Category Archives: Carnival of Genealogy

From Montgomery to Detroit, A Congregational Church

Northern Congregationalists came south to Montgomery, Alabama after the Civil War.  First Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1872.  They also supported a school nearby. My grandmother, Fannie, attended both the school and the church. She met her husband, Mershell, in the church.

When Mershell Graham, my grandfather, migrated north to Detroit in 1918 many of his friends, who were also members of First Congregational Church, were also leaving segregated Montgomery.  In 1919 a group of nine gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church.  They first met in members houses and in borrowed space  until they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue, in 1927. They moved in, in May 15, 1927.


Plymouth Congregational Church – September 1928. Detroit, Michigan

Plymouth had been in the building a little over a year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother).  Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them.  They are in the front row, towards the left side of center.  The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V.  My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.

You can read an online history of Plymouth Congregational Church of Detroit Michigan HERE.
A post about the Cradle Roll my grandmother Fannie filled out at Plymouth  HERE.
You can read about Witherspoon Presbyterian Church which my paternal grandparents were founders of HERE.
Learn about the Presbyterian Churches founded by the Cleage side of my family HERE

Idlewild Michigan – Mostly August 1948

My Aunt Anna addressed her post card to everybody at the house.
Mrs. A.B. Cleage Sr. +Dr. L.J. Cleage + Mr. H.W. Cleage + Miss Barbara Cleage + Mrs. E. Warren Evans
6429 Scotten Ave.
Detroit 10 Michigan

Dear Folks!
Just arrived.  Haven’t made a complete investigation of the situation yet, but it promises to be a quiet, restful week.
’til then – P.W.
P.S. Hugh and I went swimming this morning – Henry who is this Vicki Draves? Gladys the cap is wonderful!  Really Barbara!

My grandfather addressed his card to his wife, Mrs. A.B. Cleage
Except food being cold and not sleeping well, having a fine time.  wish you were here.  Hugh and Anna o.k.

In 1948 the war was over and Hugh and Henry were back in Detroit after farming in Avoka as their Conscientious Objector service.  Hugh was working at the Post Office and Henry was  in law school at Wayne State.  Gladys was home visiting while waiting for her oldest son, Warren, to be born at the end of December.  No idea how or why my grandfather, Hugh and Anna had gone away alone to Louis’ cottage in Idlewild.  Anna, who signed her letter P.W. for her nick name of Pee Wee, was the youngest of Albert and Pearl’s 7 children.  She was 24 and at Wayne preparing to be a pharmacist.

Idlewild was organized by a group of white businessmen in 1912 as a resort for African Americans.  This was during the time of segregation and it didn’t matter if you were in the north or the south you weren’t going to be able to buy a cottage on a lake if you were black.  In it’s hey day, Idlewild had night clubs with acts by both the known and the unknown.  There was horseback riding at Sarges and skating at the skating rink in the club house. Various clubs from Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City got together to party and socialize.  The parties went on forever in the clubs and after hour places. This is what I heard from the old timers before I was an old timer.  My experience as a summer person in Idlewild consisted of swimming in front of my Uncle Louis cottage, socializing with my sister and cousins and jumping over the cracks in the roller rink floor (while skating).  In 1986 my husband, children and I moved to Idlewild.  It was a very different experience to be a local.  Lake county, where Idlewild is located is one of the poorest counties in Michigan.  But this isn’t that story.

My family started coming up to Idlewild in the early 1920s. In the photo above my father is the tall one with the cap on the far left, cousin Helen Mullins next, then my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage, two people I don’t know, my grandfather with his arms crossed on the right. Front row far right my aunt Barbara, the shorty in front of grandfather is Gladys, the kid with the bubble gum in his cheek or the chaw of tobacco or a toothache is my uncle Henry. I don’t know any of the rest.  Where are Hugh and Anna (aka Pee Wee)? Napping? Waiting until 1948 to show up and steal the show?

I miss Idlewild.  We went up during the summers when I was growing up and lived there for 20 years, longer than I lived any place else in my whole life. When I think about home, I think of Idlewild.  In the photo below my son Cabral is coming out of the lake after swimming across and back.  It was about 2003.

This blog post was written for The 4th Annual Swimsuit Edition The Carnival of Genealogy, organized by Jasia at CreativeGene.

