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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Learning, Unlearning, and Re-Learning at almost 52!

Learning, Unlearning, and 
Re-Learning at almost 52!
“Advocating for new systems often requires demolishing the old way of doing things, and we hold back for fear of rocking the boat”
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant 

Anyone who knows me, realizes that I’m not afraid to rock the boat. As promised I am trying to keep you up to date on what I am learning at school. For the most part, I am doing an incredible amount of reading and writing. The truth is I need to do a whole lot more reading and writing. Today, I am trying to catch up on notes, articles and sleuth through chapters of several books. I also need to clean my room and figure out what to cook for Easter (which may or may not happen i.e. the cooking), plus do some bookkeeping for church. Below is a quick list of reading suggestions; ALL are items that are touching me deeply from my coursework. As a side note on books, please note the first Ubound Book Festival will be hosted on April 23 at Stephens College. Please REGISTER to attend.

New things I learned which took me by surprise
I discovered one of my ancestors was an entertainer in the late late 1800s, early 1900s--her husband appeared on stage in Black-face and they performed this dance.

Booker T. Washington’s venture into Togo, Africa with a cotton plantation. This history about was among the most difficult papers I read this semester; along the treatment of Colonized Africans and of mixed-race Afro-Germans. Of course, I learned a good deal more about the Nazi’s
Here's a quick new books I bought this month including:
I also have a great pile of books I requested via interlibrary loan for my History of Blacks in Germany class. Some of the items below have very interesting papers hyperlinked.
I was introduced to Marcus J. Borg at Sunday school a couple of months ago (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) and have been very engaged in reading more about Spiritualist and Feminist Theory.
Borg’s book (Meeting Jesus Again...has fabulous end notes which lead me borrow from my pastor: In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today by William L. Countryman.

Last Sunday 3.2.16 Bryan Stevenson was a MU guest at Jesse Hall and spoke of injustice in the criminal justice system (he is a death row attorney). His book Just Mercy is profound (please watch his TedTalk) -- and another book I really want to delve into is: Lloyd Gains and the Fight to End Segregation by James W. Endersby and William T. Horner.

This morning I am watching an interview via C-SPAN online: Secrets of the Underground Railroad Don Papson talked about his book, Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City: Sydney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives. Mr. Papson spoke about the “Record of Fugitives,” a previously unpublished text from the 1850s kept by abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay, in which he reveals his close collaboration with Louis Napoleon, a free black who helped many runaway slaves escape to freedom. Mr. Papson co-wrote the book with Tom Calarco -- of which I also have a signed copy:-).

Mr. Papson's wife has roots in Columbia, they will be in town this weekend. I did some cool genealogical research on their family over winter break on Alexander Campbell and Alexander Hicks. Check out Mr. Papson's CSPAN interview. I am excited to be a guest at my neighbor's DAR book club Christina Maring they will be discussing Woody Holton's book Abigail Adams.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Practice Makes Perfect, but it doesn’t make new….Although America is a land of individuality and unique self-expression in search of excellence and in fear of failure...most of us opt to fit in rather than stand out.Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Diggs Family... Slaves of William Wesley Hudson

The Research Journey
For the past 6 months Linda Palmer and I have pursued a collection of records to build a foundation to tell a story about Harrison Diggs and his family – former slaves of the University of Missouri’s 3rd President William Wesley Hudson.

Assembling these documents, as with any historical reconstruction, resembles building a puzzle from bits and pieces pieces, some big and some small.  We were trying to verify what we'd heard, read or been told about Harrison Diggs' family.  For example, we'd heard that Harrison Diggs and his brothers had been emancipated in his owner’s will.  We needed proof.  Our cursory research indicated that Diggs was involved in Columbia’s black community – but we had very few details.

Ella Diggs Palmer-Rogers
Daughter of Harrison Diggs
Questions we sought to answer about Harrison Diggs:
  1. Who were Digg’s parents?
  2. Could we confirm who owned him and his family?
  3. Was he or anyone in his family emancipated before the Missouri Emancipation Proclamation in 1865?
  4. Did Diggs have siblings?
  5. Whom did Diggs marry and when?
  6. Did they have any offspring?
  7. Did he own land? Did he leave a will or an estate file?
  8. Did a record of his employment at the University of Missouri exist as a public record?
  9. What role did he play in Columbia’s black community?
  10. Would any of the found documents shed light on Diggs as a person?
My presentation on February 17, 2014 at the Columbia Public Library aimed to answer some of these questions.   I was fortunate to have a crowd of nearly 50 in attendance. The program was taped and is currently being broadcast on Mediacom channels 22 and 722.

Still Digging at the DIGGS Family
As I have pointed out in my blog posts about our research journey:  We were challenged trying to sort out the various Black Diggs families in Columbia from other Diggs in other nearby communities.  Additionally, we had issues with names like Annie and Arthur (Diggs)... just too many of them with the same name!   We had to determine if they were the same people or if and how they were related?  The family was quite mobile.  We wondered what drew them to Bowling Green...Kansas City...Moberly...and St. Joseph, Missouri and, outside of the state Omaha, NE and Chicago, IL?    The Diggs were NOT confined to the Columbia area – they spread out. This meant that we had to retrieve and research records in many locations to find reliable answers. 

