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Vivian Waters

Vivian Waters

Yesterday, my family celebrated the homegoing of Vivian Waters. The sun was showing off a little for February and it was a perfect day for the transition of a spirit like hers from this world into the next.

Vivian was raised first on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and then later grew up in Philadelphia. She was hardworking from a young age, as most children of the Depression era were, and believed with a vengeance in education. She attended Delaware State College, where she met her husband Wellington Waters ( who was the brother of my grandmother Pauline). Vivian later completed her degree in French Studies at Howard University. She raised four children with her husband, giving them every educational opportunity possible and raising them with a firm hand of discipline. Her children and grandchildren were always at the center of her heart.

It had only been recently, within the last four years, that I got to know Auntie Vivian (as I affectionately called her) much better. Before, I’d mostly only seen her at family gatherings, but these last four years, we’d seen a lot of more of one another during the illness leading up to her son Skip’s 2010 passing from cancer.

Vivian had a wry sense of humor and loved to laugh. She was a master storyteller and had an opinion on everything. Though a small woman in stature, she had a larger-than-life presence. She had the kind of wisdom birthed from experiencing the hardships of life.

Vivian was a “tough” woman; that was almost universally the first adjective people used to describe her. She was not cut from the cloth of the average woman of that era who were mainly expected to fall in line, follow along, and most of all, do it quietly. Vivian was certainly not going to be quieted! I’ve always admired women with that kind of confidence and fortitude. She did not suffer fools lightly and spoke her truth at all times. She was so very *brave*.

There are so many valuable lessons and experiences our generation needs to continue to learn from her generation. Raised under the grip of Jim Crow, our elders forged a protective shield built around education, family, hard work and the pursuit of excellence. In the march of technology and more equal opportunity, we ought to remember and hold firm to the values they held.

And so it was yesterday, as we celebrated Vivian’s life in a little chapel on top of a hill, amidst plenty of tears but also a lot of laughter. Auntie Vivian, I thank you for the love you showed me and my son. I’ll miss the many long conversations we had about life and parenthood. They were such a gift to me.

In the end, all we could ever hope to have is what Vivian Waters had: a life well-lived on our own terms, with few regrets, a fierce love for family and a peaceful acceptance at death’s calling.

I will miss you, Auntie Vivian. I’ll still be working to find your connection to Luther Vandross;)

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Fifteen years into my research, I am still making incredible discoveries. This was a huge year for me in my family research. In many ways, some of these are even more satisfying than earlier discoveries, because they took piecing together evidence and clues in ways I couldn’t have done earlier. At any rate, it all serves to feed my genealogy addiction and continue to confound my mom, who cannot understand why I spend so much of my time doing this stuff;)

For 2013, my top five discoveries were:

1. Finding that Martha Simpson was born free in Howard County, MD, and her mother’s name was Louisa. Doing a census search one day, I found a freed black woman named Martha Simpson who was about the age of my 2nd great-grandmother. I had spent most of my time unraveling the enslaved roots of her husband Levi Prather, and hadn’t done much on her except for assuming (mistake #1) that she was from Montgomery County, like her husband.  This opened up a whole new road of research discoveries, including the name of her mother (her father’s name was known). This was super-sweet since I currently live in Howard County.

2. Finding the last slaveowner of Mason and wife Rachel Garrett. A footnote in an online book unlocked the mysteries of my 4th great-grandparents in Tennessee. Their roots were untangled by a combination of probate and land records, and the records show a migration with their white owners from Kentucky, through Alabama and eventually Tennessee.

3. Finding my Florida great-grandmother’s maiden name, Matilda Neely, and the names of her parents, Charles and Lavinia Neely. This remains my proudest genealogical accomplishment (for now;). A marriage license from a 3rd marriage unlocked Matilda’s roots by providing her parents names. Matilda married 4 times in 2 different states & 3 different counties, but only appeared in the census with husband Number 2. Inaccurate and incomplete information on various records combined with those marriages had obscured Matilda’s true identity.

