I’ve been neglecting you, and my ancestors have been letting me know it. I decided that I need to refocus my energy on this blog. Not just sharing research, but sharing stories that bring my ancestors back to life. So I’ll tell you what inspired me to make this change:
Anyone that rides with me knows that I never take off right away at the light. A few weeks ago I was coming up to a red light and it suddenly turned green. Something kept telling me “don’t speed up, go slow”, and I never pressed on the gas. It was almost like I could feel something pulling me back. By the time I got to the intersection someone came barreling through the red light, just missing us. Had I taken off at regular speed I’m positive that my passenger and I would have been seriously injured, or killed. I had no idea why I had such a strong urge to slow down, but I later learned it was the anniversary of my grandfather Raymond Neal’s passing. Now I understand it was his presence I felt, and I have to holla back I hear you Pop! (and was it coincidence that his favorite singer, Nancy Wilson, passed later on that day?)
So I challenge everyone who reads this to acknowledge those whispers, and the hairs that raise on the back of your neck. That’s your ancestors pleading with you to remember them, and call their name.
I can’t say enough about the kindness of strangers. I use the Findagrave.com website quite often to search for ancestors. If I’m lucky there may be a picture, a biography or at the least a link to other relatives in that cemetery.
In this instance, I was looking for my Aldridge family that I found in the Rusk Cemetery in Boley, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. I requested photos from a local volunteer and I waited. In the meantime, I did more digging and found I had another ancestor there: my 3rd great-grandmother, Susie (Crenshaw) Holbert. So I emailed my wonderful volunteer, Angela Dionne, to ask if she could look for Susie’s final resting place as well. I had no idea of the wealth of information I would soon find out about my ancestor, and the history lesson to come.
Angela explained that Okfuskee County had a lot of black cemeteries that have not been documented. Apparently, there was someone who took the time to add lists but not pictures, so they were in the process of trying to photograph as much of the cemetery as possible. Problem was a lot of the graves only have a rock, or a headstone that is no longer readable. I kept my fingers crossed, but I wouldn’t hear back from Angela for a while.
Then one day out of the blue, I get this in my email:
As you could guess I was ecstatic enough to have a picture of her headstone and a likely date of death. But if you look closer, you can see there is a symbol and inscriptions above Susie’s name. I emailed Angela again to thank her for the picture and to ask her if she knew anything about the symbols. She said she would go back to the cemetery and take another picture of the headstone to see if she could get more detail. So I have to wait again, but I am so grateful to Angela for making another trip in the Oklahoma summer heat!
While I waited, I tried to make the picture as big as possible. In the center it looked like some sort of Masonic symbol, but I couldn’t make it out clearly. I searched for anything that looked similar on Google images, then one day I found something that looked familiar:
There were similar markings, and there is more detail at the bottom of the stone. I learned that it is not a Masonic symbol, but the marker of the Mosaic Templars of America, an organization founded by two former slaves in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1882. But how did my grandmother end up with this marker in Oklahoma? Stay tuned to Part 2 to learn more about my incredible discovery!
In anticipation of the AAGSAR #BLOGFEST 2014 I wanted to reintroduce my family history blog and welcome any new readers who love family history or genealogy. I dedicated this to all of my African American ancestors and family who have guided me through my life journey. I was inspired to become a genealogist after seeing the picture on the left of my second great-grandmother Laura. It’s the oldest picture I have of any family member on either side of my family. My grandfather had this picture hanging on his bedroom wall for as long as I could remember. She has the same eyes as my grandfather, and I would stare into them trying to figure out what she was thinking when this picture was taken. There is no identifying information on the photo, and I could certainly try to date when it was taken by her clothing. As I got older, I felt compelled to find out more about her, her family, and everything in between.
Laura Ann Ware was born around September 1853 in Madison County, Georgia. The state of Georgia did not maintain vital records until after 1919, so I had to confirm an approximate date of birth from census, marriage, and death records.
1870 Federal Census (click to view larger)
In the 1870 census Laura would have been at least 17 years old. The only federal census I could find that showed her living in Madison County lists her in the household of Jeremiah and Martha Deadwyler. All of the children have the last name of Deadwyler, although I have no documents that support that Laura ever used that name. The date of the census is August 4th, 1870, so Laura would have still been single.
Laura Ann Ware and Asbury Neal marriage license
On December 4th, 1870, Laura was married to Asbury Neal in Madison County, Georgia. On this record Laura’s maiden name is shown as Ware.
1880 Federal Census
1880 Federal Census p.2
In 1880, the census shows the Neal household still living in Madison County. Asbury and Laura Neal are living with their children Martha (8), Arthur (6), William (4) and Gabriel (2).
1900 Federal Census
The 1900 census lists the Neal household in Banks County, Georgia. I believe the boundary lines for the county changed and that the family still lived in the same place as in 1880. Asbury and Laura are now the parents of 11 children: Willie (23), Mary (18), Francis (16), Savanah (13), Samuel (11), Roy (8), Lonnie (5), Charlie (2), and Gabriel (21). I am still curious why Gabriel was listed at the bottom of the list when the rest of the children are in age order. It suggests he is a step son or son-in-law. When I follow Gabriel to his death in Ohio in 1946 his father is listed as Asbury, but his mother is “unknown”. This also suggests that Laura was not his biological mother. Martha Deadwyler is also living in the household listed as mother-in-law.
1910 Federal Census
1910 is the last census Laura is listed in. She and Asbury are in the household along with Roy (18), Lonnie (15), Charles (13), and Martha Ware the mother-in-law. I thought it was interesting that Martha is now using the Ware surname. She is widowed, so perhaps she is using her maiden name as it is shown on Laura’s death certificate.
Laura Neal death certificate
Laura passed on October 5th, 1922 from uremia poisoning. She was buried in Hurricane Grove cemetery, and her father Russ White is named as the undertaker. Her spirit lives on in all of her descendants, and I am proud to have a photo reminder of the strength and bravery that she must have had.