I’ve Got an Uncle

You might recall, a few weeks ago- scratch that. You might recall a few months ago, I hit a gold mine buried in my Glory-Glory’s closet that gave me all kinds of new leads and pictures to explore. I can’t believe it has been months since we last talked! It isn’t you. It’s me. I have been enjoying life and ignoring dead. Ahh, but I’ve gotten off topic.

During my exploration of the greatness I ‘discovered’ on my visit to Glory-Glory’s house, I found an obituary. This obituary was slightly more awesome than other obituaries I have had the pleasure of  browsing (or reading enthusiastically from front page to back page as I am known to actually do), because I learned I had an uncle. If you want to get technical about things, I actually have several uncles on both sides of my lineage… but I only have one uncle that was just newly discovered. And we all know how I love being able to add branches to my ever-expanding tree, right?

Everyone, meet Uncle Vernon.Uncle Vernon Uncle Vernon, meet everyone.

Vernon McIntyre never showed up on any of the census reports I have seen- and I have seen a crap ton of them. When I talked to my cousins, who grew up a generation before me- no one mentioned Uncle Vernon. Glory-Glory has expressed her non interest in my family history/genealogical quest and therefore she wouldn’t have known if I knew about my Uncle Vernon HER BROTHER- or not and Ancestry shook no green leaf in his direction…

So, Uncle Vernon was destined to be forgotten. Until, that is, I went treasure hunting by way of photo albums in Glory-Glory’s closet.

On the front of the program from his funeral, he is listed as Vernon McIntyre. I was tempted to only skim this, as the last name was not any of my last names (Johnson, Harbert, Walker, or Divens), but I held it in my hand and something in the recesses of my mind was trying to remember some detail from too many nights ago to be prominent. Since I couldn’t put my finger on why this name was grabbing hold of me, I opened the program up for a more in-depth look-see.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself staring at the names I was already overly familiar with, BECAUSE IT WAS MY FAMILY!!! As I read through the list of those left behind dearly departed, another name popped out of me- it was practically surrounded by neon lights and blinking a fantastic strobe light! That name was Rebecca. Nearly one year ago, I met Rebeca. In the census, she was listed as the child of Tamah V. Walker and George T Harbert, but her name was Rebeca McIntyre. At the time, I couldn’t crack the mystery of why she had a last name different from her parents. Since this census was dated 1920, I thought perhaps this child was not a family member after all, instead a house servant, who actually belonged to a neighboring family or something. (Knowing what I do now about the wealth Glory-Glory’s family seemingly enjoyed, this doesn’t actually seem all that far-fetched.) At the time, however, I was grasping at slim straws. I thought that perhaps she was named after her grandmother, Rebeca McIntosh and the census taker had just written her name down incorrectly. I debated removing her from my tree. In the end, I couldn’t remove her. We had come to far and I had grown accustomed to her presence and I needed to know who she was…

Truthfully, I had forgotten about her.

Until I found her again with Uncle Vernon. I finally knew who she was! Uncle Vernon and Aunt Rebecca were the children of Tamah V. Walker and Percy McIntyre (Percy being the first husband of Tamah.) Sadly, among all the wonderful information I found that day concerning Vernon and Rebeca McIntyre, I did not find the answer to my at least for that moment one last question: why did Vernon stay with their father while Rebeca stayed with their mother.

The mystery continues…

Because for right now, I don’t have any more answers. I am glad though, to have found my (new) uncle and Rebecca’s rightful place.

I would love to hear about any awesome finds you may have stumbled across in your hunt to find the dead. Leave me a comment and tell me all about your discoveries, where you found them and what they led you to. Thanks for stopping by and like always, I’d appreciate a like and share!

See you next time!

