Tuesday, November 12, 2013

5th Edition Carnival of African American Genealogy ~ REBIRTH: Raise Your Hands to Heaven

"Yes, Lord," "Amen" and "Thank you, Jesus" were the words being spoken by various members of the congregation during Sunday's sermon. Some shouted, others whispered, a few of them stood up raised their hands towards Heaven while praising God.  I even saw one lady get the Holy Spirit once; she cried out, danced around then fainted.  I remember the ladies sitting her down in the pew and fanning her.  I asked my grandmother was she okay and she said, "yes chile (pronounced like child without the D), she's got the Holy Spirit".  She may have said "ghost" instead of "spirit" but that part I don't remember.  That lady wasn't the only one dancing for joy in the aisle, a lot of people were praising the Lord in the aisles.  I didn't know what was going on but for a ten year old, I was  mesmerized.  I spent more time looking around than I did listening to the sermon.  Don't worry, my grandmother would lean down and whisper in my ear “turn around”.  I remember feeling so proud sitting next to her, I felt like such a big girl even though my feet never touched the floor.  

I called my grandmother Rebecca Montgomery “Nanny” (no one knows why).  My mom thinks her name came from one of the kids trying to say “Granny” and it came out “Nanny” but no one knows for certain.  It’s just one of those nicknames that stuck. To my mother, she was mom, to the little kids she was Nanny and to the older members of our family she was called Aunt (pronounced ain’t) Sis.

Nanny and her husband (who we called Uncle Clem) lived in Detroit.  I usually stayed at their house for a few weeks in the summer.  I loved going there because there were so many kids for me to play with.  My cousins lived across the street.  Every time I went to their house, their mother who was very religious would hold bible study classes for us (and give us homework).  She really encouraged my spiritual development.  I enjoyed learning with them just not the homework.  

Nanny and I always went to church on Sundays.  Our day started with me getting the paper off the front porch then us cooking and eating breakfast.  Nanny showed me how to cook sometimes I resisted, after all wasn't I a guest?  Why did I have to cook, clean and do dishes?  I was an only child and was well loved by my parents and grandparents (not spoiled).  Like most kids my age, all I just wanted to go outside and play.  She wasn't having any of that, with a gentle loving hand she continued to show me how to do all those things.  It wasn't until later that I understood what type of woman she was teaching me to be and for that I will forever be thankful.

Breakfast usually consisted of grits, bacon, eggs and toast. I still make toast in the oven the way she use too. She would have coffee with her breakfast. I use to beg her for a cup and she always turned me down saying “coffee makes you black" and "it will stunt your growth”. She only let me drink coffee once or twice and I didn't like it.  No matter how much sugar and cream I put into the cup, it tasted awful.  To this day, I don't drink coffee in any form. I wonder if that drinking coffee back then is why I’m only 5’2” now; after all she did warn me...lol.

We would get ready for church after I finished the dishes and we had planned dinner for the night. Nanny always sat at the table in the kitchen talking to me while I did the dishes. I miss those talks with her; she was a very smart woman.  Once we were dressed, we would get into her Buick and head to church. The one thing I remember is how hot those seats were in the summer. I burned my legs so many times in that car. I would sit on my hands or whatever else I could find until the seat was tolerable.  Nanny, well she always had a cushion that she sat on, now I know why.

She was a faithful member of Alpha and Omega Spiritual Church of Christ.   The church was loud and full of activity.  The choir sang beautifully and the minister was preaching the word.  During the summer, the church was so hot; it felt like I was sitting in an oven. Sometimes I fell asleep because it was so hot (don't judge, I was a kid).  Everyone had a fan to help with the heat.  I remember the one that my grandma gave me; it had a picture of Martin Luther King on one side.  I spent more time playing with it than I did fanning myself. All the women were dressed they wore hats, gloves and nice dresses. Everyone was in their Sunday best ready to receive the word of the Lord. 

