came across was simply hearsay unless there was a record of some sort to support the found information. I am not sure why I grabbed a hold of this teaching or why I have held so staunchly to it in the years since first embarking on this journey. This is especially confusing to me because I KNOW records do, in fact, lie. I know that Census workers of years past were prone to write what they thought or believed and not necessarily what was truth. And I have come across several records that have been transcribed incorrectly, but taken for fact. So, again, I have no clue why I would believe records never lie.

Anyway, I have been plodding along on this little adventure, never questioning the official record and taking it as pure dee fact. And I was content in this. That is until I read a fellow Bloggers post… He shared his story of tracing his ancestors and how DNA had helped him to determine that a white ancestor, who was named as the father of another ancestor on that person’s death certificate, was not actually his ancestor. I commented on his post about how I sometimes forgot how lucky I was as a black person, because I for the most part, have come from ‘free people’. But, something about his article stuck with me and my mind would not let it go. It turned over and over inside my head, to the point where I had to do some serious genealogy sleuthing… Thanks a lot Andre Kearns! (Read the full story, here.)

 

Lewis D Massey

 

This is Lewis Dawson Massey.It is family consensus that Mr. Massey is the father of Lewis Massey. This information can of course, be verified by viewing Lewis Massey’s death certificate. Lewis’ mother, Mary, is believed to have been a slave belonging to Mr. Massey. (The only information collected thus far to prove this is a census that lists a slave girl under Mr. Massey’s property, who falls in the appropriate age category.) The belief that Mr. Massey is the father of Lewis Massey extends beyond the descendants of Lewis Massey- believed by the descendants of Mr. Massey, even.

Andre’s Blog post planted a seed of doubt as to the paternity of Lewis Massey. I began to seek out the males in both my Massey line and Mr. Massey’s line, hoping that one of those men from each side of the Massey line had already taken the DNA test…

No such luck there though…

So, what is a girl to do? It’s not like I can take these two to the Maury show and prove once and for all if Mr. Massey is the father or not. I personally, have not taken a DNA test, so I am not sure of all the intricacies associated with such a test or even what benefit (other than cousin matches) me- a black woman.

I’d love any advice you have to share or any similar experiences you may have had in your family history road trip! Leave me a comment telling me all about your paternity woes and as always, please hit the like button and share, share, share!

The Dash

Generally, I find one interesting story to share with you that correlates with one or sometimes two or a few people from my tree. That’s what I do, right? I tell the stories of the dead. This adventure will veer from the path of tradition I have created, if only slightly…

Earlier this week, Monday, April 10- to be exact, John Thomas celebrated his 70th birthday. Or he would have, if death had not intervened on April 30, 1993. 

In any event, I would like to tell his story today. I guess therein lies the problem… John isn’t just someone on my tree, who I researched and am now telling you about; He was my dad. 

My dad and I in the early 1980s

So. Instead of trying to pick one story to entertain you as you take a brief break in your day, I am going to tell you about the dash.

Growing up, he was called Johnny. Spend an afternoon with his cousins and you will know that Johnny was a joker, who loved to have fun. 

Some of Johnny’s many cousins…

One memorable story, I am often told is when Johnny would pull all the kids around in a blanket throughout the house. I know this was great fun,because he continued this tradition with his children- even pulling us down the stairs! I remember screaming along with my sister and brother as my dad yanked us through the hallways of our house. It’s great fun and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend you do it right away!

At some point, this fellow met my mom (a pretty wonderful lady) and they decided to get married- lucky for me and my kids and Johnny became Mr. J. 

Johnny and Valerie circa 1980 something 

Mr. J was a neighborhood favorite. Kids coming to the door to see if Mr. J could come out and play was just as likely to occur as them coming to see if I or my sibblings could come out to play. During the summer months, he could often be seen throwing kids into the backyard pool. 

If you were lucky, you caught him eating watermelon or crabs- because he was always willing to share that deliciousness with you. 

Summer evenings were reserved for trips to Carl’s Ice Cream (you may recall me telling you that this is a mandatory bucket list item) with friends and days were packed car rides to Kings Dominion- whatever it was, it was always fun with Mr. J.

When the rains came and the weather was bad, Mr. J could be found playing an involved and seemingly unending game of Monopoly (probably where my healthy affection for board games stems from) or Tetris on Nintendo (where my sister’s video addiction probably began)

Sundays after church, Johnny would claim the most comfortable spot on Nana’s floor, where he would either be cheering on his beloved Redskins (nothing I could do about that- much as I tried), playing Gin Rummy with Grandaddy and my Uncle Bruce or sleeping- especially if he had just finished eating Nana’s good home cookin’!

As you can see, a lot happened in the dash. More than is written here and that I will ever remember. Which is why I do what I do- to celebrate everything that happened between the numbers on either end of the dash.

