My sister Pearl interviewed me in 2010 about my interest and findings in family history research. I talked about some of the stories I’ve blogged about – Dock Allen’s Escape, finding Eliza in the 1860 census and slave documents. I have found more information since the time of this interview – court records about the land case between the Turners, newspaper articles, and several Wills from slave holders who owned my Cleages and Turners.
It gives you a chance to hear my voice and my thoughts about how to start your research. I highly recommend being interviewed. I am enjoying listening to myself talk, for one thing. If you can’t find anyone to interview you, interview yourself! I think it makes a great addition to the legacy we are leaving for those following us.
2010 Story Corps interview with my sister Pearl asking me about my research and findings.
I am going to compare how my grandparents lives differed in the everyday things from mine. I’ll use 1923 (which is when my grandparents and family moved into the house I remember) most of the time but sometimes the 1950s creep in there. I can remember how different things were even when I was little in the 1940s from today.
For breakfast I had oatmeal with raisins, cooked in a stainless steal pan on a gas stove. Water from the faucet. Oatmeal from a cardboard container with a plastic top, milk from a waxed cardboard carton stored in the electric refrigerator. My grandmother used a long legged gas stove. They still kept it in the basement when I was growing up. My grandfather cooked the holiday turkeys in it. They had to light the burners and oven with a match. More about kitchens in the olden days – Transitioning into the modern kitchen
Back in 1923 my grandparents would have had an ice box to keep food cold. The ice man would have delivered the ice. Milk was in glass bottles. Leftovers were kept in china containers with matching tops. I remember a green one. Or in glass bowls with cloth tops with elastic around the edges to put over the container. Our leftovers are in glass dishes with plastic tops that always end up splitting. We also use plastic containers that once held take out from the Chinese restaurant. She kept her butter on a saucer in the cupboard so that it would be ready for spreading. I do the same with mine. They kept chickens in their Detroit backyard so eggs came from them. We buy ours at the supermarket.
Washing dishes – I use a plastic dish pan. My grandmother (and so did we) used a metal one. I would still if I could find one. I fill another container with rinse water. So did she. She saved leftovers, cut them small and put them outside on the bird feeder. I throw mine in the plastic garbage can lined with a plastic bag. It goes outside to the big plastic bin after dinner. A full days garbage fit in a small metal can that had a step on opener. They wrapped it up in newspaper and took it out to the metal garbage can. There was a towel rack on the back of the basement door and a continuous towel hung there. We have a rack on the wall and hang smaller towels over them.
Washing clothes – I use a small washer/dryer. My grandmother used a wringer washer and hung the clothes up on lines in the basement. By the time we came along, she had an electric wringer washer but that is as far as she was willing to go. When I was small, we had a wringer washer too. It wasn’t until my mother retired that they got an electric dryer. I like to hang my wash outdoors but haven’t hung any lines since we moved here, so it’s the electric dryer.
I spend lots of time working on computer research – nothing to compare with in my grandmother’s time.
Listening to the radio – Actually I’m listing to the radio via my computer while I type this. During the 1950s my grandmother listened to a small radio in the kitchen. She listened to the radio soaps and baseball games. I am listening to BBC4. Metamorphasis by Kalfka right now. In the evening my husband and I sometimes watch programs on our screen. It isn’t actually a television but a large computer screen that we have connected to a device (Hulu) that allows us to watch movies and old TV programs from Amazon and Netflix and PBS. It comes in via our internet. There was no television in the 1920s.
Grocery shopping – We drive to the supermarket and picks things off of the shelf. We also belong to a urban farm where we pay a certain amount and get vegetables in season. My grandfather had a garden and they had an apple tree. My grandmother made the best applesauce from the apples. I sometimes make applesause from boughten apples but cannot match hers. They kept chickens in 1920. I don’t know if they had milk delivered to the house in glass bottles like we did in the 1940s and 1950s but I’m thinking they did. It seems from reading Got Milk? that milk in Detroit began to be pasteurized in 1916 and that milk men gradually replaced the milk peddlers that arrived with containers of milk from which they spooned into the housewives pitcher raw milk.
