Monday, July 20, 2009

Oral Legends

Oral legends are the beginning points of most genealogical pursuits. We take them with a grain of salt knowing that they must be corroborated before the legend can become history. We hope that there is enough truth in the legend as we search for evidence.

I am following several family lines each with an oral legend. However, when it comes to my Alexander line, I have a wealth of oral legends and they all contradict each other.

The facts: John Alexander and his wife Catherine lived in Lincoln County, Mississippi with several of their children in 1870. According to the census, John was from Virginia and Catherine was from Maryland.

Oral legend as told to me by my aunt Hortense: John took the name Alexander as his surname because it was Catherine's and because he had some beef against his last slave owner whose surname was Huffman. There are Huffmans living close by on the 1870 census so it kind of made sense. Still, it is conjecture not fact.

Oral legend as told by Florence Octavia Townsend in her bio: "My grandfather, John was born in Liberia and captured and brought to this country when he was twelve years old. He was a slave on the Lambright plantation in Virginia. He was sold to the Huffman plantation in Alabama. He married another slave named Catherine (originally from India) on the Huffman plantation. During the Civil War he ran away and worked for the union forces. After the war he returned home and took his wife and children to Mississippi. Because a union officer named “Alexander” had impressed him he changed the family’s name to that of Alexander. He and Cahterine had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters." Catherine is identified as black not East Indian on the censuses. I have not been able to find a Lambright or Huffman plantation yet in the named states. I have not determined if the John Alexander that I located in the Civil War records is my ancestor or not. I am dubious that someone moved to Mississippi by choice. Still, these are not facts, just legend.

Now I have been told another story by another Alexander. She said as far as she knows John was always an Alexander who lived on a plantation in Virginia called Strouder (sic). She does not know how he got to Mississippi and she never heard of John being in the Civil War.

The one constant is Virginia in this story. The rest are loose strings hanging out on my ancestry tapestry. But this is what is fun about genealogy--being a detective in my own detective story.

Baclk in Indiana

I am back from short trip to Mississippi wiser but not much more informed. I learned that I need to go to the courts because the records that I need are not in the archives. I learned that it is going to take a lot of patience unearthing the data. I'm an information archaeologist. Discovery doesn't happen over night.

It is frustrating and disappointing but I am more determined than ever to find my ancestors. Whenever I google my great grandfather's name, the search only turns up my references. That doesn't help me but just think, it does turn up.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cemetery Abomination

It is heartbreaking to mourn and bury a loved one. I know. I buried my husband 10 years ago. That is why I am so appalled and outraged by the actions of several individuals that defiled graves so that they could resell the plots over and over again. It is estimated that the crooks made as much as $300,000 in the last few years. According to the newspapers, three gravediggers and a cemetery manager unearthed hundreds of corpses, dumping some of them in a weeded area and double-stacking others in existing graves.
Burr Oak Cemetery of Alsip is the final resting place for many Chicago African-Americans, some famous. Emmett Till was buried there. His casket has been found neglected and rusted in a back storage room at the cemetery. This is wrong on so many levels.
In a week I will be heading to Jackson, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. I hope to visit some of my ancestors' graves. The joy I will feel if I can find my great grandparents headstones will be so monumental. They died decades ago. That's why I am so angry that some people took that joy, that peace, the permanence away from so many families for money. If there are such things as spirits haunting those that disturb their final resting place, I hope they get to haunting those felons.