As much as I enjoy talking to the dead- I encourage you to spend some time with the living and create some memories that others will enjoy celebrating some day. 

I love it when you click the like button and share, share, share! Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me what you’re doing with your dash! I can’t wait to hear all about the memories you’re making and the fun you’re having while you’re doing it!

F.A.G. Credited With Finding Missing Couple

Late last night, Perry and Ada Johnson, along with two of their children were found- as presumed- still dead in a Gretna, Louisiana cemetery. Early reports indicate the pair had been hiding out in FAG’s archives for at least two years, sources close to the case have said. It is unclear as of yet why the couple were not found in previous searches of Find a Grave or why they chose to reveal themselves at this time. A cursory search of the McDonoghville Cemetery’s and us airforcewife’s photos have turned up zero results as to the whereabouts of any remaining family.

Perry Johnson gravestone.jpg

Ada Johnson gravestone.jpg

Still unaccounted for are the couples children Earline (who may be yet among the living) of Gretna, Joseph, Perry Jr, Herman, Roland, and Aaron all presumably of Gretna and all probably long dead. It is possible that there may be another daughter, however this information can neither be confirmed or denied at this time.

It is believed that someone in the area knows how to find other members in the Johnson family, as evidenced by the fresh (at the time of this photo) flowers on Ada’s headstone. Could that someone still be placing flowers at the grave site?

Any persons with information on the Johnson family of Gretna, Louisiana is asked to comment immediately on this thread or email the author directly.

***

As if having the surname of Johnson wasn’t hardship enough, I have the added challenge of having little to no information at all. My grandmother, who was divorced from my grandfather (Roland) for years prior to his death in 2005 has requested that I not bother her with ‘this nonsense’ any more. Just before this pronouncement, I vaguely recall her mentioning a LIVING sister and that she had no recollection of the people I was ‘pestering’ her about. My mother believes there is a living sister, but doesn’t know how old she is or where she is living- nor does she have a copy of the obituary (which is shocking because between her and my Nana, there is a copy of EVERYONE’S obituary) and both my grandfather’s children (my father and my aunt) have left this world, taking all the information with them. My mother also promised to see if she had this sister’s address, though it has been twenty four hours without any mention of an address or a name, so my hope meter is falling with each passing minute.

Simply finding Ada and Perry on FAG was a great discovery for me and I truly do not know why I didn’t see them all the other times I have searched for them on the FAG site, but I am glad to have finally found them. I am hopeful that tomorrow will allow for me to dedicate more than a few spare minutes into digging deeper into this developing case.

For now, I am going to rest up for the challenge that lays ahead of me…

Have you ever wanted to put out an APB on one or more of your ancestors? I would love to hear about it- did you eventually ‘get your man’? If so, what are some of the tricks of the trade that worked for you? If you haven’t found your missing person yet, what are some of the things you have tried thus far?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and opinions! And of course, if you are in the LA area- especially Gretna, Jefferson Parish and want to volunteer some on the ground man power- it is absolutely welcome and appreciated!

And as always, if it made you smile or even chuckle- please give a like and a share, thank you and see you next time! 

Photo Credit- us airforcewife, Find A Grave member

The Other Side of the Door

I am not sure if you have heard or not, but there is this great, empowering and fantastic movie in theaters right now. This movie takes place during the 1960s and is about the first woman scientist with NASA and how she got there. This woman also happens to be black. Just in case you were unaware, the 1960s weren’t the most friendly of times for black women, as this was a time when white people (in general) were not the most social group of people when it came to interacting with black people. The movie goes on to depict the hardships the woman had to endure in order to get her education and achieve her goals. These hardships included having to learn outside of the classroom and on the other side of the door. As you might have guessed, the movie I am speaking of is Hidden Figures. It truly is an extremely motivating story for woman and girls everywhere. And the best part is, it really happened.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of going to my home town, where the local NAACP branch hosted “Hidden Figures a Panel Discussion”, where the panelists shared their stories of life in the community during the post-World War II era through the Civil Rights and beyond. To say I was excited, was a complete understatement. Did I mention my cousin and my Nana were panelists? Oh yeah. I am determined to get my stories one way or another, I swear. (If that confuses you, you’re gonna have to read back a few entries to understand, luv.) Anyway. I drove an hour and a half for this and can I just say that I was more than slightly disappointed at the lack of ‘young people’ turn out, followed closely by my irritation that the ‘black’ turn out was not as large as I thought it should have been.

An hour and a half.

When we (my children were actually willing tag alongs for this adventure) arrived, the discussion had already began. The room was packed. I carefully wove my way from one side of the room to the other, where an empty seat awaited me and my mom’s lap awaited the baby. There was also a door right next to where my family (all gazillion of them) had chosen to sit. As babies tend to do, mine began to get fussy. I had only heard the panel answer one question. My mom quickly gave the beloved baby up to me and I found myself promptly escorted to the other other side of the door. At first, they left the door ajar and I could vaguely make out the questions and what seemed to be mumbles of reply.

