As it is the Fathers who set the tone in the home, it seems appropriate that we honor Father’s Day with Stephanie Mills’ rendition of Home, courtesy of youtube.
Happy Father’s Day! It seems like real Fathers are far and few between. I am grateful and glad that mine is part of that dying breed. Nevertheless, I want to wish all of the Fathers reading a happy and joyous day today. Enjoy your families.
There are many lessons I can attribute to my Father, who for the sake of family peace, shall remain nameless in this blog. However I want to focus on one today. That lesson is in pride.
The details of the situation involved escape me at the time of this writing. But what I can tell you is that I was always a headstrong, precocious child who would rather “die” than to cry uncle. Whatever was going on at the time, prompted my Dad to tell me, “You don’t want to cut your nose off just to spite your face.”
Now at the time, this graphic illustration sounded more like a warning against body mutilation! However, I later understood its full meaning, which is not to stand on your pride, when it is you, in the long run, that you are hurting. I am so glad these are figurative examples, because I would indeed be noseless, as it took some time to learn that lesson.
Great advice, Dad. Thanks.
On this week of Father’s Day what lessons did you learn from YOUR Dad?
I am overdue with a hearty Thank You for my friend, Tom McKnight. As you all know I took a week to myself, away from the PC. I called Tom and asked him to venture into uncharted territory and man the blog while I was away. Needless to say, Tom is an outstanding, eloquent writer. So, he seemed like the perfect fit. Fearlessly, he took the baton and wrote a –not one—not two – but three part article! (If you missed it, start here, to catch up) I was pleased beyond reason. I’ve said it privately, and now I just want to thank him publicly. Tom, you did an amazing job here, at Reconnected Roots. Thank you for sharing your family history with us. You are part of the blogging family here and welcome to return at any time!
One more thing, Tom welcomes feedback and communication, especially in reference to any of his family lines mentioned in his posts. To contact him directly, drop him a line here. Or send me a note and I’ll put you in contact.
Speaking of family, I have wonderful cousin, in Florida who faithfully reads my blog. To my wonderful cousin, you know who you are, your turn in “the driver’s seat” is coming up. You are an eloquent, well-versed writer and it is time to share a couple of your memories of our family history with our audience! There! You’ve been called out! *smile*
Missed Part I or Part II? You can catch Part I here and Part II here. Then mosey on back to the conclusion.
The effort to venerate Great Grandmother’s presence continues; while there was a tacit agreement to place her picture on the kitchen door (the shack behind the Keller home), inclusion of her picture in the main house at present was suggested to be no larger than 5x7. One can draw one’s own conclusion and possibly be right.
An 8x10 for the kitchen door is also tacitly "reasonable" or acceptable, however a larger presentation whereby Great Grandmother, Great Grandfather and a pictorial organization chart to convey her role not only as cook, but as a mother, with a family is a more apt resurrection of history. She was one of many who were part of, and influenced the Keller household in so many different ways.
Viny Murphy, the other person depicted in the movies, plays and books was not the cook as most are led to believe. Her name is at least correct. Viny was nursemaid to Helen Keller's siblings; Phillip Brooks Keller and Mildred Keller. Now, as I have been advised, in the Southern context, the title nursemaid had a specific function and meaning back in the day, but I'll leave that for those more knowledgeable of such cultural and geographic settings to contemplate; thus, we were a vital element in people’s households and their lives more than what wants to be recognized.
Great Grandmother died in Tuscumbia, Alabama in August 1917. She has a headstone. Great Grandfather however remains in an unmarked and unknown grave. Through research - Great Grandmother and Viny Murphy were work mates; worshipped and fellowshipped together and shared roles as Committee members of Trenholm School, an African American school in Tuscumbia. Viny, who became a lead officer of an African American fraternal organization known as the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA) aka Order of Moses, ensured Sophie received her death benefit, and MTA headstone; thus, having been close to the Watkins family, she would have known where Rev. Fred Watkins was buried (though the MTA burial insurance fund did not exist at the time of his death in 1911). So, have the ancestors led me to find another unmarked grave? Was Great Grandmother buried next to kin (Rev. Fred) by Viny? I believe the evidence and logic points to his burial spot having also been identified in what was the segregated part of Oakwood Cemetery where no records are known to exist. Another cold case mystery solved, I believe.