Collaborating and Compiling Family Bits and Pieces to Tell a Story
As a precursor to this update, I posted to my Facebook page:  Traci’s African American in Missouri Research!   It’s a sampling of  bits and pieces from news articles that cover the small rural communities of BelAir, Bunceton, Otterville and Sedalia located in Central Missouri.  All the morsels of information provide clues and insight to an issue you are trying to explore.   For example:  The problem of recruiting Black physicians, historically has been a challenge.  To see this issue in newsprint gives perspective to the barriers people of color experienced trying to enter the fields of science and medicine.  If you had a family member who was adopted prior to the days of a legal court process, your relative could have been mentioned in a small news item about "a child seeking a home."   Finding even a brief mention of an abandoned or orphaned child in a newspaper article is a resource that could be overlooked. Your research requires a bit of curiosity and strategy about what documents exist that could provide new details and more information.

A Perfect Small Piece to Start the Harrison Diggs Puzzle

My attention was piqued upon reading a small article in the University Missourian dated April, 20, 1911.  It describes a presentation by N. T. [North Todd] Gentry who had given a historical overview account of the early days at the University of Missouri.  He mentioned prominent members of Columbia such as James S. Rollins and William Wesley Hudson a past president.  But to my surprise, the article mentioned Gentry’s presentation was aided with pictures (a slide show!) and shown were two former slaves Harrison Diggs and Horace Williams. Wow!  The article notes: As the picture of the first University building was shown, the Glee Club sang “Old Missouri.” Two former slaves of University professors saw there own pictures thrown on the screen.  They were Horace Williams who belonged to William C. Shields and Harrison Diggs, once the slave of W. W. Hudson. Both are now janitors at the University.

Fabulous Find!  Now we had a news article confirming Harrison's owner. What else could we find?  Next we discovered that Harrison Diggs served in the Civil we retrieved his pension record from the National Archives. The record was nearly 75 pages... and it required careful reading. His Civil War pension file was extraordinary for a few reasons:

1) We learned that Harrison Diggs married Sarah Elizabeth Lawrence on August 10, 1867. They were married by Rev. Henry McIntire. 

2) Harrison and Sarah had 10 children – all of whom are listed in the file by their full names and birth-dates. Chester Arthur Diggs birthday was cut off in the file copy I received from the archives. 

3) References to their daughters with their married surnames helped confirm that we had followed the correct Annie and Arthur (Diggs).  As I mentioned previously, we ran into confusion trying to sort out several Annie and Arthur Diggs.  We eventually concluded that there were:  2 Annies and 2 Arthurs who were connected to Harrison Digg's family. 

4) We also discovered a possible error. Anna Smith,  listed as one of Harrison's daughters was not dead according to the 1895 record above -- she died April 13, 1913.  

5) It's possible that the word "dead" scrawled next to her name was lightly erased and intended for her brother, "Lawrence" in the line above. Lawrence has caused us equal amounts of confusion to be discussed in a separate blog post. 

Simultaneously, Linda had retrieved former MU President William Wesley Hudson’s estate file and tediously combed through nearly 80 pages to mine more details and facts.   She extracted all of the slave related information which meant flushing out all the names of the slaves owned by Hudson at the time of his death.

While sorting out names in the estate file; she confirmed that Harrison's parents and siblings were all owned by Hudson. We both reviewed the Boone County Black marriage records several times and found that Harrison's parents married under the surname of Hudson.  While comparing the list of slaves with the marriage records we also discovered another Black Hudson family owned by President Hudson. At least of couple of Hudson's slaves were purchased from the estate of his father-in-law -- Cumberland Snell, his wife Albina's father. 

Another Black 
Hudson Family
Samuel Hudson married Lucy (maiden name unknown) on January 1, 1866. The children listed in the marriage record were: Jane (32), Warren (30), Preston (25), Samuel (21) and Charlotte (20).

Marriage Records Bits & Pieces 
We researched the marriage records and found Harrison’s parents James and Susan Hudson married on December 30, 1865.  We’d actually had the record but apparently we didn't study it very closely. It wasn't until I went to the court house and viewed the actual marriage record (which was much more legible) that I noticed there was another HUDSON among the black marriages. 

Another useful resource was Charles O’Dell’s Black Households in ColumbiaMissouri 1901-1909: A Directory...which provided even more clues.  The directory noted:   "James and Susan Hudson became free at emancipation. They had 5 adult children + two adopted.  Beverly, the oldest; a skilled carpenter took the surname of Chapman, but the other 3 sons, Henry, Harrison and Silas – used the name Diggs.  Both the Chapmans and Diggs were influential members of the Black Community in Columbia…Chapman’s daughter Mary, worked as one the first assistant teachers at Cummings Academy.  She married James Thomas Ridgeway, a member of another prominent slave family of the county.  Their daughter Maggie, attend Cummings Academy, Lincoln Institute and returned to Boone County to teach in her alma mater. (pg. III)"

We missed the part in the record about the two adopted children.  See the marriage record below because the children listed: Georgiana (15) and Edwin (12) were grandchildren adopted by James and Susan Hudson.

