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.

Friday, December 13, 2013

George Peters - My Cattle Driving Great-Grandfather

(this is not a photo of my great-grandfather)

My great-grandfather George Peters was born in the early 1850s, about 1854.  His parents were born in Africa.  According to the 1870 Census they lived in the Lower Caney section of Matagorda County, Texas.  It is not clear to see who was the last slave owner from this record. He was my mother's paternal grandfather - the father to my grandfather Gillie Peters.

Father - Lemon Peters
Mother - Mary Williams, b. abt 1830

Sisters -

1) Emma, b. abt 1859. She married Charles Munro, but I believe she was married twice; she had two daughters: Thelma & Letha, and they had different maiden names.
2) Martha, b. abt 1857. She does not appear to have been married.
3) Onie, b. 1855. She married Alfred Clark, (they had no children)

A cousin once called George Peters a cowboy; my mother used to tell me what was told to her that he rode a large white horse.  According to the records I have researched he was a cattle driver along with his brother-in-law Alfred Clark, and his brother-in-law's brother, Jerry Clark.  I would love to find out which cattle driver (rancher) they worked for.  I wonder what things he experienced throughout his lifetime as a cattle driver. What trails did he ride on with the herd of cattle? Texas Cattle Trails Map

Death Certificate of George Peters
I can only imagine life must have been rough and rugged. The living conditions probably deplorable - equal to or beneath that of the cattle. I wonder what effect this had on him as a person, husband, father.

My great-grandparents, George Peters and Annie Round were probably together prior to their marriage in 1897.  While it is not known whether George Peters fathered children other than the three sons: Harrison, Marshall, and Gillie - he had with my great-grandmother Annie Round.  I do believe he may have been married prior to marrying my great-grandmother as I am certain that my great-grandmother was married prior to marrying my great-grandfather.

His death certificate shows he died 11 June 1931.  It appears that he was buried in Burr, Texas.  Burr, is also known as Lawson's Corner or Kriegel Switch, which is an unincorporated area of eastern Wharton County.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Great-Grandfather Calvin Bracy

I never met my great-grandfather, but growing up it seemed as if he lived,  he "lived", at least, in the heart and memory of my mother.  His name was Calvin Bracy.  He was the father of my maternal grandmother, Lena Bracy.

I believe he was born in 1870, but my mother used to say he was born one year or three years after Emancipation, which was in 1863, but because they lived in Texas, Emancipation came two years later in 1865, so it could have been 1866, or 1868.  If I were to say where he was born based on census records - I'd still be confused.  The 1900 Census says he was born in Mississippi, but thereafter census records show he was born in Louisiana.  My mother and grand aunt often spoke about Hammond, Louisiana, but no records have shown up to prove this.

I often wonder how he and my great-grandmother met.

He was a retired minister, I think he may have been a Baptist minister.  He had six children with my great-grandmother, Julia.  My grandmother being the eldest, but she also had older half brothers.  My great-grandfather had other children with Lizzie (Elizabeth), and perhaps other women.

After the death of my grandfather Gillie Peters in 1938, my grandmother, and her children would live with several relatives. My mother often spoke about living with her step aunts, and other times she spent with her grandfather and his current wife Sallie; my great-grandmother died in 1922.  She had had three children from a previous relationship.  Oral history, as I say, rumors that he fathered over twenty children.  Other relatives say 15-18 children. While, it is not impossible, I have not found any records to substantiate those stories.  I explain it, that he may have fathered that many children some who may have been stillborn or died prior to my grandmother and her sister were born; children unfortunately never mentioned.

According to census records he moved around quite a bit.  In 1900 I found him with his wife Lizzie, two sons C.B. and Josh Bracey in Quintana, Texas - a town in Brazoria County.  From there I found him in Walker County in the town of Dodge.  Then in 1940, he is enumerated twice, once with my grandmother in Harris County in Houston, and in San Jacinto County.