 

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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

My own Ruby Bridges

You do know who Ruby Bridges is right? I hope you do. But just in case you don’t, Ruby was a young girl who became famous for being smart- essentially. She also happened to be black in 1960s Louisiana. When Ruby was in kindergarten, she, along with all the other students in her all black school (which happened to be an extremely long way away from home) were given a test. Passing the test meant that you were smart enough to go to the all white school (which was a mere block or two from home). Ruby being smart, was of course accepted into the white school. But being smart enough to go to the all white school was just the first prerequisite. Ruby’s parents would also need to agree that she could integrate (go to the all white school). Even after they agreed, going to the all white school would not be easy. She was escorted everyday to and from by men in the National Guard and she spent the entirety of her first grade year as the only student in her classroom. (Integration may have come to the Louisiana school, but it had not reached all the way to its classrooms.) Even if the school had opted to include Ruby in classes with white people, little to no integration would transpire. A great majority of the white students had been pulled from the school by way of protesting integration or avoiding the protesting and protesters. Ruby Bridges is a national hero because she went to school in spite of the hate and animosity shown her when she integrated or infiltrated the all white school.

The little girl in the picture is not Ruby Bridges, though. That little girl is Cynthia Montague and she is my cousin. Like me (and almost every other family member on my mom’s side of this gnarled and twisted tree of mine), Cynthia grew up in Stafford. Unlike me, Cynthia, my Nana and anyone else living prior to or during this time didn’t get to go to school in Stafford.

They were bused to another school in another town/city. Another county. I moan and complain if I have to go to Kroger- which is slightly more across the street- instead of the Martins; which is across the street but a much shorter distance. And these kids; if they wanted an education had to go into the next city or town.

My Nana once said, “they [she and her friends] didn’t understand why they couldn’t go to the school that was closer to their homes or why they had to go to school way out in Fredericksburg [when they were young children]”. I feel this sentiment was probably echoed throughout the black community of Stafford County.

And then, along came Cynthia. A little girl who was doing great things- though she may not have known it at the time. I am not sure if Cynthia was selected because of her intelligence- like Ruby or if there was some other selection process was involved. What I do know is this- Cynthia and her sister were the first black kids to integrate into Stafford County Schools.

Why was I not taught this as a kid in Stafford? I am embarrassed to say that I never knew this growing up; I was never taught this in school; my parents never mentioned it.It wasn’t until I attended the Discussion Panel (See The Other Side Of the Door to find out what that’s all about) that I learned this awesome piece of family history. I didn’t even realize or understand the enormity of what I didn’t know. I am not sure what the stigma is of teaching people about the awesome things black people have done, but I  vow to overcome it. I am going to make sure my own children know the greatness that they come from. I am more encouraged now than ever to keep on digging through the records, hanging out in dusty basements and begging the living to share the stories of life before me. There is purpose in what I am doing.

As I have delved deeper and deeper into genealogy and family history, I have had the great privilege of discovering several hidden gems hanging out in my tree. Some of those gems only precious to me and others honored by many. Cynthia is one gem that should be honored and celebrated by many. I am proud to come from the kind of stock that produced her.

Have you discovered an unsung hero in your family tree or possibly in a tree you have been working on? I would love to hear all about your discoveries- how did you react when you made them? I was in awe and still am. I hope in the very near future, I will be able to sit down and talk with her and interview her for the family to come long past the time she lived this life.

So, leave me a comment and a like and as always, please share with your friends and family! Thank you so much for visiting! Come back soon, ya hear?

For more information on Ruby Bridges, please visit http://www.ducksters.com/history/civil_rights/ruby_bridges.php

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…

Haunted by the Junk Drawer

https://i1.wp.com/www.amyvolk.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/junk-drawer-pattywest-blogspot.jpg

There is absolutely no denying it. We all have one. And more times than we will ever admit, we have wondered where something was only to remember that it (whatever it is) is in the junk drawer and in the junk drawer is where it will stay, because who really has the time or inclination to go searching through the junk drawer? If you’re anything like me (and I’m pretty sure you are), you have duplicates of things simply because you’d rather not waste valuable time ‘cleaning’ the junk drawer… Am I right or am I right? Junk drawers come in all shapes and sizes, but for me and my dead people, it is Ancestry’s shoe box and the yellow spiral notebook. If I am out ‘in the field’ any questionable tidbits or I want to look into this further things get jotted down in the yellow spiral notebook and if I am browsing through Ancestry’s bazillion records and I come across a this might be so and so document it gets tossed into the shoe box. There’s no shame in my game and I will readily admit that once something goes in, it almost NEVER comes back out- no matter how good my good intentions may be.

