discovering family history

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My dad's cousin recently contacted a civil rights organization about investigating the death of one of my great-grandfathers; apparently he had been murdered and the killer was never brought to justice. He received the following information, which he passed on to my dad, who passed it on to me:

On March 15, 1948, Mr. Bacon was traveling through Fayette, Mississippi, when he was arrested after refusing to give up his seat on the bus. He was taken to Jefferson County jail where he was murdered by Town Marshal Stanton Coleman. Coleman claimed that it was self-defense, saying that Mr. Bacon attacked him with an ax. Mr. Bacon's daughter, Frances Perry (later Nelson), worked at the Southern Negro Youth Congress in Birmingham, Alabama, and played a key role in getting press coverage of the incident, pushing the DOJ to investigate. However, in September 1948, a grand jury cleared Coleman of the crime. I have attached some newspaper articles of the incident.

Frances Perry was my grandmother. 1948 is around the time frame that she moved from AL to OH.

Dad also mentioned that one of my mother's grandfathers was also murdered in the south (in Alabama). The wild thing is that, to my knowledge, no one in my immediate family has ever talked about this until now.

I guess the moral of the story is "talk to your folks about their folks because you have no idea what crazy shit you'll uncover."

they are either militarists (ugh) or kangaroos (?) (DJP), Friday, 14 June 2013 16:54 (ten years ago) link

holy shit DJP

set the controls for the heart of the sun (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:00 (ten years ago) link


folsom country prism (Jon Lewis), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:02 (ten years ago) link


carl agatha, Friday, 14 June 2013 17:02 (ten years ago) link

My dad's dad is suuuuuper into lineage and has all this family tree info. I know that he is (and thusly I am) Slovak and what our last name means and stuff. I'd love to trace my mom's father's Italian side too.

I don't think we have any, like, notable historical figures in our line though

shohreh aja/danteloo (Stevie D(eux)), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:02 (ten years ago) link

I wish somebody in my family would get super into lineage because I would like to know this info, but don't want to do any of the work myself. I know my mom's side of the family has lived on the Delmarva peninsula for a long ass time, and I sent my spit into 23 and Me and learned that genetically, I'm primarily Orcadian but that's all I've got.

carl agatha, Friday, 14 June 2013 17:20 (ten years ago) link

My grandmother insists that our ancestors came over on the Mayflower and were rich enough to pay someone to wipe their asses for them (her words), but she's not the most reliable narrator.

carl agatha, Friday, 14 June 2013 17:21 (ten years ago) link

The distressing thing here to me is that my great-grandfather wasn't a notable historical figure. This is just Shit That Happened To Black People; the woman investigating this attached images of newspaper articles from around this time where this murder was only one of several that were getting press. Only two of them had my great-grandfather's name right and none of them agreed on where he was living (apparently he was already up in OH and coming back south for a visit?).

Apparently the main testimony that cleared the sheriff came from a black janitor who corroborated claims from the sheriff and another white officer that my teetotaller g-grandfather was completely intoxicated and that he had gotten his hands on an axe that happened to have been left in his jail cell when he was shot.

they are either militarists (ugh) or kangaroos (?) (DJP), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:23 (ten years ago) link

Phew, heavy stuff, Dan.

Coupla years back my sister looked into our family history. Unfortunately my father's side of the family was dull as ditchwater, an endless line of men called either Thomas or Christopher, all labourers or the like and not even as Irish as my dad liked to fondly imagine - I mean, Irish but a long way back. She couldn't get very far at all with my mother's side of the family, which is a shame because, from stories I've only heard recently, my grandfather and great-grandfather (neither of whom I ever met) seemed to have been pretty unusual characters. Even my old granny (RIP) seems to have led an interesting life!

Bees Against Racism (Tom D.), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:25 (ten years ago) link

this thread got me googling for info abt my maternal grandfather, who died two years before I was born, and what I'm learning is that he was a REALLY GOOD student in college (top student on the dean's list several years in a row) which makes me feel like a failure because I went to the same school & am a dropout/fuckup

ttyih boi (crüt), Friday, 14 June 2013 17:29 (ten years ago) link

I wish somebody in my family would get super into lineage because I would like to know this info, but don't want to do any of the work myself. I know my mom's side of the family has lived on the Delmarva peninsula for a long ass time, and I sent my spit into 23 and Me and learned that genetically, I'm primarily Orcadian but that's all I've got.