Growing Up – In her Own Words by Doris Graham Cleage

For Sepia Saturday #200, I am re-sharing a piece written by my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, which I first shared in February 2011. I am going to let her tell you about  her home life and early years in this piece compiled from some of her writings when she was in her 50s.  This is my entry for Jasia’s 103rd Carnival of Genealogy, Women’s History and for Sepia Saturday #63.

My mother in the cherry tree in the yard.
My mother in the cherry tree in the yard.

In Her Own Words

My parents married in Montgomery, went to Detroit and roomed with good friends from home, Aunt Jean and Uncle Mose Walker (not really related)  A favorite way to pay for your house was to take in roomers from home and it was a good way for them to accumulate a down payment on their own house.

Mary Vee was born in this house.  It was a very difficult delivery, labor was several days long.  The doctor, whose name was Ames, was a big time black society doctor, who poured too much ether on the gauze over Mother’s face when the time for delivery came.  Mother’s face was so badly burned that everyone, including the doctor, thought she would be terribly scared over at least half of it. But she worked with it and prayed over it and all traces of it went away.  Mary Vee’s foot was turned inward.  I don’t know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but she wore a brace for years.

Finally that year ended and they bought a flat together with Uncle Cliff and Aunt Gwen (not really related).  Mother got pregnant again very soon.  Mershell Jr. was born the next year, 1921.  I can imagine how she must have felt.  She had never kept house, never cooked and never really had someone who told her what to do since she had worked at eighteen.  She had never taken care of little children or babies.

Meanwhile I guess Daddy was enjoying being the man of the house, treasurer and trustee at Plymouth, with a good job, a good wife and money accumulating in the bank for a home of his own someday.

Their house. Survey photo.

Mershell Jr. was born in1921 at Dunbar Hospital, with a different doctor.  When he was a year old, I was on the way.  The flat was too small.  Grandmother Jennie T. was consulted, sold the house in Montgomery and moved to Detroit with daughters Daisy and Alice.  She and Daddy and Mother bought the Theodore house together in 1923.  I was born in Women’s hospital and came home to that house where I lived for twenty years, until I married.  Mother and Daddy lived in it for 45 years.

Grandmother, Daisy and Alice got good jobs,  sewing fur coats, clean work and good pay, at Annis Furs (remember it back of Hudson’s?)  and soon had money to buy their own house, much farther east, on a “nice” street in a “better ” neighborhood (no factories) on Harding Ave. While they lived with us I remember violent arguments between Alice and I don’t know who – either Grandmother or Daisy or Mother.  Certainly not Daddy because when he spoke it was like who (?) in the Bible who said, “When I say go, they goeth. When I say come, they cometh.”  Most of the time I remember him in the basement, the backyard or presiding at table. Daisy and Grandmother were what we’d call, talkers.

1923, backyard, Detroit – Mary V., Mershell holding my mother Doris.

About four blocks around the corner and down the street from Theodore was a vacant lot where, for some years ,they had a small carnival every year.  I don’t remember the carnival at all.  I never liked rides anyway.  Not even the merry-go-round.  But I remember it being evening, dark outside and we were on the way home.  I don’t remember who was there except Daddy and I.  He was carrying me because I was sleepy so I must have been very small.  I remember my head on his shoulder and how it felt.  The best pillow in the world.  I remember how high up from the sidewalk I seemed to be.  I could hardly see the familiar cracks and printings even when the lights from passing cars lighted things, which was fairly often because we were on Warren Ave.  I remember feeling that that’s the way things were supposed to be.  I hadn’t a worry in the world.  I was tired, so I was carried.  I was sleepy, so I slept. I must have felt like that most of my childhood because it’s still a surprise to me that life is hard.  Seems that should be a temporary condition.

Mershell holding Doris. Fannie. Mershell Jr and Mary V in front of Plymouth Congregational Church. Detroit.

Boy children are very important to some people and my parents were both pleased to have a son.  When Mershell Jr. was killed, run over by a truck on his way to school in 1927, it was a great unhappiness for them.  I remember standing beside Mother at the front door. A big policeman stood on the front porch and told her about her child.  She did not scream, cry or faint.  Daddy was at work.  She could not reach him.  She put on her hat and coat and went to the hospital.  I never saw her helpless.  She always did what had to be done.