I was embarrassed and frustrated that my baby, who has gone to theaters and museums and been so well behaved, was being fussy and a distraction to everyone. I was frustrated because I had been so looking forward to this experience and the stories being shared and I was being shut out and unable to learn from these elders and pillars of my community. The more frustrated and discombobulated I became, the fussier he got. I was trying every trick in my mommy arsenal and nothing worked.

Just as I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be hearing all these great stories from the back vestibule area, they SHUT the door. What had barely been audible before was downright stifled now. I was fuming. They had not said anything about not bringing children. We were in a library meeting room for crying out loud! By this time, I not only needed to calm the baby down, but I had to calm myself down as well. I slipped out the door labeled “Employees Only”. Outside, the presence of another mother of a young baby greeted me. I looked up at the door from which I had just come and was struck by an incredible irony…

Here we all were there to learn about the empowering lessons the panelists had to share from an era when I would not have been able to drink from the same fountain as my best friend and the two of us had been quietly shepherded out. Mind you- we were not asked. And as if that were not ironic enough, we exited through a side door, designated for a specific group of people.

The enormity of what I felt is indescribable. I did not experience any real segregation and yet I could slightly begin to know what the branches before me had felt or experienced.

I finally managed to get the baby to go to sleep and stepped back inside. I didn’t dare go to the door and let myself back into the room. N0, I sat in the chair and strained to hear the musings and reminiscing going on on the other side of the door. It wasn’t until I coughed that the door was opened and I was asked if I would like to come back in, as if I had voluntarily left in the first place. I caught the tail end of the Q&A, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you what was said, so angry was I still. And who could I direct my anger toward? Nobody. That’s who.

Just like the characters in the aforementioned movie; just like the people on the panel; just like thousands of slaves who were here long before you and I were twinkles in someone’s eye- there was an anger that simmered just beneath the surface with no real release insight.

And so here is my take away… We have to do better. All of us. I am not saying that we all have to agree one hundred percent of the time or that we even have to like each other all the time. I am simply saying that if we are not conscious of the injustice that has come before us- even when we are in the business of educating others to those very biases- then we are doomed to repeat them. And honestly, do we really want to live in that world?

I don’t have any catchy questions to ask you guys today and I apologize for that. Thank you for reading- especially if you read all the way through to the end. Now go forth and do what you can, where you can (no matter what is, be it befriending the kid with no friends or standing up to a bully or getting involved in your local government) to not repeat the iniquities of our past- no matter what they may be.

Robbing or Rocking the Cradle?

Just before Christmas, I found a few quiet minutes to myself and I told myself I was going to spend those very precious moments catching up on emails and being a responsible adult. Yeah right. I don’t think I even passed go as I headed straight to where else? Facebook. On this particular day, I didn’t even get to become engrossed in the lives of my friends. No, I came across Mick Jagger. More specifically, an article announcing the birth of Jagger’s eighth child demanded to be read. If you missed it, let me give you the low down… Good ‘ol Mick, who was seventy-three and his girlfriend (wife?), who was thirty, welcomed a bouncing bundle of joy to this world. No need to adjust your screens or search for your glasses- you read that right. Mick is seventy-three with a new born. This, however, is not what gave me pause… His new baby is two years younger than his GREAT GRAND CHILD.

This disturbed me. I was baffled. And not for the reasons you would automatically assume, either. I wanted to know what this tree would look like. I wanted to know if others had branches like this.I wondered how his grown children and grand children felt about this new addition. I wanted to know if they welcomed the girlfriend/wife with open arms… I mean she is younger than them, afterall…

Faster than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialadocious, I had posted the article to my favorite genealogy sites and invited my dearest friends near and far to sound off.

I remember asking if people felt this kind of relationship was more prevalent then (1800s and earlier) or now (1900s and later). I wanted to know why a young woman would submit to such an older husband. Most of the answers I got were things like financial support or pensions that would outlast the old man’s breathing days. In fact, I learned that the US was still paying out pension plans from the CIVIL WAR. Almost, no one, however, said love and without realizing it, I had begun to tell my own story…

I have been the younger woman. I have been the girlfriend younger than the children. I have had to navigate the very minefields I was questioning. And I did it all for love. Nothing more, nothing less.

But before I could explore this tangent that I found myself on, the dead began tugging at me. I couldn’t remember their names (and honestly I never went and looked for them), but I could remember their story (which resembled Mick Jagger’s more than my own)… For months I tried to find the parents of three children, of whom the census told me, belonged to parents who would have been in their late fifties and early sixties at the birth of the first child in question and nearly seventy at the birth of the youngest questionable child. Prior to reading this article, I was convinced that these children were grandchildren and that it was my duty to find their elusive parents. I asked family members if they had found the missing parents or any proof that the parents had once existed or if they might even be children of one of the children still on record as living at home. I remember during these quests, that these dead people in particular were eerily quiet. Eventually, I let it go, convinced that they would talk when they were good and ready and not a moment before.

