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This post is written for participation in the blog carnival Cabinet of Curiosities, 10th Edition “Bring me your weird, your wonderful, your hidden items yearning to be seen!” Show and tell for grown ups, Cabinet of Curiosities is a celebration of the oddities and marvels of natural history, anthropology, archaeology and historic interest that reside in our personal collections. Tell us the stories behind the historical or religious relics, artifacts, mementos, talismans, specimens and ephemera in your steamer trunks, sock drawers and dusty fireplace mantles.

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Shadowland Cover

I found this book in my grandmother’s basement in a box of crusty disintegrating old books. A faded and waterstained, embossed, fabric-covered, hunter green book with the title Shadowland having been cut out of a different source and glued diagonally across the front. This quote is taped alongside it:

From out a thousand years
A moment came-and went
To bring but future tears,
A passing instant sent.

What matter all regret
Lives are lived for less-
Just one moment set
In perfect happiness.

The original book has the words French Revolution printed on the spine of the book, though they are barely legible. I searched on Google Book Search for some of the pieces of text in the book, and found it includes “Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Typical Cahiers of 1789”, which was published by the Department of History of the University of Pennsylvania in 1898. I believe that Lincoln College, the historically black college my Great Great Grandfather attended, must have used this text for one of its classes.
Reginald W. Stewart Signature
The name Reginald W. Stewart is written inside the front cover. The title page, and several other pages are missing. The pages are brittle and brown, and most of them have been pasted over with the yellowing cut out sections of a newspaper series called John-A-Dreams. It is a collection of dream interpretations with titles such as: VIII. Significance of the Fruits That Grow on Dream Trees; LXXL. Dreams of Writing, Pens and Pencils. They begin in the first pages of the book with:
1. When you See Little Children.
When you See Little Children
Here is an excerpt:

Difficult to interpret, but, fortunately easy to remember, are dreams about little children. It is one of the quaint characteristics of slumber figments that some are so elusive that waking memory vainly tries to recall them, while others seem to have more substance and cling to recollection; among these are dreams about little children.
If you see a baby asleep, a hasty marriage of one near or dear to you is certain to occur. If you take the babe in your arms you will be the bride; if you are a married woman, a child of yours, or if you are childless, the child of your brother or sister, will be taken ill …

It continues on in this fashion describing many different appearances of children in dreams for four paragraphs. Then closes with:

(Copyright , 1922, by W.C.P. Co.)
Tomorrow’s chapter will deal with Spirits come to Earth.
John a Dreams will be glad to interpret dream experiences sent to the Dream Editor of the Star-Eagle by its readers. No replies will however be given privately and no fee will at any time be asked or accepted. It is distinctly understood that there can be no guarantee when such questions will be answered, though every effort will be made to satisfy inquiries within three or four weeks. PLEASE WRITE ON ONE SIDE OF THE PAPER ONLY.

When illustrations are included, they are glued on the left page, but more often the left page still shows the text of the French Revolution book, and the article is glued on the right. Several pages have nothing glued in, but others have many loose clippings of John-a-Dreams just slipped between the pages. Only one includes the top of the newspaper page and includes: Newark Star-Eagle March 3, 1922.

Shadowland September 1920 The title “Shadowland” was apparently cut from the cover of a magazine by that name. (see sample) It was published 1919-1923 by Brewster publications, and covered motion pictures and theatre. I have no idea if Reginald was a subscriber of this magazine, but I found a cover alone valued at $90, and a different full issue is now listed for $750!!! A few treasures like that would have been nice to find, but I’m happy enough with my discovery.

Shadowland Profile

I have written in more detail about my Great Great Grandfather’s life here. I have almost more questions than I have facts, but here are some facts about his life:

  • He was born Jan 1, 1870 (according to his death certficiate)
  • In 1880 he lived in Dover, Lafayette Co., MO listed as Robert Honeybus with his parents: Thomas & Martha Honeybus, likely former slaves.
  • He probably was married in about 1889 to Eliza A. Mary Mason, maybe in Denver.
  • His son with Eliza, Samuel Sylvester Stewart, was born in Cripple Creek, CO anywhere from 1893 to about Dec 13, 1902
  • He was enrolled as Reginald W. Stewart at Lincoln College, Oxford, PA in 1903, 1904 & 1905. His residence was listed as Grand Rapids, MI. “He helped supported his studies by singing and occasionally working in restaurants – waiting on tables, playing the piano, violin, mandolin.”
  • He and Eliza were divorced
  • He probably married Jane Johnson sometime before 1907.
  • His son with Jane, Rex Stewart, Jr. was born Feb 22, 1907. Rex went on to achieve fame as a coronet player with Duke Ellington’s Band.
  • He resided in 1910 in Washington DC, listed as married, with wife Jane and son Rex. They were divorced while Rex was a young child.
  • He resided in 1920 in Newark, NJ now back with his first wife Eliza, son Samuel, granddaughter Mary, and was employed as an insurance broker
  • He resided in 1930 in Newark, NJ with his wife Eliza, granddaughter Mary, and was employed as a Life Insurance Salesman. His son lived next door with his second wife and their children.
  • At some point, he and Eliza divorced. He then married Ethel Garrett.
  • He died March 26, 1945 of cancer of the intestine. At his funeral, his obituary was read by the president of the Lincoln University Alumni Association. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Newark, NJ (a site I have not yet located).
  • I have questions about the circumstances of the family name change from Honeybus to Stewart, the facts around each of his marriages, the birth of his son, the family whereabouts in 1900, and where he was trained musically, among others. But those will hopefully be answered someday.