When I interviewed his youngest daughter about her father, my grandaunt, she described him having the skin complexion of peanut butter.  She described that he was a hard-working man who once owned a grocery store, and a farm.  She told me his mother's name was Lena Cline.  In addition, both she and my mother told me he had a sister, but I cannot recall her name.  She lived in Louisiana.

He died in 1945.

His name continues to resonate and be respected, and honored throughout the family.  My mother named my youngest brother in his honor, I have a number of cousins with the same first name - Calvin.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My 23andMe DNA Composition

Posted above are my new 23andMe results: 88.2% Sub-Saharan African, 8.9% European, 0.6% East Asian & Native American, 2.3% Unassigned. However, originally my results were:

  • 89.8% Sub-Saharan African
  • 8.5% European
  • 0.5% East Asian & Native American
  • 2.1% Unassigned
My experience with 23andMe has been great even with the recent FDA halt of the company's testing services. However, I appreciate being able to connect with others of the same haplogroup.

My paternal haplogroup (E1B1A8A) has many with ancestry from Alabama, which is where my father was from. While I am not surprised, I just find it enlightening and I hope somehow we can connect the dots.

I have not utilized the African Ancestry DNA testing, but two responses, one from Cameroon and the Republic of Congo has sparked my interest to see where my paternal family originated and see exactly where and how I am connected in Africa.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tracing My Mother's Paternal Side: ROUNDS of Matagorda County


I have always found it easier to trace my father's side of the family even with the few brick walls I have encountered. On the other hand, my mother's ancestry and especially her paternal side has and continues to be full of brick walls.  Recently, I have been determined after I discovered a website that I know my mother's paternal side resided, and prior to this discovery I would avoid researching this side.

I was aware that the family lived in Matagorda County Texas in the town of Matagorda, in the Lower Caney section of town.  I knew my great grandmother, Annie Rounds, lived there with her parents and siblings.

A Mother Lode - The Discovery

The age of computer technology should not be overlooked. I do agree that if something cannot be found online, if possible, these records should be found at the courthouse or university libraries that have numerous collections.  Or if there is a library-sharing program and you do not mind looking through rolls of microfilm, which is what most did before the dawn of technology, by all means do so.
My discovery came from searching online. I found a website after thinking that I'd never find any genealogical information about my family ever online - boy was I wrong! I did a search for Matagorda County Texas.  I found information about what possibly may have been Jesse Rounds, my 2 x great grandfather's, last slave owner on the 1867 Voter's Registration List, I found out who my great-grand uncles and great-grand aunts married. In addition, I found when my great-grandparents married. I was able to find information about my great-grandfather and his sisters.
This discovery made me keenly aware that the ancestors speak to you! I heard about an aunt, Onie Peters, that I never met, but heard her name over and over. I found her on the marriage records list below.  She lead me to find her. I never knew her married name, let alone that she had been married.
Matagorda County Slave Database

1867 Voter's Registration List
1870 US Census Matagorda County Texas - African American & Mulatto Families
Matagorda County Marriage Records

Newfound Fulfillment

Since those discoveries I have found it enjoyable to doing research on my mother's paternal side.  I have been able to tackle my mother's maternal side, it too fraught with brick walls, and those too have come tumbling down.  It has been so fulfilling to discover my past and to verify and document my mother's paternal ancestry.
Admittedly, I was overjoyed with what I thought might have been my 2 x great grandfather's last slave owner, who I thought was J L Thorp, but I understand now that some online indexes may have errors or that they do not give accurate information. However, I welcome the challenge to locate other owners he may have had.  I look at this as turning lemons into lemonade.


I have thoroughly enjoyed what I thought was something I wanted avoid to an activity that still fascinates me, finding my mother's paternal ancestors. I used the county website for Matagorda County that was full of information from: African American churches, slave database, baptisms, marriages, brands, that verified and documented their existence for me.  Although further research will turn up more I look forward to digging deeper.