4. Finding numerous articles in the online African-American newspapers the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American newspapers. I found almost one hundred articles on various members of my family. I found marriages, deaths, obituaries, occupations, commentary, addresses, church affiliations, social activities and more. The richness of these records and what they add to my family’s story is unequaled. The one below is about my grandfather who died when I was 2.

Granddad
Granddad

5. Discovering the names of the parents of Mary Curtis, my 3rd great-grandparents George and Maria Curtis. I didn’t blog about this, but Maryland Death Certificates (up to a certain decade) are now digitized on-site at the Maryland State Archives. I went on what I call a “fishing expedition” where I decided to pull African-American  death certificates with the surname “Waters” who lived in Somerset County. There are many different Waters families, and I was trying to sort out some of the families.  I came across the certificate for Mollie Waters, and later realized it was my ancestor. What I realized is that when I first started researching, I probably searched for “Mary Waters” and found nothing. I didn’t know then to search for nicknames, so this was a terrific find.

I hope these discoveries are encouraging to everyone. Keep reading the “how-to” articles, keep taking classes, online & otherwise, keep attending conferences, and keep reading genealogy journals about how others solved their genealogical puzzles. It all contributes to honing your skills, and the next big discovery is always right around the corner!

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MP900390424Sometimes—well, probably a lot of times—our research veers off into an unexpected direction. Usually its because we come across a person or a circumstance that is of interest.

My 3rd great-grandfather, Perry Simpson, married a woman named Margaret Fleet. I found her family quite interesting, even though she technically is not a blood relative.

After their marriage, they lived in Montgomery County, MD, but Margaret was originally from Washington, D.C, which is my own birthplace. Margaret can be found on the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records in the 1st Ward of Washington D.C., a freed black woman before general emancipation came. By 1860 she had 7 children: Robert, Annett, Cora, Edward, Augustus, Willy and Mary. After those years, Margaret appeared in Montgomery County, MD with her new husband Perry Simpson.

This is the record that made me “turn left” (click image to enlarge):

1880UnitedStatesFederalCensusForEdwardFleet

1880 Census

  I was fascinated by the fact that Mary’s father’s birthplace was “Mexico.” Was this a fluke? Was he really Mexican? I started tracking this family through the available records. Although Margaret birthed many children before her marriage to Perry –9 according to the 1900 census—no known record documents a marriage to any other man.

In 1850, Margaret was a freed black woman in a city bursting with contradictions. Amid thousands of freed blacks living and working in the city, were enslaved “quasi-free” people, many of whom were working and living on their own while paying their masters monthly fees. Washington had been the site of an active slave trade, and a notorious slave pen making it an easy target for abolitionists looking to shame the young nation. In 1850, the slave trade was finally outlawed in D.C. During the next decade, events would continue to escalate around slavery, finally culminating in Civil War. In 1862, slavery itself was outlawed in the district creating a haven for thousands of enslaved people from the surrounding states. “First Freed: Washington D.C. in the Emancipation Era,” edited by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis is a good book to read to understand what life was like for African-Americans in D.C. at that time.

Margaret had been fortunate; she came from a family of skilled artisans. Her father was Henry Fleet Jr., a freed black shoemaker from Georgetown, who learned the trade from his father, the senior Henry Fleet. Today, Georgetown is a mecca of white wealth and privilege, but it had historically been home to a thriving freed black community. Henry Fleet Sr. purchased his wife Ann and “5 or 6 children” and later freed them, something many skilled blacks were able to do if allowed by the slaveowner. Henry Fleet Sr. was doing well enough that several boys were apprenticed to him in the early 1800s to learn the trade of shoemaking. An 1803 apprenticeship document notes that “He purchased his son Henry Jr. in 1812 and he is also a shoemaker.

In 1864, while living at K Street and 21st street, Margaret was assessed $25 in the brand new federal tax system as a “Retail Liquor Dealer”. In 1870, Margaret is still in D.C., and her daughters Annie (living with her) and Cora living next door are both dressmakers. This would have been one of the best occupations for a freed blackwoman of that era. I wonder if they would have known Elizabeth Keckley, the freed black dressmaker for Mrs. Lincoln?

In that same 1870 census, Sarah Carter, Margaret’s mother, is living with her and is 100 years old! Margaret also owns $1000 worth of real estate, no small feat for a black woman.

