Archive for the ‘Photographs’ Category

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




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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I recently had one of those amazing moments in genealogy that reaffirmed my belief that I was meant to this work, called to do this work, by forces beyond my comprehension.

I posted awhile ago about breaking through a brick wall using black newspapers. I had been stuck trying to trace my ancestor James Holt. I am really trying to find all the branches of the Holt family that left the area of Hardin County, Tennessee, and there were lots that left at various times & planted roots elsewhere.

Recently I was contacted by the granddaughter of that man, James Holt. She had been searching for her roots online and found me. We had a tearful & joyous conversation, as we shared stories about our lives and our historical paths. I had reclaimed another family member.

It gets even better. She shared wonderful photos of James M. Holt & his family. My heart leapt as I gazed upon this ancestor of mine who had left Tennessee, the son of an enslaved woman, and blazed a trail across the states (and I mean literally, in each census he is living in a different place) as a successful Methodist minister. Then he attended law school in Mississippi and practiced as a very successful lawyer in Indianapolis. One of the photos below shows him, I assume, in his law office surrounded by legal books.

James Holt & Family

The story didn’t end there. After talking more, I realized that one of my unidentified photos may have been her father. This is mainly because of her description of him as a police officer. And of course, yes–it turned out to be him! She was thrilled to have a photograph she had not seen before, and I couldn’t believe this obscure photograph I hadn’t looked at in years turned out to be him. Another unidentified kin–reclaimed. This experience just warmed by heart, and affirmed for me why I love genealogy so much.

Ferdinand Holt

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I’ve been given some gifts lately by the genealogy spirits. I think they are designed to gently ease me back into the fray after my maternity break of several months. This is another really good one.

I have made many connections over the years with relatives, as we discover we are both researching the same family or community. Last year, I spoke with a new cousin named Jahrod and we found we traced back to the same roots in Somerset County, Maryland. Recently, he shared with me an apparently new link that has recently been made available online. It’s a part of the Maryland Historical Trust, and it is an Inventory of Historic Properties in the state. It’s a beautifully designed website but the data is the true goldmine: all the original applications from historic places in Maryland have all been uploaded and are available to the public! Why did he send me this? I was up until 2:00AM. Trust me, when you have a new baby, that is NOT what you need to be doing..LOL. This is the homepage:

You can search by county, address, property or do a simple text search. Since I have two major ancestral counties in Maryland (Somerset and Montgomery) I was just in hog heaven.This is the search screen:

The beauty of these files is that many of them have pictures of the properties, which may not be standing today. There is good genealogical information as many have a chain of title for the deeds to the properties listed, maps showing specific locations, as well as a brief historical background. The quality of each application varies according to who filled it out. Some were sparse, and some ran more than 50 pages.

The jewel for Jahrod and I was that the entire community in Somerset County where our ancestors lived, which is called “Upper Hill”, was designated a historic site! Using these files, it is possible to recreate the entire neighborhood from right around the turn of the century. These forms were completed in the 1970s. One application mentioned one of my brickwall ancestors, the Rev. Daniel James Waters. He apparently owned land in Somerset County when he died intestate in Delaware in 1899. The land was awarded by circuit court decree to another man named John Waters. I have just ordered a copy of the court case, hoping that it will illuminate some relationship between the two men. I haven’t had a new breakthrough on this line in years.

The community of Upper Hill used to be referred to in the early 19th century as “Freetown”. This is likely a nod to the fact that the area was populated mostly by freed blacks, many of whom carried the surname Waters. The white Waters family was a large, multi-generational slaveowning family. A few members were Quakers and freed slaves in the early 1800s, including my ancestor Joshua Waters, who was the father of Daniel James Waters.

This database also had a large file on one of the houses of the slaveowning Waters family that is still standing. Lots of terrific history in that file. My friend Aaron over at In Honor of Our Ancestors told me last year that he found a file on the slaveowning family in a historical trust database. So I did a short walk around the web trying to see if a resource like this exists for other states. Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Arkansas are just a few of the states that seem to have similar databases online. Here are some links you can explore at your leisure (especially the 2nd link):

The National Register for Historic Places (NRHP) has started to digitize their over 80,000 files
Their site also had a terrific link to other states’ inventories that may be online (GREAT list)

Virginia has a 72 page PDF file of its list of properties and the files themselves are available to view at the Library of Virginia. For Virginia, also check here.

North Carolina simply had a list of historical preservation links, may be something hidden here.
Same for South Carolina.
Every resource counts. In my case, this one gave me a significant lead on a brickwall ancestors as well as provided lots of good historical information for my various write-ups. Please email me if you search and are able to find something significant in these records!


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Wordless Wednesday

Eugene and Darius Prather

Cousins of mine. They are sure looking dandy, aren’t they?

