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March Madness ~ Two New Cousins and A Slave Owner Identified!

March Madness wasn’t just going on in basketball last month. March was a very exciting month for my genealogical research.  Ancestor mojo was in full force!

First, I was contacted by a new cousin who is related through my maternal line.  Esther saw my tree on Ancestry and contacted me through another researcher that we have in common who is also a cousin to Esther and probably to me as well.  

My maternal great, great grandparents were Albert Middlebrooks and Malinda [?] of Woodbury, Meriwether County, GA.  They had a daughter Laura Middlebrooks.  Albert and Malinda also had a son, Alexander “Alex” Middlebrooks who was my great grandfather.  Laura and Alex were siblings. Laura Middlebrooks married Salis Stinson and they had a daughter Leola Stinson.  Leola was Esther’s grandmother.  So, Esther and I have the same great, great grandmother. Yes, I said great, great grandmother, not grandparents.  Therein is the mystery.

Esther’s brother did very extensive research on the family.  According to his research, Malinda’s maiden name was Gill.  I had assumed that Malinda’s maiden name was Guise because that is the name listed on the death certificate for my great grandfather, Alex Middlebrooks.  According to family lore, Malinda was part white (probably by a slave owner) and had a child or children fathered by her Gill slave owner.  We don’t know which child or children, but one could have been Laura.  There are notes in the research that Malinda would go up to “the house” and say things like “here, take it, it ain’t mine no way” referring to her child who was fathered by the slave owner.  Fascinating stuff!!

Esther is full of family stories, and our conversations never fail to release another piece of the puzzle.  I am anxious to visit her and go through those “six big binders” of information that her brother complied during his 30 years of research. 

During our first conversation, I told Esther about my 2011 resolution to find a slave owner for my Middlebrooks line.  So far, that has been a major brick wall.  Recently, I found my great grandfather, Alex Middlebrooks, in the 1880 census for Woodbury, Meriwether County working as a laborer on the farm of R.T. Powell.  His name was enumerated as “Elic Middiebrok”.   I didn’t tell Esther any of this, thinking it could wait for another time. 

I guess the ancestors thought differently because…….

Later that night Esther called me back and said I have something I want to read to you.  She had found it in her brother’s research. Then she read this one sentence… Alex Middlebrooks was a slave on the Powell plantation.  I was speechless. Of course, there is much research to come before I can confirm this statement, but for now all I can say is WOW!!

And then…..

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a lady, Debra, who is a cousin on my paternal side.    

Debra stumbled upon my blog when she googled to find information on Greene County, GA in preparation for an upcoming family reunion.  Debra is responsible for writing up the family history.  Reading my blog, she noticed that we had the same surnames in our tree, Brewer and Lawrence, and that my ancestors, like hers, were also from Greensboro, Greene County, GA.  After a few emails and a phone conversation we easily made the connection.

My grandmother was Fannie Mae Lawrence and her mother was Lessie Brewer.  Lessie’s mother was Fannie Mae Brewer.   Fannie Mae Brewer also had a son Whit Brewer who had a daughter Hester Brewer.   Hester was Debra’s grandmother.  So, Debra and I have the same great, great grandmother – Fannie Mae Brewer.   We were both thrilled to make this connection and quickly arranged to meet.  Debra is just starting her journey into genealogy and her enthusiasm is refreshing. 

Debra was raised by her grandmother, Hester Brewer, and has breathed new life into my Greene County research, and the Brewer line in particular.  A few years ago while researching through some Greene County records at the GA Archives I found court papers concerning a custody battle for a child – Hester Brewer.   Along with Hester, the other parties involved were Fannie Brewer and Whit Brewer. My focus was on something else at the time, so I made copies of the papers and filed them away for another day when I could examine them more closely.  Of course, I never got back to them and they remained in that file until a few weeks ago when I met with Debra.  She was thrilled to receive this piece of history about her grandmother.  Debra had heard bits and pieces of the story, but the court papers pulled it all together.   What a great story to begin her family history!

As Debra and I have discovered, it seems the ancestors have been working their mojo in our family for years through the generations.  Follow along….Debra’s grandmother, Hester Brewer, was raised in the household with my grandmother, Fannie Mae Lawrence, whose mother, Lessie Brewer, was Hester’s aunt.  Debra has an Aunt Ruth –Hester’s daughter.  I have an Aunt Ruth – Fannie Mae’s daughter. Debra’s Aunt Ruth was told that she is named after my Aunt Ruth.  It gets better.  Follow along….I have a cousin Zelphyr.  Debra has a cousin Betty (who would be my cousin as well).  Betty has a daughter, Zelphyr.  Debra’s cousin Betty named her daughter after someone she worked with whose name was Zelphyr.  Betty and this Zelphyr became really good friends, so she named her daughter after that friend.  As it turns out, that friend, Zelphyr, is also MY cousin Zelphyr!  They were coworkers who became good friends, and never knew they were also cousins.  As it turns out….We are all COUSINS!!