The main thing that I remember about going to that church was how it felt so inviting like coming home to a big loving family.  For me, Church wasn't just about the religion; it was also about the fellowship, the community.   There was something powerful yet scared within those walls, it was a great place to learn and grow while receiving the word of the Lord.  We were united as one while our spiritual needs were being fulfilled.  As a child, I remember sitting close to Nanny just taking it all in.

Sundays were very sacred to Nanny. I wasn't allowed to play cards, jacks, listen to secular music or leave the front porch to play with the neighborhood kids.  I wasn't even allowed to cross the street in front of her house, she always made me go to the corner and cross.  Yes, I walked to the corner (only two houses down) every time to cross the street.  My cousins would just run across from any side but me, I went to the corner.  

Nanny was very adamant about keeping the Sabbath day holy.  The only music she allowed all day was her Mahalia Jackson albums and the gospel programs on the radio.  Sometimes we sit in her living room (something we rarely did) and listen Mahalia sing.  Nanny would sit in her favorite chair and I would sit on sofa (that was covered in plastic).  Unlike my parent’s house, Nanny's sofa was covered in plastic.  I didn't know why nor did I understand it then.  All I remember was getting up with the plastic stuck to my legs every time I stood up.  I remember only sitting in there when Nanny allowed it.  Other times we would sit on the porch while the records/program played.  I wouldn't change those moments with her for anything in the world.  I loved the times we spent together.

                      Nanny and Uncle Clem in front of their house in Detroit

Alpha and Omega Spiritual Church of Christ (Detroit, MI)
Photo courtesy of Google Maps


My cousin Lisa (Aleshia) and I on Easter Sunday April 1967 (both of us are 4 yrs old).  Notice how I am not sitting on the sofa (covered in plastic).  Nanny had very good taste, look at the gorgeous sofa and the beautiful curtains.  

Easter Sunday, April 1967
Standing l-r: Halima's sister, Uncle Clem, cousin Peter, Halima  (Lisa's mother), Nanny.  Second Row:  Aleshia (always called Lisa), her cousin, me.  Front row: Lisa's cousin.  The stoop that I always sat on is on the left next to Lisa.

                                       Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church (Standing Rock, AL) 
                                                     (final resting place for Gloria, Nona and Odessa)
                                              photo courtesy of Kathy Brown

 Know that you are VICTORIOUS in every situation, because..."Thanks be to God who always causes us to TRIUMPH in Christ"... 2 Cor 2:14 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You For Your Service

As a military veteran, I can't tell you how many times people have said to me "thank you for your service". There has only been one time when hearing that did not make me smile. I was coming home from being deployed and this lady stops me and says thank you for your service.  She then proceeded to tell me with tears in her eyes that she lost her 19 year old daughter in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.  It took everything I had not to cry with her but I felt her pain and knew my tears would make it worse.  I hugged her and told her she should be proud that her daughter joined the military to keep our country safe.  It takes a brave and courageous person to make that decision.  I thanked her for her daughter's service and the sacrifice she made for our country.  I also thanked her for supporting her daughter because I know what it's like when you're at basic training or away from home the only thing that keeps you going is your family.  She let out a breath, patted my arm, said thank you and then walked away.  I still tear up when I think about how much pain she was in.  So many parents, spouses, friends and children have lost someone during our conflicts; and it never gets easy.  

I will admit that it took me being out of the military to fully understand what it means to a veteran.  We as a country honor our vets on November 11th every year, many places offer military discounts to veterans, active duty members as well as their family.   A lot of people may not know the full sacrifices that each member as well as their family makes, some give their lives for our country.  People in the military don't ask for much, they proudly serve their country with honor. 

I can say that not every place is a good place to be stationed, the pay isn't the greatest (many families struggle) but the camaraderie amongst members cannot be matched.  I was lucky to meet a lot of people that had I not joined the Air Force, I would never have met.  I wouldn't change that for anything in the world.

I found out that my family has a few veterans.  I am so proud of them for choosing to serve their country, especially during the times when they may not have been treated fairly.  I honor their service and appreciate their sacrifices as well as those made by their family.   I've come across a few during my research and will add them to my list as I find them.  

