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NaNoWriMo – My Novel in a Month

December 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Ancestors


Well, November is over and so is National Novel Writing Month. The goal – write a 50K word novel in 30 days. I wrote 43,716 words. The old, and rather ridiculously competitive, me would have beaten myself up because I didn’t hit target.

You failure you!

But the even older, and thankfully much wiser Me is proud of hitting target in some other important ways like –

  • Tackling my first work of fiction since college. “Good Googley-Moogley”, as Dad would have said!
  • Mucking around in the recesses of my imagination where dinosaur-size dust bunnies lurk and creating story out of an obscure 17th century historical event that’s grabbed hold of my attention and won’t let go;
  • Thrashing around with my characters (some fictional, some real ancestors), the scenes, the action, the “he said, she said” to wrestle out the beginnings of a plot;
  • And, maybe most importantly, not giving up on those days when everything – the story, my brain and my confidence, had turned into the mush my characters would have eaten for breakfast!

With NaNoWriMo at an end, now comes the massaging and revising of this first raw draft of my novel, The Wethersfield Diaries. God willing and the creek don’t rise – I just might end up with a novel you’d enjoy reading one day.

But for now, I’m celebrating a win – 43,716 words and some serious personal growth.

Not a bad way to spend 30 days of my life.

Military Monday – Veteran’s Day Family Roll Call

November 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Ancestors

Photo Credit: http://ow.ly/qHGgl

Photo Credit: http://ow.ly/qHGgl

I have never served in the military. But on this Veteran’s Day, I’m proud to honor ancestors and family members who have given service in this country since the earliest days of the American colonies. They fought for land, political power, freedom and sometimes just sheer survival.

Although I might not have agreed with their methods and strategies, the ongoing commitment of people in my  family, ultimately contributed to the freedoms I enjoy today, including being able to sit down and rant away every now and then on this blog.

So here’s my family’s military roll call. Mind you – this is a list in progress as part of my ongoing genealogy research. Thank you for your service, one and all –

King Phillip’s War

Joseph Petty, Massachusetts

French & Indian War

Edward Lee, Pennsylvania

John Petty, Massachusetts

Revolutionary War

Join or Die - A political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin

Join or Die – A political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin

Edward Lee, Pennsylvania

William Hood, Pennsylvania

Abel Scribner, New York

Abel Scribner Jr., New York

Reuben Frissel, Massachusetts

David Page, Massachusetts

John Cunnabell, Massachusetts

Samuel Cunnabell, Massachusetts

John Petty, Massachusetts

Joseph Petty, Massachusetts

Thomas Crafts, Sr., Massachusetts (Patriotic Service for helping with the Boston Tea Party)

John Hatley, Jr.,  North Carolina

War of 1812

William Hood, Pennsylvania

 Civil War

Andrew Coover Hood, Pennsylvania

 Korean War

Frederick Dickinson

Uncle Fred Dickinson

Uncle Freddie

 Recent Years

My cousins – Okpara Kelly, currently in the United States Navy; Susan Bates Hippen, Retired Command Master Chief in the United States Navy; and Navy veterans Yusan Beck, Liz Myers and Jose Arrango.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all of you who have bravely served our country and God Bless.

Grandma’s Homemade Peach Cobbler and Moonshine

October 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Ancestors

My grandmother was an amazing lady. She was born Beatrice Parker in Fortson, Harris County, Georgia – the grandchild of both former slaves and slave-owners in the neighborhood. Gram, as I called her, grew up as a tomboy who used her trusty slingshot to supplement the family groceries with the rabbit and squirrel running around in her rural neck of the woods.

My Grandmother

Our family didn’t have much in those days. They were sharecroppers making a meager living growing cotton on someone else’s land. Life was simple. In fact, it was an accomplishment to get any kind of education since everyone who could work needed to help bring in the crop.

But my grandmother finished the 8th grade. She was pretty proud of that but sad that she never actually got her diploma. Gram refused to attend graduation because there was no money to buy fabric for the requisite white dress like the other girls would wear. Knowing how vain she was about clothes in her later years, I imagine this was where it all started.

When Gram was 15, she thought she was going to be an “old maid” because all the eligible guys in her town were related. But never one to give up on a challenge, Gram met and married a young man from a nearby town who wasn’t a cousin – my grandfather, Eddie Walton Batchelor. Grandpa was the first of her five husbands.

Shortly after the birth of their first child, my aunt Mary, my grandparents packed up and took the train to Michigan. The reason – a flyer posted by auto magnate, Henry Ford offering a job making cars for $5 a day. That kind of money was unheard of. So despite the fact that neither of my grandparents had ever been out of Georgia, they decided to make this move.

Many years later when Gram was about to move into a senior citizen’s building, I asked her about the old trunk in her attic. She told me that her father gave her the trunk for the journey to Detroit. Gram said she didn’t have anything to put in it, but brought the thing anyway because it reminded her of home.

Here are my grandparents captured in the lens of a wandering photographer on the day they arrived at the train station in Detroit:

My Grandparents & Aunt circa 1917

My grandparents settled in Hamtramck, Michigan – right next to Detroit. After my father and uncle were born, my grandparents divorced and Gram helped provide for her young family by being the “help” – working as a domestic.

During the dry days of Prohibition – according to family stories, Gram supplemented her wages by making corn liquor in a still in her attic. Seems everyone loved her moonshine. Gram told me herself it was a successful business that never got raided by what she called the “Feds”.

