This is the Dec. 2 entry for the GeneaBlogger Advent Calandar. Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?
For Christmas we ate the same thing we ate for Thanksgiving. When I was younger we always went to my mother’s parents for dinner. My mother’s sister and her three daughters would also be there, usually they rode with us. My mother’s parents were from Alabama and we had a pretty traditional southern meal of turkey with corn bread dressing with side dishes. My grandfather taught my grandmother to cook when they married and he always cooked the turkey himself in an old gas stove in the basement. It was one of those with the long legs. With the turkey, we had candied sweet potatoes (no marshmellows!), rice, turnip or collard greens, corn pubbing and green beans. My grandmother made her salad, which was great but I would never make. She cut up lettuce and onions very tiny and added lots of mayonaise. There was a relish plate with carrot and celery sticks, olives and tomatoes and always fresh, hot biscuits.
They ate an early dinner and when we left there we would go to my paternal grandparents and have desert. There would be sweet potato or pumpkin pie and mince meat pie and fruitcake. The pies were homemade. The fruitcake was store bought. These were served with store bought eggnog and lots of political discussion. My other cousins would be there and we had another bunch of gifts to open.
For several years we ate dinner at home and we had the same things except no greens and no Nanny’s salad or biscuits. We also had macaroni and cheese and brown and serve rolls. My mother was a teacher and we did not have lots of Christmas baking. Perhaps a pie or two. I almost forgot the box of chocolate cherries and the large box of Sanders Miniature Chocolates. Wish I had a box coming this Christmas! Above is a shot of me, my mother and my sister posing with the remains of a turkey. Probably taken around 1966. I remember one traumatic Christmas when the oven was broken and my mother had to cook the turkey in a stand alone oven. Somehow a wire in the top touched the turkey while it was baking and left a greenish mark. My mother said we might all be poisoned and threw the whole turkey out! We “borrowed” some turkey from my grandmother and dinner went on but no leftover turkey for snacks.
Our tree was always real. My sister, my mother and I would go to a tree lot to pick it about a week before Christmas. This was Detroit and in my memory it is cold and there is snow on the ground. We picked short needled trees of medium height and (of course) well shaped. We used a mix of glass balls my mother had collected over the years. When we were old enough, I can’t remember when that was, we helped decorate the tree – after my mother put on the beads, the tinsel and the multicolored lights. We had the big lights but they were pointy. My grandparents had round lights. The icicles went on last and there was no tossing. It was put on a few pieces at a time up and down all the branches. I remember one year that my mother did not want to trim the tree and was pretty unpleasant about my sister and me doing it and doing it NOW, but usually it was a pleasant evening, either Christmas eve or close to it. My mother usually had on the CBC, the Canadian station and by that time they would be playing Christmas music. The tree was always beautiful.
My maternal grandparents, Nanny and Poppy, waited until Christmas eve to buy the tree and set it up. The tree was always scrawny and thin but that was how their tree was supposed to be. Their ornaments were very old. I wonder what happened to them. What I remember are some little Santas that went on the tree and a jolly Father Christmas looking Santa that stood in the window with his removable pipe. My paternal grandparents had a bigger house and a big, full, long needled tree that was in the corner of the living room next to the stairs. My uncles Louis and Hugh plus my aunt Barbara and cousin Ernie lived there in addition to my grandparents so there were always a lot of presents under the tree.
The black and white photographs are all from the same Christmas. I think it was about 1962. I was still in high school, about 15. My sister was two years younger. Unfortunately these were all taken with a polaroid and they show it. The colored photo is from 1968. We had moved into the flat we shared with my grandparents. They were downstairs and we were upstairs. I had just graduated from Wayne State University and was about to head out into the world to seek my fortune. But that’s another story.
One day after dinner at my grandmother Cleage’s house, my aunt Gladys and I sketched each other. Mine was thankfully lost. I’ve kept her’s. I glued it in a scrapbook with rubber cement before I knew better. I should have framed it.
I have never participated in a carnival of genealogy before. I thought about it but never took the plunge. After reading Jasia’s contribution about her tinkering father I started thinking about the handy men in my family. On my father’s side his brother Hugh Cleage was called on when things needed to be fixed. My husband’s father was famous for building things and taking them apart. He could build and he could fix, he just didn’t seem to have enough time to finish. Sometimes he would get ideas for how he could do it better and change up in the middle of a big project multiple times.