Clearly, my junk drawers could use some love, affection and attention. I keep telling myself that one of these days I need to make it my weekend project- especially now that winter is upon us and I won’t be doing a whole lot of outdoor exploring any time soon. Except, I always find something else to do…

That’s when my dead people came to the rescue. Or rather they became extremely bothersome, like they don’t know what it’s like to have things to do or something. Anywho… My dead people have been extremely quiet as of late- I think they were offended by something I said- and I had nearly given up hope that I would ever hear from them again, until about two or three weeks ago.

Are you familiar with the Freedman’s Bureau? (I really, really hope so, otherwise I am not entirely sure I want us to continue in this friendship…) I was checking my email (read deleting all the junk mail) when I came across an email from what I thought was The Freedman’s Bureau. I started shaking from excitement. (I know this particular bureau is no longer in existence and has been disbanded for quite sometime. I get it. However, remember brain injury. And that sometimes makes me read things that words don’t actually say.) I didn’t even open it. I was very diligent in continuing with the task at hand and getting rid of all those pesky emails. Then I sat down to see what kind of interesting documents or clues or what have you there would be. I opened the email. I didn’t understand what was happening. Why was the Freedman’s Bureau sending me information on debt? Was one of my ancestors in debt and they (I can’t even begin to tell you who I thought they were) had found these debtor records? I clicked out of the email. Reread the sender information. Freedman’s Bureau. I clicked back into  the email. Now my brain decided to slowly start working again… Freedom Debt Relief. Umm, what? I really thought this was my sister’s idea of a sick joke or something, so I clicked out of the email again. Ohhhh. Can you just imagine the look of disappointment on my face as realization dawned that I had misread things? Yeah, I wish I could have seen it too. Once my dismay ebbed. I determined that it was the dead people back from where ever and they had been talking to me again. Okay I need to search the Freedman’s Bureau of records. But for who? It would have been to much like right for them to give me a name along with their hint, you know? But, I was in the middle of things and so I just scribbled a quick note in- you guessed it- the yellow spiral notebook.

Days later, my dead people upped the ante. I was asleep and I dreamed that a Union Civil War Soldier was staring at me through the sliding glass door. This dream was so intense, I woke up and was terrified that someone was looking through the blind covered glass doors. It was so real, I could almost make out the name or whatever those scratch marks on the side of his Union cap said. Almost. Alright this was confirmation that my dead people weren’t mad at me anymore. Again, I made a quick note in the infamous yellow spiral notebook. After all, I had a pleasant little nap to get back to…

Later that same night, I had another dream. This time a baby was playing on my back while I slept in the dream. Again, it felt real, extremely real. So real that I woke up calling my daughter’s name to ask her why she had put the baby on my back while I was asleep. Her name became stuck on the tip of my tongue, as I realized that the baby was actually in his crib and sound asleep. Again in it went into the yellow spiral notebook, to keep the others before it company.

If you’re keeping track, this is the run down of things thus far- I need to go to the Freeman’s Bureau and see what that will turn up, I needed to look more closely at any male relatives that served in the Civil War and someone had a baby that didn’t live, I assume.

Then last night came the incessant tapping at my widow. It was nerve wracking. It was terrible, really. Because unless someone was playing a truly fantastic game of ‘Knock, Knock Ginger’ (I didn’t grow up calling it Ginger, but I am grown up now and Ginger sounds so much nicer), then there was no one there. And then my toilet flushed- all by itself. That’s when I called the girl-child’s daddy.

I get it. My dead people missed me and they are wanting me to find them. In the junk drawer… oh boy.

Anyway, I am rambling all over the place, when really all I needed to have said was “check your junk drawer people”- but that would have been boring and there is already enough of that in the world, don’t you think? Well, that’s what I will be doing ALL DAY on Saturday and Sunday too- if I can sneak away. You should join me! I know you have a junk drawer- but have you gone through it recently? What kind of things did you turn up? I am eager to hear your success stories (and your failures- if you must). Leave me your comments and don’t forget to like and share!

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.”