    I still remember my delight at finding this treasure. I wondered if someone else in the family had assembled the clippings in Reginald’s old school book, but Grandma was sure it was her grandfather who kept it. How peculiar! Did he send in his own dreams for interpretation? Did he keep any other books like this? Did he have such vivid dreams that he was intent on finding their meaning? Could he ever have dreamed that his Great Great Granddaughter would stumble on this book, attempt to reconstruct the details of his life, and share them with the world? I don’t have many family heirlooms, but I value this one so much because of its personal nature. It’s late now, so I’m off to Shadowland myself. I’ll close with one more fitting quote:

    “Men are the dreams of a shadow.” Pindar (Greek lyric poet of ancient Greece, the master of epinicia, 518-446)

Thomas Donovan Drowned

This post is written for the 57th Carnival of Genealogy, hosted by Jasia of Creative Gene: “I read it in the news!”

What a sad surprise I found one day when I was searching Ancestry.com for any records about my Great Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Donovan. Of course I knew he was long dead, but now instead of the benign image of the “good death” that I generally want to imagine: a quiet house, the family close by, final good byes have been said at a ripe old age, and a peaceful passing, I had the sad facts behind his actual death:

Body of Well Known Citizen found in Glove Company’s Waterway Sunday Morning. Thomas Donovan, for many years a resident of Naugatuck, who resided with his family on Church Street was found drowned yesterday morning at about 11 o’clock n the Glove company’s North Water street raceway. The body was first seen by Mr. Swanson, who is employed by L.D. Warner of Church street and Chief of Police Schmidt and Medical Examiner Tuttle were notified as quickly as possible. Both officials responded promptly but it was nearly 1 pm before the body was taken from the water. After making an examination of the body, Medical Examiner Tuttle permitted it to be removed to McCarthy’s morgue. The relatives of the deceased were notified and the body was taken to his late home on Church street. The body had evidently been in the water for several hours. There were no marks(?) upon it to indicate that the deceased had been a victim of foul play, and it is the general opinion that death was accidental.

Mr. Donovan was employed on _____ streets under Head Superintendent Pitcher and had the reputation of being one of the most faithful workman in the latter’s employ. So far as can be learned he was last seen in the ______ Saturday night shortly after 10 o’clock. He did not return home Saturday night and it is thought that his fatality occurred sometime during the night.

He leaves one son, William Donovan, and four daughters, Mrs. Patrick Rooney of Scott Street, Mrs. Michael Morris of Cherry Street, Mrs. William Ryan of Gorman Street and Miss Margaret Donovan of Church Street. The funeral will take place to-morrow morning at 8:30 from the home and then 9 o’clock at St. Francis church. The interment will be in St. James’ cemetery. Naugatuck Daily News July 22, 1901

Of course, as a family historian, I was just happy to find my ancestor’s name in print in any record, so there was a certain pleasure in finding the story. But then, just as I do today when I hear about some awful tragedy, I pictured the family. His wife had died the previous year. He lived with his unmarried daughter Margaret. I imagine she was expecting him home in the night, but probably went to sleep, and was immediately concerned when she discovered him missing in the morning. I imagine her questioning her family, (In 1901 did they even have a phone, or did she have to run to a neighbor or her brother or sisters.) Then the dread moment when they learned the truth. Did they save this newspaper clipping, or was their own heartbreak reminder enough? His youngest child, my great great grandmother Elizabeth was 27 years old, a year older than I was when my own father died unexpectedly, but she had the added sadness of having lost her mother already. Also, I learned from the paper, that after having sat in the water for hours, his body was sent to the morgue, then to his family home until the funeral the following morning. I’m sure the house was filled with neighbors, friends and family as they came to remember him – an Irish wake. But it’s rather different now, and I don’t think it’s necessarily better for us to be so removed from the process, (and the body) as we are in these days when we have a death in the family.