The one I’m going to write about is my mother’s father, Poppy. I’ve written about him before, about his notebook with projects started and completed. See that here. Poppy had a workshop in his basement. It was in the old coal room. He had a workbench, a tool chest, and a bin full of small pieces of wood. He had filled up an old treadle sewing machine with a stone to sharpen knives and tools. Outside of the workshop in the main basement was a long workbench. There were short pieces of wood stored underneath. Against the wall were longer pieces. The workshop had a special smell of machine oil and wood and basement.
Poppy made furniture sometimes. Not fine pieces but basic, useful pieces. A rocking chair that sat in the upstairs hall when my mother was growing up where it was used to rock fussy babies and sick children. I remember it next his bedroom window where you could sit and rock and look out over the backyard. He made a small table that sat on the landing for the telephone. The phone had a long cord so it reached upstairs at night and downstairs during the day. He built me a wonderful two-sided dollhouse when I was about 8 and described one I had seen at a friend’s house. I was the envy of my cousin and sister. I still have it.
During the summer he set up a homemade slide when we came over. The wood was planed and sanded smooth and then waxed regularly with the ends of candles. I don’t remember any splinters. It wasn’t a very long slide and eventually it served more as a support for our tents.
Poppy built flower boxes for his back porch and the back yard as well as for his daughter’s porch. He could be seen coming up the walk to repair things with his toolbox, like a doctor coming to see a patient. I remember Saturday afternoon spent at Plymouth Congregational Church while he fixed something; often it was the temperamental furnace. Both of my grandparent’s sons died as young children so my mother spent a lot of time with her father fixing things.
My grandfather was in his eighties when things in his neighborhood became very dangerous. It was around 1968. Someone shot into the house. A man walked in to the open side door, went upstairs and went through my great, great Aunt Abbie’s things and stole some. She thought it was odd but didn’t try to stop him. Luckily he came in and out of the house without running into my grandfather. Eventually someone came to the door with a gun. Poppy slammed the door shut and fell to the floor. After this he and my parents decided to sell their houses and buy a two family flat together. They bought one out by the University of Detroit. Poppy set up his basement workshop again. He and my mother planted corn and green beans and tomatoes in every spare space in the small yard. Some days he would take a wagon and collect useful or interesting items people had thrown out around the neighborhood. It was my last year of college and I was ready to leave home. I wish now I had taken the time to sit and talk to my grandparents. Maybe they were ready to tell some of those stories I wonder about if I had just asked.
I worked all day yesterday pulling together records and information to write about why Aunt Willie might have been sitting so far from her husband, Uncle Victor, in my last weeks photo. I was going to use the photo on the left side which was taken on the same porch. I was going to talk about her relative’s memories of her as sad and obessesed with her daughter and her well being. About how her husband’s well known unfaithfulness, the death of two of her three children within three years of each other, the son her husband fathered earlier in the same year they were married and how the son, Victor Julius Tulane, and his mother lived right down the street from them in 1900.
Then I got interested in Victor Tulane’s early history, his mother who was a servant and probably former slave of Louis Tulane in Elmore County Alabama and his son, Horatio Tulane, who was twenty years her senior and Victor’s father. I was going to mention that the Tulane family recognized the relationship. How they were a merchant family and that after Victor packed his bags at age twleve and walked the 14 miles from Wetumpka to Montgomery, he became a very successful merchant too.
I was going to mention that Victor’s son, Victor Julius came to live with the family when he was in his teens and was sent to school in Michigan where he became a chemist. But at that point I decided to google Victor J. Tulane and see if I could find a picture of him because I did not have one. I like to have pictures. I had heard he looked very like Naomi, his half sister, but he had blue, blue eyes. I found two photographs of him, both from Crisis magazine. Then I thought I would look for his father. I found a group photograph with him in the Alabama Archives. I was on a roll, why not try to find a picture of Naomi’s husband, Ubert Conrad Vincent who was a well known black doctor in New York during the 1920’s. He pioneered a medical procedure that is known as the Vincent procedure. Here is where I hit the jackpot. I found an 8 page article from the Journal of the National Medical Association, 1975. That gave an in depth look at his whole medical career with 5 photographs, including one of him and his wife Naomi soon after their marriage. Naomi and Ubert’s daughter told me that they met at a cast party for the first black Broadway musical at the home of Noble Sissle so I looked for a cast photo. Found. Last, I looked for a photo of their residence on Striver’s Row in Harlem. Still there and lookin’ good.
Now I will identify the photographs in the collage above, starting from the bottom left.
