24 July 2012

Tombstone Tuesday Twofer: William W., James E., and the Big Surprise

Tombstone Tuesday is another daily blogging prompt from Geneabloggers that turned out to be especially appropriate for me this week.

I've been away from the blog for a few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy with genealogical research. In fact this past week may have been my biggest yet so far in terms of discoveries and their emotional impact. What I found this week has changed my life. I found that I may have African-American ancestors and relations that I knew nothing about.

It all began innocently enough. I have a copy of my paternal grandfather's death certificate, which lists his father's name as William W. Leslie. I searched for William W. Leslie of Braggs, Lowndes County, Alabama on Ancestry.com and the following picture came up:
William W. Leslie, Oct. 3, 1851-Dec. 18, 1899.
New Bethel Braggs Cemetery, Lowndes County Alabama

(I have added the caption in case the inscription is difficult to read). I left an excited comment asking the person who posted the picture to contact me and share information. An African-American woman named Sharon Leslie Morgan replied, and invited me to continue the conversation further via e-mail. You can find the original photo and exchange of comments here. We began trading e-mails and documents, and the William W. Leslie she had found sounded like the William W. Leslie I was searching for. She is especially interested in the father of William W. Leslie, James E. Leslie, because in blog posts here, here, and here, she reflects on being a Leslie and discusses her conviction (or at least her supposition) that James E. Leslie (1823-1875) fathered a child with one of his black female slaves. That child was, or may have been, her great-grandfather, Tom Leslie. This is a photo of James E. Leslie's tombstone which she sent me:

James E. Leslie
Born Feb. 22, 1823
Died Mar. 1, 1875
"He left a Wife and three Children"
New Bethel Braggs Cemetery, Lowndes County, Alabama.

(Again, I added the caption in case the original inscription is hard to read).

The upshot of all of this, at least for me, is that I may have African-American ancestors and relations I  knew nothing about, a possibility that I (perhaps naively) had never considered. For much of the South's history, clandestine and unacknowledged interracial sexual unions (whether consensual or forced) and children resulting from those  unions were far more common than many people, white or black, were willing to admit. I knew this in an abstract, intellectual way from taking college courses in race relations and the history of the South, but there is a huge difference between understanding something as an abstract concept and seeing how it could affect the history of your own family.

I am still trying to process both my emotional reaction to this possibility and the evidence for it that Sharon Leslie Morgan has shared with me thus far. We both want to continue the conversation and gather and interpret more evidence, if it can be found. We agree that the evidence is not conclusive, but it is suggestive. There is much we both need to know before we can say with any certainty whether or not we are related through a common connection to James E. Leslie. We may not be able to resolve the question except through DNA testing.

If you'd like to know more about Sharon Leslie Morgan, she is the coauthor of a forthcoming book, Gather at the Table, due out in October. In the book, Ms. Morgan, a descendant of slaves, and Thomas DeWolf, a descendant of slave owners, discuss their experiences traveling across the country together doing research into their respective family histories and grappling with how the legacies of slavery and racism still affect them. Thomas DeWolf is a member of the Board of Directors of Coming to the Table, an organization that helps descendants of slaves and descendants of slave owners understand their common heritage and promote racial healing and reconciliation.

As for me, whatever happens, this experience has made me re-examine my concept of myself, my identity as a white Southerner, and my own attitudes on race and racism, and that can only be a good thing. It's good to take a good hard look at yourself every so often, and ask yourself what you really believe and why. As more than one philosopher has said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Amanuensis Monday: Who Is George Neubauer, Part 2

Amanuensis Monday again?
A woman's work is never done.
I think I have just enough time to get this post in while it's still Monday.