I never knew this sad story, nor did my great aunt Betty, who still lives in Connecticut and had shared many stories with me about the Donovan & Ryan families. Still, when I find out sad truths about my ancestors lives, I feel grateful for the chance to learn about their real lives rather than the blankness of not knowing. I think it’s because through this small trace left behind I was given the chance to share their experience, bringing me closer to them because I can imagine their lives more fully, even in grief.

Of course, once the shock of finding the story wore off, I picked it apart for shortcomings. Couldn’t they have mentioned his parents names? little more biographical detail? While writing this, I went back to Ancestry to look at the image, something I was not able to print years ago when I found it, although I transcribed it as well as I could. I no longer have access to the story, but now I see there was a follow-up story about his funeral a few days later! To be continued…

This past May 17, 2008 I was thrilled to attend the 150th Anniversary Celebration of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington DC. The story of how I came to be there is an interesting example of how the internet brings about real-life connections. In 1997, I attended the Carter-Wooling-Gwyn Family Reunion, my first time attending this reunion of my grandfather James Gwyn’s people. Grandpa’s sister Sarah married James Wooling, whose mother was a Carter – and the Carter-Wooling family has kept their ties strong by holding regular family reunions. I was determined to go, as I had recently (via the internet) located children of Grandpa’s brother David. David and his wife had gotten divorced, and their young children had been lost to the rest of the family for over 50 years.

At the reunion, one of my Wooling cousins showed me photographs of a man in priestly vestments, but no one there knew his name, only that he was a cousin of Aquila Greenleaf, my great grandmother, and that he was an early black priest in the United States. It wasn’t until August of 2005 that another cousin emailed me, saying that she found a shoebox with a copy of the priest photo labeled “Aquila Greenleaf’s first cousin Norman Duquette, the 8th black Catholic priest ordained (in the US?)”

Father Norman DuKette @ 1926

Armed with a name, I went off in hot pursuit and was quickly rewarded with several finds in Google, one of which was the History of the Archdiocese of Detroit. In their history they wrote that in 1926, Father Norman Anthony DuKette was the first African American priest ordained in Detroit. The Archodiocese told me that Father DuKette had founded Christ the King Parish of Flint, MI. When I called to ask for information, I was put in touch with one of the elderly members of that congregation who was a companion of Father DuKette and cared for him before he passed away in 1980 at age 89. He sent me some biographical materials, including Father DuKette’s parents’ names: John H. F. Duckett and Letitia Greenleaf. Letitia (May 1850 – ?) was my Great Great Grandfather Tillman Greenleaf’s sister. (Norman had adopted the spelling DuKette, but his parents and the rest of his family used Duckett) I was also given the name of a niece in Washington DC, along the programs from the 50th and 75th Anniversary of Christ the King parish. Father DuKette was remembered as a no-nonsense, strict but loving man of God. (I’ll write more about him in a separate post…)

In February of this year, Dena Grant, one of the co-chairs of St. Augustine Centennial Celebration emailed me after finding a blog post I had written about Father DuKette. Father Norman was the first baby who was baptized in their congregation to go on to the priesthood. The church was planning to honor Father DuKette as a “Son of the Church” and was welcoming any relatives who wanted to attend their celebration. About a year prior I had located (via the internet) Father DuKette’s niece and her family, and when I called to tell them about the dinner they said they wanted to attend. It would have all been beyond my means, but my grandmother very generously bought the two $150 tickets for us to attend the Gala fundraising dinner. Then she footed the bill for our Amtrak train tickets. Two more cousins, Clayton & Juanita, the daughter of my grandfather’s sister Lola drove in from Jeffersonville, Indiana to attend the dinner. The greatest treat was that without ever having met us, one of my 4th cousins, Chip & his wife Flo offered all four of us a place to stay at their home in nearby Maryland. We were so grateful for their gracious hospitality, and stunned by the beauty of their home, where we each were given a gorgeous room and separate bath. Chip’s mom (and Father DuKette’s great-niece), Penny and I became fast friends. We first met at Union station in Washington, DC when she picked Grandma & me up. Then Penny took us for a quick driving tour of the Capitol, and kindly drove us around all weekend: visiting family, attending the Gala, going to Church services, a reception at the Washington Post Building, which was the original site of the magnificent brick church that the congregation had originally built, and finally back to the station when our visit was over.

Before attending the dinner, I was completely ignorant of all of the rich history of Black Catholics in our country, and afterwards I spent some time gathering some more information for this post. St. Augustine is known as “The Mother Church of African American Catholics in the Nation’s Capitol”. The original school was named for Blessed Martin de Porres who was born in 1579 in Lima Peru, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Juan, and a young freed black slave, Anna Velasquez. He was beatified in 1873, and canonized in 1962.

Oblate Sisters of Providence

From US Catholic Magazine’s timeline of Black Catholic History:

A handful of women from Baltimore’s Haitian refugee colony begin to educate local children in their homes. With the support of the archbishop, in 1829 they create the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The first superior is Elizabeth Lange, born in Cuba of Haitian parents.