1. The Crisis Jun-Jul 1959. “First Church – Dr. Victor J Tulane (L), chairman of the trustee board of the John Wesley AME Zion church, Washington, D.C., presents chairman Theodore Taylor of the Washington branch a $100 check toward his church’s NAACP life memership. …”
2. “Dr. Vincent in the door of his Sanatorium”.
3. Noble Sissle with chorus girls from the musical “Shuffle Along”.
4. “Dr. Vincent (right at table) assisting Dr. Keyes (?) in an operation at Bellevue.” (Journal of the National Medical Association January 1975)
1. The Crisis Oct 1933 ” Awards To Dr. Victor J. Tulane of the University of Michigan, election to Sigma, Xi, honorary science fraternity. Mr. Tulane was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Michigan in June.”
2. A blow up of Victor Hugh Tulane’s head from the group photo above.
3. Skipping over to the group shot on the far right of that row – from the Journal – “Dr. Vincent (right) with (from left) Dr. Marshall Ross, Hon Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, and Mayor McKee.”
1.Tuskegee College Board of Directors. Front row center is Booker T. Washington. Back row far right is Victor H. Tulane (Willie’s husband. Naomi’s father)
2. From the Journal “Dr. and Mrs. Vincent shortly after their marriage.”
3. From google street view, the place the Vincents called home.
My Aunt Gladys Cleage Evans drew this pencil sketch of me after dinner at my grandmother Cleage’s dining room table. I did a sketch of her at the same time. It has been (thankfully) lost. At some point I tore the picture out of my journal notebook and glued it into a scrapbook. This was before I knew what glue can do. I’ve cleaned it up some. Many lively political discussions took place around that table. Click for other Sepia Saturday offerings.
This isn’t Thanksgiving. I don’t see a turkey. Most of the cousins are missing. But it’s the only family dinner I could find that wasn’t in the summer for this side of the family. My grandmother at the end of the table in photo one and my grandfather at the end in the other. My father chewing next to my grandfather.
My husband’s family is putting together an online family tree. Last week one of his sisters called to ask why their father’s half sister Catherine Williams wasn’t on it. I’ve been looking for Aunt Catherine for decades, starting when I asked my father-in-law what her mother’s name was. He told me he didn’t know because when her mother died and his father married his second wife, Catherine was raised by her grandmother and didn’t grow up with them.
I took this question as a challenge (of course) and started looking again. I have had good luck with Family Search Pilot and marriage records so I started by looking there for Arthur Williams in Dallas County, Arkansas. I knew that he was living in Dallas County in the 1900 and the 1910 from the censuses and that he was born about 1886. I found an Arthur Williams (b. 1887) and Nancy Burrough (b. 1890) were married in Dallas county 21 May 1908. I also found Arthur Williams married his second wife, Annie Willie Butler in Dallas County 11 Jan 1910.
Next I went to Ancestry.com and searched for Nancy Burrough in the 1900 census. She was living in Calhoun County, right below Dallas County, with James and Maggie Burrough, (her parents) and several siblings. She was 8 years old. I searched for Maggie Burrough and found her a widow in 1910. Living with her in Calhoun County were 5 children and one grandchild – 1 year old Carrie C. Williams. This seemed to be Catherine. I searched for Maggie in the 1920 census but didn’t find her or anyone else in the household. I had done wild card searches for Catherine before – Cathe*- because I thought she might spell it with an “i” or a “y”. Nothing. I tried a “K”. Still nothing. I tried the wild card with Cath* and there she was! In Calhoun County Cathrine Williams, now 11 years old, was living with her grandmother Maggie Burrow and her daughter Agnes M. Harrison her two children James E. Harrison and Oma Harrison, Maggie’s son Lindsy Burrow and two other grandchildren Roger L Walsh and Christine Vaughn.
We contacted Jim’s sisters with this information and received more information. Catherine had married a Mr. Hill. She died in Seattle, WA. I looked for her in both the Social Security Death Index and the Washington State Death index. I found that Catheryn Hill, last residence Seattle, born 27 Dec 1908 had died Jun 1979. Her social security card had been issued before 1951 in Missouri. The Washington Death Index told me Catherine N. Hill died 15 Jun 1979 in Seattle. She was 70 and born about 1909.
I passed this information along and suggested sending for death certificates and social security application and marriage license to document this information and make sure this was the right person. One of my sister-in-laws emailed back that she had an obituary for Catherine. I asked her to send me a copy, which she promptly did. Here is what it said.
