Monthly Archives: December 2013

Charles F. Cummings Was a Friend of Mine

This article is in memory of Charles F. Cummings, the noted Newark, NJ historian who left behind a trail for me to follow in seeking my ancestors.

I became familiar with Charles F. Cummings a few years ago. We never met in person because he passed away in 2005. But from the start, he was a friend, as Wendy Williams would say, in my head. I remember how we were introduced. I had recently located the names of my two 3rd great-aunts, the sisters of Cato Thompson, and their families. Catherine Hedden was living in 1850 with her 2 daughters and her mother, Ann. Right next door to her was her sister Mary King and her family.

1850 Census Record

I decided to google my 3rd great-aunt Mary’s husband’s name, Jacob D. King, to see if anything popped up on him. I found an article, “The Sounds of the Underground Railroad Resonate Throughout New Jersey” written by Peter Genovese in 2000 that mentioned Jacob.

“The Sounds of the UGRR Resonate Throughout NJ” Article

I can’t tell you how PROUD I was to find this significant piece of my family history. I will be doing the happy dance for the rest of my life. LOL I have to thank Charles for documenting this.

When I first learned that both my 3rd and 4th great-grandfathers were well off in the early 1800s,  I wanted to know about what type of men they were. Finding out that Cato was trained by Jacob and his brothers and that both Thomas and Cato lived right next to Jacob in 1830, meant that they both probably aided Jacob in the building of his house, as well as, the harboring of fugitive slaves on the road to freedom. Thomas Thompson was a well-respected coachman after all.

After reading this quote, I wished that Charles F. Cummings was alive so I could ask him all the questions I wanted to know about Jacob. That could not happen obviously. I reckoned that the next best thing I could do was to read his books to learn about Newark’s history.

One day, when I was at the New Jersey Historical Society, accompanied by my friend Dee Dee Roberts, President of the New Jersey Chapter of AAHGS, I came across his book, A History of Newark, 1666-2002. In his book, there were two articles that pertained to African-Americans in Newark. One article was titled, “Slavery in New Jersey: A Shame that Spanned 3 Centuries,” and it detailed slavery in New Jersey. On the 2nd page of the article, I came across this photo:

Jacob D. King’s Underground Railroad House in Newark, NJ

Woohoo again!Slaves’ Haven! Now, I had a picture of Jacob’s house in 1937. His house stayed in his family for 106 years. As an FYI, Rutgers University, in downtown Newark, was built over the 70 Warren St. location. Thank you, Charles, for including this photo in your book. I did another happy dance in front of Dee Dee then I immediately let Andrea know of my find.

I then came across another Cummings article in the same book, “Blacks in New Jersey: The Journey Towards Economic Freedom.” This article made reference to my 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson.

“Blacks in NJ:The Journey Towards Economic Freedom”

Cummings mentioned Thomas Thompson (though he referred to him as Thompson Thompson) as being “the wealthiest man of color,” according the 1821 Newark Tax Ratable. I was able to confirm his information by looking at the 1821 Tax Ratable.

1821 Newark Tax Ratable

Cummings also listed a number of other Free Blacks in Newark. Over the past couple of years, Andrea and I have been documenting the links between these families via marriages and community building institutions, like the founding of churches, schools,  anti-slavery societies, Masonic lodges, etc. We have also researched the early Black abolitionist activities of this same Free Black community.

I had told someone once that my ancestors were from Newark. They then asked me, “Did your family come after the 1967 riots?” I said, “No.” The next questions was, “So they came up from the South after World War I?” Again, I answered, “No.” I finally had to tell them that we have been in Newark probably since it’s founding. In fact, we are still there. I have a cousin whose law office is on Academy St. in downtown Newark —- on the same street where our ancestors lived in Newark in the late 1700s.

Charles didn’t know it, but as a friend, he has tipped me off about, not only my family history, but also about early Black Newark. He left clues for me and Andrea to follow up on and we have. In the coming months, I will be writing about my ancestors and this early Free Black community in early 19th century Newark. It is my goal to put early Black Newark back on the map as these African-Americans deserve to be remembered.