In last week's Amanuensis Monday post, I introduced you to George Neubauer and explained his family's relationship to mine. Annie Neubauer was my maternal great-grandmother, but I'm not sure of Annie's relationship to George. Nevertheless, I have copies of two letters of his, written to his parents on successive New Year's Days, of 1873 and 1874 respectively. In the second of the two letters, he writes:

J. M. J.
[Jesus, Mary Joseph]

Dear Parents,

Another year has gone by and it is one year closer to death. In the past year I was not very obedient and caused you much sorrow. I thank you from my heart for the many favors extended to me and I wouldn't be able to count them even if I tried to. I am very sorry that I caused all that grief and trouble.

I promise you that I will become a good boy and will not cause so much worry as I have done in the past.

I wish you a Happy New Year, good health, long life, a blessed hour of dying and eternal life in heaven thereafter.

I close my letter in the name of J. M. J.

Your grateful G. Neubauer


Balto. 1 Jan. 1874
I notice that this letter is quite a bit shorter than the first one. Young George seems a bit rushed, and his emotions don't seem to be quite as heartfelt as he claimed they were in his first letter. Nevertheless, the two letters have much in common. The fact that they are written on successive New Year's Days suggests to me that this was some sort of annual ritual, one step beyond a New Year's Resolution. The language is very formal and very pious, very Victorian, very German, and very Catholic. The letters are addressed to "Dear Parents," not even "Dear Mama and Papa," or some other term of endearment. In both letters he apologizes for being a poorly behaved son during the previous year, and promises to be much better behaved in the year to come. He apologizes for causing his parents trouble and worry during the past year, but doesn't mention anything specific that he's sorry for. I wonder whether he'd really been doing anything that warranted such profuse apologies or whether this was to be expected as part of the ritual. I suspect he was a fairly young boy when these letters were written, and I wonder how much mischief he really could have gotten into.

Whatever the reasons and the circumstances behind these letters, I've always thought they were an intriguing glimpse into a vanished world.

18 July 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: My Mother's Definition of Heaven

Mom, Christmas 2005
Wisdom Wednesday is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.com in which bloggers recall life lessons, observations, and aphorisms passed on to them from preceding generations.

My mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie (1924-2006), was one of the wisest people I ever knew, and towards the end of her life I heard her define heaven as, "the place where all the people you love know each other."

I think this is one of the most profound and beautiful things I ever heard, because with a little reflection, I can see how true it is. We are always going through stages of growth and change in our lives. We are born, we grow up, we go to school, we leave home to go to college, we travel in search of a job, we make a home,  we have a family of our own, and we grow older. As one stage ends, another begins, and we have to leave the previous stage behind. Yet at each stage we meet people, friends and family, that we come to know, to like, to care for, to cherish, and to love. Wouldn't it be cool if all those people knew each other? Haven't you ever met someone really extraordinary in your life, remembered someone else remarkable you have known, and thought, "I'll bet So-and-So would really like Such-and-Such. I wish they could meet!" If my mother's definition of heaven turns out to be anything close to the truth, all the people we love just might meet one day.

16 July 2012

Amanuensis Monday: Who Is George Neubauer?

Amanuensis Monday: You want me to do what?
Amanuensis Monday is another daily blogging prompt suggested by GeneaBloggers. When I first saw this prompt, my immediate reaction was "Amanu-what?" but when I read the description I was intrigued. The prompt is described this way:

An Amanuensis is a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. Amanuensis Monday is a daily blogging theme which encourages the family historian to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin – some we never met – others we see a time in their life before we knew them.

Now that I know what an amanuensis is and what Amanuensis Monday is,  I realize I have some documents that will fill the bill quite nicely for this prompt. They involve my mother's side of the family, however, rather than my father's, and they'll take a little bit of explaining.

Annie Neubauer was my mother's grandmother, my maternal great-grandmother. She grew up in a German-American Catholic family in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The family spoke German at home, had German language prayer books, and wrote letters to each other in German in an elegant, formal hand. I have photocopies of two letters from George Neubauer to his parents dated 1 Jan 1873 and 1874 respectively, in  German, with English, translations attached. The original letters were handwritten, but the translations were typed on an old manual typewriter. I believe my uncle Eddie Roberts provided me with the photocopies of the letters, but I have no idea who translated them. I also have no idea of the relationship between Annie Neubauer and George Neubauer. I suspect (but do not know for sure) that George Neubauer was one of Annie Neubauer's brothers. In the first letter he writes:

Dear Parents,

I can not let this day go by without telling you my heartfelt feelings.