Viny died October 1919. She also has a headstone. I'm thankful for not only resurrecting the knowledge of the MTA's existence in northwest Alabama, but to have been blessed to put the pieces together that has brought this mission to this point thus far.
In closing, "Aluta continua," translated from Portuguese means, "the struggle continues" but this is the journey that those involved in history and genealogy must pursue. Vigilance, research, Divine Intervention (definitely) and ancestors tap-tap-tapping upon one's shoulder whispering "make sure we're not long gone and forgotten" is what this journey, my personal journey is, and continues to be about.
I would like to thank Amy for this opportunity to "pinch hit" during her absence and for the opportunity to have contributed to this wonderful blog site. I'm particularly more grateful that y'all don't bite but just nibble. Thank you for that. To all reading this blog and engaged in keeping the ancestor's existence alive,
If you missed Part I of this exciting voyage for the truth in family history, you can read Part I here. Then come back for Part II. We’ll wait...
Rev. Fred W. Watkins
After completing the nearly 15,000 mile drive, my research continued. I subsequently discovered that Great Grandmother's husband was Reverend Fred (Lafayeth) W. Watkins, an awesome, old-school Baptist Minister of the day who died in 1911 and had one of the largest funerals seen in northwest Alabama. I was blessed enough to have found two pictures of him; one - during my marathon drive. The other was proudly displayed in a church member’s bedroom in Alabama with its owner having little knowledge of the origins or history of the photo. All the same, this picture was another blessing.
Guided by His grace and His grace only, I found a cousin in Ohio about five years ago. He forwarded a picture of Great Grandmother that he had boxed up in his garage. I gladly accepted. Persistence and prayer pays off.
Sopia Napier Watkins
Sophia Napier Watkins is a name unknown to the world because her existence as a nameless entity is only conveyed through the interactions between "Martha Washington," and Helen Keller. “Martha Washington” was Helen Keller’s playmate in movies of Helen Keller's life, beginning with "Deliverance" (1919); a black and white silent film; followed by more current "The Miracle Worker" versions. Notwithstanding, the plays and books of Helen Keller's life where "Martha Washington, whose mother was the cook" is the only reference to the cook's existence.
Further research and Divine Intervention has revealed that "Martha Washington" is really a fictitious name and that it was a name assigned by Helen Keller because as an adult, she couldn't remember her childhood friend’s name. Additionally, it was a characteristic name for an “African American,” during that period. Why an erroneous identity would be written and prevail as a "historic fact" and repeated as such for more than a century is left to anyone's imagination or speculation.
The truth is what it is, no more and no less. Thus no one has the right to misrepresent one's family tree. The so-called "daughter of the cook" is actually Mariah Watkins, the daughter of Uncle Rush Watkins. That would technically make Mariah - "Martha" -- the cook's niece and not her daughter. History must be seen as a dynamic and should not be viewed as a static. The fact that others have controlled the lens of how history is viewed, society must also realize that there are more than two sides to a coin, actually, there are three. In addition to heads or tails, the coin is capable of landing on its edge - straight up.
The efforts of a Great Grandson to bring honor, recognition and justice where history is placed into proper perspective as a shared environment that encompasses European American, Native American and African American history so that it is not His(story) but a collective Our(story) is what research and perseverance is all about and the Ancestors will accept nothing less.
The effort has been considerable to have Great Grandmother, Sophia Napier Watkins' picture installed in the Helen Keller Museum in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Click here to see the October 2008 Times Daily newspaper article write up. The Keller Estate stated it would be wonderful to receive memorabilia of such significance. But is that just all political correctness at its best?