My Poor 3rd Great-Grandfather Cato

About three years ago, I tracked down my maternal 3rd great-grandfather on my Grandad’s side, Cato Thompson. I found him listed as a being mulatto in every census from 1830-1880 in Newark, NJ. He was also listed in every Newark City Directory from, 1836-1890, as being a carpenter. What I found out about Cato was that he lived between 1809-1891; he was the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Thompson; he owned his own carpentry business; he invested in real estate; he trained carpenter apprentices; and was a very religious man.  Cato was born in and lived his entire life in Newark, before Newark was a even a city.

On a whim, I googled Cato’s name. (By the way, I have found a lot of info on my family just by googling so I highly recommend it.) Lo and behold, it wasn’t long before I hit pay dirt in the form of several newspaper articles. My poor 3rd great-grandfather was robbed! One of the first articles was from a Black newspaper, The NY Freedmen Newspaper,  on January 30, 1886:

 

Cato’s Robbery

My first thought was, “Whoa, my 3rd great-grandfather was rich!” Before I knew of Thomas Thompson, I figured his white father hooked him up real good.  WRONG! It would be another year, before Andrea and I discovered that the Thompson line consisted of mulattos marrying mulattos for generations. My European ancestors on this line enter the family in the late 1600s and early 1700s. We would later learn that Thomas was the richest Free Person of Color from 1806 until his death in the 1830s. It was Thomas’s connection to a network of rich white people in Newark that Cato piggybacked off. But, more on that later.

Getting back to the article, my 2nd thought was, “Cato had servants?” Hmmmm. I remember thinking, did he own slaves at one point? Upon further research, I ruled that out. NJ had instituted a Gradual Emancipation Act in 1804 which would have precluded that. Cato was 77 years old when he was robbed. He lived alone and needed someone to help him. Annie Dutton (not Sutton as reported) was his live-in housekeeper.

On March 26, 1886, The NY Freedmen Newspaper reported the full story:

 

The Real Story

It looks like Annie Dutton was given several opportunities to repay Cato, but she refused. It also appears that she stole an additional $200 over the course of the 3 years she worked for him.

 

Annie Went to Jail

Her sister, Carrie, did plead guilty though.

 

Carrie Pled Guilty

 

I wondered how Cato earned his wealth. Based on several obituaries I found, I was able to put the pieces together. Wealth breeds wealth, for the most part, if the individuals are savvy. And my ancestors were SAVVY! At a young age, Cato learned his trade from his sister’s husband’s family. His sister Mary married into the King family,  another Free Black Newark family made up of carpenters, coopers, and planemakers. In addition, Thomas, his father, was able to refer Cato’s skills, as a carpenter, to the wealthy white families he was affiliated with as a stagecoach owner. Cato then became a wealthy carpenter who was able to invest in real estate at a time when white immigrants, like the Irish and the Germans, were arriving in Newark in numbers starting in the late 1840s onward.

 

Cato’s Obit

To date, Andrea and I have learned that Cato owned a lot of real estate. In addition to inheriting his parents’ home, he owned about 10 other properties. His brother, Thomas Thompson, Jr., also owned two properties which he passed on to Cato’s son, Thomas Thompson III. After Cato died, my 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, inherited some of his property and she, too, lived off the rents as did her son, my Grandpa Green.

Please note that Cato was married twice. Whoever gave the info to the above newspaper had the info wrong. His first  marriage was in 1838 to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett. Susan was born around 1809 to a slave named Tun in Morris County, NJ. Since she was born to a slave, unlike Cato, she had to serve her master until age 21, according to the Gradual Emancipation Act.  Susan died in 1854 after an illness. My 2nd great-grandmother Laura was her youngest child. She was around 2 years old at the time of Susan’s death. Cato was left a widower with 6 kids.

In 1856, he married his 2nd wife, Rosetta Dungee, the daughter of Rev. John A. Dungee. Rosetta’s father was a Free Black who was born in Virginia and who moved to NYC in the late 1790s. By 1800, he owned a clothing store in downtown Manhattan and he was a minister who was affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion Church in NYC. At some point, he moved to New Haven, CT to help found the A.M.E. Zion Church there. He met his wife Sarah and Rosetta was born around 1818. Rosetta died of pneumonia in 1880 in Newark, NJ and Cato was once again a widower.

For awhile, there was a debate in my family over which one of Cato’s wives was my 3rd great-grandmother. We confirmed that all his kids were from Susan. In fact, when he married Rosetta, she was overwhelmed with being a new wife to a man who already had 6 children —- so overwhelmed that she initially RAN AWAY, but she did come back. Here is a classified ad that Cato placed in the Newark Daily Advertiser on December 4th, 1856.

