Dorothy’s tour of Olympia

Today marks a milestone for BlackenedRoots.com—the first BlackenedRoots video podcast. The reason? I think it’s the best way to share a long audio recording while simultaneously providing transcripts of the sometimes unclear voices, while offering pertinent commentary and clarifications, and being able to share relevant photos. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of this new presentation format to supplement the usual written posts?

My grandmother, Dorothy R. (McMurry) Black died over 23 years ago, and I (and I imagine the rest of our family) haven’t heard her voice in that entire time. As far as I knew, there were no surviving home movies of her, and no surviving recorded interviews of her voice that I could watch or listen to. Her family films were silent vacation reels that appear to have focused on recording beautiful panoramas for the folks who weren’t there. I remembered tape recording the conversations we had nearly 30 years, in late September and early October 1990, but I hadn’t seen those tapes in nearly three decades and assumed they were lost to time.

Continue reading

Voices from the past

What if you had an unexpected chance to hear your long-deceased grandmother’s voice again? That hypothetical question became very real for me in the last couple of weeks. I chose to do what I could to hear her voice, and the voices of several other deceased relatives and to do my best to share them with you.

My grandmother, Dorothy R. (McMurry) Black has been gone for over 23 years, and I haven’t heard her voice in that entire time. As far as I knew, there were no surviving home movies of her, and no surviving recorded interviews of her voice that I could watch or listen to. Her family films were silent vacation reels that appear to have focused on recording beautiful panoramas for the folks who weren’t there. The audio recordings were merely note-taking aids that were reused once they were transcribed. Or so I thought until this week.

Continue reading

Vernon gives Richard Bearden’s backstory

For several years in the mid to late 1950s my father Keith Black and my uncle Gary Black had a foster brother named Richard Bearden. You may remember him from the post I did on my family’s visit to the opening day of Disneyland in July 1955. Where he came from before joining our family and where he went to after leaving our family have been a mystery to me. My grandparents never spoke of Richard to me other than saying “oh, yeah, that was Richard Bearden” when I asked who the mystery boy in the photo was. Keith and Gary had little to say about Richard. The unanswered questions have bothered me ever since I learned about the existence of this foster uncle (?) of mine.

Who was Richard Bearden? Who was his birth family? How did he come to be a foster child in our family? What was he like? Where did he go? Why does no one talk about him?

I recently found a letter from Vernon Black to his mother and stepfather Catalina and Frank Black, dated February 13, 1955, that answers many of these questions. Vernon realized that his parents would have just the same sorts of questions I have had. Understandable questions, I think, when a new family member suddenly appears. For today’s post I’d like to share that letter with you.

Continue reading

Anelia’s Shearer history

A little over twenty-six years ago (December 12, 1993) I wrote a letter to my great-aunt Anelia (Shearer) Hayes asking her what she knew about her father Ray Shearer’s family history. Anelia was my grandfather Vernon’s sister. My grandfather was old enough to remember his father Ray Shearer leaving their family, and he went to lengths to distance himself from his birth father, including unofficially but permanently changing his last name to that of his mother’s second husband, Frank Black.

Vernon’s sister Anna Cornelia (she preferred “Anelia”) was born around or just after when her father left the family. Unlike her brother, she kept her father’s surname and she went on to develop a deep interest in family history. Anelia was the one who compiled the “Edell Family History” in 1991 and hosted the Edel/Edell family reunion.

Today’s post is about the response Anelia sent to my letter of twenty-six years ago. When I received her response, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new fascinating information she provided to me. To this day, the letter she wrote is still the sole source for many pieces of Shearer family history that might otherwise have been lost forever.

Continue reading

Home movies: 1968–1969

For today’s post, I’d like to share another home movie that my father Keith Black digitized and that I recently found on his computer.

This home movie is composed of footage shot between May 1968 (just before my sister was born) and the summer of 1970 (just after my sister began walking). It captures Michael Black, Jill Black, Keith Black, Polly Black, Vernon Black, Dorothy Black, Gary Black, Mala Gayer, Bill Prettyman, Harriet Prettyman, Dan Prettyman, Jerry Young, Sue Mawer, Bob Mawer, Jimmy Mawer, and others. The fashions—especially my paisley pants and Harriet’s bold print dress—are really something. Sideburns also feature prominently.

