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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!!

Carnival of African American Genealogy, 2nd Edition: Grandma’s Hand ~ Julia Ann (GATES) MIDDLEBROOKS MINTER

My maternal grandmother was Julia Ann GATES.  She was born in Woodbury, Meriwether, GA, to Jack GATES and Georgia Ann THOMPSON, on 30 April 1894. She died on 4 January 1970, in Warm Springs, Meriwether, GA (a few days after the death of my father). It was strange to lose two people of such close blood kinship to me yet I never knew one, and had only a distant relationship with the other.

Initially, I thought I’d have very little to write about for this 2nd edition of the CoAAG – Grandma’s Hand; Grandmothers and Their Influence On The Family. I’m the host, and I chose the theme, yet I had no memories to pull from; no words of wisdom or gems to live by from my grandmother. I did not know my grandmother; not in the very personal way that you think of a grandmother/ granddaughter relationship.  Honestly, I am deeply saddened by that fact. I thought, “What in the world can I write about? What can I say?” I thought long, and I thought hard. Then I waited, and waited for the memories to come.  As a good friend had advised….I waited for my grandmother to speak to me, to show me how to tell her story. Then I realized I did have memories, very vivid memories of several trips down to Woodbury, GA to visit my grandmother.  In my memories of those visits are the memories of my grandmother.  So, travel with me to Woodbury, GA and meet my grandmother Julia Ann GATES…the way I remember her.

When I was young, my mom and I would take the bus from Atlanta to Woodbury to visit my grandmother.  Not often. In fact, I only remember doing that two times.  After we got off the bus in town, we had to walk the rest of the way.  I remember on the walk to my grandmother’s house we would pass a big white house that sat way back from the road on the left.  That is where my grandmother worked as a cook.  We would stop there first, and go to the back door to the kitchen where my grandmother was cooking.  We never stayed long, just a brief stop, and I always wondered why we had to hurry.  I was recently told by a cousin that the “big white house” as I called it was the hotel.  The briefness of the visit makes sense now, but it didn’t then.  It was not a long walk to my grandmother’s house, but not a short one either. After we crossed the railroad tracks, the road turned to dirt; red dirt, Georgia red clay my mom would say.  The next landmark I remember is the old white church on the right. My mother and her brothers went to school in that church. Turn right at the church; that’s what my young mind would say as we walked along; for some reason I was always afraid we would get lost. We walked; sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always with a sense of purpose…heading to my grandmother’s house.  As I think about it now, there was no feeling of happiness or excitement as you would expect on a visit to your grandmother’s.

My grandmother’s house was not far down the road across from an endless field of what I called “white stuff” that was actually cotton. My mom said everybody in our family had picked cotton in that field.  It was many years later before I could digest the meaning and significance of that bit of family history.  My grandmother’s house was just three rooms. It seemed pretty small when compared to the endless fields of cotton and corn that stretched for miles on either side. I think they called it a shotgun house, because, I was told, you could stand at the front door and shoot straight through the house and out the back door. I guess that was true because from the front door you could look straight down a short hallway to the back door, and outside if the door was open.  Silly me, I kept asking “where was the shotgun?”

Once inside, I felt warm and comfortable, a little scared, but safe.  Was that the comfort of a grandmother?  The feeling I long for today, but can’t quite grasp.  There was a bedroom to the right with a beautiful pink bedspread that had lots of flowers; it was shiny, and felt like silk. (I think my grandmother gave me that bedspread, and I still have it somewhere; got to find it).  I remember pictures, and other stuff…I wonder what happened to all of it.  

To the left was another bigger room with two beds; one along the wall to the right as you entered the door, and another bigger one across from that by the window. That’s where we all slept; in that room with the big fireplace, and lamps that used kerosene. Seems there was also a lot of stuff in that room too; pictures, papers maybe, little things collected during a life of living life.  What happened to all my grandmother’s stuff after she died? I wish I had some of it to help me remember her. 

The room had an iron railed headboard, and seems I just sank right down in the middle of the bed because it was “a feather mattress” my grandma said.  You could feel the memories in that room; decades of my family history.  My mom said that once there was a tornado and after it was over the roof was gone, and her brother’s head was trapped between two of those rails in that headboard. (That would be my uncle – Alexander “AJ” MIDDLEBROOKS.)  That was sooooo funny to me, and we laughed and laughed…me, my mom, and my grandma.  But, after that I was scared to sleep in that bed. Just in case there was another tornado, you understand, right?  But, I finally did fall asleep; sunk down in the middle of the feather mattress with my mom and grandma close by, the warmth of the fire from the fireplace, and the kerosene lamp that bathed the room in a soft golden glow.