U.S.IRSTaxAssessmentLists1862-1918ForMargaretFleet

1864 Tax Assessment

1870 Fleet

1870 Fleet

In 1873, Margaret opened an account with the Washington D.C. branch of the Freedmen’s Bank, naming her new husband Perry and her children:

Freedmans Bank

Freedmans Bank

Her sons Robert (a policeman) and Edward also opened accounts. Most of Margaret’s children can be tracked through their marriages, vital and land records and city directories in D.C. The death certificate of her daughter Annett names a “Greg Jarvis” as her father. That man, Greg Jarvis, appears in the 1850 and 1860 Washington D.C. census also living in the 1st Ward. By 1860 he is married with children:

1850 Jarvis

1850 Jarvis

1860 Jarvis

1860 Jarvis

In these records, Jarvis is shown as being from Mexico and also New Mexico–it was probably the Territory of New Mexico (it was not a state yet). The Mexican War had just been ended by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the country was also reeling from the recent Compromise of 1850. I wonder what would have brought him East?

Jarvis also went from being a “mulatto” in 1850 to being “white” with an Irish wife in 1860. So what his racial background is exactly we can’t quite tell. This man appears to be heading two families, at least for awhile: one black, one white. It is unknown whether he fathered all of the children of Margaret Fleet, but documents tie him to at least 3 of her children.

A mortgage executed in Montgomery County in 1911 noted Margaret’s date of death and listed all of her heirs living at the time, who had inherited her land:

“Edward G. Fleet, Sr. & wife Lucinda William Fleet & his wife Blossie, Mary Fleet, widow Harry Fleet, unmarried, Anna Grant, widow Cora Lemos, widow Augustus Fleet & his wife Sarah, Mary Lemos & her husband Beverly”

Margaret, amazingly, lived into her early 90s, long enough to leave a death certificate:

Death Cert

Death Cert

Margaret’s life was pretty interesting and only goes to prove that sometimes veering off-course is absolutely well worth it.

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November 2012

November 2012

It’s that time again! I will be teaching my “Advanced African-American Genealogy Class” at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD. The class is 4 weeks, one night a week (Tuesday) May 21-June 11 from 7-9pm, and I hope those in the local DC/MD Metro area will consider coming.

The class is geared for those who have gone past census and vital records, and perhaps are at a stalemate in their research. In the class I cover:

Evidence Analysis
Source Citation
Land and Probate Records
Slave Research
Inferential and Cluster Research

The class is $79 and you can register online here under the Non-Credit link. The class code is XE-131-6655. Directiosn to the Gateway Campus building can also be found on the HCC website. Please register soon–they cancel the class if they don’t get enough students before the class is scheduled. We have a great time in the class and I enjoy teaching it.

On another exciting note, I recently got to meet the wonderful Isabel Wilkerson, author of one of my favorite books, The Warmth of Other Suns. I told her–and this is true–I am her NUMBER ONE fan! She gave a lively talk to a room of about 400 people, and I stood in line until 10pm to get my books signed! She was gracious and kind and took her time to speak with everyone. If you still haven’t read the book that everyone is raving about, RUN and get it. Both the story and her writing of the story combine for a glorious read. I’m trying to learn how to write like that!

With Isabel Wilkerson

With Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns

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Hot Posts and Genealogy Class

I recently updated my list of favorite posts, and it is located on the tab above entitled “Hot Posts.” I have broken the topics up by the areas of Methodology, Slave Research, and Records & Resources. I hope you’ll check out the list and let me know what were some of your favorite “Reclaiming Kin” posts. I invite you to explore the numerous other excellent African-American themed genealogy blogs I provide links to on the bottom right of the home page.

Also, one last call for the Advanced African-American Genealogy class I will be teaching that starts next week, Nov. 13 and runs every Tuesday night from 7-9 through Dec. 4 at Howard Community College, Gateway Campus in Columbia. In this class (aimed at the Intermediate or Advanced level researcher) I explain evidence evaluation and analysis, land, estate, and court records, slave research, cluster genealogy methods and more. If interested, you can sign up on the HCC website and register for the class. The class is a part of the Non-Credit courses, and has become something I really enjoy teaching. I’ve you’re in the local area and think you’re “stuck” in your research, do come out.

