Family Stories Handed Down Through the Oral Tradition

If the Story-Teller leaves no oral or written family history, it dies with them.  I think my mother knew this.  44 years ago in 1973, I was 5 years old.  My mother was an elementary school teacher and I distinctly remember during  Summer vacation, my mother sitting in her home office and firmly letting me know that she was writing a family story.  She would tell me that I needed to find something to do as she spoke into an old-fashioned tape recorder with a hand-held microphone, clearly pronouncing every syllable of every word.

[When I reflect on this, I realize that she had perfect diction and elocution, as did her Aunt Zara Cully Brown, who taught her how to speak]

I have always been curious about my family history, and I would hear the stories of my parent’s lives spoken around the table, or in the living room when my mother was entertaining guests.  I always had my ears perked up, but with child understanding, many of the stories were not remembered or understood clearly.

My Paternal Grandmother would give me bits and pieces of her life and those of her family members from the country, but she would shut-down if my questions presented hit a nerve. That would be it, and nothing more.

My mother passed away in 2004, and as I was packing and storing the contents of her home, I came across boxes of tapes.  Many of the tapes were recordings of community events, and recordings of guest speakers.  When I found the time, I took each tape and listened to see what was on them.  One after one, I stumbled across the old tapes my mother had been recording in the Summer of 1973.  I was ecstatic.  Not only did she record the stories, but most of them she had already transcribed.  This was the beginning of my genealogical family research on the history of her ancestry.

These tapes sparked the story-teller in me, and as I listened to each tape, I realized the stories she was telling were passed down from her mother and her mother’s mother.  It was five generations of stories.  I knew my mother wanted to write her life story in Sugar-hill, New York which also encompassed Worcester, MA and North Carolina.  As a matter of fact, I had promised my mother when she was living that I would help her find records to support the stories she was telling.

My mother, The story-teller, who is no longer with us, is alive and well when I replay the old tapes, and the new CD’s I had made of the tapes.  It is like my mother is in the room.  I feel her spirit, and it is in my hearts desire to continue to tell the stories of my ancestors as I hand them down to my children and their children.  Whenever I get the chance, I incorporate the stories into the daily lives of my children according to how they relate to the happenings in their lives.

“Our lives are like a million books, of which many stories can be told.”

Clifton R. Wharton III – Wordless Wednesday

This is a photo of Clifton R. Wharton III, My mother’s Godson.  Clifton’s Grandfather Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr. was confirmed as the First U.S. black foreign minister of Romania on February 5, 1958.

Clifton R. Wharton III

 

I had never met Clifton, but my mother was devastated by the news of his passing.  I happened to be with her when she received the call.

Fearless Females Blog Post: March 22 – This is “Her” Life.

March 22 — If a famous director wanted to make a movie about one of your female ancestors who would it be? What actress would you cast in the role and why?

If  a famous director wanted to make a movie of one of my ancestor’s it would be about the Cully family and it would be centered around my grandmother Agnes and my mother Betty residing in Sugar Hill.  The many lives of the other family members would be weaved through the life of Agnes.  There would be many scenes portrayed in her sewing room in her apartment where many stories were told.  The main years of the movie would be 1923-1952.

I would like to see Cicely Tyson play my grandmother as she is a star actress, and Angela Bassett  would play my mother because of her elegance.  My mother was very elegant.  The name would either be “The Socialite” or “Sugar”

Marian Anderson and her Fashion Designer Agnes Cully Peters

Fearless Females Blog Post-March 8: Diaries, Letters & Journals

Once again, in honor of National Women’s History Month, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month.

I have decided to participate in the Prompts:  So here we go!

March 8 — Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

Here is a small insert of the memoirs of my mother Betty Mae Peters that will be published in January 1, 2013 by FreedomInk Publishing.  The setting takes place in the 1940’s in New York City.

Image

Betty Mae Peters Porter with her mother Agnes Mae Cully Peters

Many “black” people, in order to obtain employment, passed for white, “Spanish”, or anything but “colored.”  This was quite common and quite accepted in the black community, as using whatever one could to “make-it” in a basically hostile society.  Blacks also liked the idea of “fooling” paddies (a word for whites).  The darkest black would smile a knowing we-smile upon encountering a friend or acquaintance “passing” on a job, and, far from giving-away the imposter, would instead return to the black community and laughingly report how so-and-so was fooling those “dumb paddies.”  However, in my naivete, I was amazed to learn that whites went through the same kinds of fabrications for the exact same reasons.

If you like this, wait till you read the book “A Taste of Sugar”…

Copyright protected by Estate of Betty Mae Porter-1973-2012

Fearless Females Blog Post-March 4-Marriage Records

Once again, in honor of National Women’s History Month, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. March 4 — Do you have marriage records for your grandparents or great-grandparents? Write a post about where they were married and when. Any family stories about the wedding day? Post a photo too if you have one. I have not gone beyond finding marriage indexes of my grandparents and great-grandparents. I haven’t had much success with online searches as I believe I will need to order the certificates. I have no wedding photo’s of any grandparent ancestors. I am surprised that there are no wedding photo’s in my possession as my Grandmother Agnes in later years made wedding dresses for many of the who’s who.  What I do have is an insert of my mom’s journal discussing her parent’s union.
The Union of Agnes Mae Cully and Charles Irving Peters

Agnes and Charles fell in love and decided to marry. Mother had a dear friend who lived in Brooklyn, New York.  Her name was Louise Bryant.  Her husband was a composer, Fred Bryant.  They lived in a beautiful brownstone house in Brooklyn. (My father’s home state was West Virginia, so they were both in Florida temporarily.)  When they decided to wed, they agreed they wished to leave the South.  Mother had promised “Aunt” Louise that no matter where she was when she found her true love, she would be married in Louise’s house in Brooklyn, as Mother and Dad bid farewell to people and places in Florida, took the train to Brooklyn and were married in a beautiful ceremony in this lovely, beautifully appointed house. When I was growing up, one didn’t call older people by their first names, so close adult friends became “Aunts and uncles”, as a result, there were quite a few adults whom I addressed and spoke of in this manner, although they were actually not relatives. My mother said her first “inkling” that she was going to have trouble with Daddy was when he took her to Atlantic City for their honeymoon.  Evidently, he put her up in a fine hotel.  It was very romantic for her!  However, when the bill came due, Daddy didn’t have the money to pay it.  In Mother’s fury, she tore the wedding ring off her finger and threw it out the window.  She threw her clothes into her bags and went to the train station, but it was too late to get a train leaving the city.  Feeling totally stranded, she returned to the hotel.The next day, after they made-up, she crawled around in the grass and hunted until she finally found her wedding ring! As punishment for not paying the bill, Mother and Dad had to work out their indebtedness at the hotel.  I don’t know what he did, but she made the beds!

(Copyright 1970-2012 by Yvette Porter Moore, No form of publication without permission given.)