 

Rosetta Ran Away

When Cato died, he was once again had housekeeper issues. Poor Cato! He had employed Hannah Vanderveer as a housekeeper after the Annie Dutton fiasco in 1887. When he died in 1891, unbeknown to Cato’s 5 living children, Hannah went to court and filed a “claim for dower.” She claimed that she was married to Cato for three years which, of course, caught his children by surprise. Believe me, both the NY and NJ press had a field day with her claim. Some of the headlines at the time included, “Now She Says She Was His Wife” (NY Herald Tribune, 9/7/1891), “The Queer Proof of Marriage” (NY Herald, 9/7/1891), and “Hannah Vanderveer Shows It to Prove a Marriage with Cato Thompson. (Newark News, 9/7/1891).

 

Hannah Claims a Dower Right

It turns out that Hannah lied to the court. She said they had been married 3 years when Cato died, but she produced a marriage certificate that was 25 years old indicating her marriage to a “Thomas Creignton.” She had the nerve to say that Cato went by “Thompson Cato” and that the old minister who married them wrote down Creighton instead of Cato. Pul-Leeze. I do give her an A for audacity as well as effort. It took some time to think up that hot mess of a lie. LOL

Not wanting to create a stir, however, his children settled with her:

 

Hannah Drops Her Claim

 

From our research we discovered that Cato was first married in the white First Presbyterian Church in Newark in 1838 to Susan. Sometime after their marriage, they joined the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Street. Cato was a member and benefactor of this church until the day he died. His funeral also took place in this church.

 

Cato’s Funeral Announcement

 

After Cato’s died, his death announcement made several national Black newspapers, like the State Capital newspaper out of Springfield, Illinois (9/26/1891), which simple announced:

 

Cato Thompson, 1809-1891

 

In researching my Grandad’s family, I’ve learned so much about him. Most importantly, why he walked so upright. Given the family background, he had — and I have —generations of Black male ancestors, aided by their wives, were businessmen and property owners. They were the best role models for him and his descendants.

By the way, there was never anything poor about Cato. He lived a rich life and left us with an even richer legacy.

On Discovering My Boricua Branches

When I first took my 23andme DNA Test a year ago, I knew that I would find some of my father’s relatives. This was always a dream of mine. To my surprise, I learned that Puerto Ricans have taken DNA tests at a much higher rate than others—at least it seems that way to me. I was told that years ago there was a study done to see if living Puerto Ricans still had Taino ancestry and this led to more Puerto Ricans taking DNA tests in general. Out of the 1200 total DNA cousins on 23andme, I would easily say almost 900 are Boricuas.

My 23andme DNA Results

My AncestryDNA test shows that, out of 1800 matches, 900 are my Puerto Rican DNA cousins. On FamilyTree DNA, out of 152 matches, 145 are Puerto Rican. Yes, I think I found my dad’s side alright.

In January 2013,  I only knew the names of my dad and his parents. I went on Ancestry.com and quickly found the names of my great-grandparents. But, it was my young DNA cousin Luis Rivera who  helped me immensely. Luis waded through the un-indexed Puerto Rican Civil Registration Records on www.familysearch.org and found birth, marriage, and death certificates that took my paternal family tree back 3-4 generations. I am so grateful to him for not only finding documentation on my ancestors, but also teaching me how to search for them. I once asked him how I could repay him for helping a newbie like me and he said that he was paying it forward as someone had done the same for him. So, too, will I pay it forward then. Each one, teach one is a great motto to live by.

I sent out invitations to share genomes with all 1200 DNA relatives — oh, yes I did–and I am sharing with 400+. With the help of those 400+ DNA cousins, I have been able to start learning about his family history. Thanks to Gedmatch I can see who is related to me on my paternal grandmother’s side vs. my paternal grandfather’s side. Since I know where my grandmother’s relatives were born and what towns they lived in,  I can also narrow down the connection even further. Even though doing Puerto Rican genealogy research does has it’s own problems –for instance, same family surnames on each side, high intermarriage rate among cousins, lost records, etc.–I have been able to make several discoveries with help from my Boricua cousins such as finding out:

  • Some of my ancestors on my abuela’s side were originally landowners from Spain in NW Puerto Rico
  • Her side also had French, Portuguese, Italian and Senegalese ancestry
  • Some of my abuelo’s ancestors were slaves on a Spanish Catholic priest’s plantation in the early 1800s in Yauco
  • Abuelo’s side also had Corsican ancestry
  • Some of my ancestors fought in El Grito de Lares
  • I have ancestors who were Spaniards from the Canary Islands as well as the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Guanches .
  •  Every name on my dad’s side had Sephardic Jewish origins, even my own surname Vega.

