I’m feeling some kind of way today and this portrait seemed appropriate. Enjoy!
I’m feeling some kind of way today and this portrait seemed appropriate. Enjoy!
Pictured to the left is my maternal great-grandmother Margaret Payton celebrating New Year’s Eve in Baltimore in 1977. This Polaroid photo was taken in what I assume to be a photo station at the party as suggested by the green fabric background and lighting. At the time this photo was taken Margaret – also known as Queen – was a 63 year old grandmother of four and great-grandmother to one. I absolutely love this photo of her because it offers some subtle (or maybe not so subtle) suggestions of the vibrant personality of an ancestor I never met!
There are a few things about this photo that I really love.
1. The Tilted Party Hat. The silver hat seems befitting for a woman named Queen and one who knows how to party!
2. Large Fire-engine Red Purse. I imagine she chose to carry a large red purse for practical reasons: red matches Christmas/New Year’s holiday decor and a large purse is necessary if a person needs to carry a lot of things.
3. Not-So-Winter White Dress. The dress fits nicely, providing modesty and sophistication without revealing her age. Still, her choice to wear a floor length white dress in the middle of winter suggests her unconventional style and comfort with her full-figure.
4. Facial Expression. Her eyes are completely closed. There could be a number of reasons why someone would take a photo with their eyes closed (i.e. blinking, unprepared, etc.) but I can’t help but think that maybe she just had a great time…if you know what I mean.
None of my family members seem to know where this photo was taken however my aunt and mother believe that she was celebrating New Year’s Eve at a party hosted by one of the many social clubs she supported. Although Queen never joined any of these organizations, she often attended their events including cabarets, fundraisers, holiday parties, etc. She enjoyed cooking and always had company in her home, so it’s no wonder that she knew about these events through friends and relatives. My mother says “Everybody knew Margaret!”
I’m looking forward to getting to know more about Margaret’s life in 2012!
This year, my grandfather would have celebrated his 89th birthday. Here’s a little Christmas story about my grandfather and I.
When I was five years old, my mother and I lived with my grandparents. I was incredibly fascinated by Santa Claus and couldn’t wait to see if I would receive all of the presents on my list. I have no recollection as to whether or not I had been naughty or nice throughout the year but that particular Christmas Eve I was naughty. With my pajamas on and cookies prepared, I decided to wait up for Santa and see if he was real. I camped out on the staircase – which faced the front door to our house – believing that if Santa was real he’d enter through the front door just like everyone else. After all, our chimney was blocked and no one in their right mind would carry gifts through a back alley in Baltimore City in the 1980s.
My mother, aunt and grandmother tried to coerce me to go to bed and threatened that they’d call Santa and let him know I was misbehaving. Their threats had no affect on me. In fact, they made me more determined to sit up as long as I could. Dosing off, I waved good-bye to my grandfather as he left promising to return in a few minutes.
I fell asleep on the staircase and when my grandfather returned, I was startled and jumped up to find him walking through the entryway saying “Look who I found!” It was Santa! He was a Black man and a lot thinner than I imagined. Santa said something to me but I can’t remember what. I only remember feeling panic as I realized that Santa was real, in my home and probably going to find out that I had misbehaved. I ran up the stairs as quickly as my five-year-old legs could carry me, jumped into bed and closed my eyes.
The next morning our living room was filled with toys including my coveted Cabbage Patch dolls.
Years later, my grandfather and I laughed about the events of that Christmas Eve. He told me that he realized it would take him some time to set up all the toys that were hidden in the basement and the longer I stayed up the less sleep he would get. So he decided to teach me a little lesson and see if he could find a Santa. Luckily, there was a man dressed in a Santa suit less than two blocks from our home. My grandfather told him that he had a little girl who wouldn’t go to sleep and he’d pay him to come in the house and pretend he was Santa so that I would go to bed. According to my grandfather, Santa had been drinking that night so he appreciated the extra money for a little “Christmas cheer”.
Happy Birthday, granddad and thanks for a great Christmas!
I encountered a minor setback a few weeks ago. My computer was stolen and subsequently so were my recorded interviews and biographical forms for individual family members. Unfortunately, I did not back up my interview material. The good news is that I backed up my photos, so the hours of scanning images were not in vain! Also, saving notes and information to my Ancestry.com family tree and Google account proved incredibly helpful as I try to identify some of the lost information and think about how I should move forward in my efforts. There was a huge lesson to learn so early in my efforts to piece together my family history that I would like to share with you: BACK UP YOUR DOCUMENTS…CONSISTENTLY!
