Spotlight On...Dionne Ford

9/14/2010 3 comment(s)

Photo Credit: Farrell Kramer

I can’t hold the secret any longer!! Earlier this summer, I sat down with one of my favorite genealogy bloggers and all round gal pal, Dionne Ford of Finding Josephine. Let me say that as busy as Dionne stays, I so appreciate her taking the time to interview with me. Here are excerpts from our genea-chat!

RR: Dionne, thanks for agreeing to this interview at Reconnected Roots!

Dionne: What an honor. Thanks for thinking of me.

RR: Sure. Let’s begin with how you got started in genealogy. What peaked your interest?

Dionne: When I was about 12, my grandpa, Martin Ford came for a visit from New Orleans and told me the story about his grandmother, Tempy Burton who had been a slave and his grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart, who had been Tempy’s master. That pretty much hooked me for life.

RR: Fascinating! What advice do you suggest for the absolute beginner who may be overwhelmed on where to start?

Dionne: I still consider myself in the beginner category so, from one beginner to another I recommend talking to your older relatives first to find out what they know. Had I not had a casual conversation with my grandfather almost 30 years ago about his family, I would have never known about the colonel and Tempy, an integral part of my history that could have very well been lost to me. Younger generations can be good to query too. I was surprised to find how much of our history my New Orleans cousin knew (and she’s my age). She also has amazing family heirlooms passed down from our grandmother like two 1905 glasses inscribed with our great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton’s name and our great grandmother Josephine Burton Ford. She also has documents like our grandparent’s marriage license. I recommend having a family barbecue, bringing a notebook, and finding out what your relatives know.

RR: Speaking of relatives from older generations, how do you deal with people, be it relatives or community members who believe in keeping our family history buried?

Dionne: Most of the people I’ve encountered have been encouraging about telling my family story, perhaps because I’m surrounded by people who are also telling their family stories. But what I have found interesting is how angry some people get, both in my family and the community at large about some of the details in my family’s story, especially the perplexing relationship between the colonel, Tempy and the colonel’s wife, Elizabeth. It’s also maddening to me at times, but I find the revelations extremely healing and reconciling even when they’re disturbing bits of information.

RR: Yes, I see how that can be frustrating and therapeutic all at the same time. Is there any genealogical find or event that made you almost want to throw in the towel (for the day, that is)?

Dionne: Seeing an appraisal that listed Tempy Burton, my great, great-grandmother and her infant son valued of $1,600 sent me to bed for the day. Literally. Seeing how little control she had over her own life made me so sad, but then remembering that she lived a long life and was held in high esteem by her community according to her obituaries made me realize how resilient the human spirit is. She triumphed even in slavery.

RR: What strength! Dionne, regarding frustrating days, what tips or advice would you give the beginner-to-intermediate genealogist in terms of “brick walls,” those genealogical dead ends?

My biggest brick walls were finding out what ever happened to my great-grandmother, Josephine and trying to find out the names of my great-great-grandmother, Tempy’s parents. Both of these brick walls were smashed by genealogical acts of kindness, complete strangers finding the information and forwarding it to me. So I suppose, my part in that was to be blogging about what I was looking for and where I was looking.

RR: Amazing, how that all came together, for you. Of all the family stories passed down to you, which one sticks with you the most and why?

Dionne: I think the story of my great-grandfather, Sam Jones escaping from the Ku Klux Klan in a pine box from Oklahoma is the story that sticks with me the most. It’s a touchstone of courage and perseverance for me. It makes me feel so very proud that Mr. Jones found not only a way to persevere in the face of terrorists, but went on to build a wonderful life and to thrive and help other young black men do the same. When I think of my ancestor crawling into a wooden box, faking dead and crossing the desert, I figure I ought not let his courage go to waste. I ought to stand up for myself too.

RR: What genealogical legacy are you in the process of leaving for your descendants?

Dionne: As I discover things on this journey, I share them with my children and immediate family by telling them about what I’ve found as well as blog about it. I plan on also writing a book about my family’s history to have all the findings in one (or two or three) volumes.

RR: Speaking of writing things down, how important is organization in what we do and what system do you currently employ to keep your records and findings organized?

Dionne: Organization is both highly important and not my forte. Luckily, I have a research partner in my cousin who is extremely organized (think Martha Stewart) so I’ll tell you what she does. She prints out every email, document, etc. that could pertain to our family. Then she files them in categories in her beautifully decorated and labeled binders which now line her kitchen wall. I try to do this too, but I’m woefully behind (She has about 7 binders. I’m working on my third). But I’m good about saving everything on my computer and backing it up on a USB port.

RR: What location would you like to visit next for genealogy purposes and why?

Dionne: While I’ve been there before, I think I would like to revisit Ocean Springs, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. I’d like to visit Tempy’s grave, the colonel’s grave and retrace the steps of my people.

RR: Which of your ancestors would you like to be able to go back in time and spend one day with? What would you ask him or her?

Dionne: I’d like to spend one day with Tempy Burton, half of it during a time when she was enslaved, the other half after her emancipation. I’d ask her why she continued to live with the colonel and his wife and if she feels she made the right choice by staying with them.

RR: Tell us about your genealogy goals for the rest of 2010.

Dionne: I’d like to find out where the Burton surname came from, why my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton got separated from the rest of her family, and who her father is.

RR: Finally, Dionne, as we close, who would you like to see in the “Spotlight On...” feature next?

Dionne: Liz Hall Morgan of My Big Fat Family Blog or Reclaiming Kin.

Dionne, I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to pick your brain and for sharing so much of your family history with us.

**As a side note, Dionne says that since this interview this summer, she has indeed traveled to Tempy’s grave, as well as the Colonel’s. See her blog post, to hear more about the visit. If you liked what you read, please visit Dionne at Finding Josephine. Comments or questions for our guest? Leave them below, and Dionne will respond as time permits. Oh, and Liz? I’ll be calling you to see if you’re up for the challenge!!

Until Next Time,
Happy Researching!



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