Blessed Martin De Porres Chapel & School

From the Celebration Program:

Saint Augustine Parish traces its heritage to 1858 and the efforts of a group of dedicated emancipated Black Catholics. Faced with a society that was not yet willing to put off the last vestiges of slavery and a Church that, at best tolerated the presence of Black people in its congregation, these men and women The Oblate Sisters of Provence) founded a Catholic school and chapel on 15th Street under the patronage of Blessed Martin de Porres. In what is perhaps a touch of historical irony, this school was operating four years before mandatory free public education of Black children became law in the Nation’s Capital.

From the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart:

St. Francis Xavier Church in East Baltimore was the first Catholic Church in the United States officially established for Negroes. The church was purchased on October 10, 1863 and dedicated February 21, 1864, with a group of Black San Domingo refugees, who were Catholic, and the Sulpician Fathers, who had fled the French Revolution and settled in Baltimore.

The Sulpician Fathers arrived in Baltimore in early 1790. Soon after the Sulpicians had settled at St. Mary’s Seminary on Pennsylvania Road (now Pennsylvania Avenue); there arrived in Baltimore a large number of Negro Catholic refugees. According to the Maryland Gazette, date: Thursday, July 11, 1791, the arrival in Baltimore at Fell’s Point, six ships, being a part of the French fleet which sailed from Cape Francois on June 23, 1793. Aboard the ships were between 500 and 1000 Negroes, slave and free. Most of the free Blacks were wealthy and educated. Whether slave or free, the refugees were Catholic and spoke fluent French.

Original St. Augustine Church
The original St. Augustine Church was built in 1876 on the site of the current Washington Post newspaper.

In 1889, St. Augustine Catholic Church was the host of the 1st National Black Catholic Congress a meeting “to address the needs of Black Catholics. Distinguished Men of African descent came from all over the United State to participate in this historic event.”

The dinner was lovely, and included a marvelous history lesson and slide show, which is where I got the images I have included above.

Gala Celebration 2008
From my 2008 Scrapbook – Clockwise from top left: BF & his Blue Notes Band, Penny’s with her sons and their wives, Mrs. Malloy with DuKette School Staff, Chip with Dena Grant- Co-Chair of the Anniversary Committee, Penny & me, the last dance, Gail Schneider-Negrinelli, Principal (seated) & Florence Kryglowski-Allen of DuKette Catholic School, Flint, MI, Cousin Juanita & me.)

The Gala Celebration program was full of support ads from the descendants of the founding members of the church, current members, alumni of the school, letters from their faith community, even the pope and the president! The principal and a school associate of the DuKette Catholic School flew in from Flint, MI. There were nuns who taught at the St. Augustine school, priests who served the parish, elders of the community, distant relatives like me, and the whole church family, and all of us were completely moved to be part of the celebration. The following morning we attended services at the church, my first Catholic service. I was intensely moved to imagine my ancestors taking part in a similar service, singing those songs, surrounded by a community of like minded people who did all they could to uplift their families and neighbors with education and worship. It was a beautiful service, and chills went down my arms as the music resonated through the sanctuary and through me. I will never forget this experience, and will especially treasure my new-found cousins for sharing with me so generously. At the Gala Celebration, when they called for one of Father DuKette’s family members to come up to receive a plaque in his memory, Cousin Penny waved for me to go. I was full of emotion standing up for our family, and brought the plaque straight to Penny’s mom, Mrs. Malloy, to honor her as an elder and Father DuKette’s closest living relative. I know our ancestors would have been very proud to see this day.

I wrote this post for Terry Thornton’s Getting to Know You writing challenge at Hill Country of Monroe County . Thanks Terry!

I am a 38 year old woman, the eldest of 3 sisters, grew up in New Jersey as the child of hippie parents. I am married with 3 sons, and now live in a sweet home three blocks from the beach, where I feel very blessed to have the love of family and friends, and the luxury of time and resources to follow several creative pursuits. I work helping people with computers, giving private lessons, and helping people organize and enjoy their photographs, family history and living spaces. I also enjoy sewing, scrapbooking, hand embroidery, and many other crafty projects. I feel like I have found my life’s purpose in helping other people by using my creative abilities. Whether it is researching, listening and recording information, organizing photos or helping people deal with the clutter of their lives so they can enjoy the things that are precious, I am happily working, and continually rewarded with the positive responses of the people I work with. My goals in writing this blog are to share my work with our family, friends, and anyone else who shares a love of family stories and history. I believe there is a great deal of comfort to be found in sharing stories. Doing this research, writing about it, and documenting it brings me so much joy. Many cousins who were previously unknown to me have stumbled on my family history while searching for the name of their own loved ones. Also, many of my family members are very grateful for my work in shedding light on the lives of our ancestors. I hope that people are encouraged to ask questions of their own family, and record the stories so they will not be lost, whether it is done the old fashioned way with ears and a pen, or with digital audio and video.