A grocery store in 1920 Detroit. In the 1950s, I remember walking to a poultry market with my grandmother where she picked out one of the living chickens kept in crates around the room, they killed and plucked it for her. In the 1950s my grandfather bought ice cream from a dairy in the neighborhood. It was always vanilla ice cream. The kind we get at the store doesn’t match the taste.
We sleep in a queen size bed, wooden frame. My grandparents slept in a brass double size bed in 1923. They had headboard lights that hung over the bed frame so that they could read before they went to sleep. Or turn the light on when they woke up in the middle of the night. I use my kindle to read on before I go to bed and often wish I had one of those lights. Read the story of the brass bed here Dollhouse Update.
I almost forgot the bathroom! We have three bathrooms in this small house. Mine is the size of a closet, containing a stall shower, corner sink and toilet. There is no window. My grandparent’s bathroom was a full size room that was a bathroom. It had a claw foot tub, a toilet, a sink, a cupboard and a kerosene heater to warm up the room before baths. The window looked out on the neighbor’s house, but it wasn’t so close you could hear them talking. My cousin Dee Dee made up a story that the tub was magic and that it could go up through the ceiling somewhere magical, not the attic we knew was up there. They always used floating ivory soap for bath soap. I do too. And they used lava soap at the sink to get the grime off. It was a gritty gray soup.
I took 4 years of Spanish in high school. It was with the 3rd year that the total number of students in the class fell to 2. We sat in the back of the 2nd year class and worked on our assignments. We missed a lot by not being in a 3rd and 4th year class geared to learning to speak and understand the language. Both of us, I can’t remember his name, received awards in our senior year at the awards program in the auditorium.
I supplemented class work with listening to Radio Habana Cuba on the ancient short wave radio and the Mexican music program once a week. I also bought magazines and records, but I never had anybody to actually talk with or listen to. Once my Aunt Barbara suggested that I work at one of the grocery stores in Southwest Detroit that my uncles printed flyers for because I could practice my Spanish on the customers. My mother nixed that plan.
Intermediate book. 3rd year? There was a great grammar book with samples and examples and explanations but I can no longer find it.
I remember that he shared a letter from his sister once. She was a teaching nun in the Dominican Republic. I don’t remember anything about the letter.
When I got to college I studied a year of Classical Arabic my freshman year. I also took a year of French. Finally, during my sophomore year, I decided to finish my language requirement of 2 years with Spanish. I tested out of the first 1.5 years and needed 1 quarter more to complete. I should have taken more after that until I was fluent, but I did not.
When I started looking for signatures, I thought it would be easy because I have many letters through the generations. The problem was that they did not sign letters with both first and last names. Some repeatedly used nicknames. I was able to find most signatures by searching through documents – marriage licenses, social security cards, deeds, bills of sale and group membership cards. I finally found my sister’s signature in the return address on an envelope and if I’d thought of it sooner, might have found others in the same place.
My paternal grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage. I found her signature on some legal papers because all of the letters I have from her were signed “Mother”. I know that she graduated from high school in Indianapolis, IN and received all of her education in Indianapolis but I do not know the names of the schools. Her signature came from a Marion Indiana Probate record for her older brother’s will in 1946.
My paternal grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr. He attended the Athens Academy in Athens TN, Knoxville College and the Indiana Medical School in Indianapolis, IN. His signature came from his marriage license in 1910.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham. Jennie’s daughter, she was educated in Montgomery, AL at State Normal which was a school from elementary to high school, started by the Congregational Church for Black students. Her signature came from the 1910 Montgomery Census form via ancestry.com. She was an enumerator.
My maternal grandfather Mershell C. Graham. My mother said he taught himself to read. The 1940 census said he finished 8th grade. From Coosada, Elmore Countty, Alabama. His signature came from his WW1 Draft registration card in 1917 via ancestry.com.
My father Albert B. Cleage Jr. His nickname was Toddy and he often signed his letters home Toddy. He attended Wingert elementary, Northwestern High, Wayne State in Detroit and Oberlin University in Ohio. His full signature came from a Purchaser’s recipt in 1957 for a building Central Congregational Church wanted to buy.