― carl agatha, Friday, June 14, 2013 1:20 PM (1 hour ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

my mom became an amateur genealogist because we lived so close to the national archives. she did it as a business for a while and will occasionally creepily do a celebrity's genealogy and try as hard as she can to get it to them (she's been trying to get to paul mccartney for years)

learned that we have no idea what our "real" family name should be because my dad's oldest-known ancestor was kicked out of his house at age EIGHT by an evil stepmother, taken in by a family named Yablonski (which we thought was our real name) and later americanized to "Lyon" after a great-grandfather somewhere saw a store named "Lyon's Hardware" and liked it more than "Yablonski" (good choice, i thnk)

ty based gay dead computer god (zachlyon), Friday, 14 June 2013 19:41 (ten years ago) link

my mom became an amateur genealogist because we lived so close to the national archives.

my dad was the same way. did your mom ever go up and check out the archives at the LDS church in columbia? "going to visit the mormons" was pretty much our family code-word for geneology.

how's life, Friday, 14 June 2013 19:53 (ten years ago) link

jesus djp

my great-grandfather was on watch duty as this boat passed howth head (coast guard i think, but possibly in another capacity). he and everyone else in the station all happened to be looking elsewhere for the duration of its passage. as i'm told, he was relieved of his position as a result and didnt receive a pension until the first irish govt was formed after independence.

should we bin tapping? (darraghmac), Friday, 14 June 2013 22:55 (ten years ago) link

one year passes...

So my 2.5-year-old daughter K is absurdly tall for her age, like off-the-charts tall, and also has light hair, while my wife and I are both relatively short and have brown hair, and my parents are both relatively short and have brown hair, and my wife's parents both have brown hair and her dad is tall but not ridiculously tall (like maybe 6'0 or 6'1).

The other day my mom was with my 97-year-old, dementia-suffering grandma, and my grandma was looking at a pic of K, and suddenly says "She's very tall." And my mom says "yeah, and no one in our family is tall, or blonde" and my grandma says "no no, your aunt louise was very tall and blonde." Sure enough, my mom finds a picture of Aunt Louise, who is at least 5'8 and blonde.

I didn't even remember ever hearing of my Great Aunt Louise, but it turns out that she was with an army unit that liberated concentration camps, and that she married a half-Jewish concentration camp survivor whose own christian grandparents had turned him and his jewish father in to the Nazis to save their christian daughter.

Louise and her husband had one child, a son who was killed by a train at age 13, leaving my mom and her sister as the only children from that entire branch of the family (the other aunt on that side never had kids, and as it happens, my mom's sister also never had kids).

My daughter looks like Louise.

I don't know if I'm succeeding in making any of this seem interesting or even comprehensible to anyone else, but I find it kind of haunting.

my jaw left (Hurting 2), Wednesday, 1 October 2014 16:05 (eight years ago) link

you succeeded. by the strange alchemy of genes, your daughter is both fully herself and an echo out of a forgotten past.

Aimless, Wednesday, 1 October 2014 17:20 (eight years ago) link

The most dramatic family history story I can tell is about my paternal grandparents. As my grandmother was on her death bed she finally confided to one of my aunts that when my grandfather was 12 years old, he had accidently shot and killed his brother, while playing with a gun he thought was unloaded. She'd carried this secret for over 70 years (she was 89), but decided she had to unburden herself before she carried it to her grave.

Aimless, Wednesday, 1 October 2014 17:34 (eight years ago) link

That is pretty intense. I assume your grandfather was already passed on by then?

my jaw left (Hurting 2), Wednesday, 1 October 2014 17:57 (eight years ago) link

he'd died about a decade earlier

Aimless, Wednesday, 1 October 2014 18:06 (eight years ago) link

I forgot to add that the main reason my grandmother and her sister took their families out of Alabama around this time period is because my dad's aforementioned cousin became radicalized by the murder of my great-grandfather and was on the verge of getting lynched himself

💪😈⚠️ (DJP), Wednesday, 1 October 2014 18:19 (eight years ago) link

I think what gets me the most (xp) is that this was all revealed in a lucid moment from my dementia-stricken grandma, that I might just never have learned about this connection if not for that moment.

my jaw left (Hurting 2), Wednesday, 1 October 2014 18:25 (eight years ago) link

Jeez, deX - that is insane, and in a horrible way.