Dad at 17

My dad and I
My paternal grandfather Felix Parker served in WWI and registered for WWII (I am still verifying this war). He was a sergeant in Company E of the 812th Pioneer Infantry. The 812th Infantry was one of 16 African-American regiments that made up the Black US Army bands.  They entertained servicemen and civilians in Europe (except 810 and 812 they remained stateside) America with "traditional military marches and concert band fare, but also with minstrel shows and revues, and with the latest flavor of ragtime music, which they called jazz.   These non-combatant black troops worked as stevedores, dug trenches, graves, and latrines, and built hospitals, roads, bridges, and railroad lines" (Lefferts, 2012). 
Source Information: Lefferts, Peter M., "Black US Army Bands and Their Bandmasters in World War I" (2012). Faculty Publications: School of Music. Paper 25. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/musicfacpub/25

Felix Parker WWI Registration Card
Source information: Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005

I found this draft card is interesting because it lists a wife and 6 year old child.  I believe this is my grandmother Edna and her mother but I haven't been able to verify it yet.

WWII Registration Card
Source Information. Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010
When I look at his WWII registration card, I wondered what made him want to serve again at 54 years old. Was it for a better life for his family or a desire to service his country?  I think it was to serve his country and I am so proud of him.  I wish I knew him but I know through my father and my mother I will get to know him.

My paternal 3rd great grandfather Robert Moses Hafford was born 1845 in Warren, Kentucky.  He volunteered on 26 June 1864 to serve with the Union in the Civil War.  He served in the 1st United States Colored Heavy Artillery at 19 years of age. 

Robert Hafford Service Record
Source Information: Ancestry.com. U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1881-1865 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Robert and Felix (and my father) are just a few of my ancestors who volunteered to serve their country.  I will add more later.  

Happy Veterans Day!  Take the time to thank our military veterans, active duty members and their families for their service and dedication to our country.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Embracing Edna

My paternal grandmother Edna Mae Vandelia Frances Parker was born in 1910 to Ethel and Felix Parker of Danville, Illinois.  I really thought searching for her would be easy, boy was I wrong.   Little did I know how many Edna Parker’s there actually were in Illinois.  Thank goodness, my father sent me a copy of her death certificate and obituary.   I now had the names of her parents (or so I thought) and her birthplace.   I could not find her in anything with John and Ethel as parents.   I called my mom, she told me that my great-father’s name was Felix not John (as listed on her death record) and Edna was raised by her grandmother.    

Edna 1910
Armed with this new information (the correct names), I went back to the “drawing board”.  Touchdown!  I found a nine year old Edna in the 1920 census (page 25) living with her grandmother Josie, a cook and her aunts Emma, Helen and Ruth.  

Source Information:   Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT. USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Where are her father Felix and her mother Ethel?  When did Edna go to live with her grandmother and why?  Did she and her mother go after Felix left to serve in the war?   Felix's 1917 WWI registration card lists a wife and 6 year old child (WWI Draft Card).  He is claiming exemption from the draft because he is their sole source of support  whom he is claiming to be their sole support thus claiming exemption from the draft.  Is this Ethel and Edna?  All signs are pointing to yes but further research needs to be done to confirm.  

I found Felix in the same 1920 census (page 18) as Josie (Edna's grandmother).  (1920 census ).  Felix is 31 years old listed as married and working as a miner in a coal mine.  Also living in his house are Florence Hamilton, 25 year old divorcee and (his housekeeper) and her 5 year old daughter Lillian.  Why are they living with him but not Edna?  Again, where is Ethel?  

An interesting discovery on Florence, she is in the 1910 census listed as an inmate in the Illinois Home for Girls in Geneva City (census).  The state training school for girls was established in 1893 to reform wayward girls ages 10 to 18.   There is some really interesting information out there about the "school".   Here is a video from YouTube about the school (Geneva School) and a few other fascinating articles about the school:  http://geneva.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/beware-the-girls-school-ghosts and http://rudyclai.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/the-hauntings-of-the-geneva-bad-girls-school/.