I think finding out that my ancestors had Sephardic ancestry was the biggest surprise of all. I knew I had Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry because a maternal great-grandfather was half Cuban/half Eastern European Jew, but I had no clue as to my dad’s ancestral origins. Thanks to my cousins Rosa, Frank, Rudy, Carmen and others, I am learning about this ancestry now. I really don’t worry about the DNA cousins who never respond to my invitations because I am too focused on the ones who do. The funny thing is that when I compare my Boricua cousins to each other, we all share a lot of the same cousins.

2013 has been the best year ever for me. This was the first year that I have met in person some of my NY Puerto Rican cousins and I have spoken to many more. I joke with my cousin Raul that he will always be remembered as my first “live” Puerto Rican cousin. LOL On our first meeting, he took me to a Mormon Family History Center in Queens to show me where I could find Puerto Rican microfilms. He is just as crazy about genealogy as I am and he is one of many cousins who shares my passion in genealogy.

Raul and me on our first meet-up

I have truly been blessed in ways that I never dreamed of growing up. I can’t help to think of how happy my dad would have been to know that I am in touch with his side of the family. Though I only knew my dad for ten years, I find comfort in knowing that I will get to know my cousins for much longer. And I do have some pretty cool new cousins. Like branches on a tree, I will grow with them. Yes,God has been so good to me.

 

Raul, Carmen, Me, and Roberto

 

From Left to Right: Rosa, Lita, Frank and family, Rudy, Sam, Doni and family, Michael and his mom, and Jennifer

 

 

 

 

Rice & Beans & Collard Greens

From ages 3 to 23, my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, was absent from my life and from age 23 to 34, he was present. As someone who is half Puerto Rican, growing up not fully knowing who you were was sometimes confusing. I always felt half of me was missing. If someone asked me what I was, though I always said African-American and Puerto Rican, I never felt Puerto Rican because my dad disappeard when I was 3 years old. It was kind of awkward explaining why I didn’t speak Spanish with a name like Teresa Antonia Vega. As a child, I wondered about my dad and how different I would have grown up. I was three when he left and had no memory of him. However, my 2nd oldest sister, Elisa Vega-Burns (whom I have always called Lisa) remembered speaking Spanish. So, at least, I knew I would have grown up bilingual.

 

My father, Antonio Vega Noboa, and me in 1991

Reconnecting with my father was bittersweet. My mom passed away at 47 years old in December 1991. Growing up, she always told us he would be back— which said more about her faith in God than in him. I remember coming home from graduate school in February 1991 and getting a call from my sister Lisa who immediately told me to sit down. Of course, I was anticipating her telling me about another death in the family. I never expected her to tell me that Daddy Tony, which was what we used to call him as children, had sent her a letter. Apparently after the death of our mom, my brother Michael and  Lisa had sent a letter to Social Security asking them to inform my dad that our mother had died and it listed all of our addresses and phone numbers. He responded to their letter immediately, but prior letters from my mom always resulted in static noise.

Within a couple of days, I received HIS call. After decades of wondering what my dad sounded like, I got my answer. BROOKLYN IN DA HOUSE! I never saw that one coming. LOL. On that day, we decided to move forward and leave the past behind. Given my mother’s death, I was happy to have another parent again. Sometimes, I think God made things happen this way.

My dad slowly unveiled his life to me. It was then he told me about being born in Carolina, PR and immigrating with his mom in the early 1940s first to East New York and then to Harlem. He told me that he left the States in 1976 and moved first to Sevilla, Spain and then to Cordoba.  My father had 7 children by four different wives. With his first wife Kathleen, he had Elisa. My mom was his 2nd wife and he had four children with my mom— Lisa, Maria, me, and Michael. Rita was his 3rd wife and they had my brother Jason. He then married Maria Josefa and had my baby sister Joanna, the only child of his to be born in Spain. Thus began my 10 year journey of getting to know not only my dad, but also the additional 3 children he brought with him.