Brightest: Letting his Freak Flag Fly This is my best work, because I felt confident in writing it that I could tell some hard truths but with compassion, that I could observe my father’s dazzling brilliance and devastating failure from another perspective than that of a hurt child.

Breeziest: Mother’s Day
I’ve never tried to be funny on my blog, and don’t even think I have a lot of funny stories to share – but this post seemed sprightly, as I was delighted with my lovely cards and my Happy Mother’s Day when I wrote it.

Most Beautiful: One Woman – “Nanny” Mary Eliza Mason Stewart 1871-1965 I think it is most beautiful because it presents a beautiful life story of the woman who is considered the foundation of my family, whose beauty was shown with her love and hard work.

I have a history of exchanging letters with friends and family since I sent my first letter at age seven. I think of my blogs and social networks in the same way, sharing feelings and news (albeit a lot of old news), and I enjoy learning about other people’s lives through their blogs, for the same reason I love reading biographies and history. Though I don’t use the web to air a lot of “dirty laundry” I openly share a great deal of my personal life. For many years I have been an information resource for many people, and even though each life is unique, the themes and feelings are generally commonly shared among all people. So I share my frustrations and joys, questions and answers in the hopes that the connections I make with other people will be a blessing to both of us. Also, I hope to let others know that painful pasts and sad family stories don’t have to be a source of shame. The process of closely examining the pain and sadness can give us the strength and courage to change the end of the story.

My blog feels so loved!

I heart your blog
As a neglectful blogger, I am very grateful for the inspiration I have found by participating in two Blog Carnivals: namely the Carnival of Genealogy, and more recently Smile for the Camera (links coming – Carnival site is down). Even though I have 14 posts saved up to write, I actually got off my duff and put together some posts so I could be part of these carnivals, and I’m so glad I did! I’m sure it has led many people to read what I have shared, among them the two new friends who heart my blog. Many thanks to Travis at TJLGenes : Preserving Our Family History and A. Spence at Spence-Lowry Family History for tagging me!

Here are some blogs I always enjoy reading:

The rules associated with this particular tag include that the tagged blogger can :

can put the logo on his/her blog

must link to the person who gave the award

must nominate seven other blogs and link to them

must leave a comment on each of the nominated blogs

Letting His Freak Flag Fly

This post is written for the 5th Edition Smile for the Camera on the blog Shades of the Departed. We were asked for submissions on someone’s Crowning Glory, and I immediately thought of this picture. I didn’t know till later that the post probably should have been more brief – but the story started pouring out!


Almost cut my hair

It happened just the other day

It was getting kind of long

I could have said it was in my way

But I didn’t and I wonder why

I feel like letting my freak flag fly

And I feel like I owe it to someone

David Crosby1

The Hippie culture my parents were part of has been studied, imitated, mocked, twisted, and well documented – so that before I ever learned details about my father’s actual life I had been painted a colorful if distorted picture of his times. Even without knowing any personal facts about my Dad, I could tell you quite a bit about him based on his look.  He was a disestablishment, rock and roll, traveling hippie. Looking back at my early childhood, the music my father played and sang which was the soundtrack of my first 7 years was almost wholly centered on folk rock, and it was woven intricately through our lives. Many of the lyrics of those songs told my father’s story.  My father lived in, reflected, and in many ways embodied a great deal of the upheaval and profound change that the 60’s had on the world.

Kenneth Walter Gwyn was the youngest and only boy of my grandmother’s four children. My two eldest aunts were her daughters from her first marriage. My grandfather James was my grandmother’s second husband. He was black but I would say his coloring was close to tan, and he had blue eyes and a wave in his hair not unlike Nat King Cole. My father and his sister were the half siblings of their elder sisters, although no one in the family ever talked or thought of themselves as “half” siblings.

Kenny was the lightest skinned person in his family. With his hair cropped short, it had a light curl. Although he is shown above with an afro, unlike many African Americans who embraced an African culture that had been denied and absent from their lives, I can honestly say I never saw or heard of him adopting any African or even African American cultural aesthetic. He never used a “black vernacular” or wore a dashiki. He incorporated many musical styles over the years including early R&B, but more for its universal appeal than seeking to identify with a particular or separate black experience. He could not deny his black heritage, but at the same time, he looked noticeably different when standing in a crowd of black people. Dad’s was a family who wanted to fit in well in their middle class neighborhood. As a child in the 50’s Kenny loved playing cowboys, his favorite show was Roy Rodgers, he and his sisters learned piano in their home.