Mershell Jr, Mary V., my mother Doris in front. On front porch steps. Detroit, Theodore Street.

Howard was born the next year.  They both rejoiced for here God had sent a son to replace the one they had lost.  He died of scarlet fever at three.  When you read carefully the things she wrote, you’ll know what this meant to her.  But she never took refuge in guilt feelings or hysterics or depressions.  She lived everyday as best she could and I never heard her complain.

Ours was a quiet, orderly house.  Everything happened on schedule. Everything was planned. There were very few big ups and downs.  When Daddy lost his job during the depression and when my brothers died, it was Mother who stayed steady and encouraging and took each day as it came.  Daddy would be very depressed and Mother must have been too, but she never let on.  I do remember one day when I was about seven and Howard had just died.  I came into the kitchen to get a drink of water. She was at the sink peeling potatoes for dinner and tears were running down her cheeks.  I don’t remember what I said or did but she said, “I will be alright, but you go and keep your father company.”  I did, and I’m sure her saying that and my constant companionship with my father influenced my life profoundly.  She was thinking of him in the midst of what was, I think the most unhappy time in her life.  How could God send them a second son and then take him, too?

I remember…when I was very young seven or eight – if I got very angry I would go upstairs by myself-take an old school notebook and write, “I will not be angry” over and over until I wasn’t angry anymore.  Anger was rarely expressed in our house.  I only remember my father and mother arguing twice as long as I lived at home – and I was twenty before I left. But my sister and I fought often.  Antagonism was the strongest feeling we had for each other.

Back: Aunt Daisy, Grandmother Turner, my grandmother Fannie.           Front: Mary V. Mershell Jr and my mother Doris. 1927, backyard Theodore, Detroit.

 Aunt Daisy took us downtown to the show every summer and to Saunders for ice cream afterward.  And I always ended up with a splitting headache.  Too much high living I guess.  She and Alice would buy us dainty, expensive little dresses from Siegel’s or Himelhoch’s.  They all went to church every Sunday at  Plymouth (Congregational). Daisy always gave us beautiful tins of gorgeous Christmas candy, that white kind filled with gooey black walnut stuff, those gooey raspberry kind and those hard, pink kind with a nut inside, also chocolates, of course!

From top: my grandmother Fannie, my mother Doris picking something off of baby Howard who is held by my grandfather Mershell. Backyard of Theodore house, Detroit.

I lived at home until I finished college and married.  Everyday when I got home from school the minute I opened the door I knew what we were having for dinner.  The house would be full of the good smell of spaghetti or meat loaf or greens or salmon croquettes or pork chops and gravy or steak and onions.  We had hot biscuits or muffins every day.  My father did not like “store bought” bread.  I hardly knew what it tasted like until I married.  Our friends were welcome.  The house was clean. Our clothes were clean and mended.

Mary V, Howard, my mother Doris. 1930. Detroit, MI.

Mother often spoke of friends in Montgomery but I never knew her to have a close friend.  She was friendly with everyone, especially the Deaconesses with whom she worked at church. She was basically very reserved and what people call today a “very private person”.  I don’t remember ever hearing her say “I want” for herself.  Oh, she often said, “I want the best for my girls” or “I want you to be good girls” but I never heard her say “I want a new dress… or a day off… or a chocolate bar…”  and I never heard her say “I feel this way or that” except sometimes she said, “Oh, I feel so unnecessary.”  She was a great one for duty, for doing what was called for and not complaining.  You could tell when she was displeased by the expression on her face. Whenever she corrected us, she always explained why, so we came pretty early to know what was expected of us and when we erred the displeased expression was all we needed.  She didn’t nag either.  No second and third warning.  Yet I don’t remember ever being spanked by either parent.  If either one said, “Did you hear what I said?”, that did it.

We never talked back to them.  We did things we knew we weren’t supposed to do like all children, but we were careful not to get caught.  When we did get caught, we were horrified.  I never felt confined and resentful, but Mary Vee did.

Mother had some of the same reserve with us that she had with strangers.  We rarely talked about feelings, good or bad.  She and Daddy tried to keep things as even and calm as possible all the time.  So everybody cried alone although you always knew they would do anything for you because they did.  You didn’t bring your problems home and share them.  You came home and found the strength to deal with those problems.  At least I did.  If you needed help, you asked for it, but first you did everything you could.  I don’t think they ever said no to either of us when we asked for help and that extended to grandchildren too.

