In 2002, while talking to my maternal grandmother, Leona, about our family history, she reiterated the pedigree of our maternal ancestors…something she’d done since I was 8 years old:
- “Binky” a slave woman who owner’s name was “Shields”
- “Nellie Shields Washington,” her daughter
- “Fannie Shields Page,” her granddaughter
- “Cora Page Fleming,” her great-granddaughter
- “Nanearl Fleming Whitley,” (aka “Elinor” and “Mutsey”), her 2x great-granddaughter
- “Leona Whitley Williams,” her 3x great-granddaughter
- “Coralee Williams Willis,” her 4x great-granddaughter and my mother.
When I asked her who she remembered as a child, she spoke of her grandmother, Cora. Cora told Leona her mother, Fannie, died when she was 15 years old so she became responsible for raising her brothers and sister. Leona also told me that Cora lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, but in her later years, suffered from cancer. When her condition was terminal, her oldest child, Nanearl, brought Cora to her home in Berkeley, California where she would live out her remaining days. Leona said she hadn’t been in Berkeley a year when she died.
I asked Leona, “How old were you when Cora died?” She answered, “22.” With that information I was able to figure out what year Cora died. Leona was born in 1924 so that would make the year 1946. Knowing Cora’s maiden & married name (Page & Fleming), the state in which she was born (Louisiana), the county & state in which she died (Alameda County, California) and the death year (1946), I was able to order her death record from the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s Website (http://www.acgov.org/auditor/clerk/).
The document below summarizes everything my grandmother told me.
|Cora Page Fleming’s Death Record|
Cora died, April 8th, 1946 in Berkeley, CA at the residence of my great-grandparents (omitted for privacy reasons). It also states that she was a resident of California for only 7 months and that her parents were Fanny Shields and Jack Page, my 3rd great-grandparents–both natives of Louisiana. The informant of this information was George Fleming, her oldest son who lived in Oakland. The cause of death was carcinoma. It also states she is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA and the funeral director, Aramis Fouché, signed the death certificate. I recognized his name from Fouché-Hudson Funeral Home in Oakland which I am very familiar with.
It’s amazing what you discover when you have casual conversation with your elders. The lesson I learned from this conversation was not only the value in asking question that generate dialog and discussion, but how you ask the questions. I didn’t ask my grandmother when she died, I asked her “How old were you when she died?” Most people remember events from their lives by either their age or any significant events surrounding their lives. You can ask things like “was your first child born when that happened” or “were you married during that time?” You can really construct time frames and points of reference in addition to opening discussion over other events that may be just as significant as the one your researching!