My father’s mother Elizabeth was born and raised in Newark by her grandmother after her mother died in childbirth. Eliza Mason Stewart “Nanny” was part of the movement among black women of her era to aspire to the best of Christian womanhood, uplift the race, and live morally exemplary lives. Her influence on our family was strong. At one point she owned several properties in Newark along with the Kearny home Dad grew up in, which she left to my grandmother when she passed away in 1965. My grandmother Elizabeth had been a member of the Kearny Civil Rights Commission and had been selected by the town as a representative to attend Martin Luther King’s funeral. Grandma worked to support the family and was clearly taking part within the system to improve race relations. Her father Samuel Stewart had been a World War I veteran, member of the Essex Co. Democratic Association among other veterans clubs and men’s clubs (in group photos always mostly white). He had run for Newark Council, worked as a school attendance officer from 1942 until 1961 when he retired to be come self employed in real estate before his death in 1964.

Dad’s family was living in a predominately white, blue collar town, on one of the two or so streets in town where the few black families lived. A great deal of the residents of Kearny worked across the river in Newark where in July of 1967 the city broke out in riots.

A variety of factors contributed to the Newark Riot, including police brutality, political exclusion of blacks from city government, urban renewal, inadequate housing, unemployment, poverty, and rapid change in the racial composition of neighborhoods.

Another catalyst of the riots was the “clearance” of 150 acres of “slum” land to build a medical school/hospital complex. Of course, this would involve the demolition of numerous homes in the predominantly black Central Ward.2 (My great great grandmother’s home was in that neighborhood, which I learned when I fruitlessly tried to find the location to photograph it for my family history.)

Wikipedia describes “six days of riots, looting, violence, and destruction — ultimately leaving 26 people dead, 725 people injured, and close to 1,500 arrested. Property damage exceeded $10 million.3

When I questioned my family about their experiences during this riot, I was shocked to learn that one of my aunts took part! When she and some friends who lived down the block heard about the riots, they jumped in the car and headed over “on a lark”. They found a liquor store that had been broken into, and proceeded to help themselves to several of the bottles of booze. But later she felt guilty for taking advantage of the situation – she wasn’t one of the people who were so full of rage at their powerlessness that they exploded in an angry wave. She was a teenager out on a fun adventure. While the riots were going on, my grandparents were on vacation in Bermuda! My father was 16 at the time.

While all of these social factors shaped my father’s experience, I feel none was as devastating as the effect of the dysfunctional relationship patterns that ran through my paternal line. Of course, the legacy of slavery left its own scars, but then followed generations of “father abandonment”. Beginning with the untimely death of my great great grandfather Melon Gwyn, a former slave, there followed the death at age 37 of his son James, when my grandfather James, Jr. was only 6 years old. His mother went on to marry a cruel man who abused her and her children. Grandpa married young, abandoned his first wife, then married my grandmother, but while my father was growing up Grandpa had abandoned his second family more than once, leaving without notice and disappearing for months or years at a time, and fathering at least two “outside children.” During the turbulent teen years when my father was just growing to manhood, my grandfather came back home. I only recently learned that my grandfather verbally abused and probably physically abused my dad – though corporal punishment was far more acceptable in general back then – especially for “correcting” a son on the wrong path.

Of course, when I was a child, I knew none of this history – Grandpa was a steady and benign presence in my life. He worked for the Post Office and by the time he retired had received a watch for 25 years of perfect attendance. We knew him as a joker and story teller, fish fryer, church goer. But I can imagine my father’s perspective back then: Here comes his “father”, back as the “head of the household”, full of authority and nothing good to say about my father’s wasting his life, failing school, experimenting with drugs and beginning to live his rock and roll lifestyle. I’m sure my father pushed all the wrong buttons, did all the wrong things in his father’s eyes. But who knows what kind of guilt my grandfather might have been trying to come to terms with while attempting to re-engage in the family he left behind and deal with the hurts of the wife he betrayed.

My father grew to reject his class, race, and every other distinction that clashed with his growing consciousness. He dreamed of a world where people saw no color, class or the false trappings of a materialist culture but embraced the new values of Peace, Love & Freedom. He ran headlong into the hippie movement. He grew his hair, wore patched bell bottoms, read “subversive” books, smoked reefer, dropped Acid, played his 45’s, then his albums, and then played his guitar. It became his salvation, and his ticket to a new life.

Kenny had a party on Brighton Nov. 11, 1967. We grooved. Kenny and the Situation Band played the new Jimi style, magic veiled us in our funny flower couture. I wore an old felt hat, bandless and Sally sketched me, while a Dylan poem was repeated, eclipse is both sun and moon… New people were there from Belleville, getting hip, waking from the trance. I remember there was laughter and hypnotism. The next day we went by tube to the village and wound up in Penn Station, where trains went to Belleville. A gloved hand snakes goodbye. It is hard to remember. I did keep notes, and they can remind of tiny details, but never the whole feeling. They are sketches, travel notes from that other place.

