Schools I’ve Attended – Mumford – Detroit

My Life
Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor

I lived in Detroit for a short while.  While there, I attended Mumford High School. It was one of the most challenging times in my life. My experiences in school, at work, and life in general, were mostly negative and difficult for many different reasons.

My stepfather was a mean drunk and beat on my mother frequently. Skinny, scrawny, fifteen-year-old me couldn’t do anything about it. I tried to stop him a couple of times, but he just smacked me into a corner and into submission. I didn’t realize at the time, but I learned years later that my mom miscarried during one of those regular beatings. Finally, one day mom packed my little sister, Sharon, me, and all she could fit into the car and started driving. I don’t think she knew where we were going at first but decided a few miles down the road when her head cleared a bit. She had left my step-father a couple of times before, only to go back to him after several weeks. This time she seemed serious; I was hoping. We headed east, lived in the car for a few days and drove the seven-hundred miles from Minneapolis to my mom’s hometown, Detroit. She didn’t have family or anyone there who could help, but she knew the city and knew she’d figure something out.

She found an apartment for us. It was an old, dilapidated place in a mostly industrial area. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but it was a very bad part of town at the time – I’m pretty sure it was on Third Avenue between Forest Ave and what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There were many empty lots nearby with the rubble of a time long past. There were a couple old, 19th-century hotels remaining in the area that had been converted into apartments. We were in one of them. Behind the building was an empty lot and beyond that the John C. Lodge Freeway. I remember one night I was stopped for WWW (Walking While White) in a black neighborhood. The police stopped their patrol car, jumped out, pulled their guns, threw me up against a fence and want to know what I was doing in the area. Admittedly, I was wearing a large winter coat, much more coat than necessary for the weather, but it was the only one I had. I probably looked like a shoplifter. They searched me, determined I didn’t have any drugs or weapons, and finally let go. Having one cop hold a gun on me while the other searched my pockets was scary. God, would they not find anything and then plant something on me just to make an arrest. I was really afraid. That experience gave me an understanding of what “driving while black” (DWB) is like for people of color in this country. The exception is that their experiences are much worse and more common.

Sharon slept with my mom in the bed and I slept on the couch. The couch smelled like it came from the previous century, and I’m sure it probably did. It wasn’t ideal, but we were warm, dry, and had lots more room than we did living in the car. I enjoyed reading as a vehicle for escape and, like so many teenage boys, I read science fiction. Unfortunately, reading was impossible because the one 40-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling barely lit the room and we had no other lamps. We couldn’t watch TV and cook on the hotplate at the same time because we had to be careful to not blow any fuses. The fuse box was in the basement, four stories down. The TV was so old that it had continuous tuning. Rather than stepping between channels like most TVs of the time, we tuned it like a radio. Between channels six and seven we could tune into FM Radio, airplane frequencies, even emergency radio transmissions.  Of course, the picture was horrid, but at least it was a diversion.

My mom found a job in Northwest Detroit – just beyond Highland Park and I think it was near Marygrove College. She decided it would be better for me to go to school out there rather than in the inner city. She worked at a dry cleaner and the owner’s mother watched Sharon, who was two at the time, during the day while mom worked. Mom used her work address as our home address so that I could go to a better school. I walked to Mumford High School and hurried to the cleaners afterward because I worked there also. I’d “mark-in, assemble, and bag.” The laundry, in those days, would mark a person’s clothing with an indelible pen identifying the owner. After the laundry was washed and pressed, I’d gather the entire order together (assemble) and then bag it up. Occasionally, I had to press shirts which I didn’t like doing. I wasn’t very good at it and was slow, but I had to do it when the work was backed up. I don’t remember how much I earned, but it wasn’t much – maybe 75 cents an hour. I worked from after school until closing when mom, my little sister and I drove home together, made something to eat on the hotplate. After that, we watch the blurry, flickering TV until bedtime. One time an irate customer pulled a gun and pointed it at mom, which really scared me. Luckily the guy’s wife made him put the gun away.

At Mumford, I encountered institutional racism for the first time. I was shocked that school had programs in place that separated students along racial and economic lines. The biology class I left in Minnesota before leaving was the same class at Mumford and used exactly the same textbooks. After a few days, I mentioned to the teacher that in Minnesota, the students did all the lab exercises, and wondered why the instructor did the lab work while we merely watched then answered the lab questions based on what we observed the instructor do. Oddly enough I was immediately put into “college prep” group that did the lab work. It wasn’t lost on me that the college preparatory group was mostly white. It was obvious that these students received a much better education and encouragement to succeed rather than shuffled through the system.