Goodness, I didn't mean to get side tracked.  I am finding that as I research one person, I always seem to branch off in another direction.  

Edna 1918

Edna married Judge Allen on May 28, 1925 in Monroe County, Indiana. She was 14 years old and Judge was 25 years old and divorced.  Here is their marriage record from Familysearch. ( 
marriage record)

Finding that information led to more questions (which I know is the norm during genealogy research). Why did they run away to Indiana to get married?  I do know that Judge was living in Indiana in 1920 with his first wife.  So when and where did Edna meet Judge?  Did his job (janitor for the rail road) in Bloomington, Indiana take him to Danville, Illinois (2 hours away)?   Why was Edna's birth year is listed as 1904 when she was actually born in 1910?  Edna was actually 14 years old when she married 25 year old Judge.    

My beautiful Grandmother Edna
(year unknown...for now)

Edna and Judge had six children Fatima, Constantina (Connie), Judge Jr, Christina (Chris), Drew and Derrick. 

Left to right: Dad, Chris, Drew and cousin Pee Wee

In 1930, Edna, Judge and their two children Fatima and Connie lived in East Chicago, Illinois.  Also living in the house was Virgil Allen listed as a brother-in-law, a nephew Jack Hunter and a boarder Walter Johnson.  Judge's occupation was listed as a janitor in a steel mill.   I am curious about this household because both Judge and Virgil list their birthplace as Louisiana when I other reports have Judge's birthplace a Mississippi.  So I will do more research on this later.  

1930 Federal Census
Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census (database on-line). Provo. UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002

By 1931, my grandmother was 21 years old.  She had been married for seven years and had just lost one of her two children.  Her daughter Fatima (1925-1931) passed away in January after a lengthy hospital stay.  As a parent, I cannot image what it's like to lose a child.  My heart still breaks for her. 

In 1940, Edna, Judge and their daughter Connie were living in Detroit, Michigan.  On this census, Judge's birthplace is recorded as Mississippi which now leads me to believe Edna answered the census questions in 1930.  I say this because on their marriage license Judge's birthplace is also listed as Louisiana.  Judge's occupation here is a cement finisher for the city.  

1940 Federal Census
Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2012

My grandfather Judge passed away in 1955.  I didn't know much about him and until recently, I've never seen a picture of him.  I asked my father about him and he said no matter the situation, his father was always positive.  Kind of like the person who is thankful for having a glass to put the liquid in never sees it as half empty or half full.  As far as I can remember my dad has never said a bad word about anyone.  I remember him always saying, “If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all”.  I plan on sitting down with my father to learn more about his father.   

Grandma Edna and Grandpa Judge
(I love this picture of them)

My first memory of my grandmother Edna was of her in the kitchen cooking.  She was a great cook and she made best pound cake and macaroni and cheese.  I still marvel at her cooking techniques.  I don't remember her ever using measuring cups.  She measured everything with her hands.  One time she tried to teach me but unlike her, I could not stick my hand into the flour and come out with exactly a cup.  

She always sat in the living room in a recliner next to the window.   We spent a lot of time looking out the window.  There was a playground across the street but she rarely let me go there because she didn't think it was safe.  My grandmother was the nicest woman; she had such a kind heart.  She always put everyone else’s needs before her own.

Grandma Edna by the window!
In junior high, I had an assignment for my civics class which was to write about the Depression and WWII.  She was one of the people that I interviewed.  This is her interview.  Her words exactly as she said them.  This is not meant to offend anyone only explain her life during that time. 