After his first visit to NY in late 1991, I took a little over 2 years off from graduate school and moved to Cordoba to get to know him. It was a choice that took some of my relatives by surprise, but it was one that I have never regretted. Not once. The way I saw it, my mom always said he would be back and he did come back. She never spoke bad about him to us, and she really could have, but never did. My mother had an incredible faith in God. It was only because of her that I chose to walk out on faith and got to know him. I know she would be happy that all four of us finally got to reconnect with him. I like to think that the best parts of me I got from her. She was a forgiving person. Though she passed away in 1990, she has been my Guardian Angel Ancestor ever since.

My mother Joyce Greene Vega

 

From 1991 to 2001, I got to know Daddy Tony and I found the missing pieces of me. I learned so much just by being with him, talking with him, and visiting him in Spain. I learned that he was an only child on his mom’s side and that his parents divorced when he was a kid. His father, Antonio Vega Bonilla, later remarried and had additional children, but he didn’t know them. He also told me that his mom was born in Anasco, PR and grew  up in Aguada and Aguadilla that and his dad was born in Susua Alta, Yauco PR. He told me all about growing up Puerto Rican in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. He was proud to be Boricua. Even after spending so much time in Spain, he always had the Puerto Rican flag hanging somewhere in his home.

My father died in Cordoba in April 2001. I got a call from Julia, his last wife, telling me that he he had a stroke and was brain dead. I immediately flew to Cordoba and met my sister Joanna there. We were with him for a couple of days before he passed away. At his funeral, I made a point of making sure there were floral arrangements from all 7 of his children, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I wanted him to know that he was loved by his family to the very end.

After 10 years with him, I would never again feel as if one side of my ancestry took precedence over the other. I am Teresa Antonia Vega, child of Joyce Green Vega and Antonio Vega Noboa. I am African-American and I am Boricua! Or, as I sometimes say, I am Rice & Beans & Collard Greens. LOL But, most of all, I am me.

 

 

My grandmother Maria (Mae) Noboa Noboa and her 2nd husband, Alex Band 

 

My Siblings

 

From Slave to Stagecoach Owner: Thomas Thompson

While I always knew my Grandad, Richard W. Greene, Jr., was proud to be from Newark, I never knew just how deep his roots were there until I found our ancestors.  I always admired my Grandad. He was the only African-American funeral director in Southeastern MA for over 40 years. He was a pillar in the African-American community in Brockton, MA and was a proud member of both Messiah Baptist Church and the Paul Laurence Dunbar Masonic Lodge. What I always loved about him was that he knew he was a role model to others and acted appropriately. He walked like he was somebody and he commanded respect from all. In finding his ancestors, I learned a lot more about him.

 

My Grandad Richard W. Greene, Jr.

A little over two years ago, while looking through the 1820-1850 Newark, NJ census records, I located my 3rd and 4th great-grandparents. I followed up this research by looking up newspaper articles, tax records, city directories, and probate records. It turns out my ancestors were in Newark going back to the 1700s, if not earlier. At the time, I felt like I hit the jackpot— little did I know what a jackpot that would turn out to be.

My Granddad’s great-grandfather was Thomas Thompson. Thomas, a mulatto, was born born around 1768. He was a slave owned by Hercules Daniel Bize, who was born in Moudon, Switzerland, but who was part of the British merchant class. Bize had an interesting background. Before coming to the United States, he as a burgher on the island of St. Eusatius in the Dutch Caribbean. He was also a Patriot sympathizer during the Revolutionary War having been involved in trading arms to the Patriots. Before coming to Newark, he lived in Charleston, SC and owned a plantation that had over 70 slaves.  He was involved in different international trading businesses. In several Newark directories, Bize is listed as the richest person in Newark at the time of his death.

When Bize died in 1800, he freed Thomas, a woman named Lizzie and her son Benjamin. (I should add here that Bize’s original handwritten will says the three names were Sam, Tise, and Phillip. On examination, someone transcribed Tom as Sam and Lizzie could have been spelled Lise and not Tise. I am not too sure if the name Phillip as it could have been a second name. Always look at primary documents.) He didn’t free his other slaves in SC though. I was lucky enough to come across a 1863 article in the Newark Daily Advertiser titled “Newark As It Was” that mentioned Thomas. The person who gave the account of Thomas had Bize’s death date incorrect, but he did remember Thomas.  After Bize died, Thomas became a successful, stagecoach owner/driver and property owner. Before 1810, he owned three homes, a stagecoach, and horses and was Newark’s richest Free Person of Color.