Doris Graham Cleage, Fannie’s daughter, my mother was born in 1923 in Detroit, MI. She attended Thomas Elementary School, Barbour Intermediate, Eastern High and Wayne State University in Detroit. Her signature came from a State of Michigan Teacher Oath in 1964. The “Doris” came from a letter home from Los Angeles in 1944.
My younger sister Pearl Michell Cleage is Jennie’s great granddaughter. She attended Roosevelt Elementary School , McMichael Junior High School and Northwestern High School in Detroit. She also Howard and Spellman Universities. Her signature came from the return address on a letter in 1991.
My own signature. Another great granddaughter of Jennie, I was raised in Detroit and attended Brady and Roosevelt Elementary Schools, Durfee and McMichael Junior High Schools, Northwestern High School and Wayne State University, all in Detroit. The bottom signature came from my third daughter’s birth certificate in 1976. The top one came from a deed for the sale of the house on Oregon where I was a witness in 1968.
When I was growing up, home was where my family lived. I didn’t think about how long we’d be there or where it was, it was home. And when we moved again (as we regularly did), the new place was home. Our familiar furniture and books were there. We ate together in breakfast or dining room, the familiar food. My sister and I did our same chores.
When I was 13 we moved into the first house we bought. We lived there almost 10 years, longer than any place else I lived up to that point. It was at 5397 Oregon. Because it was where we lived the longest, memories of home often center on this house. When I was a senior in college we moved to a 2 family flat with my grandparents. By that time I was planning my escape out into the world and that flat always felt temporary. In 6 month I graduated and was gone.
During my early years on my own, the house I lived in wasn’t always “home”. In my early 20s, I moved 7 times in 3 years. Living in back rooms, attics, other people’s houses, temporary apartments, always waiting/watching for the next place to go.
It usually takes a certain amount of time for a place to feel like home to me. Some places feel more friendly than others. After a year it begins to feel permanent, even though none have been forever so far. Although we usually move everything, or most everything, with us, several times we have not been able to and then home feels bare until we can replace the missing things with different ones. I still wish I could go back and get some of them – the roll top desk, the dressers.
Family, both in the house and in the area, make a house feel like home. A dining table where the household sits and eats meals and plays games. Puzzles, plants, paper, pencils, tools and photographs are always there. Space to work on projects.
Yesterday I talked about cousins, today I am going to share something about my aunts and uncles, some plain old aunts and uncles and some great and some 2X great.
Because my family seemed to socialized mainly with each other and a few long time family friends, I saw a lot of my aunts and uncles. When I was growing up, we spent every Saturday with my mother’s sister, Mary V. and her daughters at our maternal grandparents. We all rode over and back together. We also lived down the street and went to the same school so we saw her often.
My father’s family was very close and worked on political and freedom causes together through the years. We all went up to Idlewild together. Uncle Louis was our family doctor. My first jobs were working with Henry and Hugh at Cleage Printers. I babysat one summer for Anna and Winslow. I worked at North Detroit General Hospital in the pharmacy with Winslow. I worked with Gladys and Barbara at the Black Star sewing factory. My mother married my Uncle Henry years after my parents divorced so he was like a second father to me. I raked their memories for stories about the past for decades.
I had 4 aunts and 5 uncles, by blood. Two of my uncles died when they were children so I never knew them. All of my aunts married so there were 4 uncles by marriage. Three, Ernest, Frank and Edward, were eventually divorced from my aunts. I didn’t see them very much after that. Ernest lived in NYC and only appeared now and then so I didn’t know him very well beyond the fact he was very good looking and polite. Uncle Frank, who we called ‘Buddy’, was a an electrician. I remember him taking us to Eastern Market and boiling up a lot of shrimp,which we ate on soda crackers. And a story he told about a whirling dervish seen in the distance that turned into a dove. Edward, who we called Eddie was a doctor and I remember little about him except he was quiet and when I had a bad case of teenage acne, offered to treat it for me. Uncle Winslow was there to the end. I saw him often and I felt very connected to him. He had a wicked sense of humor and liked to talk about the past when I was in my family history mode. None of my uncles were married during my lifetime so I had no aunts by marriage.
