Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reaching Out to Mary Barrett Washington, 1875-1942

During the summer of 2013, my brother Flick and I took a day trip to visit our Cousin Elizabeth Tyus (Cousin Lizzie)  in Ashtabula, Ohio.  While sitting around laughing, talking, and enjoying the meal she prepared for us, she revealed that her grandmother, Mary Washington, died and was buried in Chicago IL.  Cousin Lizzie was a child but she remembered that time when she saw her mother cry.  Her mother, Estelle Washington Tyus (Aunt Stella), had visited her sick mother in Chicago IL and came home when it seemed that her mother was stable.  A few days later she received the news that her mother had passed but she couldn't afford to go back to Chicago for the funeral.  Cousin Lizzie said that her mother held on to the phone, crying and wailing for a long time after the call had ended. 

Up until that point I had always thought that my great grandmother had died and been buried in Ashtabula perhaps living with her daughter, Estella.  Or maybe she had been buried in Mississippi, where she lived from 1900 until 1930  --  according to the 1900 through 1930 U.S. census records.  Yet another lesson to never assume with family research and the importance of talking with the elders!

So with the knowledge about my great grandmother's death, I virtually visited the Cook County Vital Records department where I found and purchased a copy of my great-grandmother's death certificate.



From November 11-16, 2014 I was in Chicago attending the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference (NABS).  I arrived a day early for the conference so I could locate my great-grandmother's grave site.

On November 11, 2014 I visited the Lincoln Cemetery, Cook County, Worth IL 

History of Lincoln Cemetery
In 1911, a group of black funeral directors approached the owner of Oak Hill Cemetery and proposed that a portion of the undeveloped land that he owned be opened as an African-American Cemetery. Mr. Olson agreed and Lincoln Cemetery was opened. Its first burial took place in April 1911.

Through nearly 100 years, Lincoln Cemetery has served thousands of well-known families.

Lincoln has grown through the years and today consists of three areas, each with a unique history and appearance. Old Lincoln is approximately 71 acres at the northwest corner at 12300 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago. Lincoln Cemetery South is approximately 23 acres at the southwest corner. Lincoln Cemetery East is approximately 18 acres on the northeast corner.
 from Lincoln Cemetery website  http://www.dignitymemorial.com/lincoln-cemetery




The office staff was extremely helpful, calling a caretaker to escort me and my daughter to the unmarked grave.  It was a beautifully serene area with few headstones.  It touched me that at the time my great grandmother died (December 1942), the family probably couldn't afford a funeral, let alone a headstone.  It was evident that probably many other families were in the same way financially.  

As we drove back to our hotel, my daughter was full of questions and I was happy to share what I knew about family connections and what the paper trail had revealed to me so far.  We called my mother later that day and she was amazed at my "find". Unfortunately, she doesn't recall ever meeting her grandmother or even hearing stories about her.  So I will continue to follow paper trails and try to get the remaining elders to open up about family history.






Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pieces of Me -- Saints Home C.O.G.I.C.

On October 1, 2014 the church I had known as Saints Home Church Of God in Christ was demolished.  Until news reports and the preservation efforts I did not know that it was the oldest synagogue in Buffalo NY, although I knew it had been a synagogue.



"Preservationists chain themselves inside oldest synagogue to prevent demolition
from The Buffalo News (Buffalo NY), October 12, 2014, page C3



Saints Home Church of God in Christ is where I was first touched by those soulful spirituals that still comfort me today.   Some of them include:
A Little Talk With Jesus
I Shall Not Be Moved
I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray
His Eye Is On the Sparrow
Every Time I Feel the Spirit
Pass Me Not

In addition to my parents and grandparents, this is the place that shaped my moral character.  I fondly remember what I now think of as "church before church" when the Mothers and/or Deacons of the church led Testimony  --  a tradition where you would stand before the congregation and publicly thank God for his blessings.  I also fondly remember Sunday School, chicken dinners, Easter programs, Christmas programs, and the first family of the church  --  Rev. and Mrs. Carl Roberson and their children, my church friends.

My father, Willis B. Williams, panted a larger-than-life picture of Jesus and it was dedicated in a ceremony in the Spring or Summer of 1961.   I am guessing at the season because my little brother Raymond was born in November 1960 and he is the baby in my mother's arms. The painting was right behind the pulpit and commanded your attention as soon as you entered the sanctuary.  

