My Family Album: In Black and White

The descendant of a master-slave union faces an unexpected challenge: How to relate to the people whose ancestors once owned hers. Here, photos from Dionne Ford's extraordinary memoir, My Family Tree: In Black and White.

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Cousins Through Slavery

“Whenever I mention certain cousins, I have to put air quotes around the word so my husband knows which ones I mean,” writes Dionne Ford in her remarkable memoir, My Family Tree: In Black and White. “No air quotes means they’re the ones I’m related to through blood. Air quotes, and I’m referring to the ones whose family used to own mine.” Here, the author with her newfound white “cousins,” Joel and Joan Brink. Joan's ancestors enslaved Dionne's great-great-grandmother, Tempy. 


Next: The photo that brought them together.

Courtesy of Joel and Joan Brink

The Haunting Photo That Brought Them Together

Dionne Ford recently discovered this photo of her great-great-grandmother, Tempy Burton (center), with her former enslavers, Colonel W.R. and Elizabeth Stuart. The girls may be two of the children Burton had with the colonel, and the one on the left might be their youngest daughter, Dionne's great-grandmother, Josephine. The discovery led to Dionne's meeting Joan and Joel Brink. Joel had been researching his wife's ancestry; he and Dionne pooled resources. 


Next: A portrait of the colonel.

Courtesy of the Renee Smith Collection, McCain Archives, University of Southern Mississippi

Colonel W.R. Smith

Colonel W.R. Stuart, the wealthy Louisiana cotton broker who fathered several children with his slave--Dionne's great-great-grandmother, Tempy Burton. This 1861 oil is by noted American portrait artist G.P.A. Healy.


Next: A portrait of Elizabeth Stuart.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Monrose Lacouture

Portrait of Elizabeth Stuart

The colonel's wife, Elizabeth Stuart, whose family gave the couple a slave, Tempy Burton, as a wedding present. Tempy had lived with Elizabeth's family, and may have even helped raise her. This work by G.P.A. Healy is a companion portait to the painting of the colonel.


Next: Seeking connection at a family gravesite.

Courtesy of Richard V. Lacouture

A Link to the Past

The author at what she believes to be the grave of her great-grandmother, Josephine, at the Stuarts' ancestral burying ground.


Next: Dionne Ford and her family today.

Courtesy of Monique Smith Andersen

To Tempy, With Love

Dionne Ford with her husband, Dennis Kurtti, and their daughters, Desiree and Devany Kurtti, in Baltimore during a research trip to the Maryland Historical Society; August, 2012.


Don't miss Dionne Ford's remarkable memoir, My Family Tree: In Black and White.


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Courtesy of Dionne Ford

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