We didn’t call our aunts and uncles “aunt” and “uncle”. We called them by their first names only. I did know two of my great aunts, my maternal grandmother’s sisters, Daisy and Alice. I knew one of my 2 X great aunts, Aunt Abbie. She lived with my grandparents until she died in 1966. Aunt Abbie was Catholic and I still have a Crucifix that she gave me.
I remember calling Daisy “Aunt Daisy”, but Alice was just “Alice”. Aunt Daisy had a distinctive voice and she laughed a lot. I remember going to dinner at their house once, and going by on holidays.
There were a host of great aunts and uncles that I never met but I knew from stories about them so that I felt like I knew them. Aunt Minnie and Uncle Hugh were my paternal grandmother’s siblings. I must have met several of my paternal grandfather’s siblings but I was small and don’t remember them, Uncle Jake, Uncle Henry, Aunt Josie and their spouses. And on the maternal side I heard so much about my great grandmother Jennie’s siblings that I felt I knew them too. When I started researching, these were not strangers – Aunt Willie, Aunt Mary, Aunt Beulah, Aunt Anna.
We didn’t call any of my parent’s friends ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’. Not surprising since we didn’t call our own aunts and uncles, ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.
Prompt for week #28 in The Book of Me is – My Parents, This is a very surface description of my parents. I have written other posts about them. Links to two are below.
My father, Albert, was born in 1911 in Indianapolis Indiana. His parents, Albert and Pearl Cleage, met in 1907 when his father came from Athens, TN to attend Medical School. His mother was born in Kentucky and moved to Indianapolis with her family before 1900. In 1912 my father and his parents moved to Kalamzaoo, MI where his father started his practice. By 1915 they were in Detroit where they remained. He was the oldest of 7 children. His nickname was Toddy and his friends and those who knew him in his youth continued to call him that throughout his life. My father was one of the most intelligent people I have known. He was well read and could think and understand both history and current events. I wonder what he would have to say about the state of the world today.
My mother, Doris, was born in Detroit in 1923, the third child of Mershell and Fannie Graham who came to Detroit from Alabama in 1917. She lived in Detroit, in the same house on Theodore, until she married in 1943. The only nickname she had was “Stubs”, and the only person I heard call her that (a name she wasn’t fond of.) was her sister’s husband, my uncle Buddy Elkins. My mother was one of the most independent people I have known. She taught in Detroit elementary schools for almost 20 years. She taught reading during the last years before she retired and loved helping children discover reading.
They met at Plymouth Congregational Church and were married there in 1943. In the early years of their marriage they moved several times – to Lexington, KY, to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, CA, to Springfield, MA and then back to Detroit. Judging from letters my father wrote home, their marriage seemed to be one of shared interests and activities, until I was born. At that point, it seems to me, that my father expected my mother to become a traditional wife and mother while he continued the interesting life of organizing and running the church.
They were divorced in 1954. They remained on friendly terms. We saw a lot of my father as he was home during the week so my sister and I ate lunch at his house during school week. When we were older, we spent the weekend with him frequently.
In 1960 my mother married my father’s brother, Henry. They remained together until her death April 30, 1982. My father never remarried. He died February 20, 2000.
When I saw Prompt 18 – Your First Gift, in The Book of Me, I was sure I had a list of what I received when I was born in my baby book. Unfortunately, when I checked there was a list of people who gave me gifts, but not a mention of a gift. I remember having a little silver cup and a silver fork and spoon but I have no idea who gave them to me. I don’t know where they are now and I can find no photographs of them.
Something I did notice was that the handwriting and the language used in the baby book appears to be my father’s and not my mother’s. I had always thought it was my mother who kept the book. Only a few pages were filled out at the time. There is some information I added years and years later when I was about 12 – When I started to talk and walk, what childhood illnesses I had, and a list of some of my elementary school teachers.
One last thing about the baby book – it was found in pile of trash to be thrown out with other papers from my father’s office at the church but someone saw it and saved it. Why was it in the office? Anyway, I’m glad it was rescued.