For the New Year I wish you the best of luck, the blessing of the Lord, a long life, and after a peaceful death eternal life in heaven.I particularly feel strong about these wishes thinking about the past years when you worked so hard to make a good child out of me. For the many favors which you extended on my body and soul I express my thanks deep from my heart and the dear Lord will reward you for it in heaven with an extraordinary blessing. In order to show you my gratefulness I promise to make you happy with a good and pious behavior. I will not let a day go by without having prayed for you. I know that in the last year I have worried you with my bad behavior. I am sorry and I ask you for forgiveness and in the New Year I will be a very different son.

In the hope that you will continue to take care of me in the same way I remain with love and devotion your thankful son George.


Balto. 1 Jan. 1873

Next week, I'll post the second of the two letters with my thoughts about both. In the meantime, if any of my GeneaBloggers colleagues who are researching the Neubauer family or German-American families, especially in the Baltimore area, could provide me with some guidance on how to identify George Neubauer and establish the relationship between George and Annie Neubauer, I would be most grateful. Danke schön!

15 July 2012

Sunday's Obituary: Cecilia Roberts Leslie (1924-2006)

Sunday's Obituary is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.com. This is an obituary that I wrote for my mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie after her passing in 2006:

Cecilia Allen Roberts Leslie of Indian Trail, N.C., was called home to God on Thursday June 29, 2006.

She died at home after an illness.

She was born October 19, 1924, in Columbia, SC, the daughter of the late John Cornelius Roberts of Columbia and the late Agnes Cecilia Allen Roberts, also of Columbia. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor's degree in journalism. After a brief career in radio and newspaper journalism, she married the late William Stewart Leslie of Birmingham, Alabama, and largely devoted herself to providing a loving and secure home for their six children. They were married for 55 years. For nearly 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie operated a retail business, Clocks & Crafts, in Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, SC.

Mrs. Leslie is survived by her six children: Susan Leslie of Charlotte, NC; John Stewart "Jay" Leslie of Dallas, Texas; William Farley Leslie of Chapel Hill, NC; Edward Allen Leslie of Indian Trail, NC; Mary Grace Leslie Davis of Little River, SC; and Neil Roberts Leslie of Marion, SC; five grandchildren; and two great grandchildren, She will be remembered for her unfailing wisdom, compassion, sense of humor, and strength of character, and will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

A memorial service for Mrs. Leslie is scheduled for Monday July 3 at 11 AM at St. Luke Catholic Church in Mint Hill, NC. The Rev. James F. Hawker will officiate.
I still miss her. Love you, Mom!

14 July 2012

Shopping Saturday: Braggs or Bragg's?

Braggs, Lowndes County, Alabama, as it appeared in
The New 11 x14 Atlas of the World, Rand McNally, 1895
. . . and the difference one little apostrophe can make. What does an apostrophe have to do with shopping, you ask? I'll explain.

Shopping Saturday is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers in which bloggers write about stores or shops that played important roles in their lives or the lives of their ancestors. I believe my paternal grandfather, Stewart Farley Leslie, came from a community that was named for a local store.

My grandfather was born in a tiny rural community (I don't know if t it was even formally incorporated as a town) in Lowndes County in south central Alabama called Braggs. In an old U. S. Atlas, circa 1895, it appears approximately halfway between Fort Deposit and Letohatchee. My father, who spent at least one boyhood summer there with my grandfather's relatives, used to laugh and say that it was the kind of place "you had to want to get to." Meaning, I suppose, that it was so small and out of the way that one didn't just blunder across it by accident. In some sources I've seen, the name of the place is written as Braggs, and in others it's written as Bragg's.