I’ve written up a guide to the scenes below, but please leave me comments about anything I missed or may have gotten wrong.

Enjoy!

Continue reading

Home movies: Kansas mid 1950s

For today’s post, I’d like to share another home movie that my father Keith Black digitized and that I recently found on his computer.

This home movie is from the mid 1950s (probably 1954 or 1955) and captures Keith Black as a teenager, with his younger brother Gary Black, and their parents Vernon Black and Dorothy (McMurry) Black. This film documents the same trip that was documented in Dorothy (McMurry) Black’s photo album that I wrote about in this post.

I’m hoping that family members (especially my uncle Gary and my Kansas cousins) will help me to identify many of the people and places shown in this film. Please leave a comment below if you can help me identify anyone or any locations.

I’ll write up additional details here as soon as I have them.

Continue reading

Home movies: Christmas 1967

Most of my recent posts have been about people who lived centuries ago, so I thought it would be nice to focus on more recent history in today’s post.

Before he died nearly three years ago, my father—Keith Black—thoughtfully digitized several reels of 8mm home movies that he had found while going through his and his parents’ belongings a couple of years earlier.

I haven’t had the chance until very recently to see any of this video for myself, and now that I have seen it I want to share it with anyone who might be interested. I’ll share the others over the coming weeks. These home movies were shot between the late 1950s and the early 1970s.

Today’s video is entitled “Our Merry Christmas 1967 with Mikie.” I was surprised to see me called Mikie in the title, as family lore states that when I was less than six months old my great-grandfather Clyde Askew held me in his arms and declared “Don’t ever call him Mikie.”

Starring in the movie below are Michael Black, Polly (Prettyman) Black, Keith Black, Gary Black, and Gary’s girlfriend Sandra Sederberg. The first part of the film was shot on location at either our Haskell Avenue or Vesper Avenue house (let me know if you know which) in Van Nuys, and at Vernon and Dorothy (McMurry) Black’s Hamlin Street house, also in Van Nuys.

Continue reading

Armistice Centennial

US_Flag_Backlit

Exactly one hundred years ago today, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice was signed with Germany to cease fighting the Great War. One year later, on November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the day would be called Armistice Day, to honor those who fought in World War I. More than three decades later—after the “war to end war” gave way to World War II and then the Korean War—the holiday was renamed Veterans Day, and was intended as a day to honor all veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

In today’s post I’d like to honor all of my family members who served in defense of our country.

This is a revised version of a post I did five years ago. Since then, some family members have died, and I’ve discovered twenty-seven additional family members who served our country. Note that I have included only relatives who served the United States or the colonies that would eventually become the United States.

Continue reading

Happy Father’s Day, 2018

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, whether living or amongst the ancestors.

My own father, Keith V. Black, died a little over two years ago. I miss him sorely, but he left a lifetime of memories that will keep him forever alive in my heart and in the hearts of those who loved him. My dad was a complex person with several sides to his personality. He was always young at heart—in many ways, he was a teenager well into his seventies. He was an outdoorsman, an enthusiastic participant in the car culture of 1950s Van Nuys, an aspiring photographer, a businessman, an enthusiastic early adopter of technology (he computerized his business in 1978), a passionate fan of music of all genres, an artist, an avid learner, a solitary recluse, and an outgoing man who made friends wherever he went.

He was also a father who was terribly proud of his kids. We may not have always known just how proud he was of us, but as I’m going though his papers I’m learning just how much he defined himself as being the proud father of two children he loved more than we knew.

Here are a few shots that capture my dad doing what he loved more than almost anything else—being a dad. Continue reading

Mayflower descendancy, part 4

Today’s post is an update on my quest to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (or “Mayflower Society).

I mailed off my application, fees, and dues to the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Sate of California on May 1, and hope to hear back from them with a worksheet in the coming week.

I finally received the two Washington birth certificates I wrote away for (for my father and paternal grandmother), and I’ve got to say I’m a bit disappointed in the results. Whereas previously I’ve gotten a certified photocopy of the actual record, this time I was only given incomplete transcripts of the originals. I suppose they’re trying to prevent undue wear and tear on the originals, but it’s still disappointing. Continue reading