A couple of weeks later my stepfather showed up at school. He tracked us down by discovering that my school records had been transferred to Mumford and he drove there to retrieve us. He promised Mom and me that he wouldn’t hurt her again and swore he had quit drinking. My mom, like so many battered women, believed him, so we returned to Minnesota. He followed us all the way, probably to make sure she didn’t try to run again. One time we escaped to Billings, MT when he found us, he not only followed us all the way but pushed us at 60 miles per hour when Mom’s old clunker couldn’t make it up the hills fast enough for him.

Most of my stories bring back fond memories as I write, but this post is a catharsis rather than a joyful trip down Memory Lane. In writing this, I’ve finally processed many painful events that I haven’t thought of in decades. Our foray to Detroit taught me many things, including fear of the police and the existence of institutional discrimination. It also taught me the importance of working my way out of despair, which is one of the greatest lessons that my mother ever taught me.

Chester Parsons and the 1820 Census

Census Sunday
Brown/Sanford/Parsons Line
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Following ancestors through all the census records is often difficult, particularly in census records before 1850, when only the head of household was named. Tracing my 4th great-grandfather, Chester Parsons was straight-forward from the 1880 census back to the 1850 census, even on to the 1830 Census, while Chester was in Saline, Michigan. Before that, he was a young man in someone else’s household not in Michigan. The path to understanding is to take what you know, hypothesize what should be, then see if research fits.

What I think I know.

  • Chester was born on 1 December 1799 in Sandisfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts.
  • Chester married his first wife in Greene County, New York in 1824.
  • In May 1826, Chester and his young family moved from New York to Saline, Washtenaw County, Michigan Territory.
  • He and his family appear in 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses. The family seems to have been very stable living in Saline, Michigan, for over 60 years.
  • Chester’s father, John Parsons, died in 1813 in Greene County, New York.
  • In 1820 Chester would have been 20 years old.

My Speculation.

Because Chester probably lived with his father when his father died in 1813 and Chester probably resided in Greene County when he married in 1824, I presume the 20-year-old Chester also was living in Greene County during the 1820 Census. If so, who was he living with?

Search & Results

A quick search on Family Search of all families with the Parsons surname living in Greene County, New York in 1820 yielded four candidates, Samuel, Orrin, Albert, and Stephen. I’m looking for any of those people that might have Chester living with him.

Samuel Parsons – This Windham household consists of 1 Male (Age 26-45) and no other males. Chester’s oldest brother was named Samuel and would have been 33-years-old. This Samual is possibly, even likely, Chester’s brother.

Orrin and Samuel were enumerated next to each other in the 1820 Census.

Orrin Parsons – This Windham household consists of two males (one 16 to 26 and one under 10. There is also a female 16 to 26 in the household. Chester’s 2nd oldest brother was named Orrin and was 25 at the time. It is likely this was him with his wife, and first, previously unknown, son.

Albert Parsons – This Windham household consisted of five individuals, apparently Albert age 16-26, male 10-16, and male under 10 and two females, one, an apparent wife 16 to 26 and another age 10 to 16. There is no known Albert Parsons in my research before this. I will probably need to do more research to determine this Albert’s place in the family or determine he isn’t related. In any event, Chester is not in that household either.

Conclusion

Chester’s father John died in 1814. It appears that Samuel and Orrin each married and established households of their own. Chester, his brother John, and their mother were probably either missed in the 1820 Census or were living in the household of someone without the surname Parsons in Greene County, New York.

Further Research

  • It is possible that Chester and family lived with sister Mary/Polly in 1820. Research Mary/Polly Parsons’ life.
  • It is possible that Chester and family lived with a female sibling of John Parsons, Jr. Research the lives of the other Parsons of Sandisfield, Massachusetts that located to Windham, Greene County, New York between 1800 and 1820.

Donna Darling Collection – Part 26 – 23rd St.

Proctor’s 23rd Street
Treasure Chest Thursday

By Don Taylor

For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I looked at several clippings from the same page of the Donna Darling Collection. Two of them relate to the 23rd Street Theater, One to the 125th Street theater and three mini-clippings that seem unrelated.

Transcription

Cropped & resized for the web.

