OKELLA PAIGE TRICE
I’m one of my families’ genealogists. I have followed several branches of my families’ trees — Paiges, Saunders, Palmers, and Trices, among others. I also help others trace theirs. As is typical with many genealogists like me, we hold conversations with previous generations as we study documents and conduct oral histories. We talk to our Ancestors, and they speak to us. Starting with my seventh-generation grandfather on my mother’s side, Shadrach Palmer (1792-1856), and continuing through today with my granddaughter, I’ve been holding conversations across nine generations. Read on to learn the lessons and wisdom I’ve gleaned and am passing on.
I lived with my maternal grandmother and grandfather from birth to age three. We lived in Bluefield, VA.
When my parents and the first three of my siblings moved to Philadelphia, PA, we took summer trips back to the “old home place” and reunions that spanned several years. These reunions were not just gatherings for food and fun. Our family’s periodic newsletters documented the accomplishments of many individuals in our family. We learned how we saved and built wealth. We shared how “a faith” grounded us.
In 1962, I traveled back to Bluefield, VA as a freshman at the Historically Black College, Bluefield State, Bluefield, West Virginia. While at Bluefield State, I lived with my grandparents at 103 Vencil St., Bluefield, Virginia. Neither of my grandparents talked about their parents. However, the reunions, newsletters, and the aunts and uncles provided a wealth of information about our family history.
I became a passionate genealogist.
When my daughters were in Junior High School, I knew I wanted them to know their families’ history. Thus, a trip to the Mormon Family History Library was in order. This Library became my regular research spot. The Annual Los Angeles Genealogical Society Convention provided classes on how to break “The Brick Wall” and opportunities for conversation with others doing genealogy research. “The Brick Wall” is a genealogical research problem or dead end.
At my regular research spot, Ancestors began to speak to me from the books and census records. There was “a welling up in my Spirit” as they started saying to me: “You’ve found us.”
I continued my genealogical journey and prayed for an opportunity to know as much as possible about my people. I focused on breaking through “The Brick Wall” and gaining the information on the other side of it.
My niece, Dr. Gina Paige, Businesswoman, and Dr. Rick Kittles, Geneticist, answered my prayer when in 2003, they founded African Ancestry (www.AfricanAncestry.com). Their company is the only Black-owned DNA company, and because of them, I know what’s on the other side of our “Brick Wall” before the enslavement of my relatives. I’ve been able to trace six of my family lines to people currently living in countries in Africa.
Two years ago, I discovered my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, Shadrach Palmer, born about 1792. I also found Ancestor Shadrach’s Deed of Emancipation, dated January 2, 1838. Shadrach “owned himself.” In addition to being a freeman, I discovered he owned property and had amassed $500 in cash. Because of racist legal constraints, he had to ask a “Mr. Gain” to hold his property and income for him. After Shadrach passed away in 1859, Mr. Gains didn’t give the property and money to my Ancestor’s wife, Lettie. (Unfortunately, I haven’t found Lettie’s last name.)
Nine years after her husband’s death, Mr. Gains had not turned over Shadrach’s property and money to Lettie. So, Lettie went to the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1867 and filed a complaint. She won. She recovered the full $500 amount.
Freedmen’s Bureau bank records show Palmers having savings accounts. The Palmers were also some of the first descendants of Africans who voted and joined Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement. They wanted and demanded freedom and justice.
The Census records show the Palmers owning property in the 1830s. Shadrach’s grand-son, Jerry Palmer, married Berta Jones. (Berta is my mother’s grandmother.) Unfortunately, they lost their property because of delinquent taxes.
When I realized that my mother’s parents were repeating this pattern, I called upon my siblings and cousins to stop this “curse.” Unfortunately, we could not keep the 103 and 105 Vencil Street property in our family; however, we made sure another Black family had a home through “Habitat for America.”
Coming forward, my parents purchased their first home when I was eleven years old (1955) and downsized into a Duplex in 1990. My siblings still own that building, where my 98-year-old mother and one of my sisters live.
My six siblings and I (the Paige Siblings) own our homes; most of our nieces and nephews are property owners as well.
As my father grew his barber business and opened Paige’s Take-Out, he followed his mentors’ advice. They helped him see the value in family working the business and putting money in Christmas Funds each year until we graduated high school. The Paige siblings were encouraged to save through the PSFS (Pennsylvania Savings Fund Society through the public school system), and our mother taught us not “to charge.”
As far back as I can tell and remember, my family elders valued education. “Education” was their “prized jewel.” The older folks would say, “knowledge and a trade gained cannot be beaten out of you or taken from you; they will go with you into death.”
I have not found documentation of Shadrach’s or Lettie’s education. But it’s no doubt, Lettie knew “a thing or two.” She knew how to fight to attain justice for her husband and herself.
Shadrach’s son, Jerry Palmer, Sr. was a Blacksmith in Washington D.C., one of his granddaughters was a seamstress at the White House, and other Palmer men were ministers.
My grandmother, Susie Malinda Palmer Saunders, attended the predecessor to Bluefield State College when. At that time, the “Normal School” was managed by the Freedman’s Bureau.
My grandmother knew Nannie H. Burroughs from Orange, Virginia, where the Burroughs and Palmer families lived. Nannie moved to Washington, D.C. and became an author, and was involved in the Suffragette movement.
Susie (my grandmother) read Nannie’s books, and Nannie’s plays were staples at the local church under her direction.
All ten of Susie’s children (my aunts and uncles) spent time at Bluefield State. My mother spent two years there, and her sister Erva received her teaching degree and left home to teach in Buckingham, Virginia, where she learned many life lessons and touched many lives.
Among my brothers and sisters, there is one Ph.D., two Masters, three B.A’s one B.S. Among our children, there is one Law Degree, one Ph.D., one MBA, and seven B.A.’s. Six of our children own property, and seven are self-employed.
What’s my message to my daughters?
Vanessa and Stephanie, you’re part of a blessed family.
What’s my prayer for my daughters, nieces, nephews, and progeny?
Preserve our family values. What are these?
What’s my advice to my progeny?
Why? Your Ancestors expect this of you, and so do I.
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