Thank you Bell Atlantic!!!

It all started when the telephone rang… and I took Bell Atlantic’s advice and let my fingers do the walking.

I don’t know who was on the other end of the line, but I’d like to shake their hand, for sure!

There I was sitting between Nana and Granddaddy during what was supposed to be a ‘quick’ in and out visit. Yes. I really made the 60+ mile journey with every intention of saying hi, give a hug and head back home. Stop being judgemental. I wasn’t making good on the leaving front, though. Nana wanted to know about EVERYONE… so, I had to give her the details of each of the children. I was nearly finished dispensing with all the required information, when, as I said previously, the phone rang.

I’m not sure how things work in the homes of your grandparents, but in Nana’s house- you don’t dare leave whilst she’s on the phone. So there I was sitting on the couch, twiddling my thumbs.

I think I might have reached for a magazine (always handy) on the coffee table in front of me. That’s when I saw it.

You know I had to pick it up. The first thing I noticed was that Nana had written her name in it, but that’s not unusual, as she does it with all her books. Then I began flipping, nonchalantly, through the book.

I was just about ready to close the book and put it back on the table, when I noticed this:

 The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I knew those names. I have been researching them for two and a half years. I looked to my Nana for explanation, but she was still on the phone, grabbing away. My Granddaddy was no help, either, so engrossed in the football game was he.

I flipped through again and found a section of pictures. I won’t share them here, but just know, their stories are coming.

When Nana finally got off the phone, we had a FABULOUS discussion about our family history and the people in the book. And look and behold, Granddaddy even chimed in! He told me out of his own mouth that Rev. Tyler, who’ve I’ve long believed was an important Pastor in an area church (during the years of inception) was indeed the person I believed him to be. Nana also agreed with this. Though, it’s odd that two years ago, when I was going down this rabbit hole, Nana vehemently disagreed with my findings and Granddaddy was silent on the matter- only chiming in to tell me to look into his brother’s death, because they always believed something happened other than what they were told in regards to his WWII death.

I also learned that a particular set of relatives were steered clear of because they were crazy… I’m sure if you asked those relatives about Nana, they’d say she was uppity- so, you know take it with a grain of salt.

Oh and Nana let this book come home with me- a most shocking thing. Though she admonished me to return it in the same manner she gave it to me, no less than 10 times. I have a mind to copy all 100 pages. Is that wrong or illegal?

Well, it has been two days and I have finished the first read through of the book. I’m sure there will be at least three or four more reads, each time learning and grasping more of the stories to be told.

Until then, let me leave you with a few things I have already learned…

*The area where my family lives in Stafford, VA, is called Brooke (unofficial, but recognized by everyone who is a resident). But why is it called Brooke? Well apparently, there was a man by the name of Brooke, who owned obscenely amounts of land in Stafford and Fredericksburg. As was the custom of the day, Brooke was permitted to name his lands. Surprise, surprise, he named them after hisself.

The author, a cousin of mine, not only verified this information through traditional documentation in 1980, but also through the first hand account of her grandfather, who was a SLAVE on the premises when it all went down.

This book also talks about the one and only Pocahontas AND John Smith. Guess what? That encounter took place in Stafford, County and not near James Town as I  and others had grown up believing.

I am so in awe of this find and I can’t wait til I can flesh out the stories to share them with you all. Have you ever come across a unique find or discovery that opened a door into the daily lives of those before you? What did you find? What did you learn from it? I definitely want to hear all about it! Leave me a comment and tell me everything! Of course, I’d love it if you could hit the like/share/follow buttons too?

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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!

The Common Wife…

How would you feel if you or your mother or sister or grandmother or any other female relative of closeness was referred to as a ‘common wife’? For myself, I am not entirely sure I am completely kosher about this… A wife is so much more than common. Right?

This brings me to Nathaniel. Or rather, Nathaniel’s common (law) wife. In 1920, Nathaniel is found in a Louisiana Census (as shown below) as a ‘roomer’. The Census also tells us that Nathaniel is married. Learning this drove me absolute bonkers, I swear.

Nathaniel Census.png

What kind of situation in 1920 leads a twenty-five year old husband to live in a Rooming House APART from his wife?At that age, how long could they have possibly been married? What problems could they possibly have had that were so severe a separation of any kind was called for?

But then again, I’ve watched WDYTYA and FYR same as you… I know that divorce, while frowned upon back then, did happen. I also know that there were also those rare occasions when brave women and the means to leave abusive or unjust situations would intersect and separations would occur. Could this be the case with MY Nathaniel? As you may well have guessed by now, I have a vivid imagination. So, you can only guess the wild things I was thinking as I continued searching out as much as I could on dear old departed Nathaniel…

Maybe he was a thug, who loved the street life… Could he have been an alcoholic, perhaps? What if he wasn’t the problem? What if this unknown wife was some kind of floozy, as my grandmother would say, and his heart couldn’t take her stepping out on him anymore? And then of course, there was the boring, no adventure explanation, like maybe he was away from home due to work… What if he came back to Louisiana to be near his dying parents (though, I almost immediately trashed this notion, as it seems extremely implausible, even more so than my adventurous guesses as to why he was married and in a rooming house.

In a followup search of Mr. Nathaniel, I came across his WWI draft which only confirmed a marriage, but did not (as you probably know) provide me with the lucky lady’s name.

Instead of finding some outlandish tale like those I described above and much like the writer in me wanted to find, I found Nathaniel’s Draft card for WWII.