 

Newark Daily Advertiser Article on Thomas Thompson

You can imagine the joy I felt reading an account by someone who KNEW my 4th great-grandfather. Finding out that the adjectives used to describe him could easily be applied to my Grandad made my heart SING!

Thomas Thompson’s Stagecoach Ad, 1821

In further researching my Newark ancestors, I also found a late 1880s newspaper clipping at the New Jersey Historical Society that mentioned Thomas. Peter O’Fake, another well-known Black Newarker, was interviewed by a reporter and he reminisced about the old stagecoach days. His father, John O’ Fake, was a friend and contemporary of Thomas in the stagecoach business. In his interview, Peter mentions that Bize gave Thomas –whom he calls Thomas Bize– the seed money to start his stagecoach business in the early 1790s and that Thomas drove the first stagecoach from Newark to NYC. After his business was a success, then other slave owners made their slaves coachmen as well. Not only did they these Black coachmen carry passengers to NYC, but they also delivered mail and took care of banking duties for their owners. No wonder Thomas was so respected.

 

Peter O’Fake on Thomas Thompson (aka Bize)

Thomas eventually drove folks not only to New York City, but also to Jersey City, Philadelphia, Albany, NY, Saratoga Springs, NY, and other places. His trips to NYC and Jersey City also corresponded to locations on the Underground Railroad. Thomas had the perfect cover to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad. And it just so happened that his son-in-law Jacob D. King built an Underground Railroad house right next door to Thomas at 70 Warren St. in Newark in 1830.

Julia’s Wish Has Been Granted – Part 2

When I think about my 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Linnehan Mitchell, and her disownment by her family, I am reminded of the stupidity of the concept of race. What we call race is nothing more than a social construct. The idea of separate “races” was one that involved people, who had power, who then created ways to differentiate themselves from others so they could subjegate them. Race, as we know it today, is nothing more than a political-economic entity that has been ascribed to people who look different from others. There is but one race and that is the human race.

My third Irish great-grandparents disowned Julia for marrying outside of her “race.”  When her relatives came to my 2nd great-grandfather’s farm after her death, they had but one goal in mind which was to rescue her white-looking children by taking them away from their “colored” father.  I often wonder why they felt the need to rescue her children. James D. Mitchell, my 2nd great-grandfather, owned a farm and a store and was quite well-off compared to others around him. He was a proud husband and father. Because of James and Julia’s forethought and preparation, all 6 children remained with James which was also Julia’s wish.

When I first found my third cousin M. Dawn Terrell, I have to admit, I thought she was 100% Irish-American. I was so excited to have found a link to my Irish ancestry so I just made that assumption. I also knew my Nana Fischer was smiling down on me knowing that I was able to find that which she lost. It took a couple of emails for Dawn to tell me that she was also multi-racial. LOL Initially, I felt bad telling her about Julia’s disownment especially when she was raised knowing her Irish-American side. I’ve gotten over feeling bad because I truly believe that we found each other because our ancestors deemed it to be. And so it was!

In all honesty, I have come to accept that our Irish ancestors were simply products of their times. As recent immigrants to the United States, they just followed the “white” social mores of the times.  I don’t feel any animosity towards them. I only feel that they were the ones who lost more—not just Julia, but also all of her descendants.

Dawn and I have exchanged photos of our ancestors. When I look at her great-grandmother, Annie Linnehan (my 2nd great-aunt), I see the features of my grandmother. When I look at her grandfather, Louis Hirshson, I see a resemblance to my great-uncles, Frank and Charles, right down to the dimple in all their chins. I find it also quite interesting that two first cousins, Louis and James, were both Episocpal ministers in Boston at the same time.

We are family. We may have lost each other due to historical circumstances, but we are back together. As my hometown preacher says, “Amen, belongs right there!”

 

Reunited Again and It Feels So Good

 

 

Dawn and her mom, Anne Louise Hirshson

 

 

 

 

Julia’s Wish Has Been Granted-Part 1

This post is dedicated to my Irish-American 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Linnehan Mitchell. 