It seemed as if Mick Jagger made them want to talk. They didn’t say much, but they did make me question if I had been chasing a story that wasn’t even there. They left me wondering how often we as family historians travel down the rabbit hole only to discover that we created the rabbit hole to begin with and there was nothing really there. How often do we overlook the facts right in front of our faces because they are to outrageous?

Reading the Mick Jagger article gave me reason to reevaluate the authenticity of the stories I am telling, even though I am quite sure that was not the author’s intent to do so. So, congratulations to Mick and his lady and thank you for reminding me that sometimes I only need to tell the story that is there and sometimes I can look at my own life and gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of my ancestors in days gone by.

I would love to know if you have ever read something completely unrelated to your genealogy work, but that made you think of ways you could improve your genealogy/family history work. What did you read and how did it enhance the way you do what you do? Thanks for sharing and please give this a like and a share!

See you next time!

THANKSGIVING DAY…

It has been a very long time since the dead have talked to me… Or maybe it has been a really long time since I have taken the time to listen to them when they start speaking. Either way, a long time it has been. Two days ago, Thanksgiving to be exact, the chatter started up loud and clear.

Oddly enough though, I couldn’t really pay attention to the dead and their stories because the living story begged to be told.

SO. Here it is. The living story that the dead are begging me to tell so I can get back to them and THEIR stories…

I searched all over for a picture of a Thanksgiving food fight that I could insert here in order to convey the level of disaster Thanksgiving was for me, but I couldn’t find one (at least not one that clearly defined who I needed to give credit to and thus, I chose none for fear of being searched out by the copyright police).

To be fair, there was no literal food fight and the ‘fight’ was probably only felt by me, but still…

I guess the best place to start is dinner… I got drafted to the adult table. After living 37 years, I made it. Except, that totally isn’t where I wanted to be. I would have much rather have squeezed into a place at the kiddie table with my sister, kids and nephew, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me this year.

Dinner was completely awkward and uncomfortable- FOR ME. My brain (you’ll remember, I have been recovering from a brain injury) decided to play random tricks of reality on me and I found myself making comments on people that were relevant 15 years ago, as opposed to the 1 year ago my brain told me it  had been. I tried to join the conversations going on around me, but no one was having any of that. My brief forays into the conversations were met with barely concealed eye rolls or one word replies, that left little room for me to continue. I tried to interject accomplishments about my kids and myself- all to no avail.

Dinner sucked and I found myself wishing I had stayed home.

After everyone had finished eating and most everyone had left the table, the conversation somehow turned to the ancestors… I perked up. I was ecstatic. This was a conversation I could participate in. After retrieving ‘the books’, I sat down with my phone in hand ready to take notes and share.

But, as I sat listening to the information being passed on, I began to have questions and things weren’t adding up right… So, in a small lull in the conversation, I asked the only question I would be allowed, “how do you know that these people are in our family?” (Some names had been retrieved from the courthouse that have the same sir name as that side of the family and now they were being presented as our ancestors because of their general proximity to where documented ancestors came from. I had theories on these people being in our family, but no proof or documentation, so I genuinely wanted to know how to document these people.) The answer I got was not satisfying. It was vague. It was, “because I knew people who knew first hand.” (This may have been true for people further down on the list of names, but I was speaking of the first few names on the list- of whom no one would personally know, as they were born or lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I tried rephrasing my question and another relative was quick to answer, “I get what you are saying and I get what [person] is saying, too. A lot of our history is going to be word of mouth and not written down.” Hmmm. I don’t believe that. And as I am the one who has spent countless hours in courthouses and cemeteries gathering information, I know that there is always something to document a person’s life, existence and connections- sometimes, those things are just very well hidden.

After that, I was shunned from the conversation and accused of disturbing the order of documents (that I had never seen). Documents were pulled out and shown- but not to me. Alas, no one was interested in the things I had gathered or wanted to share…

And that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It was not the time of my life.I probably won’t go back for any more holidays and that’s okay.

There is good coming from my Thanksgiving disaster and that is the dead people started shouting at me again or I started hearing them again or whatever. Last night and into the wee hours of the morning, I was chasing down cousins long dead and they were showing themselves to me. Those names that were thrown about during the aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner are rattling around in my brain, begging to have their fair share of talk time. I can’t wait to dig in and hear the stories they are obviously begging to tell and who knows? Maybe I will eventually find them sitting on a branch in my tree…

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 http://www.sheknows.com/baby-names/name/ephraim, “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?