Nathaniel Draft.png

Edna Johnson is his common [law] wife. I did not even know such a thing existed back then. I have so many questions… Why did these two people not get married? What happened to the woman with whom he was married to in 1920 and on his WWI draft? And who was she? Could Ms. Edna be the same person as the mysterious wife previously listed and if so, why would her title go from wife to common wife? I don’t get it.

I do not believe there is any official recognition of common wives. Again, I don’t get it.

Honestly, I don’t care if she is the same person or not.

I am stuck on this common law wife thing. But maybe that is my born in the 19 something’s women are empowered thinking. I feel like he is diminishing what a wife actually does and all the work that goes into being a wife… And he didn’t even live with her, so he wouldn’t even know any of this! Why would he not give her the honor of being his real, government recognized wife???

(I’m sorry. I will try to tone my indignation down.)

Even as I am typing out these words  my imagination- like a good friend- is right there, ready to run wild… What if they couldn’t get married! (For example, it was an interracial relationship)… Eh- but if that were the case, wouldn’t the same fear that kept them from wedded bliss keep him from putting common wife on an official Government document? Hmmm. More research is in order, clearly. Until then, I remain angry that he would not honor the lovely Edna before God and her church.

Have you ever gotten angry with an ancestor for a decision they appeared to make or not make? I would love for you to tell me about it in the comments! As always, likes, shares and follows are appreciated!

1920 US Federal Census. Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com Operations Inc 2010 Retrieved March 2017

US WWII Draft Registration Cards 1942. Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com Operations Inc 2010 Retrieved March 2017

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.

Come Out, come out wherever you are!

Jackson Harbert JrWe have all shouted those words at some point. They usually come when you are playing a rousing game of hide and seek and you are ‘it’ and you have given up your search of hiders… Or maybe, you’ve said them as a parent looking for your all to quiet children. I can recall saying these words in both situations. However. I never thought I would be saying them to a dead soldier.

That’s right. After weeks and weeks (sixteen, to be exact) of life keeping me to busy to talk with the dead or hear them when they were speaking or even check in on them and see how they were doing, I found myself uttering these words to a not so long dead relative….

His name is Jackson Harbert, Jr. Born 23 January 1914. Died 29 December 1989.

But before I get into this any further, I guess you need some back story information, right? Well, listen up kiddos because here it is. When I was twelve and many moons before I would become addicted to this drug called ‘genealogy’, a.k.a ‘family history’, my dad died. In 2005 and still before the moon would rise on my addiction, his father (my grandfather) died. And finally, a mere four months before my ‘awakening’ his ONLY sister would join them. His mother- my grandmother, still enjoys life on this side, however she has absolutely no interest in aiding and abetting me in this endeavor and I am told there may be two aunts (one from each side of his family) still walking and talking among us. But I have never met them and they wouldn’t know me if we stood right next to each other in the street. The point is, researching anything on my dad’s side of the family is hard on normal days and virtually impossible on nearly every other day.

So, last week, I finally managed to grab a few minutes and someone in my dad’s line had started whispering to me. And so it began. I started looking over the Johnson tree and its all to few branches. After some minutes or maybe even sixty of them passed, it finally jumped off the page and into my lap. Jackson Harbert, my 2x great-uncle, was a SENIOR. That means he had to have a son! By this time, the faint whispers had become a bit more audible and even more pressing. I was being encouraged to keep looking and to not stop. So, of course, I kept at it. I did finally find my 1st cousin, 2x removed in a Find A Grave record.

That was the ONLY thing I found. But, I learned a lot… For example, He was a WWII veteran. He died in 1989 and he was buried in Charlottesville, Virginia.Now, this is about the time my cousin decided to hide and when I started whispering, “come out, come out wherever you are”.

When I first sat down to take my few precious moments to do some investigating, it was approximately 9:3-pm. A quick glance at the clock told me it was going on 4am. My cousin was still playing this ridiculous game of hide and seek. By now, I was half begging and half screaming those infamous words, “come out, come out wherever you are”. He did not come out and I had to face a full day without any sleep and without the satisfaction of finding the hider…

I thought I had struck gold when one of my friends and non-genealogy enthusiast actually VOLUNTEERED to go to the cemetery and do some sleuthing for me. She agreed to go to the office and ‘badger’ them for the requested information. I just knew I was going to end the day victor of this hide and seek game… Do I even need to tell you that that’s not what happened? Must I tell you that there was no office or office person or anything/anyone of which answers could be extracted from?

My cousin, who had started this game, was mocking me. And he continued to taunt me, whispering in the dark of night, “come and find me. If you can.” I really wanted to wring his neck. I eventually took my frustrations to Facebook, where wonder of wonders, I was thrown a bone. Someone found his wife. I’m not sure how and wasn’t given a clear answer when I asked, so I was very leery of the information I had been given… A quick run to Ancestry proved fruitless, which is unsurprising, because according to this new ‘source’, she is quite possibly NOT pushing up daisies. I was even given a possible address to contact her. As of right now, I haven’t taken the plunge to contact  But her… But, I will.

It would be great if I could say this is where this thrilling game of hide and seek came to an end, but no. It appears that Jackson Harbert, Jr. has invited someone else to play… Carrie Oliphant has decided to play. I have no idea who Carrie is or how she fits into this tree or if she even is a part of this tree- all I know, is that she died and Jackson was the executive of her estate. (January 17, 1943. Waxahachie Daily Light from Waxahachie, Texas · Page 4)

So, here I go again… come out, come out wherever you are…

 

Big thanks to my Genealogy Chit Chat Family and all of my ‘sources’ within the group. And an especially big thank you to Sj- a super detective. Thank you to all of you who will read this and jump right in to help me solve this mystery- let me know if you need more info 🙂