Why quibble over one little apostrophe? Because it can give you a clue to the origin of the place. I was searching FamilySearch.org one night in June, looking for information about my grandfather, when I found a 1900 census record listing his residence as "Precincts 5-6 Farmersville, Bragg's Store, Lowndes, Alabama." The apostrophe was there, perhaps, because the name of the place was originally Bragg's  Store. I'm just theorizing here, but possibly it could have been a trading post or a way station along the route to somewhere else. A cluster of houses grew up around it. A community was born. Over time, for the sake of convenience, (or perhaps the store went out of business), the name was shortened to Braggs and the apostrophe was dropped.

Interestingly, in that same census record, there is no mention of my great-grandfather (my grandfather's father) and my great-grandmother (my grandfather's mother) is listed as head of household. I believe my great-grandfather (whose name, I believe, was William Wright Leslie) must have died before 1900. Perhaps my great-grandmother, Janie Cora Peake (She appears on the record as Janie C. Leslie), wanted to be near the store in hopes of making a living and supporting her young children. I estimate that my grandfather would have been about 13 in 1900. His older sister Mabel would have been about 14, and his three younger brothers, William W., James B., and Henry E. would have been about 10, 6, and 4 years old respectively. If anyone can help me verify this, I'd be most grateful.

THAT'S the difference one little apostrophe can make, and THAT'S the connection between a little apostrophe and shopping.

Follow Friday: Alabama Blogs

Alabama is the red one.
One of the daily blogging prompts at GeneaBloggers is "Follow Friday" in which bloggers write about blogs, blog posts, or websites they are following in their research and why they find them useful. I'm only getting around to this prompt today (Saturday) but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. Beginning last night and continuing today, I've added all the blogs currently available in the Alabama Genealogy category of GeneaBloggers to my blogroll. That may seem like overdoing it a little, but I figure that since I'm really just getting started with my research, I have no idea where clues to my paternal Alabama ancestors might turn up. I'd like to meet bloggers with connections to the same state I'm researching in the hopes that they can point me in the right directions and share what they've learned with me. As my research into my mother's side of the family expands, I want to make similar connections with South Carolina and Virginia genealogy bloggers.

12 July 2012

Thankful Thursday: Thankful for The Internet

This is my first post using the series of daily blogging prompts available at GeneaBloggers.com. When I saw that one of the prompts for today was "Thankful Thursday," I just had to write this one because it's so easy.

I'm thankful for the Internet.

I have a disability and some related health problems that make working and even getting out of the house occasionally quite a bit more challenging than they would otherwise be. Going to genealogy conferences, the state archives, the local genealogical society, or even the county courthouse to do research would all require some careful planning and forethought. With a computer and an internet connection, however, many of the challenges of logistics and transportation: "How am I gonna get from here to there?" are substantially reduced, if not completely eliminated.

 On sites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org I can surf through millions of records and discover surprising things about my family from the comfort and privacy of my own home and easily integrate my findings into my genealogy database software. I can upload my family tree, complete with notes and documentation, to the Web so that family, friends, and other researchers can see what I've found no matter where I am and no matter where they are. Via e-mail I can communicate with genealogists across the country or around the world. If I listen to genealogy podcasts, I can get tips and advice from experts in the field, almost as if I were fortunate enough to hear them speak in person. Barriers of time and distance seem to shrink when I use the 'net. While I know that nothing can take the place of a face-to-face meeting with another human flesh and blood human being, and that not every record I might need will be in an online database somewhere, I also know that the internet and its resources give me powerful tools I've never had before. For that I am profoundly grateful.

Now a Member of GeneaBloggers

I'm pleased to announce that this blog is now a member of GeneaBloggers, an association of over 2,500 blogs on genealogy and family history, according to founder Thomas McEntee. (Check out the snazzy logo over there on the top right). I've been listed among the Alabama and Scottish-related genealogy blogs, naturally enough, and I will  ask for a cross-listing among South Carolina  genealogy blogs in the near future.