Ah hah!  So these adopted children were not strangers; they were kin -- the Hudson’s grandchildren!  This was NEW information.  Now we have more research to do to figure out what happened to Georgiana and Edwin. Also overlooked in O’Dell’s summary about the Hudson/Diggs family in Black Households in Columbia, Missouri: Directory was Harrison's sister Sally; whom we believe was Sally Nolly/Knolly/Knolley. We have collected some details about Sally but not quite enough yet for a substantive story. The varied spelling of her name has also presented challenges.   However, O’Dell’s compiled 1988 data was very helpful and provided important clues. But we when investigated and verified our own research, we uncovered more valuable information.  The lesson learned was: check everything.  After realizing we missed a few items, we decided to spend more time reviewing Hudson's estate file more carefully. By doing this, we found the grandchildren listed in the marriage record coincided with those listed in the inventory of slaves in the probate. Double-checking our work made a difference. 

The marriage record and information from the Black Households of Columbia Directory helped us put together the marriages of Harrison's brothers.  The only marriage we couldn't find was for that of Sally Knolley and we believe she was a widow from 1870 until she died on February 6, 1933.

Siblings Married Sisters and had Children with Same Name: Annie and Arthur
Harrison and Silas Diggs married sisters Sarah and Charlotte Lawrence daughters of Dennis Lawrence and Mary Picket.  Mr. Lawrence owned property very early that he left to his children which appears to be the land that Second Baptist Missionary Church currently occupies. We are currently investigating Dennis Lawrence for more details about his family and how he came to acquire property so soon after the close of slavery. 

Harrison and his brother Rev James Silas Diggs aka J. Silas Diggs caused us quite a bit of grief trying to sort of their children. Rev. Diggs and Charlotte Lawrence were the parents of Annie Diggs Simms and Arthur Diggs who died March 1, 1946 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Harrison Diggs and his wife Sarah Lawrence were the parents of Annie Smith (mentioned above died in 1913) and Arthur Diggs who died in Chicago in 1967.  Arthur's cause of death shocked us... a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest!

More Pieces—What Did Happen in Hudson’s Estate File?  Not Freedom!
Diggs Brothers Buy Their Time Out of the Estate:
While sifting through the pension file; we also studied William W. Hudson’s estate record which was many pages not all of which are very legible.  But significantly we discovered that Harrison and his brothers were NOT emancipated in the will of William Hudson.  They actually threatened to run away unless they were allowed to buy out their time out of the estate.  This sounds a little crazy – but the estate file discussed the situation verbatim.

It's possible that wrapping the estate took them into the period of Civil War which made the issue of their value to the estate moot.  However, Silas and Henry registered for the Civil War as Silas and Henry Hudson -- and the owner was listed Albina Hudson.  We don't know why we can't find a military service record for Silas and Henry Hudson/Diggs.  We also don't know why only Harrison had a Civil War pension file record.

Foundation Built, Closing Tidbits & Pieces to Think About
In closing, all of the above bits and pieces helped us build a basic understanding of Harrison's familial ties: his parents, siblings, wife and children.  We confirmed who owned his family and that he was a janitor at the University for many years along with another former slave named Horace Williams.  

We know Harrison served in the Civil War and that he and his brother Silas married sisters Sarah and Charlotte Lawrence.  We discovered his parents were raising their grandchildren Georgiana and Edwin who were listed as adopted in their marriage record and as slaves in the estate file of William Wesley Hudson.  We also identified another slave family in the estate who took the surname of Hudson.

We did wonder what happened to the slave Julius who ran away during the probate of  MU President Hudson's estate. Once again, we only found a few bits and pieces. We searched the census and marriage records and found that Julius Lenoir married a woman named Milly on November 16, 1865.  At the time of their marriage they had children: Narcissa (9), Emeline (7), Lenoria (4) and Juda (8 months).  There was also a marriage forJohn Lenoir and Harriet Arnold on January 13, 1866.  We assume there is a connection between the two Black Lenoir families, but at the moment, we can’t confirm or deny a relationship.  We reviewed the Parker Funeral Home Records (1892-1925) copied by June Stubbs and found Julius died or was buried on December 7, 1892.  We are still trying to put the pieces of his family together.