Stay Tuned For The Conclusion of “A Genealogy Journey of 14,496 Miles in 86 Days”
I had served with the United Nations for some 25 years, when Mom passed away in 2004. I came home from an overseas U.N. mission for the funeral. Knowing that Mom always wondered "what happened to the family" whose, family origins were in northwest Alabama and were separated during the Depression, I decided to make a tribute to her memory. After returning to complete my U.N. assignment I came back to the States in 2005 and dedicated the next 2 years in her honor to connect the family dots as best as I could.
Though family tree history was rarely discussed during my formative years, the little bit gleaned from Mom in my youth and adult life and especially from my Uncle in my effort to heal from her loss resulted in bits of pieces of information. Led by what I refer to as Divine Intervention and guidance from the 'Ancestors' who I believe will tap someone on the shoulder to make sure they're not long gone and forgotten, I settled in Russellville, Alabama in the Spring of 2005. It was then I decided to find family that I did not know existed and never met before. Armed only with a couple of family stories, one address of a cousin I heard about and a GPS, I set out on an 86 day drive covering 14,496 miles to find unknown and unmet relatives. To find the living, one had to research the dead as I soon found out. The 'Ancestors' make you work for their success.
I began, by resuming a task leftover from the previous year's bereavement leave, based on parcels of information conveyed by my Uncle about the life of my Grandmother; Hattie Missouri Watkins Snyder. I never had the pleasure of her acquaintance, as she died in 1937, eight years before I was born. I set out to continue the search of her unmarked grave in Massillon Cemetery, Ohio. "Nonexistent," inaccurate records were at the source fueled by cemetery staff supposition of where Grandmother "might be buried." The final analysis resulted in a cold case resurrection bingo! 68 years after her death, her grandson researched, rattled cages and placed a headstone at her grave honoring her presence on this earth. As every civilized society has always honored their dead, neither time, distance nor circumstance should ever result in our treasured elders receiving anything less.
Little did I realize that the 'Ancestors' were only grooming me for bigger, better and harder tasks. They make you work. The 14,496 miles drive in 86 days kept me on the road, eating fast foods on the way and gaining weight even faster but the mission to connect the dots, for Mom, prevailed. This journey comprises a lot of details of how bits and pieces of information and research of libraries for obituary data, churches where family member attended, Departments of Vital Statistics, Census records, probate court records all played a part in this ongoing story, which may be better suited for film or a novel.
Given the web site space limitation to tell all, as each family member I found beginning with the dead, led me to the living, the real mind blowing discovery during the marathon drive revealed that my Great Grandmother, Sophia Napier Watkins was the cook at the Helen Keller home at Ivy Green, Tuscumbia, Alabama when Helen Keller was a child. Excitedly calling my Uncle, long distance no less, to convey this news, I discovered it was not news at all to him as he commented "Yes, I knew". Well, I replied "Why didn't anyone ever tell me?" "Because no one asked" was his answer. OK, I consented, though my mind was boggled.
Why hadn’t I ever heard this information? Wasn’t this a noteworthy bit of family history? And why didn’t Uncle mention it to me, in our previous conversations?
Stay tuned to Part II of “A Genealogy Journey of 14,496 miles in 86 days.”
Well guys, summer is almost here and I need a break! Am I just going to leave Reconnected Roots in limbo? Absolutely not! My good friend/historian/family researcher/humanitarian Tom McKnight will be in the big seat all next week! Lord only knows what he will be posting, so you will have to check back to see what he is up to. But I can guarantee you it will be hot! I don’t want to let all of his story out of the bag, but I will tell you that right now, that he’s in a fight to have his Great-Grandmother’s name venerated. Okay, I promise I won’t steal his thunder! But do me a favor. Everyone who reads this post, send Tom a big welcome via the comments section, so he knows this audience doesn’t bite!