DONNA DARLING and CO. (2)
Songs and Dances
22 Mins.; Full Stage (Special Hanging)
23rd St.

Donna Darling is a blond miss of fair voice supported by two male dancers in a neatly devised offering enhanced by colorful hangings.

The opening in “one” before a gold and black drop includes “Tell Me Pretty Maiden” and Silver Lining,” followed by a Pat Rooney impersonation by one of the boys. The parting of the curtains discloses attractive full stage hangings following the gold and black color scheme, the featured member appearing in a crinoline gown, for bits of old-fashioned numbers, including piano playing.

The turn drags at the point, especially with the first old-time songs. The boys return in Colonial costumes for a minuet by the trio, followed by a soft shoe and jazz stepping by the male team. Miss Darling then offers a light operatic number followed by a solo stepping hit by one of the boys and a triple tin soldier and doll specialty. A wedding number with one of the chaps as the minister tops off the turn.

The act is a flash for the three-a-day. At times chances for the bigger houses are displayed. The male dancers display ability with Miss Darling, securing fair returns vocally. The turn is running over time at present. With some pruning should improve materially.

Hart.

The next clipping is an encapsulation of the entire show. There were seven vaudeville acts

23RD ST,

The first hall bill….

Donna Darling and Co. (New Acts) were the proper kind of a flash for the closing position, holding the audience and securing applause returns.

Hart.

There was nothing in either article that suggested where the 23RD St. theater is nor when the show played. At the bottom of the scrapbook page was a small ad for F.F.Proctor’s. It shows that the 23rd St. theater is near 6th Ave. It also shows that Donna Darling & Co. was at the 125th St. Theater between Park and Lexington.

I was a bit confused, because of the differences between the 23rd St. and 125th St. theaters, but from the ads I knew they were New York. Also, Donna Darling & Co. was a 1922 production.

I began searching Newspapers.Com and quickly found the identical ad, in “The Evening World” (New York, New York) · Fri, May 26, 1922 · Page 26, which showed her playing at the 125th St Theater. This ad is really significant. Family oral history says that once upon a time, Donna was proposed to by Bert Lahr, later famous for his role as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.” This ad, suggests that Donna and Bert Lahr at least knew each other as they played at the same theater at the same time.

Discover you family history through historical newspapers at Newspapers.comThen, using Elephind, I found, on the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection (UIUC), The New York Clipper which on May 24, 1922, page 21, reported that Dona [sic] Darling Co. played at 23rd St, the first half of the week of May 22nd . The Clipper also reported that Donna played at B. F. Keith Vaudeville in Jersey City the first half of the following week (May 29th thru 31st).

The New York Clipper, on May 31, 1922, page 11, reported that Donna Darling and Company played at 125th Street theater the last half of the week (June 1, 2, & 3) at Proctor’s 125th Street. That issue had a nice write-up saying:

Donna Darling and Company had a neat offering. Miss Darling is dainty in looks, manners and voice and in her routine of songs showed herself thoroughly conversant. In the “My Hero” number she evidently lacked confidence but regained her composure in short order for the rest of the act. In old fashioned crinoline costume, she sang portions of old song favorites and finished with a brief session at the piano. The company, consisting of two clever young men dancers and singers were dressed appropriate to the period. Miss Darling looked best in pink, and in the wedding ceremony showed clever footwork in eccentric dancing, also in the mechanical toy dance, in which Miss Darling was a lively doll.

The June 7th Clipper adds a lot to the story. It includes a picture of Donna, Murray Walker, and Jack Finney and a caption that they closed Proctor’s 58th Street and are taking a 5-week vacation. The newspaper copy image isn’t very good, but it is something. It suggests that Donna Darling & Company played Proctor’s 58th Street from June 4th to June 6th.

Finally, there were three little clippings in Donna’s scrapbook. They too came from the June 7th, Clipper. One said:

Donna Darling left for Detroit, her home town, this week, where she will undergo an operation for the removal of tonsils.

The second clip says

Murray Walker is leaving for Canada this week for a month’s rest.

And the third,

Jack Finney is going to Philadelphia this week to visit his folks for a month before reopening with Donna Darling.

When I was young, I was often plagued with tonsillitis. Removal or keeping tonsils seems to have undergone sweeps each way. Some years they were kept if at all possible, other years they yanked them out. I recall talking with Donna and my mother about my tonsils and I remember Donna saying hers had been removed and it was no big thing. But we were poor and had no health insurance, so I kept mine. But back in 1922, Donna was 29 years old, and doing well. So, even though she was older than typical, she had her tonsils removed — maybe they were affecting her singing.