Dr. James P. Shannon
Since we have also been following slaves who worked at the University and were owned by MU Presidents or their affiliated families...we wanted to know if Julius also worked on campus. He is listed in the estate of William E. Hudson and later takes the surname of Lenoir.  The Lenoir name ties into the Columbia slave-owning family of.James Shannon the 2nd President of MU.
He was a neighbor to William W. Hudson and his daughter Frances married Dr. Walter T. Lenoir.   Frances owned a slave named Tony whom her father borrowed with her permission and hired out for labor services to the University of Missouri. The MU Curators paid Shannon for Tony's slave labor. [See The Whipping Post for a brief story about Tony]

President Shannon also had ties to John Batiste Lange Sr., one of Columbia first free residents of color -- serving as security for his freedom license. Lange married a slave owned by Shannon named Louisa and they had a large family of 13 children.  Lange Sr., was the father of John Lange Jr., who managed Blind Boone.   These bits and pieces demonstrate that the slaves of Hudson, Lenoir and Shannon families were all neighbors and would have interacted with each other.. perhaps on a social basis as well.  

Final Tidbit -- Families Intertwined
In a last tidbit -- the obituary of John Lange Jr.[Kansas City Sun, July 19, 1916, pg. 1] has some interesting commentary about his childhood friends:  "Mr. Lange was born in Harrisburg, KY Oct. 4, 1840 of a slave mother and free father, the latter being a French Creole.  He was a slave in the family of Hon. James Shannon, the second president of the Missouri State University.  He with Hon Richard Shannon, ex-superintendent of the Missouri State Schools and Hon. Gardiner Lathrop (his father John Hiram Lathrop was the 1st President of MU) were boys and playmates together..." 

While it may seem like a distraction from the DIGGS -- we found Harrison Diggs and his brothers associated with John Lange Sr.. and Jr. in their efforts to support the betterment of Columbia's African Americans community through education, entrepreneurship and  the development of houses of worship for both the Baptist and AME Churches congregations.

In my next post, I discuss questions 7-10 above and delve deeper into Harrison Digg's Civil War application, his civic activism and what we learned about one of his sons:  Arthur Diggs of Chicago, IL. 

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Special Note:  Thanks to "Nannie" Pat Etienne and Vanette Hamilton for their much needed help editing my blog pots. It's still a journey (work in progress) so if you find something I need to correct -- please drop me a note offline. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Mama's Story, A New Cousin and Art to Teach Black History.

Grandma Belle Vaughan Webster;
 wife of Tom Webster  and mother Ernest Webster
my mom's adoptive father.
What?  You're Adopted?  
Somewhere in between my 35th or 36th year of living on the planet earth – my mom told me she was adopted.  I thought to myself “What?  You're kidding? You are just now telling me?  I am damn near 40 years old!”    She explained further that she was about five years when her mother died.  Her grandmother Belle let the "cat out of the bag" that her mother – was not her real mother – she was adopted!  My initial understanding of what my mom said got a little mangled.  I though she meant her father Ernest Webster was her real father and his wife Julia somehow came late to the family party (and died) -- and she wanted to know more about her.

Sojourner Truth
Grandma Belle
I eventually got the story straightened out. Mom was adopted as a toddler by Ernest and Julia Webster.  It would take some time, lots of phone calls and letters to sort it all out.  But I think Grandma Belle is real hero (and thank you God) because she told my mom the truth and that story stuck with my mom so this mystery could eventually be unraveled.  I love the photo of Belle. I nearly tore up my house this morning looking for it!  Grandma Belle was a Sojourner Truth in her own time. I think my mother's spirited independence, kindness and sassy-ness is a gift from Grandma Belle. I think I got a little bit of it too...

Woolworth's Lunch Counter
Protest, Greensboro, NC
My mom really wanted find out if she had any family – living or dead.  She had even made attempts of her own to uncover the truth by hiring an attorney to investigate; but he died in the process.  So I thought I’d give it a shot. I love solving mysteries – particularly the family history kind – but you already know that right!  Sometimes even after many years have passed; and the principal players in a family are dead --- some resist telling or hearing the truth.  My part in genealogical research is in defiance or a protest against silence for the sake of keeping a secret.  The details leading up to my mother's adoption and the intervening years in between are sordid and painful.  So I will skip directly to the easiest part of the story to tell. 

The Birth Certificate and Writing the Judge
I thought it was odd that my mom's birth certificate had numbers which were crossed out and written over.  "This is a messy birth certificate," I said to myself. "Shouldn't it be pristine with no markings?"   I learned during the research process that when someone is adopted a new birth record is created with their “new name."  In this case; her birth record has new numbers hand-scrawled over redacted ones. 
W. E. B. DuBois -- Founder of the NAACP's
The Crisis magazine and author of
The Souls of Black Folks
The short version of the story (and this is a really a long one)  is this all began to move forward in February of 1999.  I drafted a letter for my mom to sign addressed to the judge of the 45th Judicial District -- the Honorable Carol Haberman of  Bexar County Texas requesting her adoption records be opened. I researched the law and discovered that her records could be opened with the help of an attorney. My confidence had been bolstered and inspired by an attorney friend in Long Beach, Jeff LeBeau who said he didn’t practice that kind of law; but he’d help in whatever way he could. Well, I was off and running. 