For more celebratory SepiaSaturday posts, CLICK!

The 4th Annual i Gene Awards at Finding Eliza (and My Cleages)

This time last year I didn’t know the i Gene Awards existed.  This year I am here to present the Awards for the best posts on my blogs in five categories.  First I would like to thank my ancestors for saving so many photographs, stories, letters, journals and scraps of paper and seeing that they got to me.  It has made my job so much easier. And now on to the awards.

The Best Picture Award goes to  My Mother – 1952  a Sepia Saturday offering that caused much speculation about why she seemed to be avoiding the camera.  Was she shy?  Was she coy?  Did she lose her earring?  Was there a cat under the chair?  We will never know but I would like to thank my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, for being so photographically mysterious.

The Best Screen Play Award goes to Eliza and the People in Her Life – a Chart  This would be a multi-generational saga that begins in slavery and ends in freedom.  We have slavery, lust, an escape to freedom while being chased by hounds, true love, vengeance, the surrender of Montgomery, reconstruction, family bonds, death in childbirth, hard work and much, much more. The chart is the cast of this drama.   I would like to thank my sister Pearl Cleage for being my casting director. Her picks are below:

  1. Young Eliza — Jurnee Smollett/played the debating girl in “The Great Debators” and was the young girl featured in “Selma, Lord, Selma!” and “Eve’s Bayou.” good actress.
  2. Old Eliza — Barbara O/Yella Mary from “Daughters of the Dust.” amazing actress and looks like she could be what Jurnee would look like old. (let’s say old Eliza is the one who starts telling the story in flashbacks so she’d start and then Jurnee would fade in as Eliza in her twenties when she meets Dock.
  3. Dock — Jeffrey Wright/played Muddy Waters in “Cadillac Records.” he’s a little old, but he looks like he could be Dock and he’s an amazing actor.
  4. Annie Williams — Viola Davis/in her 40’s, so she could be in a flashback/she was nominated for an academy award for her role as the mother in “Doubt.” last year, she won a Tony for playing Rose in “Fences” on b’way.
  5. Milton Saffold — here come the movie stars… maybe Jake Gyllenhaal he was in “Brokeback Mountain” and lots of movies. he’s a good actor. the right age, in his 30’s.
  6. Georgia Whitting —  Reese Witherspoon, usually comedic, but was really good playing June Carter Cash in the movie about Johnny Cash.  She’s from Tennessee so she could call on her roots.
  7. Edmund and Jane Harrison — oh, let’s throw in a couple of really BIG time movie stars for fun. how about angelina jolie and brad pitt?
  8. Martha Harrison —  how about Dakota Fanning? she’s young, blond, not a bad actress.
  9. Clara Bolden – Tariji P. Henson. got nominated for an Ocsar for a weird movie two years ago. was also a star of the awful movie, “Hustle and Flow”, but that wasn’t her fault. she’s pretty good and can play sad and angry, two emotions required of colored mistresses.

The Award for Best Documentary goes to In Which I Hit the Google Photo Jackpot, another Sepia Saturday offering.  In this one I wrote about the information I found trying to explain why the Tulanes might have been sitting so far apart on the porch, get side tracked into researching Victor Tulane’s family and then talk about all the photographs I found for this family, using google, while just trying to illustrate the original information.

The Award for Best Biography goes to the two part series about my Grandmother Fannie Mae Turner Graham 1888 – 1974 – part 1 and Fannie Mae Turner Graham 1888 – 1974 – Conclusion I would like to thank my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, for writing this series in 1976.

Last but not least, The Award for Best Comedy goes to a post for which I have to give credit to my Uncle Henry Cleage (Does it seem to you, right about now, that I wrote only half of these posts, at most??) for the short story Just Tell The Men – A short story by Henry W. Cleage.

A big thank you to Carnival of Genealogy hostess, Jasia, at Creative Gene for creating these Carnivals!

Poppy Could Fix Anything

(This post was written for the 100th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy There’s One In Every Family hosted by Jasia of Creative Gene)

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.

"Poppy on Fairfield"
Poppy outside the family flat.

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.