~ Thoughts of the Days, 1967. Reflections of Dad’s friend PK from notes in his diary.

While my aunts were at different stages: one an unmarried mother of 2, another graduated from college and newly married, the third going off to college, my father spent a lot of time crashing at his friend’s homes. He had found a new family of friends who were rejecting many of their own families’ values. However, a crucial difference separated many of them. While they dabbled along with my father as they expanded their consciousness in many ways, in most cases their families were in much healthier shape. Many of his friends who survived those years “unscathed” went on to college, traveled and then took steady jobs. They loved my father because he was one of them, and they grew up in Kearny together. At the same time he was developing a remarkable talent, attracting beautiful girls, using harder drugs, and soon traveling along a different path altogether.

The photo above was taken in 1971, Kenny was 20 years old, and a father of two. He had met my mother in high school. She was descended from one of the original settlers of New Jersey, Captain William Sandford, an Englishman and a slave holder, who came to New Jersey from his home in Barbados. In July of 1668 almost two hundred years earlier, he acquired the land on which most of Hudson & Bergen county sits in an Indian Deed made with “Hanyaham, Kenarenawack, Gosque, Anaren, Tamack and Tantaqua” of the Leni Lenape. 4 Mom’s grandfather was a former mayor of Kearny, NJ, and I have to think that in the eyes of just about everyone in “established” society, she was taking a big step down. My parents were a young couple in love, but they were spit upon when they walked down the street together. They were married just 6 days before I was born, and my sister was born prematurely just 10 months later. Dad attempted working at a few low paying jobs but never for long. For the most part he earned money playing gigs for many years in a series of bands, then playing on the street and being paid by passers by who threw money in his open guitar case.  My mother finally divorced him after years of waiting for him to “grow up” and take responsibility for our family.

For me the photo above tells more of a story when seen in contrast with another. I imagine the photo below captures the last time Dad put on a suit and combed his hair to please his mother. It could have been taken only months earlier – maybe even just the length of time it took to grow his hair.

Elizabeth & Kenny circa 1966

He reminds me of Buddy Holly – and the innocence of the early days of rock and roll. In my mind, his pose already shows a hint of defiance. Of course, even today the changes in a person in their teen years can be startling. Still I have come to understand so much of how and why my father “let his freak flag fly.” For that I am eternally grateful to the friends and family who shared that history with me, but also to my parents for the most valuable things I believe I inherited from both of them. My curiosity, openness, and willingness to question: authority, history, family, and friends – and the intelligence to make some sense of the answers.

Sasha Mitchell

1. Crosby, David. “Almost Cut my Hair. Deja Vu Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, 1967

2. Herman, Max A. “Events” Newark Riots – 1967 2001. 22 Aug 2008

3. “1967 Newark riots.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Aug 2008, 17:12 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Aug 2008 .

4. Nelson, William, and Berthold Fernow. Calendar of Records in the Office of the Secretary of State. 1614-1703. Documents relating to the colonial history of the state of New Jersey, vol. 21. Paterson, N.J.: Press Print. and Pub. Co, 1899.

Righteous Gladys!

Gladys Georgia King

footnoteMaven, who keeps a lovely blog of pictures and the stories that belong to them at Shades of the Departed asked us to choose our favorite photograph for the 4th edition of her blog carnival Smile for the Camera. This is my first time participating in this carnival and when thinking about my many favorites, my mind immediately went to this picture. This photo was kind of an orphan among those in a collection shared with our family by my cousin Leonard.  He inherited these photos from his mother Sarah Gwyn Wooling, who was the keeper of such things (as I am today!  And I’ll take this opportunity to thank Leonard again, along with all those cousins who think to scan and share the huge box of photos from the attic!)

The photo was labeled Gladys King, and a similar one with a slightly different pose was labeled Georgia King, so I am not positive about the name.  This branch of my Gwyn family lived in Pittsburgh, PA – having left the North Carolina for greater opportunity in the north.  It doesn’t appear Gladys is part of our family, but I believe I have located her family in the 1920 census.  Joseph & Ellen King from Virginia, with Gladys “Lotis”, born 1909, Aragather, Harry & Nellie, living in Snowden, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  I do not know the occasion of this photograph, though it looks like a graduation portrait.

I love this picture! And even though it is not a particularly “important” one in our family history, it speaks to me.  Such certainty, self assuredness – dare I say RIGHTEOUSNESS! If it  could talk -I believe she would say “Take Heed!”  (and I’m not advocating for any kind of religious teachings here –  but I came up with some fitting scripture):

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.  1 Cor 3:9-15

I do not know what became of Gladys – but I hope this photo shows proof of a firm foundation.  She inspires me to work with conviction.  Not to be trite, but You Go Girl!