This past Friday me, my brother Bernard, and my sister/friend/cousin Luckie of headed to Greene County and Washington-Wilkes County on a research road trip.  My paternal grandmother, Fannie Mae LAWRENCE, her mother Lessie BREWER, her mother Fannie BREWER, and her mother Eliza ASKEW all have roots in Greene Co. So does my great grandfather, George LAWRENCE, and his parents James LAWRENCE and Pleasant LITTLE. The thought of exploring the area these ancestors once called home was extremely exciting, and my spirits were high on just the anticipation of that. The beautiful weather held the promise of good things to come.

The night before the trip, Luckie and I had one last phone conversation going over our plans for the next day.  Luckie’s home ground is Washington-Wilkes, so she was excited to be returning after a long absence.  You can read Luckie post; for a view of our trip as only Luckie can tell it. I wasn’t feeling too much apprehension knowing I would be in the company of this seasoned researcher.  Luckie’s advice – connect with the locals; once they know you have family from the area, they are more than happy to talk and share information.

Now, you have to know me, but this is way, way out of my comfort zone.  This Luckie knows all too well, but she was having none of it, and was not buying my “That’s just not me” and “I’m not comfortable approaching strangers” excuses.  After a few more words of encouragement and warnings of missed opportunities, she left me to my thoughts. Friday morning before leaving, I grabbed my Brewer and Lawrence folders, and printed out death certificates for Fannie Brewer and her son Green Brewer.  According to their death certificates, both were buried in “Hudson Grove Cemetery”.  I thought maybe we could find the cemetery and possibly locate their graves.

Riding around exploring downtown Greensboro was indeed a treat. The small town country look and feel was just what I’d hoped to see. I felt a tingle of something that told me the ancestors were stirring. “Oh, look Reid’s Beauty Shop. I’ve got the REID/REED surname in my tree.” Luckie said “You want to stop and see if they know your folks.”  I said, “No, but let’s get a picture.”  Was that a missed opportunity for a family connection? Maybe it was. 

Earlier, we had passed a small group of elderly men chatting in a parking lot, but passed without stopping. After striking out at the Greene County Historical Society and the local History Museum, we headed back to that group of men. Luckie introduced us, and we asked if any of them knew of Hudson Grove Cemetery. Yes, they did but, it would not be easy for us to find.  One of the gentlemen, Minister Marshall BAUGH, offered to ride with us as a guide, if we “trusted him”. We did. It just felt right.

The Greene County countryside was beautiful; wide open fields and lots of cows. I was hypnotized by the view, and filled with anticipation. Were we really going to the burial place of my Greene County ancestors? Minister Baugh talked all the way in true southern minister-style as we traveled the winding road. Turning onto the dirt road to the church, we were finally there. He was right; we never would have found it by ourselves. It was deep in the country.

The cemetery was located behind the church. Luckie and Bernard jumped out to explore while Minister Baugh and I sat in the car and talked. He told me the actual name of the church was Hutchinson Grove A.M.E. and it currently had only one member; he wasn’t sure if services were still held there-maybe once a month or so.

The cemetery is Hutchinson Grove Cemetery, not Hudson Grove as indicated on the two death certificates. It showed signs of neglect, but was fairly well kept.  I watched anxiously as Luckie and Bernard explored, and before long was lost in thought. The ring of my cell phone broke the silence of my daydreaming. It was Bernard screaming that he had found a headstone for “LESSIE LAWRENCE!” The excitement in his voice spoke volumes.  Not only that, he continued, there were other BREWERS there as well. We guessed it must have been a family plot.  There was no Fannie or Green for the death certificates I had printed out earlier, but still what an incredible find!

Lessie (BREWER) LAWRENCE was our paternal great grandmother. That’s her picture below, and below that the photo of her headstone. We did not come equipped with a spray bottle of water to clean the dirt from the headstone, but it is still very easy to read. 

 

The inscription reads:

Every joy to us is dead

Since mother is not here

Along with Lessie, there were 11 other headstones. After consulting my family tree, and searching records on Ancestry, I can confirm that 9 of those are BREWER descendants-no doubt about it. There are two surnames, HUTCHINSON and SMITH that are not familiar to me. They are most likely family I have yet to discover.  I suspect that this may have been the Brewer family church. The Hutchinson surname, which is also the name of the church, opens another avenue of family history to pursue. I am anxious to get started on that journey.

It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful trip.  Minister Baugh was as nice as can be, and the epitome of small town, southern hospitality. We were blessed to meet him. We will definitely be returning very soon.

The next time you take a research trip to an ancestral hometown, stop and strike up a conversation with some of the locals and tell them who your folks are. As I learned on this trip, you never know who you might meet or what you might find.  You might just be ~ Touched by the Ancestors!