Julia was born in Boston around 1875 to Irish immigrants, William Linnehan and Ellen Shaughnessy, who were from Buttevant, County Cork, Ireland. Sometime around 1894, Julia met my 2nd great-grandfather, James D. Mitchell. At the time, James owned a fish market in Boston. James had moved from Petersburg, VA to Boston after the Civil War. Both of his parents were tri-racial (Black/Native American and White parents). Somehow, Julia met James and fell in love. According to my great-grandmother, James traveled back to Petersburg and found a light-skinned Black women to marry in Julia’s name. It was a proxy marriage as interracial marriage was illegal at the time. With their 1895 marriage certificate in hand, he went back to Boston.

Julia’s marriage to James led to her being disowned by her entire family. I can’t imagine how this must have felt. Not being able to see or communicate with your parents or siblings must have hurt her immensely. To be rendered invisible by your own flesh and blood must have felt like being exiled. I know Julia wished that her whole family could be reunited at some point.

For an interracial couple, living together in Boston was very difficult. To stop from being harassed, James made the choice to move his family from Boston to Stoughton,MA, about a half-hour south of Boston. He purchased a farm and built a store on his property. The people in town used to refer to him as the “Old Indian” which is the only physical description we have of him. Life was good for a time. But, then Julia contracted tuberculosis.

My great-grandmother, Helen Mitchell Fischer, and me in 1967

Julia passed away on April 2, 1905 leaving a grieving husband and 6 small children. My aunt said she still possess the receipts from her funeral which included a horse drawn carriage. None of her own family attended her funeral, but two male family members —one was her brother— went to James’ farm after her death and wanted to take the white looking children, including my great-grandmother who was 6 years old. Of course, James told them where they could go.  In the 1910 census, we see that he hired a caretaker to look after the kids while he was working.

Over a year ago, my cousin Andrea found a 2nd marriage certificate for James and Julia that documented their official marriage in Boston on February 28, 1905. I get emotional thinking that, as Julia lay on her deathbed, she was trying to guarantee that the lives of her children would be protected and they would remain with their father. James and Julia also switched their religion from being Catholic to being Episcopalian. Apparently, the Catholic Church would not allow a widower to keep his children with him. I admire the length to which my 2nd great-grandparents went to keep keep their family together. This was true love.

Fast Forward to 1978:

I was 11years old when I asked my grandmother, Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? We always ate a boiled dinner on that day and I remember thinking that I wasn’t Irish, not with this brown skin (LOL), and I wondered why we were eating Irish food. My Nana’s response was, “Just look at your great-grandmother. ” Now, I knew what my Nana Fischer looked like, but, up until that time, she was just Nana Fischer. I never looked at her through a racial lens until that day. It was then that I learned about Julia. My great-grandmother never talked about her mother much as she died when she was very young. But, my Nana Fischer must have remembered her St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with her mom because that was what got passed down to us.  And I am very thankful for that.

Fast Forward to January 2013:

I just just received my 23amdme.com DNA test results. I had been anticipating finding some of my Irish-American DNA cousins. I had also been debating how to bring up the disowning issue. When I got my results, the first surname I looked up was Linnehan/Lennihan. There was only one DNA cousin that had that surname and it was M. Dawn Terrell. I decide to reach our to her.

Dawn and Me

I sent Dawn an email that described my descent from the Linnehans. I also mentioned how Julia was disowned by her family and how my Nana Fischer clung to what little Irish culture she remembered. I also expressed how happy I was to have made contact with my Irish-American cousins.

Here was part of Dawn’s reply verbatim:

"It sounds as if Julia and James had a really strong bond, as they went to a lot of trouble to be together despite the discrimination against them as an interracial couple. Interesting that the Linnehans were so against their union, and yet here are two of their descendants, both interracial, connecting all these many generations later! And it sounds like the one thing that was passed down in both our families was a respect for the Linnehan's Irish heritage."

It turns out that Dawn and I are 3rd cousins 1X removed.  Her great-grandmother Annie (my 2nd great aunt) and Julia were sisters.  Dawn is the only DNA cousin whom I have found that I have a paper trail for too. She is also one  of my highest matches on 23andme, FTDNA,  AncestryDNA and Gedmatch. Every time I see her name, I smile knowing that she is the link to my Irish-American ancestry.

So, three generations later, the descendants of Julia and Annie are back together again. I truly believe that Julia is smiling down on us knowing that her wish has been granted.

Fast Forward to November 2013:

I found out through AncestryDNA that I am 13% Irish.  Julia will always be with me.