The loss of my laptop reminds me of one of my recorded interviews with my paternal grandmother. In conversation about her childhood and relationship with her father, she recollects that my great-grandfather (also known as “Mr. Grant”) was a stern yet loving man. He hoped to instill in his children the value of honesty and pride. My grandmother recalls eaves dropping on a conversation between her father and older sisters as a young girl. She explained that her daddy told her sisters sharply that if they were ever in trouble, he would help them out in anyway he could but if they ever stole he would act as if he did not know them because there was never any cause for them to steal. Similarly, my maternal grandfather advised me as a child that I never need to borrow, beg or steal from anyone because if there was anything I needed my family and my own efforts would secure it and if I didn’t have or couldn’t get it honestly, well then I just didn’t need it. Ironically, thinking about these lessons, made my loss a little easier. Although I still felt violated knowing that someone had access to my family’s history without my permission (although I doubt they ever knew the interviews existed), I am grateful for having the opportunity to interview those relatives and proud that I have been able to recall much of the information that was shared. So, now that I’m over this little hurdle, I’m looking forward to continuing my work!
A few friends contacted me to check-in on the status of the blog since they had not received any updates in their Google feeder from kinsman of mine. I have to admit it’s been too long since my last post. I apologize for the recent inactivity with the blog and thank you for your interest and support. Over the past few weeks I’ve worked on a number of projects, including meeting my summer genealogy goals, that kept me incredibly busy. Alas, summer is over and it’s time to review my goals and how many were met. Let’s see how I did…
1. Scan 500 photos – INCOMPLETE. I only managed to scan 145 photos. I realize that my attempt to properly scan 500 photos in a matter of weeks was advantageous to say the least. Meeting this goal was difficult because I live in Brooklyn and our family photos are dispersed amongst several households in Baltimore. Despite spending nearly a week in Baltimore this summer, I had to decide whether to devote the week to scanning photos of relatives or actually spending time with them. Obviously, I decided to spend time with my family and do as much scanning as I could when they weren’t around.
2. Reading 3 of 4 books – INCOMPLETE. I managed to complete two books on my list: Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball and Crossing the Boulevard by Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan. Both of these books included interviews in which individuals shared their personal experiences which often reflected larger social-political controversy and conflict. This was particularly helpful in considering how I might work with relatives to document their stories.
3. Conduct 5 Interviews – COMPLETE! Conducting and experimenting with interview formats was a major goal because it will bring focus to my family history research. Since, I’m still a novice at studying family history I plan to follow a trajectory that begins with my parents and moves back from one generation to the next. Although I never plan to stop collecting information from living family members I believe documenting their lives will enable me to gather more information about their immediate ancestors and so forth.
I managed to interview relatives using a number of methods including audio recording, note-taking, and a form I created to capture basic biographical information. Interviewing my mother, maternal aunt, paternal first cousin, paternal aunt and paternal grandmother let me to make some interesting discoveries not only about the these individuals but other relatives who have passed away. I look forward to sharing a few of there stories in later posts.
4. Create a plan for purchasing recording equipment – COMPLETE! Thanks to a few friends and the sales associates at B&H I found video and sound equipment that I hope to purchase before the winter holidays.
Despite not meeting all of my summer goals, I’m proud of what I accomplished! The books, interviews, photos and even window shopping helped me to flesh out some of the priorities in researching and documenting the lives of my family members.
Also, I’d like to thank everyone who supported my efforts this summer! I truly appreciate your help and encouragement.
The end of the school year always proves to be a busy time for museum educators. Subsequently, I have taken a little break from researching and writing about my family history. Now that things are settling down and I have a bit of vacation time, I plan to dive right into my research.
I have set a few goals to accomplish by the end of the summer that will advance my documentation efforts.
1. Digitize 500 photos
2. Interview 5 family members
3. Read 3 of the following books:
4. Identify and establish a plan for purchasing video and sound equipment for documenting interviews, family events, travel, etc.
Wish me luck!
Growing up, my parents insisted that I eat my vegetables. They claimed that eating string beans would increase my beauty and sharing collard greens at New Years would bring wealth; but, they never told me that eating these foods would prevent certain diseases like pellagra.
I discovered pellagra when reviewing the death certificate of my paternal great, great grandfather Hammon Grant. The death certificate, completed by his eldest son Paul, reveals that Hammon died in Bamberg County, SC on February 16, 1915 at the age of 56. It describes the cause of death as “Pellagra”, also mentioning the duration of his condition lasting 7 months. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), pellagra is a dietary disease caused by insufficient amounts of niacin (vitamin B3) in the body.
The early 20th Century marked an epidemic of pellagra related deaths in the southern states. As a South Carolina sharecropper with a large family in the early 1900s, I imagine that Hammon ate simple dishes consisting of root vegetables, corn, rice, and occasionally pork because of their affordability. His lifestyle and income were dictated by crop sales and subsequently when the economy suffered it directly affected his livelihood. A number of those who died during the pellagra epidemic in the early 20th Century were poor farmers, like Hammon, who ate a diet rich in corn for a good portion of the year. This definitely makes me think twice about all of the fast food restaurants exposed in Super Size Me for using corn as the main ingredient in many of their foods.
In 1914, the surgeon general assigned Dr. Joseph Goldberger to study the disease. Alan Kraut, author of Goldberger’s War: The Life and Work of a Public Health Crusader, suggests that Goldberger’s research proved that pellagra is not contagious and it is, in fact, a dietary disease. Since then, researchers have discovered that a balanced diet – including niacin rich foods such as chicken, turkey, crimini mushrooms, asparagus, tuna, and salmon – prevent the onset of pellagra.