I'm delighted to join such a large community of like-minded bloggers and genealogists from whom I can learn and with whom I can share what I learn along the way. The sole requirement for membership in GeneaBloggers is that "you must either author a blog related to genealogy and family history or you are a reader of these types of blogs." I'd say I meet both of these conditions. I'm writing a genealogy blog now, and have been and will be reading genealogy blogs in the future. I'm sure the GeneaBloggers blogs I find most interesting and useful  will wind up on my blogroll soon.

The GeneaBloggers site includes a Blog Resources section with links to sites offering advice on topics such as customizing the look of your genealogy blog and finding free blog templates. There are also daily blogging prompts to stimulate thought and creativity and generate posts. I'll be posting articles based on these prompts very soon.

In short, I'm happy to be a member of GeneaBloggers!

10 July 2012

Getting Organized, Digitally

 A few days ago I received a comment on this post about getting organized from Shack, the Ancestry Ace, host of the Ancestry Aces page on Google+. He had some very kind and encouraging words to say about this blog and my family history research, and he asked a question that made me think and experiment with new ways of doing things. I decided his question deserved its own post and response rather than just a simple reply in the comments box. He writes:

Hi Niall,

I found your blog today and enjoyed reading about your organizing efforts. I've been working with my mom to collaborate in doing some genealogy research. She has a lot of her research documented in paper form which lends itself well to the process you described with labels and binders. I have taken an approach slanted more towards digitizing my research documentation. I prefer to save copies as .jpgs or image files so that I can tag them for easy retrieval. I still find and keep paper versions but prefer to keep my main copy as a digital one. Do you have thoughts/plans about how you may integrate digital copies into your documentation system?
My HP OfficeJet J3680 printer/copier/scanner/fax

Best of luck,

Shack - The Ancestry Ace

Hi Shack! Thanks for your kind words, and best of luck to you too in your own research.

The short answer to your question is I'm just beginning to think about the possibilities for digital filing and archiving of information. I have an "all-in-one" printer/copier/scanner/fax machine, but until now I've rarely used the scanner, so believe it or not, this is still relatively new technology and unexplored territory for me. I had an "Ah hah!" moment the other day when I decided I wanted to transcribe some information I had about some Scottish Leslies. The information is interesting, but I'm not sure where it came from, or even if the Leslies mentioned in the document are direct ancestors of mine. I wanted to record this information and have fast electronic access to it, but how? It finally dawned on me that by scanning the document, I could save myself hours of tedious re-typing.
Evernote can be a powerful tool for genealogists

I had another "Ah hah! moment when I read an article by Dick Eastman, author and host of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about how the free note-taking application Evernote could be a really powerful tool for genealogists. (Unfortunately, the full article is available only to paid subscribers to EOGN, but you can get a three-month subscription for a mere $5.95. Try it and see if you like it. Such a deal!)

In the article Dick compares Evernote to the electronic version of a pad of Post-It notes that could record and store data in a huge variety of formats: free-form text, jpegs, PDFs, audio and video, and even entire web pages; the perfect place to store potentially useful stuff you're not quite sure what to do with.  If you add tags or keywords or type a few letters of the keyword, notes with those keywords can be instantly retrieved. Evernote also creates copies of your notes and stores them in the cloud, so that if something catastrophic happens to your computer, your notes aren't lost.

Using my scanner and Evernote, I came up with a solution to the problem of the document about the Scottish Leslies. I scanned each page of the document (I'm still trying to figure out how to scan multi-page documents) and converted each page to a PDF and a note using Evernote. The pages are quickly and easily readable any time I want them, without having to dig through my paper files.

The implications of this are huge. There are many documents I could scan and turn into notes using Evernote. The trick will be figuring out how to make the best use of these new resources.