     “Well there was a depression in 1931.  There was no food so we had to go to the soup line.   They would allow everybody to come and get some skim milk to drink and carry home with you and they would allow each person so many stamps to get meat with.  The only meat that you could buy was horse meat, and thank God I never had to buy it.  There just wasn't any work for people to do and very few people could get help from the welfare.  We had no money to buy no clothes with.  We wore what we had.  Some of the kids had no shoes to wear and had to go barefoot in the summertime.  I worked for a dollar a day, eight hours for a dollar a day.  Some of the men were making six dollars a week.  I cleaned house, I worked for white people, Jews mostly.  They work you to death.  They set the clock back on me.  So when I get out of there and I see a clock, the clock was much faster than the clock where I was working.  They didn't want to give me car fare.  I had to pay my own car fare.  They had streetcars then.  Car fare was six cents then.  You had to work hard too.  Do all the washing, ironing, scrub the floors, wash the walls, clean the steps, clean bedrooms, I did the whole house.  They weren't prejudice then as some people are today.  I got a job at a bakery.  I would make pies.  The woman I was working for was telling the people she was making the pies.  The Jews would give you a lot of junk.  Something they didn't want and it wasn't worth wearing.  I was so ashamed that when I got outside and pass an alley, I would throw them in the alley, as poor as I was.  Sugar was five cents a pound and bread was ten cents a loaf.  The thing I remember most about the war was that there was a big parade at the end.  There were a lot of people sitting in the street watching the parade go by.  We use to entertain soldiers in our home”. 

Letter from Grandma Edna
I joined the military when I was 23 (1985).  It was the first time that I have ever been apart from my family.  I wrote letters whenever I could and my grandmother wrote one to me that I've kept all these years.  When I decided to frame it, I spilled something on it and ruined the letter.  I am heartbroken, it is the only note I have from her.  I hope to one day be able to restore it.  She always looked out for me and I love her just as much today as I did then.  The one thing that stands out  from this note is the fact that she is cautioning me about running up my phone bill.  I smile when I think about that, she was always thinking of someone else. When I would go weeks without calling she would forget my voice.  I would call, say hey and start talking.  She would say a very slow hello and was always polite until she realized that she didn't recognize the voice.  Then she would ask so sweetly "who is this".  I would always say grandma it's be Bernita.  She would laugh and say "oh, I thought you were some white lady selling something".  We would just and then carry on with our conversation.

I found a picture of what Grandma's house on Helen Street and the once thriving playground across the street looks like today.  It was destroyed by a fire.  The house next door to the left is completely gone.  We use to sit on the porch and talk to the lady that lived in the upstairs unit.  The playground use to have a swing set, merry-go-round and I believe a jungle gym.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps

                                                                                               Photo courtesy of Google Maps

   My beautiful Grandma Edna

       Grandma Edna surrounded by Mama Rose and my mom 

I was able to scratch the surface using Ancestry and FamilySearch but now it's time to dig a little deeper.  I have so many unanswered questions about my grandmother Edna's early years, her mother and the circumstance leading to her being raised by her grandmother.  I guess the "fun" part begins.  I will be searching for birth, divorce and death records to confirm some information as well as asking my family.  I am looking forward to this challenge and can't wait to expand on Edna's story.  I will update this post when I get new information.  

My grandmother was an extraordinary, kind and loving woman, not a day goes by that I don't think about her and miss her.  She also appears in my dreams or are they just memories that come about when I'm dreaming.  May she forever rest in peace.  Rest in heaven Edna.

Source Information: 
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.  

Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. 

Clai, Rudy. (2012). The Hauntings of the Geneva Bad Girls School.

GenevaHistoryCenter. (2011, Jul 20).  GHC Minute: Girls School: Geneva, IL.  Retrieved January 12, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmHTBAGUjCI

"Indiana, Marriages, 1780-1992," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XF7Q-TM9: accessed 08 Nov 2013), Judge Allen and Edna Parker 28 May 1925.

Oberg, Dave (2010). Beware the Girls' School Ghosts.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In Unity There Is Strength!

My plan was to write about my father's mother when the other women in my family stepped forward and suggested that I write about all of them.  So today is a special shout out to them.  I lift my hands in praise and thanks to the wonderful women in my life.  I admire their passion, strength, faith and devotion to our family.  I am proud to say I come from and have been influenced by these phenomenal women.