I can't think of anything of note (that I have ever heard) from either of my parent's family histories (well, except someone had the idea that Belzemeier was a good name for a female). BUT on A's side, there is some good and horrible stuff. Good: A's father is somehow distantly related to President Coolidge. Bad: A's grandmother and her family were Russian Jews who fled the Tsar - and there was some confusion bc apparently his great-grandmother was older than she thought she was since before they fled they were trying to keep her brother safely out of military service (or something - it's been a while since I heard all of this). Anyway, the city that they fled in Russia eventually lost its entire Jewish population during WWII - as in, they were deliberately eradicated.

Sara R-C, Monday, 6 October 2014 06:56 (eight years ago) link

My family is about as boring as it gets, but ytth's non-Jewish side of the family were founders of Salem, MA, or something to that effect.

just1n3, Monday, 6 October 2014 07:25 (eight years ago) link

My great grandmother was allegedly the first divorced woman in Kentucky.

my jaw left (Hurting 2), Monday, 6 October 2014 13:32 (eight years ago) link

Easy joke there, but being from Arkansas, I shouldn't be the one to make it.

pplains, Monday, 6 October 2014 13:42 (eight years ago) link

I've got Russian Jews on one side too (well, one at least, who met a Jewish French woman on the boat over). They arrived late in the 19th century.

I never thought about them escaping anything though. Just pictured him laying in his bedroom in ‎куда, looking up at the walls affixed with postcards of Memphis, Tennessee, and photographs of unborn blues singers.

pplains, Monday, 6 October 2014 13:47 (eight years ago) link

my paternal lineage traces back to a guy who came over to america from england in 1638 which is kind of cool idk

ciderpress, Monday, 6 October 2014 13:54 (eight years ago) link

also i have an ancestor on that side who was a privateer hired by the US to raid european ships, that branch of the family maintains their old homestead in connecticut and i got to visit it one time and they have the letter/contract signed by the president at the time (im blanking on whether it was jefferson or madison but one of those two) authorizing him to use force on british ships or w/e. i thought it was neat.

ciderpress, Monday, 6 October 2014 14:07 (eight years ago) link

I'm related somewhat directly to Daniel Webster and somewhat less directly to Noah Webster. I have a copy of our family's genealogy but I still haven't done the work of figuring out how many "great"s there are between us.

Certified Genious (Old Lunch), Monday, 6 October 2014 14:17 (eight years ago) link

An ex-girlfriend had a story about her great-grandparents. Typical life in the country, I guess. Open door, kids bringing home friends for dinner or going to their house. Great-grandfather comes out of the fields one day for supper and his tweenage daughter has met a new girl at school and brings her home to meet everyone.

You see where this is going. Great-grandfather and new girl from school apparently hit it off, she gets pregnant, family life is ruined in scandal, and nine months later, my ex's grandmother is born.

I always thought it was a good story just because here we are in the 21st Century with that descendants of that couple doing well and living life, all thanks to that horrible end-all, be-all scandal of 1920.

pplains, Monday, 6 October 2014 14:18 (eight years ago) link

Wow...had to read this three times. I kept picturing a great-grandfather type emerging from the fields instead of a younger fellow.

*tera, Tuesday, 7 October 2014 04:57 (eight years ago) link

My grandmother's cousin was a wealthy girl who was really into the arts in Mexico. She got married, had a little boy...kept falling in love and having affairs. Finally after two bouts of unrequited love she shot herself at the alter of Notre Dame de Paris in 1931. Recently my cousins have all been claiming her and attending these openings and dedications in Mexico City in honor of her. I still haven't figured out exactly what she did, I have never seen her art. I think she did a lot of schmoozing. Growing up I was told she was a communist, really promiscuous and depressed.

*tera, Tuesday, 7 October 2014 05:28 (eight years ago) link

I kind of love that story about the scandal and then the point about all the descendants who are just FINE. Really a much happier story than many...

Sara R-C, Tuesday, 7 October 2014 06:48 (eight years ago) link

I apologize for being ambiguous up there, but hey, there are still Confederate war widows running around so it's not that crazy, I guess.

pplains, Tuesday, 7 October 2014 13:34 (eight years ago) link

six months pass...

hey, if people were interested in the report about my great-grandfather:

DJP, Friday, 17 April 2015 16:03 (eight years ago) link

Wow, djp, thank you for sharing that.

from batman to balloon dog (carl agatha), Friday, 17 April 2015 16:37 (eight years ago) link

heartrending. inspires horror & outrage but also great admiration for the man your greatgrandfather was.

drash, Saturday, 18 April 2015 04:35 (eight years ago) link

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