Looking again, I see that Dearie Reid brought my going home outfit to the hospital. I’m thinking that she bought it. I wonder what I wore home. It must have been the second week in September in Springfield, MA by that time. Maybe cool? Maybe hot?
The first toy that I remember is the bear I am holding in the above photograph. Her name was Beatrice. She wore a frilly, light blue pinafore. In this picture she looks quite fresh. Maybe I received her for my first birthday. I had her for a very long time. I don’t remember when she disappeared or was thrown out.
Here is collage of me with a variety of my early toys. They included a wagon, old pots and pans, a wooden push mower, plastic records, a ball, a tin dollhouse, a little Beauregard doll with a bottle that emptied and refilled, little flat plastic cowboys. I had several buggies and strollers and an endless supply of dolls. Books aren’t really toys but I had many little golden books during this time. The swing that Pearl is putting a doll in, was made of wood and blue. The tin ferris wheel was also hers and took many a little doll for a ride until it was no longer around.
After my sister Pearl was born when I was 2.6, I played with her most of the time because she was always there. And, of course, she was a delightful playmate. One of the best addition to any playthings we had during those years was our imagination. I remember in later years making bows and arrows from sticks, strings and bottle caps, riding on saw horse and playing endless imaginary games with our cousins. We had a good supply of Little Golden and Wonder books.
The first board game I remember was “Sorry”. We played it often in the evenings the summer that we spent at my mother’s parents. My grandfather, Poppy, played with us while eating his snack of grated cheese and ritz crackers and a glass of buttermilk. Later I remember playing cards on the basement stairs of my cousins, endless games of “War”.
When we were older one of our gifts at Christmas would be a board game and we would play it over and over during that Christmas. Some never saw the light of day again but some we played throughout the years. Monopoly was popular for awhile. Chess was a staple. The summer of 1966 when I met my future husband at Wayne State University, we played chess almost everyday. He also taught me to play Solitaire.
We still play a lot of games in my family. “Five Crowns” is popular with my grandchildren. My husband and I play “Sequence” a lot. When I play games with my grandchildren I never let them win or make it easier for them than I would an adult. I don’t try to crush them, but if they win, they really won.
There is a toy trunk in the collage that I received as a gift one Christmas. That is as close as I could get to the well packed travel case below. Next time I go anywhere, I’m going to take a picture of my suitcase.
I don’t remember hearing memories of childhood Halloween celebrations from my parents. I do have a few memories of my own. When I was about 7 years old and we lived in the parsonage at 2254 Chicago Blvd in Detroit, the Youth Fellowship met in the basement. They were having a Halloween party. I remember my sister and I watching them come in all dressed in various costumes. I don’t know if it was the same year as this photograph was taken or not.
That same year we dressed up and went over to our cousin’s house to help distribute candy to the trick-or-treaters. I remember wearing my Aunt Mary Vee’s skirt and dressing as a Gypsy. We never were allowed to go trick-or-treating, but enjoyed passing out the candy. When we were highschool age, we would sometimes leave town for the day to avoid the whole holiday and passing out candy by not being home. I have no pictures of us in any Halloween costumes.
When my own children were old enough to know Halloween was happening, we did not live in the city. I remember my very young daughter’s going with the older neighbors up and down our short block trick-or-treating in Mt. Pleasant, SC. It was unseasonably cold and they had to wear winter coats over their homemade costumes.
We moved to Mississippi the next week, where we lived out in the country and there wasn’t any trick-or-treating, instead there would be an evening carnival at the school. The students would dress up and there would be booths with games and treats. In Excelsior Springs, MO I don’t remember my kids going trick-or-treating but two had paper routes and their customers gave them so much candy! Way, way more than anyone needed in a year.
The next move was to Idlewild, MI, in the middle of the Manistee National Forest. Some years there was a school carnival. Other years the kids went to town and trick or treated the 2 block business area. A couple of years my Aunt Gladys and Henry had a get together with cider and doughnuts for Halloween. The year when I was librarian at the Yates Township library we had a community party with bobbing for apples, a fishing booth and refreshments. Here is an article about it from the Ruff Draft, our family newsletter.
This post was written with both Sepia Saturday #201 and The Book of Me “Halloween” prompt in mind.