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I posted last week about my grandfather, William John Smith, who owned several pharmacies in Jacksonville, FL in the 1940s and 50s. I posted a picture of one of his stores:

A Willie Smith store

Well, he also ran a distributorship for Adolph’s Beauty Products, and sold their products wholesale at his stores and out of his home.

Guess who was the model for this line of business? His wife Pauline. If you look closely at the picture, you will see her mural painted big as day on the front of the store.

Pauline's mural

As a child, and even today, I always thought that was hugely romantic. Can I just tell you if my husband had my picture on the front of his store, I would be driving by every day to show all my friends? The town would be sick of me! LOL.

So, to Bill & Pauline..you make me sentimental.

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This post is about the grandfather I never got a chance to meet because he died when I was two years old.

William (or Bill as he was called) was born on October 6, 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was born into a working class family and lived in a poor neighborhood on the eastside of Jacksonville. He attended the public schools of the city, and in the picture below, he is shown as a young boy at the Midway school.

William Smith, dead center

His father, John, had migrated from Georgia at some point in the early 1900s and secured what would have been a good job at the Mason Lumber Company as a fireman. The company even sold him his house. Bill’s mother, Georgia Harris, died of pneumonia when he was a 23-year old man.

Bill and car

Bill seems to have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and at the age of 9, he started running errands for a local pharmacy. He later worked at another pharmacy owned by a Jewish man, called Bernie’s Pharmacy, and the two would share a lifelong friendship. Bill eventually worked himself up to where he could manage and run the entire pharmacy. This must have been exciting for him, to make a little money. In this picture on the right, he is a young man and posing in front of a car he had purchased.

Bill met my grandmother, Pauline Waters, while she was a first year teacher at the Methodist run Boylan School, a private school in Jacksonville for negro girls. She was one of three new black teachers at the school, and they were allowed to invite a local social group in for group discussions. The group was called “The Revellers”, and it just so happened that Bill was President of that group.

Bill is center bottom

Pauline was a staunch Christian, a minister’s daughter, and did not suffer fools. She had a very regal air about her, which comes through in this comment about Bill in her autobiography:

“I don’t know why Bill was so gone on me except by God’s leading because I was not the most attractive of the group. Let me say, however, that in all of my life I was never without at least one admirer and I never had to go get any one of them. I only made an effort to be charming, intelligent and sweet at all times…I had self-esteem all right and not more than I should have…Bill courted me three years and married me in the summer of 1938 on the lawn of my father’s Methodist Parsonage.”


Bill was clearly gone on Pauline. My grandmother saved a cache of love letters written between them in the years before and right after marriage. Bill says:

“Dearest Sugar Pie, I’m proud of the fact that such a darling girl as you is going to be my wife. Gosh, I feel silly looking forward to an event of this nature…”

“Pauline, I think about you every 1/1000th of a second…”

“Honey my love for you is again and again…”

Bill promised to work hard and make a good life for them and he fulfilled that promise. By the late-1940s, Bill had two pharmacies of his own, affectionately known around town as the Willie Smith stores. My father grew up working in those stores. Bill became a popular fixture in black Jacksonville of that era, known as being a hard-working (7 days a week) and generous man, and was often mentioned in the local newspaper. He was a trustee at Ebenezer Methodist Church, a member of Omega Phi Psi, on the board of directors for the Urban League, a president of the Jacksonville Negro Business League, and one of the founders of the colored YMCA.

A Willie Smith store

Bill with workers

News article

From Article

He did so well for the family, that they were able to afford a beach house at American Beach, which was the colored beach in Jacksonville. He was known for being extremely charitable, and would give money and time to those in need. He was a close friend of Eartha MM White, a woman who, along with her daughter Clara, reached national fame for her accomplishments. To say that Bill Smith was utterly beloved by the community would not be an overstatement.

Bill the minister

My father and uncle remember their father Bill as a man who worked all the time, and provided well for his family. Consequently, they don’t recall having too many conversations with him, which is why my father has always believed in having lots and lots of talks with me and my siblings. By the late 1960s, the heyday of the stores had passed and a depressed economy led to their closure. Undaunted, my grandfather began a second, though brief, career as a minister. That’s his wife Pauline’s work, I guarantee you.

I grew up knowing 3 of my grandparents, so this 4th one has always been a larger than life figure to me. I am fortunate to have not only a short biography he wrote about himself, but also his wife’s autobiography, and my dad, uncle and mother’s first-hand recollections. How I would have loved to know him.

I’ll close with a scene whose memory still moves my father to tears. Bill’s funeral, of course drew most of black Jacksonville out to say their final goodbyes. During the wake, after it had cleared out, an unknown woman appeared and walked up to the casket. She looked down at Bill, closed her eyes and sighed. My dad had no idea who this woman was, and when he walked up to her, she simply said.

“Your daddy was such a good man.”

Bill Smith

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Memories of Santa

Darren and Robyn, ca. 1976

Darren and Robyn, ca. 1976

In the spirit of being snowed in, here’s one of my favorite pictures of me and my brother.

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