Monday, July 18, 2011

Little gifts: "Raising the Dead" updated

This is Maggie.

Those who have followed this blog for a while know that I am a genealogist. I wrote a few years ago about my particular interest in my female ancestors.
But my foremothers mean the most to me. We are all women. History tells me that their lives were harder and much different than mine, but I wonder if any of our hopes, dreams and worries are the same. What part of them remains in me? Are my wide hips like Josephine’s? Am I tall like Lucinda? Am I independent like Violet? Do I walk like Maggie? So I dig, and with the scraps of their lives that I can find, try to assemble a woman. And I imagine my ancestors peering over my shoulder as I work, like ghosts waiting to materialize.
My paternal great-grandmother, Maggie, was born in 1881 in Mississippi. By 16, she was a wife and soon-to-be mother. Some records list Maggie as “black,” some “mulatto.” Her grandson, my father, remembers very little about her, except that she was “quiet and had pretty, grey eyes.”
I've also written about the "little gifts" you get as a family researcher: little nuggets of information--photos, letters, scraps of lives lived--that bring ancestors to life and make all that tedious digging through records and haunting of libraries and court houses worth it.

So, the image at the top of this post is my latest gift from the genealogy gods. (Or, more accurately, a Hearon family reunion website.) It is my grandmother Mary Magdalene Clark, or "Maggie," with her husband James Walter Hearon. I still don't know how Maggie walked or talked, but the photo above and this one (right) bring me one step closer to bringing her to life. If I stare long enough, I begin to imagine I can hear her.

Finding this photo, of course, has stoked my interest in this branch of my family tree. I've going to spend the next few months focused there. Family lore says that Maggie and her husband owned a large, cotton-producing farm in the Mississippi Delta--so large in fact that they employed sharecroppers. If true, there are no doubt some compelling family history to be uncovered. I imagine owning a success family business was not easy for a black family in Mississippi in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

I'll keep digging. And I look forward to receiving more "little gifts."


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