Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Great Aunt "Aunt Jemima"

In parade circa 1950s 
Yes, my grand aunt, my maternal grandmother's youngest sister, at one point in her life worked for Quaker Oaks, donned the entire costume and served pancakes, as "Aunt Jemima." I explained to my cousin, after doing some research, that she was one of many who served in this role.

She was born Josie Bracy (1912-1990) in Walker County, in the town of Dodge, Texas. She was the fifth child and third daughter born to Reverend Calvin Bracy and Julia (Harris) Bracy.

Growing up we heard so many references to her; some called her "Aunt Jo", but as children we called her, "Big Momma", or "Aunt Josie."

I never knew the circumstances behind why she moved out to California from Texas, but my speculation, is that she left an abusive marriage. I am beginning to think that back then folks, men and women, if it didn't work out - walked away.

By her walking away from whatever caused her to leave Texas, landed her the job at Quaker Oats.

She cared for her nieces and nephews; she reared my mother and uncle as if they were her own children. That's for another blog, but they used to refer to her as, "Momma".

Her second marriage was to Jesse Johnson, a Virginia native, and a US Army veteran who fought in World War II.  We called them "Big Daddy" and "Big Momma" respectively.

She was quite instrumental in providing me my first family interview of my mother's maternal side, and got me started learning more about the family history.  She's the one who knew all the relatives, and how we were related. She was a tough as nails, no nonsense woman, who definitely had a big heart, but never held back the rod.  Lest I forget that she could cook her "peep" off!

I wonder if she was ashamed of her role at Quaker Oats because she rarely talked about her job, or maybe we were (I was) too young to fully understand.

By the early 1970s she had a pinched nerve, which caused paralysis. She could stand, but never walked again.

She was definitely the family matriarch from about 1970-1990, and wielded it with great authority.  She passed away on October 16, 1990.

from left to right: My grandmother, Uncle Jack, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Lou, (seated) Aunt Josie
Josie Johnson and her husband Jesse Johnson
My first cousin had most of these photos along with a newspaper clipping that was in my great aunt's photo album.  Her father, my maternal uncle, had these photos and when he passed, I asked to borrow the photo album, thus making it possible for me to share this story and the story of other ancestors.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Those Unmarked Graves In My Head

I have searched for recent graves of ancestors, but no one past my great-grandparents though.  I have found that most of them who died as recently as the 80s, if that can be considered recent (haha), do not have grave markers.

I used to be puzzled over why so many of my relatives didn't have them. Why? Well, they are too damn expensive! I priced some locally and the cost is astronomical for these markers! I believe they were unaffordable for my ancestors too. So years go by after the person dies, people return to their regular routine of life, and family members sometimes move to different areas of the city, state or country - all is forgotten.

Then you have a family historian, like me, come along.  Where's the grave? I checked the death certificate, it shows where they're buried, if the cemetery still exist you call the office, and they inform you, "this person is in an unmarked grave." Here''s another scenario, you join You can request others in the area where your loved one is buried to go and photograph the grave site. Usually the results are good but a few times they write back that there is no marker.  I can't be embarrassed nor ashamed because I already know that the family couldn't afford a marker.  I learned with colored (graves) cemeteries there were many restrictions on the type of marker that could used.  I could imagine someone going home and making a wooden frame, pouring some concrete and making the imprints before it completely dries.

These unmarked graves in my head makes me want to do something and not just write about it.  It sort of haunts me.  But, I want to make sure each grave has an identifying grave marker.  I feel as though the ancestors want me to honor them by procuring the funds necessary to ensure that they are recognized in death.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Honoring My Maternal Grandparents - Gillie & Lena Peters

Gillie Peters and Lena Belle Bracy were wedded on April 15, 1922 in Wharton County, Texas.  From this union four children were born, in which my mother was their only daughter. The family lived in the small community town of Wharton.  Grandmother was a soft-spoken country girl - a PK (preacher's kid). My grandmother was the eldest of six children; grandfather was the youngest of four.

While I am not sure how they met. I wish someone I knew that story.  I do know my grand aunt did not like my grandfather and told me she didn't, that, "he messed up the family color."  She would complain that he was too dark.  They came from a family stock of mulattoes (light bright).

I used to hear that my grandfather was seventeen years older than my grandmother, but sorry to debunk that myth, but that was not the truth at all!! He was only six years older instead of seventeen. But, that would not have been unheard of in those days.

I do know my grandfather, Gillie died in October of 1938, when my mother was only three years-old. Unfortunately, but most of what I heard about my grandfather has been all negative, that he was verbally abusive, that he would not allow my grandmother to go to her mother's funeral, that he put their firstborn, my uncle Robert outside in the cold, and afterwards he became ill and died.

My grandmother passed in 1977.

Fortunately for me, I get an idea for what my grandmother was like, from my older first cousins, who had the privilege to live next door to our grandmother.  Every now and then, I get to talk with them about grandmother.  She used to tell them about her father, about growing up, about her first-born child, and about allowing her youngest children to live with other relatives.

When I saw this photo (above) for the first time I was thrilled! Before this I had never seen how my grandfather looked.  I treasure this photo and have made several copies for relatives.  I imagine this photo is dated around the time they were married, in 1922, or perhaps later.

I have other photographs of grandmother, but this is the only one I have of my grandparents together.

Today, I honor them. Their legacy lives on through the lives of ten grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and four great great-grandchildren.