“Catheryn Nancy Hill, born December 1907 in Thorton, Calhoun County, Arkansas, Departed this life Friday, June 15, 1979 in the Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.
She was reared by her grandmother, Mrs. Maggie Burrough, and Mr. and Mrs. Jesse McCoy of Thornton, Arkansas. At age 12 she united with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Served in choirs, Sunday School and other departments of the church. Reaching adulthood she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas and joined the Mt. Zion Baptist Church there under the Pastorate of the Rev. Fred T. Guy, Sr., later moving to St. Louis, Missouri.
In February the year of 1944, Mrs. Hill moved to Seattle, Washington and united with Mt. Zion Baptist Church by Letter from Union Baptist Church of St. Louis, Mo.
Mrs. Hill, a former Boeing employee was active in Civic, Health, Red Cross, Caring & Coping with young people, church and hospital work most of her life and found doing domestic and catering services an art in Arkansas cities of Hot Springs and Little Rock, St. Louis, Mo. and Seattle, Washington. “HELPING OTHERS” was her motto and source of survival.
Her memories will be cherished by Dad Jesse McCoy, Pine Bluff, Arkansas; brothers: Grover C. McCoy, Seattle, James E. Harrison and Chester A. Williams, St. Louis, Mo., Ambrose T. Williams, Greenville, Mississippi, James T. Williams, Chicago Illinois, Sterling B. Williams, Daphne, Alabama; Sisters: Mrs. Wylverlyn M. Williams, Chicago, Illinois, Mrs. Vinnie Jean Mitchell, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Mrs. Verta Mae Wright, Wichita, Kansas; Cousins: Mrs. Ruth Johnson Jacobs, Thorton, Arkansas, Mrs. Corrine Fletcher and Mrs Lizzie Hurston, Detroit Michigan, Mr. Lenzie and Mr. James Burroughs, Los Angeles, California; a deceased brother; Rev. Samuel W. Williams M.A., D.D., PhD, was Dean of Religion at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia.”
Edward Cleage was my grandfather, Albert Cleage’s brother. This post is a chapter of a memoir written by his daughter, Beatrice in 1990. This is a part of the SepiaSaturday postings.
Memories To Memoirs
Written in 1990
By Beatrice Cleage Johnson
Chapter 2 – Early Years of Life
1926 – I remember the early years of my life living at 216 Ridge Street. We used wood and coal stoves for heating and cooking. I will never forget the range stove that my mother cooked on. She made biscuits every morning for breakfast. There was a warmer at the top of the stove for left overs. I would always search the warmer for snacks. We had an outside toilet. Everyone that we knew had these, so we thought this was it. We never dreamed of ever having inside plumbing.
We had a water hydrant in the front yard and every night it was my job to fill the water buckets which had stainless steel dippers in them. My sister also helped with the chores. My other job was to clean the lamp chimneys. We used oil lamps. Momma always inspected them to see if they were clean. I decided then, if I ever made any money I would have electricity put in our house. And I did. I would babysit during the summers and save my money.
I have always loved poetry. I learned many poems and stories from my mother and sisters, such as “Little Boy Blue” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. I think my favorite food was any kind of fruit. I was always happy to see Summer, when the apples and peaches were plentiful. I always looked forward to Christmas. We never saw any oranges until then. I remember my first doll. It had a china head and straw body. I loved it so much. Momma always made a special white coconut cake for Christmas, which I looked forward to. She made other pies and cakes, but the coconut was my favorite. We didn’t get too many toys for Christmas, but my sisters and I enjoyed everything we got for Christmas.
My father became ill and my mother was to be the sole support of the five girls. I was six years of age when my father passed away in 1926. My youngest sister, Juanita, was three years of age and she didn’t remember him, but I did. After he died my uncles took the two older sisters, Helen and Alberta, to Detroit to live with them. Alberta stayed and finished high school there, but Helen came back home and helped Momma care for the three of us. Ola, Juanita and myself went to high school here.
We always celebrated the holidays. Thanksgiving was very special as my birthday would sometimes come on Thanksgiving Day. We always had special food on these days. Pies, cakes, chicken, rabbit. On Halloween we always dressed in our older sister’s and mother’s clothes. One of the main pranks the boys would do was to push the outside toilets over. We used to beg them not to push ours over. In those days, thre was no trick or treat. It was all tricks. Easter was also special. Momma would make us a new dress for Easter, and Helen always bought me black patent leather slipper.