But then there was that snowy day when she walked home down their street and the only rooftop without snow was hers! That was the day she decided to sell her attic still that was keeping things really warm upstairs.

Obviously I wasn’t around back then to taste Gram’s moonshine but I can testify that she also made the best peach cobbler this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I’ll be writing more about Gram on Extreme Ancestry – there’s just too much to share about her in one post.

You should know though that she was this strong, resourceful and incredibly wise woman who lived to be 97 years old (and lived in her own apartment right to the end). I loved her dearly and miss her peach cobbler, hugs, advice and great stories.

Boy would she be upset if she knew I told you about the moonshine!

Sentimental Sunday: Remembering My Genealogy Professor

June 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Ancestors

My great aunt Clara was my maternal grandmother’s younger sister. She was born on December 1, 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio to my great grandparents, Prince Albert and Jennie Hood Weaver. Aunt Clara and Grandmother had a brother and sadly, 3 other sisters who didn’t survive childhood.

Aunt Clara was a “pistol” – outspoken and her own person in a time when women were struggling to even have the right to vote. Depending on who is telling the story, she was married 5 times although by the time I came along, I don’t remember any of the husbands being in the picture.

I would see Aunt Clara every summer through my childhood when we took our annual trip to visit my mother’s family in Cleveland. Every day, Aunt Clara would drive over in her big black car even though she was in her seventies by then. We kids would peek through the curtains as she marched very purposefully up the front walk to hold court with her grand nieces and nephews – always with her pearls on. It was a command performance that none of us dared miss.

As I reflect back on this time, I realize I missed a lot of opportunity to ask Aunt Clara about our history. But as fate would have it, I got the chance to make up for lost time some years later when I made New Year’s resolution in 1976 to start tracing my roots.

Aunt Clara was then the oldest member of my family so I reached out to her first. She was thrilled beyond belief! Even though she didn’t actually say this, I got the distinct impression Aunt Clara was thinking:

It’s about damn time!!

Over the next 8 months, we had the most amazing time together – phone calls and letters where Aunt Clara taught me as diligently as any of the college professors I ever had. And I was like a sponge. I soaked up all the facts and family stories about our mixed race family and used it to do further genealogy research.

But in September of that year, things turned upside down. Aunt Clara had a fall. I’m not sure how it happened but I got the call that she was in the hospital with a broken hip, but doing OK. Apparently she was even flirting with the ER doctor, something that made me giggle because it was so “classic” Aunt Clara. A few days later, though, she took a turn for the worst and passed away on September 19, 1976. I was devastated.

A few months after Aunt Clara died, I made the connection to our ancestor William Hood, a patriot in the Revolutionary War. She would have be thrilled beyond belief with this discovery. Through the 35+ years since then, the original research Aunt Clara started me on in Pennsylvania has branched out into Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Maine and “across the pond” to Germany, England and Scotland. Although I can’t share my discoveries with her, I always have the feeling Aunt Clara’s  looking over my shoulder – smiling in approval.

My Surprise Revolutionary War Ancestor

September 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Ancestors

fort freeland 600px

At the time I started researching my family back in 1976, my goals were simple – find all my great grandparents. Of course, I was hoping their information would lead me back yet another and that would have been the icing on the cake. But after only a few months of family history research, I was staring at the name of  William Hood, my 4th great grandfather. He is still one of the biggest surprises in all my years of doing Black genealogy.

William Hood was a White man born about 1757 in Ireland who immigrated to Pennsylvania before the American Revolution. By the time the war began, history finds William living on the frontier in Northumberland County near the western branch of the Susquehanna River.

This area was extremely volatile during the Revolutionary War because it was the farthest edge of the frontier where there were frequent attacks on the colonists by the British army, American loyalists and Native American tribes aligned with the British. Beyond this point, there was no colonial government and no protection. It was truly the wild, wild west.

There were several small forts in this area, most notably Fort Freeland. In late June, 1779 after repeated attacks by the British, a number of colonial families moved from their homes to live behind the walls of Fort Freeland.

Although there were rumblings of a pending attack, the colonists were completely unprepared when more than 300 British soldiers and supporters stormed the fort early on the morning of July 28, 1779. With all the able-bodied men already off to war, there were only 21 boys and old men to defend the fort. Seeing the hopelessness of their situation, the colonists soon negotiated a surrender.

News of the attack — but not the surrender – spread to a nearby fort and a relief party including my ancestor William Hood rushed to defend Fort Freeland. The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest of the American Revolution and pivotal because the fall of Fort Freeland left the colonial American frontier defenseless.

Although many people died that day, William Hood lived to tell about the battle in his own words which were written down many years later in support of the pension application of a fellow soldier’s widow. I found this record at the National Archives and discovered other first-hand accounts of the battle of Fort Freeland in records at the Northumberland County (PA) Historical Society.

William went on to marry Rebecca Lee. Her father, Sergeant Edward Lee was another of my Revolutionary War ancestors but more about him another time. My 4th great grandparents moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania where they settled in the little town of Waterford.  I have visited the house they built in 1810 and the cemetery where they are both buried. William Hood died in 1840. Here’s the burial record:

William Hood Burial Record

Finding my patriot ancestor, William Hood led to my applying for membership in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). In 1977, I became DAR’s first African American member – an amazing conclusion to a genealogy research project that seemed relatively simple in the beginning. It was an important lesson to me as a genealogist: always be prepared for the unexpected – and the extreme!