this week in Gratitudes

My nights have been punctuated with bad dreams and periods of wakefulness this week.  I am puzzled about how/why anxiety has crept back under my covers.  I thought I had figured out a way to banish it from the dark, and keep it contained by rituals and healthy habits during the day.

The mind is a strange place, in constant need of tending, like a garden.

*sigh*

I think I will plant some gratitudes into the morning and move on.

  1. Several newcomers have appeared at my bird feeders this morning, including a Purple Finch pair, a Brown-headed Cowbird trio, a Red-wing Blackbird, and a Common Grackle.  The American Goldfinch flock continues to enlarge, with about 2 dozen beauties in various stages of spring molt.
  2. Yesterday’s snow has completely melted.
  3. A Snapping Turtle remains on the edge of a rock outcrop, ready for my continued scrutiny this morning.
  4. I had an email this week from a reader asking for help with our common Samuel S White ancestor, a request I unfortunately can’t fill.  Record gaps are so daunting, but new connections are refreshing!
  5. I had another email from a long-time reader and cousin with kind words of encouragement to continue writing about the Dodson family, a timely nudge because my research has become such a tangle of intertwined Rowlett, Dodson, and Green stories that I have written nothing instead of something.
  6. Which leads me to my last gratitude of the morning.  I am thankful for all those writers before me, who have taken time to commit their thoughts to paper–wood pulp or gigabytes.
    1. J. Russell Rowlett, who built a web page in 2003 to share his documentation of the Peter Rowlett [Chesterfield County, Virginia] family.
    2. Audre Lorde, whose words lift my lethargy.

“Silence will not protect you.”

Research. Review. Connect. Speak out. Stand up.

Write on.

 

Sunday morning musing

I have been getting acquainted with my 19th century grandmothers during the last few weeks, creating more questions than stories at the end of each day, which is frustrating at many levels.

I catch myself re-centering the family account around the men, specifically the white men, who populate the records.  It is a habit.  A learned way of processing the world that I resist, unsuccessfully, as I try to bring womenfolk out of the past’s shadows.

So I end up tossing the paper into the bin, or cutting whole paragraphs of text, or moving the whole post to trash.

And I begin again.

This week I will (re)focus my attention on Mary Green Dodson, 1787-1858, daughter of William Wills and Martha [Archer Rowlette] Green; wife of Edward Dodson, Junior; mother of James H, my 2nd great-grandfather; and cousin to Sarah Jane [Rowlett] Dodson, my 2nd great-grandmother.

Mary grew from girl to woman, wife to widow, mother to elder, in the watersheds of  Allen’s and Butcher’s Creeks, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  I have looked out on those woods, walked those hills, with red clay, that Mary saw every day, clinging to my shoes.  Childhood treks from Chase City to the country that had held generations of ancestors made little impression on me until I strolled up cow-worn paths with my father, his drawl spreading stories of his childhood on my children.

I have lots of records for many branches of my families, but I return to those from Mecklenburg County time and again, because of this connection to the white feldspar-studded land.  And this genealogical homecoming has prodded my reckoning with the unspoken family lore.

The land and its tobacco guaranteed food security, housing security, community esteem.  And none of that was possible without the work of black people-enslaved, sharecroppers, tenant farmers.

When I reconstruct pieces of Mary Green Dodson’s life, I also feel those African Americans emerging from shadows.

I hope I do all of these folks justice with my story-telling.

Their hopes, dreams–and nightmares–built this country.

 

Library Love

Going to take a moment here this Friday morning to give a shout out to all the genealogical communities scattered in counties and municipalities across the country, and around the world.

Yesterday I traveled down Route 11, crossing the Susquehanna River at Plymouth, and dodged potholes on the San Souci Highway.  A right turn at the Hanover Area High School light took me up the hill to the Hanover Green Cemetery, and the building that houses both cemetery maintenance and the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, Inc.  

Mind you, I am researching roots in southWESTERN Pennsylvania and southside VIRGINIA. Yet I make near-weekly treks to this site and am warmly received as the “Document Lady.”

NEPGS is a certified member of the Family History Library network, and when I sit at their computers I can access ALL the digital records within Family Search’s database. Plus, this local library can receive any microfilm records that I request because they have yet to be digitized.