As an adult, I’ve made some major dietary changes in hopes of avoiding some of the health issues my family members have endured over several generations. These days, I follow a pescetarian diet with limited dairy intake. The decision to stop eating certain meats and limited dairy was a bit difficult because for so long I never thought I’d be able to survive without my step-father’s macaroni and cheese and fried chicken. But, I’m fortunate to have the knowledge and money to make healthier food choices. Thousands of people around the world still suffer from pellagra and die from complications related to the disease simply because they do not have access to healthy nutrition. It’s incredible to me that in an Information Age people have similar experiences as my ancestor who died from the disease almost 100 years ago!
Hammon’s illness must have been incredibly painful and scary experience for him, his family members and the southern communities. Judging from the photos of pellagra patients, the disease seems to consume the body, physically (and possibly spiritually) transforming the patient. I can only imagine what Hammon went through those last seven months of his life. I wonder, Was he able to identify it early on?, Did he continue to work despite his illness?, Did other members of the household develop pellagra or other dietary illness? In any case, his unfortunate death motivates me to prioritize my health and share what I learn with others.
Click here to hear Alan Kraut discuss Goldberger’s research on pellagra with Mike Pesca on NPR’s Day to Day.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, this post honors and acknowledges my female lineage. Many genealogists know that finding one’s female ancestors can be challenging for a number of reasons. The ability to own property and enter into contracts has been restricted for certain women in various places and times, thereby limiting the number of resources documenting the names of women. Also, many women have abandoned their maiden names and adopted their husbands’ surnames. I have found this particularly frustrating as I review documents that only list my female ancestors in relation to the men – fathers and husbands – in their lives. Therefore, in celebration of these women’s lives, I have decided call the names of my female ancestors (first, maiden surname, surname)!
Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day and lots of love to the women in my family! A very special thank you to the women from whom I’ve directly descended…
Wanda Bundy Jones – I LOVE YOU, Mom!
Mildred Theresa Justice Bundy – maternal grandmother
Eartha Lee Grant Hendrick – paternal grandmother
Margaret “Queen” Payton Justice - maternal great grandmother
Lucy M. Roye Bundy – maternal great grandmother
Elease Jenkins Grant – paternal great grandmother
Addie Bea Kidd Hendrick – paternal great grandmother
Theresa “Trecie” Smith Payton – maternal great, great grandmother
Mary L. Justice (maiden name unknown) – maternal great, great grandmother
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clary Jenkins – paternal great, great grandmother
Lillie Grant (maiden name unknown) – paternal great, great grandmother
Daisy Thomas Hendrick – paternal great, great grandmother
Lula M. Kidd (maiden name unknown) – paternal great, great grandmother
Mary Smith (maiden name unknown) – maternal great, great, great grandmother
Easter Kidd (maiden name unknown) – paternal great, great, great grandmother
Anna Valentine Thomas – paternal great, great, great grandmother
Rose Jiggetts Hendrick - paternal great, great, great grandmother
My grandparents would have never imagined that their photos would be viewed by visitors at the Brooklyn Museum. Frankly, I never considered it either but, when my colleagues at the Museum designed a gallery interactive exploring the work of Lorna Simpson, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share images of my relatives to further public engagement with one of my favorite artists. I have been a fan of Lorna Simpson’s work since I first encountered Counting as a graduate student. When I discovered that she was set to have a solo exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, I was ecstatic!
Arranged on a wall in the Sackler Center, the gallery interactive encourages viewers to look closely and consider the information presented in photographs of African Americans, similarly to those included in the special exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered. One of my favorite works in the exhibition is Remind Me of Who I Am (2009). In this work, Simpson organizes 50 ink drawings and 50 photographs of African American men and women in bronze frames along the Museum’s white wall. The photographs are original prints she collected from eBay and specialty shops in Manhattan. In many ways, this work and others in the exhibition are commemorative of the nameless individuals whose lives and stories may have gone unknown but are considered and reconsidered by the viewer. Lorna Simpson: Gathered demonstrates the artist’s continued interest in collective and individual identity, history, perception, and the human body.
The gallery interactive displays collected images of African Americans from the 1930s-90s. Viewers are invited to interpret the photographs by writing and posting captions, stories, etc. next to the image of their choice. I have been collecting and digitizing my family photographs and offered several reproductions to the project. I have been very curious to know how museum visitors interpret my family photos. Initially I wondered, ‘What might visitors notice that I possibly overlooked?’, ‘Would they accurately identify the relationships between individuals in each photograph?’, ‘How might they describe the mood of each image?’
I’m not completely surprised by any of the interpretations viewers offered, but it’s nice to know my images evoked humor and personal relevance for others. Here are some of the interpretations visitors posted in response to my photographs.
“Grandpa meeting his grandbaby for the 1st time. She wants to cry but doesn’t because of the promise of candy.”
“Guess what I’m carrying in my purse? You don’t even want to know!”
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this interactive. Feel free to leave your interpretations of the photos!