Adults:  Willis B. Williams, Evelyn O. Williams, Lucy  Brown; Children: Raymond L Williams (Baby), Steven A, Williams, Richard L. Williams, Willis Barry Williams, Sandra A. Williams


I remember my father on the floor of the living room painting this picture over a period of time.  Daddy painted the picture to donate to Saints Home in honor of my grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Brown  and my mother because that was their home church.  It was the first time I ever saw Jesus as a man of color.


This painting by Willis B. Williams was inspired by the scripture:

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.   Revelation 3:20 King James Version 

Although I did not attend Saints Home after puberty, I still feel saddened by the demolition. A piece of my growing up past no longer physically exist  --  for decades I passed the building that once housed Saints Home C.O.G.I.C.   Sometimes I even went out of my way to see it because it spoke to me in a way  --  connected me, transported me, and grounded me. The building may be gone, but . . .

Friday, September 26, 2014

The bride wore pink - Evelyn Orthelia Brown

My parents, Willis Burkett WILLIAMS and Evelyn Orthelia BROWN were married on Friday, September 26, 1952.  The bride wore a dusty pink gown.  My Mom told that was the fashion at the time.  (Two months later her sister, Verlie BROWN, married Raymond T. WALTON in an ice blue wedding dress.)  The maid of honor was my Dad's sister, Joan WILLIAMS.  The best man was Auntie Joan's boyfriend Isiah.

I always loved my Mom's wedding dress and she gave it to me  (or I kidnapped it) when I was in high school.  I never dreamed about wearing it because (1) it was a size that I never was, and (2) and I never planned on getting married.  However, I did have dreams for the gown  --  I wanted to have a master suite with the gown as the focal point on a dressmaker form.

Neither my Mom nor I ever did anything to preserve her gown.  It's been on hangers from one house move to another.  At any rate I think it still looks good even through a bit wrinkled.  I showed my Mon this picture today  --  the anniversary date of her wedding anniversary  --  and she was surprised I still had the gown.


From the Buffalo Criterion newspaper:
Mr. and Mrs. Willis Williams are cutting their cake at their wedding reception at the home of Mr. Williams uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Davenport, Friday, Sept. 26 following their wedding at 5 p. m. at the bride's home.  She is the former Evelyn O. Brown of 386 William St.  The couple spent the weekend in Detroit.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI)




July 8-10, 2014 I attended the second (my first) Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI) in St. Louis Missouri. .  It was held on the beautiful campus of Harris-Stowe State University, an historically Black public university.


The rallying challenge  --  So What?  --  was a real wake-up call.  This question forces you to really dissect that printed page of a document. You have a document from your ancestor -- so what? -- how are you going to process that information, pick apart that information, what exactly does it mean, where else will it lead you?

There have been so many times that I was so proud of myself for finding and/or acquiring a document about an ancestor.  But I never realized that it was just one step among many in genealogy research.  That document is not the end all be all.

The Institute offered four tracks.  Track 1: Fundamental Methods & Strategies for African American Research; Track 2: Technology and Social Media; Track 3: Pre & Post Emancipation Records Track 4: Genealogy As a Profession.  

I took Track 1 which was coordinated by Dr. Shelley Murphy, who along with presenters, Thomas MacEntee; Judy Russell, and Bernice Bennett, kept the class spellbound with their presentations.  

My brain is fried but I'm on a new genealogy mission  --  So What?


Sandra Williams Bush, top row, second from left
I am proud to be a member of the second annual Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute -- Class of 2014.  In the spirit of "Each one, teach one",  I refuse to hold on to what I have learned.  I will share information with my group, Buffalo Genealogical Society of the African Diaspora, and others interested in genealogy.   I look forward to MAAGI 2015! 