The Passengers

When I read about the topic for this month’s Carnival of Genealogy, I came up blank.  I know many families share stories and lore about the family car.  I seem to have come from a family that barely drove! My mother’s mother “Grammie” lived her whole life (1922 – 1993) having never had a license or driven a car. She took the train and the bus to get around, and of course, had friends who took her places.

My father (1951-1996) also never had a license.  I don’t really know why, although he was a bit of a drifter and after he died, I was able to fit most of his worldy accumulation into my husband’s Chevy Nova Hatchback. (All but a Hammond Organ I had to leave behind). He probably really could have used his own automobile, as he was a musician, and regularly had gigs that took him from state to state, and always with gear – amps, guitars, drums, etc. But someone else always drove him where he needed to be. I remember many times waiting for someone to come pick us up – always the friends – chipping in for gas, loading the equipment.

Here is a rare photo of my dad, with me in the back of my Grandpa’s station wagon after a day at the beach.

My mother, who was our steady parent while my father was off here and there (in other people’s cars!) used to have an old Vega – and my only memory of this car is from a day when she was attempting to pull out of a supermarket that had a parking lot at the bottom of a rather steep driveway.  Apparently it was a stick shift, and something was wrong with it, and we kept rolling back and stalling as she got more and more flustered. Then she bought a Chevette, which may have even been a new car, a cute burgundy hatchback, and that was our car for many years.

I seemed about to carry on the car-less tradition. Age 17 came along, with driver’s ed classes, and one brief driving lesson with my stepfather in his Corolla.  He pointed me down a street – I dutifully turned, and was immediately pulled over (How do you pull over!?!?) by a police officer who told us we were driving the wrong way down the street.  Great lesson!  I had been taking the bus since age 13, quickly graduated to train travel for trips to New York City and down to the shore, and then I rode my bike whereever I needed to go. For a long time, I felt almost un-American by the response of new acquaintances who learned I didn’t drive.  I continued that way until I was 26 years old!  By then I was newly married, and we lived for a short while with my in-laws.   I was stuck in the house and far from public transportation for the first time, and I felt so trapped. Of course, once I got my license I couldn’t believe I waited so long.  I imagine for many people who grew up in urban areas in New Jersey like I did, there wasn’t a “family car”, rather we had the neighborhood bus line. It’s a different way of life, and one that puts you in close contact with people from all walks of life.  As for now, I drive a mini-van with my three sons, and I hope they have a lot of happy memories of family time and nice vacation drives in our rather clean, boring beige, Toyota Sienna mini-van (complete with movies for long trips!)


Oh, how to explain – I have been so busy researching and talking family history (and getting photos, scanning, etc.) that I haven’t been blogging!

However, I finally converted some more of my Woodstock era footage and have posted it on YouTube

I guess I might attempt to write up several small posts about my most recent finds.  It’s continually amazing to me how one thing leads to another, and my circle of friends and family is growing in such beautiful ways.

Gone but not forgotten

Well, I’ve been gone, but hopefully not forgotten. I don’t know what it is that keeps me from just taking a few minutes to sit and write, but hopefully this post will usher in a new period of faithful and regular blogging. I have not been researching much recently, despite several weeks of intense research just before Christmas. I was rushing to hopefully complete an article about my distant relative, Father Norman DuKette in time for publication in American Legacy magazine. His home church will be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and I hoped that I could draw some interest to them with the article. Unfortunately I have been unable to obtain any research materials thorugh interlibrary loan, and the one scholar I hoped might be able to share some of her work with me would not return my calls. The materials I gathered on my own will have to serve. But then I got sick just before Christmas. Then Christmas and all of its events came, and then a second bout of illness in the family. We are only now recovered. Some good news I have to share is that I have a new computer. My old one was very slow, and unable to make DVD’s, so I’m very much looking forward to many creative projects on my new computer. I will post later about my new computer and some new software I’ve been trying out. I really wanted to just “break the ice” so to speak, after so long since I’ve written. I’m hoping to start fresh with this new year and make progress on several different fronts. I have a few projects to share: I created my first Ancestry Press book as a gift for my Uncle Andy & Aunt Bernadette, featuring their combined family history. I was grateful for the cooperation of Bernadette’s family, who shared lots of history and photos. The finished product was wonderful and a great introductory price of only $29.99! I hope to make many more of these books, as long as the price is right. Also, I completed my own 2007 family scrapbook, although like my others, it is lacking in journaling. Now that my new computer is here, I hope to catch up with that. Another family history related gift was for my sister-in-law Jennifer. I bought a nice looking “fill-in-the-blank” family history book for her with a matching photo scrapbook. I gathered family photos and information for her and filled it in her book. Jen’s mom was very happy with the finished results and plans to hire me to do more work on her lines. Certainly that’s exactly the kind of work I hope to pursue in my business, so I’m eager to do that with her. That’s all for now, but I’ll be back again soon with more news and posts.

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