To my surprise the Judge Haberman responded and confirmed that yes, my mother was adopted and she noted the case file number too.  To get the records open we’d have to go to court.
I spent what seemed like months trying to figure out my next steps. I got the impression that my mom was uneasy about going to court – mostly because we really didn’t know what to do nor have the money to hire an attorney and fly to San Antonio.  At the time Ian, Evan and Erin were all under 10 years of age.  I had a full plate.  
Mary McLeod Bethune Founder
National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

The Adoption Papers
Besides writing the judge --  I had my mom apply to all the adoption registry organizations in the San Antonio area which facilitated connecting adoptees with their birth family.  After more research, I found an attorney who would go to court for a very nominal fee of $65 to unseal the adoption record.  The adoption papers were mailed to my mom while she was visiting Columbia in the summer of 2005.  The record provided some interesting details. My mother (Julia Ann Webster-Wilson-Mass) was born Jo Ann Cobb on April 28, 1945 to Marshall and Frances Cobb.  No place of residence was listed for her parents and no maiden name for Frances.   Further “…that the father of said child is Marshall Cobb and his residence is known to be out of Bexar County, Texas; that the said mother Frances Cobb was deserted by said father Marshall Cobb; and that the mother of the child left her with the Children’s Services Bureau and both parents are negro…”

Ernest Webster, son of Belle Vaughan
and Tom Webster; grandson of
Millie Manuel Childs Webster. 
New Parents: Ernest and Julia Webster 
On Oct. 19, 1947 -- my mom was only 2 years old.  She was placed with Mrs. Ernest and Julia (Knowles) Webster temporarily as a a foster child and they were 52 and 43 years old at time, mature adults I'd say.  The paperwork also noted about her adoptive parents: “...they have no children of their own; they love children and are desirous of adopting a child... the husband owns a Grocery Store on South Pine St., San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas...their net worth is approximately $3,000… their home would be a desirable home for a child…they own a four-room well built house and they are of good moral character and they can provide for the child… it is recommended that the petitioners be allowed to adopt the child.”   The Websters were vetted by the Children’s Services Bureau in 1948 to ensure their home and surroundings were suitable for a child. The adoption was entered as a legal record on June 2, 1948. 

FOUND...Trying to Connect
The Webster Family -- San Antonio, Texas
But, before the adoption papers arrived by mail --my mom got a call from one of the adoption registries!  Good news!  Her family was looking for her!  The adoption registry had requirements of families before “connecting” them together.
She needed to prepare a packet of information which included photos, a personal summary about herself, family, and proof of attending at least a one-hour psychological consultation with a certified practitioner.  I thought seeing a counselor before walking into such an encounter with a family you've never met was a good idea.
I don't know how my mom felt -- but she did it.
It seemed like a wise precautionary thing to do in order to sort out one's expectations and other emotional cliff-hangers that come with braving such a unknown journey. I helped my mom put everything together; but the other side for some reason was unable to comply.

Tuskegee Airman
My mom was sad and thought that her family had decided against meeting her.  I said no!  I didn't think that was the case.  My bet was that whole process may have seemed a bit too cumbersome for them.  I later learned that her brother Marshall Cobb III  had spent his lifetime trying to find my mom and sisters who had been separated by individual adoptions as well.  Along the way -- he found two sisters: Jaisun aka Geraldine and Flora Dean; but my mom was the last one to be found.   Her mother Frances had 5 children with Marshall Cobb II , but one died in infancy.  She divorced Marshall and remarried to Sonny Prescott and had 5 more children.
I think my mom is very blessed to have two living sisters and a brother. But her brother Marshall was the one who contacted the various adoption registries and submitted information about my mom in an effort to find her. After his death in 2003 -- his sister Linda Prescott picked up the torch and pressed on to find my mom. When the agency contacted my mom -- they told her that there were ten children born into the Cobb family including my mom.  Wow?  Can you imagine going from no siblings to knowing you’ve got a clan!   So we waited and waited for the family to respond but they didn’t.  So I jumped back into the research process.  
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not Giving Up the Search
During this time, my research partner  Cuz aka Linda Hardiman-Palmer -- called to tell me that death records for Texas had been digitized and free via the website.  We are on the case every time some new database or website with FREE digital records or newspapers comes online.  I spent HOURS searching through that database.  Then I worked fast and furiously trying to compile a family group sheet on the Cobbs based upon what I knew.. but found next to nothing. However, I did find a death record for Gloria Dean Cobb who was born Sept. 17, 1947.  She was born a couple years after my mom and she had a twin sister named Flora Dean Cobb. Gloria died on December 7, 1947 – four months after her birth.  More importantly, Gloria's death record listed her parents as:  Marshall L. Cobb II (Columbus, Ohio) and Francis Holt (Nashville, TN) – and at the time of Gloria's death they lived at 603 Blue Bonnet St. in San Antonio, Texas