Friday, July 4, 2014

Griot Stroll

On Saturday, June 28, 2014 Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York presented a Griot Stroll with several members telling stories about Buffalo's Black History.  I told my mother's story, Evelyn O. Brown, relating to the historical area where we were telling.  Taking the liberty of a storyteller, this is the story I told:


Evelyn O. Brown

          On this stroll you will hear about the famous and the prominent features of the African American influence on this area. I am not famous and I am not prominent. My name is Evelyn Brown and I am one of the first generations of my family born in the north. I was born in Buffalo during the 1930s. Both my parents were born in Mississippi and several members of their families came to northern states during the Great Migration -- this was a period when African Americans moved from the South to the North for better opportunities for them and their children . The were following the great American dream just as European immigrants did went they made it to Ellis Island.

          This area had been home to African Americans since the early 1800s. I was a toddler when the Jessie Clipper Monument was established by the Common Council in 1935. It’s right over there on the corner William Street and Michigan Avenue. Private Clipper was the first Negro soldier from Buffalo to die in World War I. The monument stands in memory of the valiant service of Negroes in all wars . . . take a moment to visit it.
          The Buffalo I grew up in was a segregated city. I grew up in this area in the 1930s and 1940s and I remember when it was a thriving community. And more than that, it was a neighborhood. Children would walk to school together and then back home again at the end of the day. After we did our homework, had dinner, and did our chores, we got to play outside for a while. The boys would play games like stick-ball or marbles. The girls would play games like hopscotch or jump rope. We would play to sing-song rhymes like “Ring-Around the Rosie” and “Miss Mary Mack”.

          Right along this area and down William Street there were drug stores, restaurants, candy stores, cleaners, hotels, nightclubs, funeral parlors. We didn’t have to leave the community for anything. We certainly need to go downtown; of course most of the stores downtown didn’t want Negroes in them anyway unless we were the cleaning staff. That’s pretty much how I ended up working at the Michigan Avenue YMCA. I had a secretarial diploma from high school. My typing, shorthand and general clerical skills were very good -- I was at the top of my class; but Negroes weren’t hired to work the front offices of the white businesses and companies.

           Did you know that the Michigan Avenue YMCA was designed by a Black man? His name was John Brent. The Y had an important place in our community -- it was a gathering place, a communal place. It had a cafeteria, gym, swimming pool, barber shop, tailor shop, library; and classrooms, locker rooms, dormitory rooms, and billiard tables. I started going to the Y in high school. Several of my friends and I were members of a girls Hi-Y club. One of my fondest memories was a powerful little woman named Mary Chapelle, who taught us deportment classes -- that is, how to be a lady. There were also similar classes for boys and young men on how to be a responsible members of the community.

          The media did not report our news -- for that we relied on Ebony and Jet magazines. For local news and events we had the Buffalo Star and later the Merriweather family published The Criterion.

          So as I said in the beginning, I am not prominent in Buffalos’ Black history and I’m not famous. The Michigan corridor IS important to Buffalo’s Black history and it was important in my life.  I met my husband, Willis B. Williams, at the Michigan Avenue Y and we dated along the Michigan Avenue corridor.  We were married almost 60 years until he made his transition in 2011.

          My name is Sandra Williams Bush and this is the story of my mother, Evelyn O. Brown.

When I got home later I had two messages from a dna cousin on my mom's side; a branch that she doesn't really know about.  The Stamps family from Mississippi.  Ancestors calling my name . . .

Sandra Williams Bush
Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of WNY

Friday, March 7, 2014

Jones County, Georgia (1807-1907)

Through the library system of Inter-Library Loan (ILL) I was able to get the book, History of Jones County Georgia: For One Hundred Years, Specifically 1807 - 1907 by Carolyn White Williams.  I requested the book because my paternal great-grandparents, Turner WILLIAMS and Mary Jane BROWN, are from Jones County, Georgia and I wanted to get a feel for the area during the time they lived there.

There was information that I could further research, like:

" . . . the slaves in Jones County came in from the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland and were about four generations removed from the savage African Negro." page 32  (Okay the "savage" is a bit much but being four generations removed is very interesting.)

" . . . Until emancipation the negroes had no surnames, though often they used their owners.  After freedom they did, on most occasions adopt the family name of those with who they had lived."  page 68  (Is this why my last name is Williams)

 "The Negroes before the Civil War worshiped in the same buildings with the whites in the country churches" (page 66) and the list of "colored churches"  with organization dates, ministers, trustees and other information (pages 71, 72).


