Wednesday, March 27, 2013

One College Student's Quest to Put Her Family's Cemetary on the Map Inspires Some New Ideas On How to Mark the Old Magby Grave Yard.

I ran across an excellent interview on NPR today. Don Gonyea interviewed Fordham University student, Sandra Arnold about her work on an exciting new website called The project began after Arnold learned about the existence and location of the old cemetary in which at least two of her formerly enslaved ancestors were burried. Arnold's 99 year old great-aunt told her about the cemetary, then eventually the young woman returned to Tennesse and found her way to the grave yard.

Sandra Arnold's great-grandfather (her great-aunt's father) was born into slavery. He lived long enough as a slave to remember his mother and sibblings being sold away before Emancipation. His wife also lived her early years as a slave. The couple were burried side by side in the old grave yard in well marked graves. Unfortunately, when Arnold looked around many of the other graves were unmarked.

"'Most grave sites of enslaved African-Americans are abandoned, unmarked, or forgotten,' Arnold tells Don Gonyea, host of weekends on All Things Considered.' It's not the case for all of them, but it's the case for most of them.'"

Like Arnold's ancestors many of my enslaved ancestors are burried in old forgotten slave graveyards or in unmarked graves. Over the last seven years my partents and I have been attempting to locate as many of those graves as possible. The problem was always what to do once we found them. This summer before attending the big Magby Family reunion in Chambers County, Alabama, I am hoping to find some creative new ways of marking the final resting place of my great great great grandmother Alice Thompson Magby.
Alice's grave when I first visited in 2010

This is the graveyard in which she is burried. In the center of the photo is a tree with a horizontal platform about midway up its trunk. Alice's grave is at the base of that tree. If you look really closely what at first appear to be gray rocks and shadows are actually worn out headstones. There were a little over a dozen marked graves. We could only read the names off of a few headstones since the rest were completely unreadable. A church that Alice's husband Thomas and his much younger brother Chris had founded around the turn of the century sat somewhere in these woods. Later the church was rebuilt at its current location. There does not appear to be anything left of the original church but perhaps some sloothing through the archives and some metal detecting can help us map out its footprint.

I will definitely be checking out Vanishing History to make sure this grave yard is included!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

There is one thing that scares me more than anything. More than spiders or drowning or death. I am terrified of being forgotten.  One day it occurred to me that, pending the destruction of all computer technology and internet servers, my grand, great grand, great great grand children and so on will simply be able to Google me or pull up my facebook page to find out practically anything they want to know about me. The internet never forgets. That idea in a way makes me feel more secure about not being forgotten. My memory lost to time. But Tom and Alice, Chris and Augusta, Willie Mae and Simon, William and Mertis; who remembers their names? Who tells their stories of joy and heartbreak? Who shares their pictures and tags their friends? I am who I am in part because of who these mysterious barely known people were and how they lived and died. Their stories are entwined with mine in so many ways I will never know.

My ancestors were not all good or all bad. Some fought hard to gain an education or keep their hard earned land, and some just fought each other. They loved and lost and struggled against the times and society they were raised in. Their stories are powerful and ordinary and they thrill me, make me laugh and hurt my heart. These are my people, my family. I do not want to be forgotten and neither should they.