              Rebecca "Nanny" Montgomery (grandmother)
            Hassie Turner (great-grandmother)

    Nona Hurston (grandmother) ]]

         Rosalind McGee (aunt)

                         Donnie Tate (grandmother in love)     

                  Ella Allen (mom)

                                    Edna Deer (grandmother)


    grandma Rebecca, mom, dad, grandma Edna
                           Rose "Mama Rose" Franklin (grandmother in love)

"It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
-Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Who Am I?

The search for my ancestors so far has been a very interesting and informative journey.  I am discovering so much about them and it is really exciting.  I think about their struggles, their triumphs, strengths and faith.  I wonder if they were happy with their lives or if they have any regrets.  I have cried when I read about the passing of my grandmothers’ children, one just 6 months old, another at 5 years old (there were more).  I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child.  It just breaks my heart to know that they had to suffer through that and still raise their other children.   Just typing it makes me feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. 

While searching for my paternal grandfather, I discovered a first marriage.  I immediately called my dad to ask if he knew about it, he said no but thought he remembered his sister mentioning it.  I even found a first marriage for my great-aunt Rebecca Turner, the woman who raised my mother (more on that later).  I really thought this piece of information was cool.  I called my mom and she said “oh yeah, I knew about that”.  She then began to talk about the husband, his nickname, his daughter and when they visited her.  ­I asked her why she didn't mention it earlier.  Her response, “you didn't ask”.   All I could do was laugh…goodness. 

When I thought about it, I realized she had a good point.  How is she supposed to answer a question if I don’t ask it?  I only asked about immediate family members so thanks to her, I have come up with another way to obtain information from her and my father (without becoming too much of a nuisance).  In my defense how could I know she would have any knowledge about a marriage that took place 20 years before she was born?  Knowing my mother as I do, I should have known better.  She is truly the Griot of our family.  She knows just as much about her family as she does about my father’s side. 

I was having trouble finding my paternal great-grandfather; he was listed on her death certificate as John.  I could not find him in any census that linked him to my grandmother Edna.  I called my mom to ask if she knew about him.  She did and ended up describing him, his brother Charlie (she is very detailed).   I told her that on my grandmother’s death certificate, her father’s name is listed as John Parker that is when my mother said his name was Felix not John.  She was right and I called my father to let him know about the name correction. 

Before I get to the point of this post (if I can remember what it was…lol), I want to add that my mother and father sent me death certificates, family trees (from reunions) and information to help me in my search.  My dad wrote this great note from the information he remembered.  I never did ask why they had the death certificates but it is something I plan on doing.  I am ashamed to say that there is so much about my parents’ lives before me that I know nothing about.  I am finding out so much about them and their childhood that is just blowing my mind.  I am like a sponge soaking up as much information from them as I can.  They have been so helpful and supportive (no surprise here), that I am so grateful and thankful to them.  I just wish that when I first started this journey, I did not take such a long break and asked these questions earlier but I guess I wasn't ready.  Now it is as if something is driving me to get it done. This oral history is what I want to leave for my son, his family and our future generations.  

                                                                                                                            Letter from my dad about his family

Since beginning this journey to answer the “voices inside my head” (my ancestors screaming to be heard), I have also begun to question my own identity.   I wonder what part of me comes from them.  People say I look like my mother (I don't think so) and have many of her traits.  It is possible that some of my behavior may have been influenced by her but what did I get from my father?  Who am I more like my mother, my father or a combo of both?  Do I have any traits of my grandparents or another ancestor, or am I a product of my environment?  I am not going to get into a "Nature versus Nurture" debate because I think both arguments have merit.  As for me, I believe that my behavior and growth are influenced by all of them.   

                                Maternal Line Great-Grandparents
Maternal Line Grandparents

                                       Mom, Dad and I.
Just the three of us!
My Family (Judge, Ella and Bernita Allen)!