Marshall Leon Cobb III -- my mom's brother and
Major Cobb's father. 
Finding the Cobb Family -- Ohio
Armed with this new information (specifically that Marshall was from Columbus, OH)  – I woke up very early the next morning and began sleuthing for clues to crack the case.  I searched through every free database I could trying to find Cobbs in Columbus, OH.  Using Lexis-Nexis by credit card and -- I bought several Cobb obituaries. Then I went back to the census and started putting pieces together. I followed the Cobb family backwards from Ohio all the way  to North Carolina in 1870 and to Marion County West Virginia where Novel Cobb and Ellen Duncan (parents of the first Marshall Cobb) were married on October 29, 1893.  My initial research on my grandmother Frances Louisa Holt's family line was incorrect. Her family came from Tennessee and I had connected her to a HOLT family in Bexar County, TX. However, after my mom spoke to Aunt Geraldine -- I got steered in the right direction.  Frances mother Aline Harden Boulware -- was the daughter of General Harden and Ellen Gentry who were married in on November 7, 1907 in Marshall County, Tennessee.  

A Tough Cold Call
Major Cobb -- The Artist 
With all these pieces of new information,  I got busy trying to find living relatives.  With my obits,
I created a Cobb family tree; then used the White Pages online to see who I could find.  Around eight in the morning, I had finished putting together the family tree and had some phone numbers.
Impressed with my handiwork, I called my mom and said: “Hey, I think I found your family!”
I explained what I uncovered and had some phone number she could try… it was up to her if she wanted to call.  I’m willing to do a lot of things – but making that cold-call wasn’t one of them.
I hung up the phone and waited. I didn't think my mom would call.  I figured she'd chicken-out.
But she surprised me. She was brave, called the number and within 30 minutes called me back.  She had just been on the phone with her Aunt Geraldine – her father Marshall Cobb’s sister.
My mother was elated and I was in SHOCK!  
L-RT: Meeting my cousin
Melody Chambers
Aunt Geraldine and me!

Brown vs. Board of Education
Topeka, Kansas
Separate is NOT Equal

New Family -- New Beginning, Art and Black History
Soooooooo.  That's my mama's story.  I felt it was necessary to explain all of this in order to introduce one of my fabulous new cousins Major Cobb and his drawings!  His beautiful chalk-works illustrating this blog is a part of the story and I hope it continues to be a part bringing all of the families together and building on our history . You see, now I have all these new 1st cousins and it is a pretty awesome and amazing experience getting to know them.  While doing recruitment travel for my old job at the MU School of Medical – I ended up at places where my new family lived: Atlanta, Ohio and New York.  I already had friends in all those places but now I had cousins -- LOTS of THEM and was actually able to meet some of them along the way.

Never Again
Introducing My Cousin -- Major Cobb
Major has been drawing images from “The Struggle” on his daughters' chalk board easel this month in honor of Black History Month.  He’s teaching them by example to be creative to think out of the box and show what you know.  More importantly, he is also teaching his children about African Americans who risked their lives, comfort and safety by waging a one hundred year battle; after two hundred years of slavery to abolish America's institutionalized system of racism emboldened by Jim Crow laws. 

1968 Olympics in Mexico City

I am very proud to call Major my COUSIN -- and thrilled to share his creative work. I am also very very happy that we have been able to re-connect with my mother's family and her history.  I know that family love and bonds can prevail despite the pain and loss of the past. 

Left to Right: Sisters  Linda Prescott aka Bahtquashyah
my mom Julia. Mass,  Jaisun McMillan and Sharon Prescott.

My mom met her sisters for the first time last summer in Atlanta Georgia. One of her sisters Linda Prescott or Bahtquashyah Baht Levi,  passed away a few weeks ago.  I am very pleased that they were able to finally meet and share a very special time together.

Marshall Cobb III
Peace and Thank You!
Peace to your soul Aunt Linda -- and thank you for doing your part in making our future as a family possible.  And thank you Uncle Marshall for never giving up and passing the mission on to find my mother.  Peace to your soul.. my mama is in good hands with your family.

I hope to be sharing Major's work in future missives

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Friday, February 07, 2014

Found ONE... Arthur E. Diggs Sr.

I am still on a frantic journey to chase down heirs of Harrison Diggs – a former slave of the third University of Missouri President William W. Hudson.  In collaboration with my Cuz, Linda Hardiman-Palmer; we ran into a few snags which are chronicled in two previous blogs: “How Did You Find That? Phyllis Violeta Diggs Draffen Wallace and “Is That Our Arthur E. Diggs…?

As I mentioned previously,  over the past 6 months we have accumulated quite a bit of documentation on the Diggs families of Columbia, Missouri.  Using –we’ve stock-piled and organized every single piece of paper to date.  At the moment – our cyber-storage for Diggs research is holding about 362 files.

Despite our ability to amass records fairly successfully – one major challenges has been trying to clarify and sort out the family of Harrison Diggs including his parents, his brothers Henry Diggs, Silas Diggs, and Beverly Chapman and a sister Sally Knolly from other DIGGS families.  