Over the years I have been able to accumulate dozens of wills, deeds, tax records, and court documents from Mecklenburg County, Virginia because of the generosity and kind spirit of these dedicated folks.

A hearty thank you to my local genealogical society board of directors and staff.  I couldn’t chase my ancestors without you.

 

 

 

Snow days

DSC_3656Today was the day that Quinn was supposed to rage through the trees, whipping lightweight flakes into road-obscuring drifts.  But the winds never came, and the system showered my neighborhood with snow that sits in heavy lumps on branches and gathers between dog toes like tiny snow melons.

DSC_3659

Lucy Boyd Dodson, Freedwoman

In building out my Dodson ancestors’ social and economic ecosystem I asked questions about the enslaved.  I wondered if I could find evidence of how their journey from emancipation through Reconstruction differed from the post-war opportunities of my family.

In doing this research I uncovered what I believe to be a family tree of Lucy Boyd Dodson, enslaved on my 2nd great-granduncle’s farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Benjamin Franklin Dodson was married to Delia Boyd Dodson, who became executrix of his estate in 1864 after he was killed by a Union sniper at Petersburg, Virginia.

The inventory that Delia filed that autumn included the names of the enslaved:

Nancy and 2 children (Caroline and Lucius)

William

Archer

Armstead

Sandy

Lucie and 3 children (Henrietta, Virginia, and Elie (Elsi))

Caroline

Inventory of Benjamin F. Dodson, 1864

Estate of Benjamin F Dodson, Mecklenburg County, Virginia Will Book 22:123, 1864.

Lucy is found in the Virginia Slave Birth Records as the enslaved of Benjamin Dodson, bearing four children between 1854 and 1860, including Henrietta named in the Probate Inventory.  The 1860 mortality schedule lists the deaths of two of her children, Martha and Robert.  Another son, Alexander, is unaccounted for in the inventory or following records.

The 1870 census records Lucy Dodson living in the Boydton District of Mecklenburg County on a farm with Archer, Armstead, Henrietta, and three more children not listed in the inventory, Kesiah, Nathan, and Mary.  Virginia and Elie, from the 1864 inventory are not included in the list.

The 1880 census records Lucy as the wife of Armstead Dodson, living in the Boydton District with their two children, John and Harriet.  Nathan is working as a house servant at the next-door neighbor’s farm. Kesiah and Mary are working as servants in the household of Delia Dodson’s sister, Harriet Boyd Dodson Cogbill, in Boydton.

Henrietta may have moved to North Carolina in 1871 and married Paul Merryman.

Kesiah, Mary, and John have left no trace that I have found. But Nathan and Harriet moved into the 20th century leaving bread crumbs of data in marriage licenses and death certificates.

Harriet married Frank Swift, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, and had several children: Willie, Ruth, Elmira, Mary, and Ernest.

Nathaniel B. Dodson moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1887, and married a Mecklenburg County gal in 1898.  Sarah Goode and Nathaniel had several children: Lillian, Nathaniel Jr, Evelyn, Ralph, Harold, Edith, Kenneth.  Their youngest, Owen Dodson, was a poet, playwright, and Howard University professor of theater. James V. Hatch wrote a biography of the “dean of Black Theater” after Owen’s death in 1983.  Reading Sorrow Is The Only Faithful One has been a fascinating way to confirm some of my hunches about Lucy, Armstead, and their children.

Lucy and Armstead remained farmers on the land near Taylors Ferry Road, Mecklenburg County for the rest of their lives.  Lucy died before 1900, as Armstead is listed in the 1900 census as a widowed farmer living with his brother, Archer (of the inventory list perhaps), and two grandchildren, John H. and Lucy Dodson.  Armstead died on March 14, 1913 and was buried at Shiloh Colored Church, Boydton, Virginia.

This sketch of Lucy’s life will be painted in as I compare her life to that of the widow Delia Dodson, a process that I expect to be a rather uncomfortable reckoning with the inequities perpetuated from slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow through my life.  The present is much the past.

I am constructing a public tree for Lucy in Ancestry.com, a platform that is amazingly cumbersome in trying to record how African Americans moved from enslavement into freedom! I welcome any suggestions that would make that tree more helpful to family seekers.