There are laughable statements such as  "In the North the slaves were never profitable, the negro was not suited for the cold climate.   The agricultural south suited him better as to climate and as to work. The work was manual, uncomplicated and routine; plowing, planting, cultivating and picking, from February to December.  He liked the South and was thriving in it." (page 100)  This particular statement had me laughing because (1) I have lived in the North all my life and so have both of my parents; and (2) it reminded me of a class in my freshman year of college.  I don't know what the topic of discussion was, but I clearly remember the philosophy class discussion in which a student said that Blacks didn't play hockey because their skin disintegrates in the cold.  This was in the northern winter cold when I had to take two buses to get to the college.  (I was the only Black person in the class and one of a handful in the entire college.)

There are also many statements about the loving "Mammy" and familial ties between the negroes and their white families.


But way in the back of the book were family names with brief genealogies that really caught my attention. "The first Williams came to America from Wales about 1620 to Culpepper, Co, Va.  John Williams and Mary Childers moved to Warren Co., Ga. in the late 1700s.  They had a family of four boys and six girls.  When Jones County was formed from Baldwin Co., these four boys were living near Blountsville. Samuel, Henry, John and Thomas Jefferson Williams.  . . . " (page 701).

WAIT A MINUTE!!!

(1)  There is a 13-year old Turner Williams (possibly my great-grandfather) listed in the 1870 Clinton, Georgia census on the same page as Thomas Jefferson Williams  --  and on the previous page is John Williams.
(2)  My European DNA is mainly from the Great Britain area.
(3)  A DNA cousin of European descent contacted me who is directly related to John and Thomas Williams.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mary Lane Button -- I'm trying to do the math!


Looking at various documentation, my great grandmother, Mary LANE BUTTON , has a birth span from 1869 to 1875 (a six-year span).  The more I find, the more questions I have . . .

Below is a letter from 1935 that my paternal great-grandmother Mary BUTTON sent to the county clerk in Georgia requesting a copy of her marriage record to my great-grandfather Henry BUTTON.   In the letter she states that they were married December 24, 1883.  She needs proof of her age to get "old age assistance". Following that is the response from the clerk's office.



Mary LANE BUTTON inquiry for marriage license






Response to Mary LANE BUTTON from Deputy Clerk, Bibb County, Georgia





Marriage License of Henry Button (Burton) and Mary Lane
from



The 1910 U.S, census lists the number of years married as 26 years which would be 1883  --  another verification of their marriage year.  My great-grandmother's age is listed as 41 which would make her birth year 1869 and she would have been 14 years old when she was married.  She is living with her husband, Henry BUTTON and five daughters  --  Florence, Ida B, Annie M, Bessie, and Verna E.  There is also an 18-year old niece, Fanny GROSS.  Residence: Macon Ward 1, Bibb County, Georgia.

In the 1920 census  my great grandmother's age is listed as 44 --  three years older in ten years  --  making her birth year 1876.  At this time she is a widow living with her so-in-law and oldest daughter, William and Florence BURKETT and their infant son, Joesph.   Also in the household are Mary BUTTON's two young daughters, Bessie and Lizzie (Verna). Residence:  Macon Ward 1, Bibb, Georgia

On to the 1930 census, her age is listed as 59 making her birth year 1871.  She is living in Detroit Michigan with her son-in-law and daughter, Charles and Ida B. RUSSELL and their adopted daughter, Cauurn (?) Johnson.

Of course the last available census is from 1940.  Her age is listed as 72 making birth year 1868. She is living in Detroit with her son-in-law, Charles and two lodgers.  (Her daughter, Ida B. BUTTON RUSSELL, is deceased.)

Below is the New York State Death Certificate  for Mary BUTTON.  The year of her birth is given as 1875  --  which would have made my great grandmother 8 years old when she got married!  Informant was her daughter, my great-aunt Anna Mae DAVENPORT.  At this time she was living with her son-in-law and daughter, Richard and Anna Mae DAVENPORT in Buffalo New York.



In each of the census years, I know of every one who is listed as members of my great grandmother's family  --  initially husband & children.  Later as a widow, she lived with her adult children.

I have documentation through census records and city directories that my great grandmother, Mary LANE BUTTON lived with each of her daughters at various times and for some reason I find that very comforting.  I just wish I could find out her birth year!