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This is the kind of story that just makes you feel good all over. About 12 years ago, my aunt presented me with a very old bible that was found in my grandparent’s house in Dayton, Ohio. When my grandfather passed away, my aunt and mother were cleaning out the house, and happened to find it. My aunt knew I was into genealogy, so to me it went. The bible had been time worn, and was falling apart.

Although I couldn’t find a publication date, I’d guess it dates from the turn of the century. It contained a few obituaries cut from newspapers, and several pages of assorted of births, deaths and marriages (some from the 1800s). That information is hard to come by, and would be  solid gold for that family.  Historic surnames listed in the bible include Morton and Grey (in addition to Hughes). The bible clearly at one time belonged to Walter Louis Hughes (b. 1912) and his wife Emma (Lee), who were from Maysville, Kentucky, located in Mason County:

Walter & Emma Hughes

Births

Walter’s parents were Walter Hughes Sr. and Bertie (maiden name unknown). Walter had migrated with his wife and children from Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio, and probably lived in the house my grandparents eventually bought, or one of the houses they owned. Walter and Emma had a large family—I counted at least 10 children in the Bible (Goldie, Mary, Emma, Ruth, Walter III, William, Joyce, Audrey, Michael, and Trenia). Walter’s obituary was cut out & placed in the bible:

Walter Hughes Jr. Obit

At that time, online resources were few. Afrigeneas was one of the first major sites to focus on African-American centered genealogy and using Afrigeneas, I posted my information looking for these families. Amazingly, I got an email back from Mary, whose mother was from Maysville and a Hughes cousin in this family. She was thrilled and excited. Her mother is also involved in preserving Maysville African-American history.

After that, I dropped the ball. I don’t know what happened. Probably just the stuff of life, but nothing else happened. A few months ago, while preparing for a renovation, I came upon the Bible again, buried deeply in my basement. Fortunately, I had printed out the email from Mary and placed it in the box, but that was from 2002. I called the numbers, feeling awful about not having sent it when I had the chance.

But as the spirits would have it, Mary’s phone numbers were the same! I called and she remembered our correspondence all those years ago. I absolutely believe the spirits have a hand in it when something like this happens. I sent the Bible immediately, because I know if that were about my family, I’d just about die to have it. I also digitized the pages. Even though the Bible is not in the immediate family (i.e., one of Walter & Emma’s children), I feel really good that is within the extended family and back in Kentucky where it belongs. I wanted to post it here just in case any of Walter or Emma’s descendants decide to do an internet search one day on their family.

Just because I couldn’t resist, I looked up Walter and Emma and found them in Kentucky in the early 1900s.

Walter and Emma, 1940

Walter and Emma, 1930

Walter's parent's

Walter with Parents, 1920

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One line of my family has sadly lost three members within the past nine months. Stanley Prather passed away last year on July 16, 2011, at the age of 87.

He was a vibrant, generous and caring man, and he is actually shown in the “Reclaiming Kin” montage above, fourth from the left standing in the back. I love the picture of him below as a young man holding his trumpet:

Stanley Prather

Kevin Johnson (Stanley’s nephew) passed away on August 6, 2011, far too soon. He was remembered by all always with a smile on his face.

Kevin Johnson

Theodore

 

 

At 97, our oldest family member, Theodore Prather passed away this Monday, March 5, 2012. I was fortunate to have done a lengthy video interview with Theodore about five years ago (picture on left). His mind was sharp and he shared valuable family history and many memories of our family with me. I enjoyed the many conversations we had.

Below is a photo of Theodore and his lovely wife, Theresa, on their wedding day (taken by the famed Washington D.C. Scurlock photography studio):

 

 

Theodore and Theresa

 

 

Fortunately, we were able to gather together for a large Prather family reunion in 2009. All three were proud family men who left legacies of love and joy to their communities, wives, children, and siblings, and all are deeply missed. They have crossed over to the Ancestor world, and I honor their memories and thank God for their presence here on Earth.

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