There was another Diggs family in Columbia headed by Burrell Diggs (d. April 8, 1917) who was from Fayette, Missouri (Howard County).  Burrell's parents were Phillip Diggs and Mary Foy.   The record below says: "Married by the undersigned justice of the peace of Moniteau Township Howard County, Missouri on the 17th day of December, 1865 Phillip Digges to Mary Ann Digges (colored)..."
Children listed: Burrell (25 years old), Sarah (23 years old), Phillip [Jr] 21 
John 18, Charles 15, Willie 13, Nellie 8  and George 5
David W. Street JP witnessed Jan. 5, 1866 C. H. Stewart, clerk.
State Historical Society of Missouri
Gentry, North, Todd Collection 10049 #231

Burrell also worked as a janitor at the University of Missouri.  His obituaries are interesting? Here is a transcription of a small obit that ran in the University Missourian..  Old Time Negro Dies -- Burell Diggs a negro known by many persons in Columbia, died at his home, corner of Ash and Second Streets, Tuesday evening.  Diggs was 72 years old.  He had lived in Columbia for 40 years.  He was known as a typical old-time slave darkey. 

Versus the obituary on the right -- I found this in file via the The Historical Society of Missouri -- the publication source is not referenced.
 University Missouri, April, 30, 1914. 
There was also Duke Diggs who was a prominent businessman in Jefferson City, Missouri from Boonville (Cooper County, Missouri). He and his wife Estella Branham-Diggs helped establish and build the Jefferson City Community Center. The center opened its doors in 1942 for the purpose of serving the needs of the city's black population. 

Additionally, Duke Diggs had four brothers who I also researched looking for clues to potentially confirm a kinship connection with the other DIGGS families. His brothers were: Marion, Arthur (Ugghh another ARTHUR), Charles and Nathaniel.   However, as far as we can tell (at least for now); Duke Diggs was neither related to Burrell Diggs nor the family of Harrison Diggs.  I also identified at least three Black Diggs families in Cooper County, Missouri – and my Wilson ancestors from Bunceton have a kinship tie to one of these Diggs lines.  I will revisit the Bunceton and Boonville DIGGS families in a future blog research report.

But for the purpose of my upcoming  presentation (which has now been postponed from Tuesday, February 11 to Monday, February 17, 2014 at 7:00 PM) – I’m going to focus on Harrison Diggs and other people of color who were former slaves  and/or had ties to the University of Missouri.  As far as I can tell, Harrison was the only member of his family who worked at the University of Missouri, served in the Civil War, and left a substantial trail for us to bumble around on -- because he had 10 kids and lived into the 19th century dying in 1927. We got hung up several times because Harrison and his siblings used similar names for their children.  We’ve had particular trouble sorting out the Annies and Arthurs.

The Annies
While sifting through the giant deed books at the Boone County courthouse – we were surprised to find an adoption record for a child one year and seven months old named Ruth –a daughter of Annie Diggs.  The adoption was recorded in deed book 150, pages 366-367 on July 31, 1916.   Emmaline Williams, daughter of Tunsil Rogers and Winnie Henry; adopted Ruth.  

We think Ruth was Harrison Diggs’ granddaughter – but we can’t prove it.  Harrison’s daughter Annie Diggs was twice married.  She lived briefly in Chicago then returned to Columbia, MO after the death of her husband William Taylor.   She then married Sterling Smith on September 17, 1908; and had one child with him named Sterling Smith Jr.  Sterling Smith Sr. was also a witness in the Civil War pension file of Harrison Diggs. 

Sifting through and sorting out the Annies was a convoluted nightmare.  I worked on it during the day and Cuz stayed up late into the evening until the wee hours of the morning – trying to figure it all out as well.  

We spent weeks theorizing WHICH Annie or Anna Diggs it could be?  Was it the one in Hannibal; or the daughter of Harrison’s brother Silas who also had a daughter named Annie?   We argued day and night each presenting our version of a potential scenario of which Annie was Ruth’s mother.  At one point I went to the courthouse and pulled EVERY Annie/Anna Diggs marriage record I could find -- trying to find answers.  The marriage records helped sort out the Annies (kinda) but we still didn’t find any concrete connection as to the identity or which Annie Diggs was Ruth’s mother.  Ruth William’s obituary is rich with details such as she attended Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri and Northwestern University in Chicago.  Her attendance at Northwestern is important to note – because at that time the University of Missouri did not allow Black students to matriculate into the institution.  The University of Missouri began accepting women in 1867 -- but it didn't accept it's first Black student Gus T. Ridgel until 1950!  Ridgel was also the first black student to graduate from MU.  

Ruth Williams' 1941 death record left us stumped. Her sister Ora Williams was the informant who listed only Annie Diggs as her mother.  

The Arthurs
In sorting out Arthurs in my last post, I teased out what we found on Edward Diggs and decided that he was not related to Harrison Diggs in any way.  Nancy Draffen-Brown -- shared with me a death record for Edward Diggs  that her mother Nancy Draffen obtained sometime in 2001.  Like us – she was seeking answers about her family.  However, at the end of that report, I included a new piece of information from the estate file of John S. Diggs; which I retrieved from the Missouri State Archives.  I hadn’t realized that the probate index for Jackson County, Missouri was online.  So I sorted through the index looking for files that we may have missed.  The Missouri State Archives holds estate files up to case number 100,000.  John Diggs estate file is 413474.  Excellent!  That meant I would be leaving with the file that day!

