Sunday, January 7, 2018

"52 Ancestors" Inspiration: Cousin Martha

I am excited to participate in Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 weeks"  I think that it is a great idea. The challenge is to talk about an ancestor each week based off a prompt word. I will start with Genealogy.

Week 1: START

My interest in family history started when I was about 15 years old. Back then I didn't know what it was called, I only knew that it fascinated me. As a teenager, I was very quiet and shy. I enjoyed listening to my elders talk. I loved history,  loved books and absolutely adored spending time at the library.  Mom and grandma always talked at the kitchen table. The talks were often stories about the ancestors. What they looked like, what they did, recipes, sewing, old times. I was always there, with mom and grandma, between the tea cups and saucers, quietly listening, taking it all in. Looking back, I can see that my interest was a huge clue that I would one day fall in love with genealogy.

Martha Toler Brown  1908-1996
Long before my interest in genealogy, there was Cousin Martha. Martha researched the family history and shared it freely. She said that she thought all the family should know their history. She talked about her difficulty getting  her mother to talk. Even so, she continued to ask her mother questions, encouraging her to share information in a time when people didn't talk about the past. Many people felt that life on the plantation, family secrets, shame and painful memories were best left behind. Martha said that she finally got her mother to talk by telling her that we all should  know about our history, no matter what. Martha sent a letter to my mother telling her all about what she knew. In the letter, she told her about Great Grandmother, Sarah Doyle who lived in Virginia and was a slave to the Lee family. She had six children by her master, one being Martha's mother, Mary Elizabeth. Along with the letter, she sent several copies of  a picture of Sarah Doyle. She said that the photo was copied from a painting that hung on her mother's wall.

I felt like the photo spoke to me. I had never seen anything like it. My mother encouraged me to talk to cousin Martha. I remember that I was so shy, she made the phone call for me and put me on the phone. After that, cousin Martha  began to write me. She wrote often, each time giving me more information and more pictures. She told me all about her family and encouraged me to write down the family  history.
Sarah Doyle

Born in 1908, to William Arthur Toler and Mary Elizabeth Doyle. Martha was the first cousin of my maternal grandmother. Martha's mother, and grandma's father were siblings. Her father was born a slave in Pittsylvania county, Virginia, to parents, James Toler and Julia Parker.  He was a Cole Miner who migrated to Buxton, Iowa. Martha's mother, Mary Elizabeth was also born in Pittsylvania County to Sarah Doyle and  Burwell Lee.

Mary E. Doyle 1870-1947
William Arthur Toler  1857-1929

Looking back all those years ago, I realize that I had loved ones all around that inspired me. Grandma kept the stories alive, mom pushed me to communicate, and Cousin Martha inspired me to start. ♥


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