Letters, Maternal Kin, Migration, North Carolina

The notebook in the shed.

The notebook in the shed yielded a number of treasures, some bittersweet.

I found a copy of a letter from my great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin, postmarked 11 May 1982, and another from my aunt, Marion Allen Christian, dated 14 August 1982, that push the date of my earliest genealogical inquiries back three years earlier than I remember. I knew I’d written to Aunt Julia early, but thought for some reason that it had been in the mid-’80s, when I was living in Massachusetts and researching in earnest. Though she opened the letter with a disclaimer — “I don’t think I can be of much help in tracing geneology of the Allen-Holmes family” — she in fact laid the groundwork, revealing her grandparents’ names (except her mother’s mother’s, which she did not recall) and telling me what she knew of her parents’ siblings. “All of my father’s and mother’s family are dead,” she concluded. My aunt followed up with a trip to Charles City County that shed a little more light. A few years later, I made copies of photos from Aunt Julia’s albums — her parents, her siblings as children, even a portrait of Joseph R. Holmes. (Which I unwisely gave to Eric Foner to use in Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction just before I left graduate school in 1991. He misplaced it before the book was even published, and my cousin has not been able to find the original in what remains of Aunt Julia’s scrapbooks.)

There is also a letter from Ardeanur S. Hart, dated 16 October 1985 — almost exactly 29 years ago. I have no recollection of having written to or heard from her, which makes her note all the more poignant:

“Dear Lisa, It was a surprise, but pleasant one, to have a letter from you. I am sure you know I don’t remember you, were you there when the reunion was in Virginia?” (In 1982. I was not there; we had never met.)

“I will do the best I can to give you the names of the folk I know that live here, thier schools, Jobs etc. I don’t know, so I can only tell you thier names.” (Is this really what I asked her about?!? Did I squander an opportunity to go back in time for information about people still living? What could she have told me about Henry and Martha McNeely?)

“I hope this helps a little I can’t help more, please give my love to your mother & father. I hope I will be able to go to the reunion, if I keep well, I am 83 yr old now, and folk don’t care to be bothered with folk my age –” (Oh, Ardeanur. What I wouldn’t do to be able to bother now.)

” — but I am still singing and enjoying it, in my church chior, and in a choral group of senior’s. Sat Oct 19th I will do solo work at the ‘Hyet Regency’ downtown for the Columbus City widows which I am looking forward to.” (Wonderful!)

“I shall be looking forward to seeing you someday. Meantime write again some time, continue your studies, and take care of your self.” (Did I? Did I write again? And when I saw her the following summer, did I do anything besides take a photo?)

And then, after listing the Ohio McNeelys — basically descendants of her aunt Janie McNeely Taylor Manley — “I am Ardeanur Smith Hart. Daughter of Addie McNeely Smith husband (deceased) no children senior citizen. Alone.” (Emphasis hers. Oh, Ardeanur.)

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