Finally things appeared to be coming together!  John Diggs lived in Kansas City at 2316 Montgall St.   He died in 1934 and his estate was filed in the Jackson County, MO probate court and administered by his brother Homer Diggs.  The most important page in the probate record is anything that lists ALL the living heirs.    The December 31, 1934 probate record page 2 notes the following:

Homer Diggs (brother) Kansas City, Missouri
Anna Simons or Simms (sister) Ottumwa, IA [Ugghhhh ANNIES!]
Arthur Diggs (brother) Omaha, Nebraska
Mazie Diggs (niece) Kansas City, Missouri
George Diggs (nephew) Kansas City, Missouri
Willie Seals (nephew) Excelsior Springs, Missouri

Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy! [Think --Cocoa Puffs commercial].. that's how happy I was -- how gleeful Cuz and I responded to seeing Arthur Digg’s name listed.  So of course, I wanted to find him right away on the census. Nope.. not that easy.  

But I did find him listed in on the Omaha City Directory – and the surprise was the OTHER DIGGS that was listed. Charlotte Diggs -- she was the wife of Rev. James Silas Diggs -- who married Arthur E. Diggs Sr. and Bettie Smith. 

Cuz and I just about lost it YIPEE... we were making MORE progress.  In the meantime, while I was getting the records from the Missouri State Archives in person; Linda had requested an estate file on Roscoe Diggs by mail.  This case was also probated in Jackson County Missouri beginning November 7, 1913 case #13044.  
Roscoe Diggs died October 17, 1913 and was killed in a street-car accident and the Metropolitan Street Railway Company was sued for negligence therefore causing Diggs’ death.  We could not find the court case; but the probate record told us what we needed to know.

Page 1233 lists the following heirs in the estate of Roscoe Diggs:
Betty Diggs (mother) Sturgeon, Missouri
Arthur E. Diggs (father) Omaha, Nebraska
Arthur E. Diggs (brother) 1829 Flora Ave, Kansas City, Missouri
We’re talking pay dirt here – Cuz and I were pretty dog-gone happy!

Arthur E. Diggs and Betty Diggs renounced their right to administer the estate of their son and M. J. Dowling was appointed the administrator.  

The estate had no assets and the court recovered a $1,000.00 settlement from the Metropolitan Railway Company.   The attorney received HALF of the settlement – which was $500 (I’m not even going to go into the disco-fit aka adult temper-tantrum I threw -- when I read that portion of the document.  Each of the heirs received a share of the balance.   

It appears that Arthur E. Diggs Sr., waived at least a portion of his residual distributive share of his son’s estate in favor of his former wife Mrs. Betty Diggs.

Cuz sent out requests for obituaries and death certificates in Nebraska for Arthur E. Diggs Sr.  We also requested a file for a Lawrence Diggs that we saw listed on the Omaha city directories – but he turned out to not be a relative.  

The Omaha Public Library reference librarian told us they could not find obituaries for Arthur E. Diggs or his 2nd wife Lucy Diggs who died July 30, 1936.  We used the data from their burials to request obituaries.  It’s possible they were not found because the dates were for their burial not the actual death dates.  We have re- submitted our request because we now have an actual date of death for Arthur E. Diggs Sr. 

Additionally, I've written to the Douglas County Historical Society inquiring about research assistance to locate a potential probate file for Arthur E. Diggs Sr.   I spoke to a clerk at the Douglas County Probate Office who told me that I would need to come there and look in the big book downstairs (myself) if I wanted to know if Arthur's  name was listed. She wasn't willing to go look for me -- this was even after I told her I lived in Columbia, Missouri.  I will be following up with Douglas County Historical Society soon.  

Arthur E. Diggs Sr.was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha, NE.

His 2nd wife Lucy Diggs was buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery.

The record of burials is available electronically (pdf) due to the hard work of a community project called Project Prospect 1981: A Youth Investigation of Blacks Buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, NE.   The research for the cemetery project was conducted by the Girls’ Club of Omaha and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington DC.  

Ok.. so let's wrap up this portion of the chase.
We found Arthur E. Diggs, Sr.  HOORAY! He was: 

  • Grandfather of Phyllis Diggs
  • 1st husband of Bettie Smith Diggs
  • Father of Roscoe and Arthur E. Diggs Jr
  • Brother of John Diggs
  • Son of Silas Diggs

Silas Diggs and Harrison Diggs were brothers!  Bingo!  We got one (Arthur)!

But guess what?  We still have ONE MORE ARTHUR DIGGS to discuss!

Stay tuned or come to my presentation at the Daniel Boone Regional library branch on Monday, February 17 and you’ll find out.


Traci L. Wilson-Kleekamp