Conclusion

Discovering four more venues for Donna’s career is a good week for research. Being reminded of her tonsillectomy and learning that she actually did take vacations during her vaudeville years was good to find out. And finally, confirming that she actually would have known Bert Lahr, and the story of his proposal to Donna might be true, is priceless.

  • May 22-24, 1922 – F.F. Proctor’s 23rd Street Theater (at 6th Avenue) New York, NY – Donna Darling & Co.
  • May 29-31, 1922 – B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville, Jersey City, NJ – Donna & Co.
  • June 1-3, 1922 – F. F. Proctor’s 125th Street (Park & Lex) New York, NY – Donna Darling & Company.
  • June 4-6, 1922 – F.F. Proctor’s 58th Street Theater, New York – Donna Darling & Company.
  • June 7 until about July 10, 1922 – Vacation. Donna has tonsils removed.

Oh, and while searching I found one more venue for Donna’s show. From March 30th to April 5th, 1922 – she played in Pittsburgh-Johnstown.

Discover you family history through historical newspapers at Newspapers.com

Follow-up

I’ll bet, when I have a chance to research more, I’ll find that Donna played at the 5th Avenue Theater. Probably May 25th thru the 27th. Just guessing, but it would fit the pattern.

————- DISCLAIMER ————-

Surname Saturday – Roberts

Roberts
Surname Saturday

Name Origin

Roberts and Robertson are patronymic names that come from the first name Robert. The name has Old German origins coming from ‘hroth’ and ‘berht’ which mean “fame” and “bright,” similar to how our word “illustrious” is used today. [i] Had I known 50 years ago that my biological father was a “Roberts,” I probably would have adopted the illustrious surname for myself. But instead, I adopted “Taylor” as my surname, which is a story in itself.

I was pretty sure I was a Roberts long before I could prove it. After, I learned that I was most likely “a Roberts,” I purchased a Roberts tartan at a Scottish Fair. I don’t know if my Roberts’ are Scottish, as I still need to track down the origins of my Roberts line, but I like the tartan.

Geographical

Today, Roberts has its highest frequency of use in Wales where one in 124 people have the surname. However, by far the greatest number of people with the Roberts surname live in the United States where over 50% of the people in the world with the surname currently live. Among the States, the greatest number of “Roberts” live in the great state of Texas. Worldwide, Roberts is the 658th most common name; approximately 793,774 people bear the surname.[ii]

My Roberts Ancestors

My earliest known Roberts ancestor is my 4th great-grandfather, Edward Roberts. I haven’t tracked down where Edward was born, yet, but his son, Elias, was born in South Carolina and died in Tennessee. Elias was born in 1767, so this Roberts line goes back to at least colonial times.

Elias Roberts married Rebecca Brashears; they had nine children including John Calvin Roberts.

John Calvin Roberts was born in the Southwest Territory (Tennessee); he married Elizabeth Blackwell and they had fifteen children, including Asa Ellis Roberts.

Asa, who was born in Tennessee, had sixteen children with two wives including a son, Hugh Ellis Roberts, with his second wife.

Hugh, who was born in Illinois, had four children including my paternal grandfather, Bert Allen Roberts.

My known relatives.

I have five half-siblings, all of whom have the Roberts surname.

My records have 272 direct descendants of Edward Roberts identified, so far.

Do you think you are a related Roberts? Test with FTDNA and see.


Endnotes

————- DISCLAIMER ————-

Donna Darling Collection – Part 25

Treasure Chest Thursday

By Don Taylor

For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a clipping from the Donna Darling Collection

I have cropped and resized this photo for the web.

I love Google Search.  A quick search for “ *stnut “Opera House” *nbury “ quickly found the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, PA. The clipping from Donna’s collection provides the other information.

  • The venue is the Chestnut St. Opera House in Sunbury, PA
  • The date was February 6, 7, & 8, 1922.
  • The show is “Miss Donna Darling”
  • Also on bill
    • Lane & Whelan
    • Coogan & Casey
    • Jones & Crumley
  • The theater was part of the B. F. Keith’s Vaudeville.

Conclusion

Added another new venue for Donna – February (6, 7, & 8) 1924 – “Donna Darling Presenting Her Newest Vaudeville Revue,” at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, PA.