The kitchen had iron stove, a table, and another bed along the back near the door.  There was always food, and the stove was warm from cooking. I woke up to the smell of country ham and fresh biscuits with homemade preserves for breakfast. It must have been my grandma who did all that…taking care of me and my mama on our visit just like grandmothers do. My grandmother sometimes brought food home from the hotel but, if not she always made me fried chicken, biscuits and apple pie.  I never actually saw her cooking it, but it was always there still warm and fresh.

In the back down a long path was an outhouse.  Oh boy, do I remember that. Now, thinking back I know this was the main reason I was so apprehensive on these visits. There was no way I could hold “it” till we got back to Atlanta, but also nooooooo way I was going out there.  So my grandmother made “other arrangements” for me.  I will always remember that she told my mom, “Lillian, that girl don’t have to go out there if she don’t want to.”  AND I DID NOT!! Every time I think about that I laugh and laugh; it’s pretty funny now, but it sure wasn’t funny then.

Yes, I remember all those things about my grandmother; they are the things that made her who she was and is to me.

I remember that my grandmother came home late, and left out early the next morning going back to work. I remember her being tired and talking about her legs aching, and not being able to do that work much longer. I remember her being sick and in the hospital; diabetes and something about her legs…bad veins and blood clots. I remember my mama going to her funeral without me. I remember feeling sad, but not shedding a tear.

I remember all these “things” about my grandmother, but I don’t remember feeling her in my heart…not until today.

This is a photo of my MIDDLEBROOKS family taken one Christmas in the mid to late 1960′s. Whenever I look at this picture it makes me smile and warms my heart. It makes me long for a FAMILY REUNION. When I was a little girl, we would go down to my mother’s hometown of Woodbury, GA in Meriwether County for Homecoming Sunday. Other than the vague memories of these events, I don’t recall attending a family reunion. One of my greatest desires is to have a TALIAFERRO family reunion. I’m talking about an “official” family reunion- meet and greet, cookout at the park, tee shirts, family worship-a weekend of family fun and fellowship. My brother and cousins tell me there has never been a TALIAFERRO Family Reunion. The idea has been bounced around, but no one has actually taken the initiative and put one together. Maybe that someone will be me.

This photo was in a scrapbook passed on to me by my cousin earlier this year. He is another unknown relative from my maternal Middlebrooks line of Meriwether County, GA. Or, maybe he isn’t- Unknown.
Several relatives, including myself, believe that he may be Gordon R. Middlebrooks born about September 1897 in Woodbury, Meriwether, GA to Sudie Parks and Alexander Middlebrooks. Gordon died in Atlanta, Fulton, GA 31 July 1948. I have only found evidence of Gordon in two documents; his 12 September 1918, WW I Draft Registration Card, and his 1948 GA death certificate. Seems strange; he indicated on his draft registration card that his residence was Woodbury, GA; he was a farmer and was working for Alex Middlebrooks; and he listed Sudie Middlebrooks as his nearest relative. I have not found a Gordon Middlebrooks listed on any census with his parents Alex and Sudie. However, I do find a “Brooks” L. Middlebrooks, also born about September 1897 with parents Alex and Sudie in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census. Recently, after learning of Gordon from my cousin, it occurred to me that Brooks and Gordon might very well be the same person!! Other than census records, I cannot find any documents for a Brooks Middlebrooks. Seems strange since he is so prominent in the census records. I believe that “Brooks” was probably a nickname for “Gordon”. I’m still working on this one, including getting a copy of Gordon’s 1948 death certificate to confirm his parents were Alex and Sudie.

The older gentleman on the left in this photo is my maternal great uncle William Middlebrooks, born circa September 1894 in Woodbury, Meriwether County, GA. Uncle Bill was a real character; suave and debonair- a gambler, a fighter, a drinker. Uncle Bill didn’t take NO mess. As the story goes, Uncle Bill had to flee his home in Woodbury under the “cloak of darkness”. Family tradition says he was in an “altercation” with a white man over a pair of shoes, and was smuggled out of town with the sheriff “hot on his trail”. He was first taken to Griffin, GA, but eventually made his way to Chicago where he changed his name to Bill Sutton. He later returned to Georgia where he died in August 1977.