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Finding Grandma Ora Nelms Foster (1895-1971) During the Jim Crow Era 1876-1965


This is the only photo I have of my grandmother. You probably cannot make out her face, but I can. She was a beautiful lady. She lived in Joliet, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio, Sacramento, California, Memphis, Tennessee, Arkansas, and she lived in DeSoto County, Mississippi when she was young.


She held strong Christian beliefs. At the end of her life, it was me that told my father that she wanted to come visit us from Cleveland, Ohio. He sent for her.


We were living in Joliet, Illinois. It was on this last visit that she sat down to talk with me while my mother braided my hair. I can remember it just like it just happened yesterday. She wanted me to memorize the 23rd Psalm then and there. It was about 1971. I was in the first grade. She knew I could read, but I never had to memorize a scripture on the spot like that. I practiced while my mother braided my hair.


I recited each line over and over while she watched. When my mom had finished with my hair, I recited the whole 23rd Psalm for my grandma. She was very pleased with me. She told me that anything I had a question about could be answered in the scriptures. I learned that day how important the scriptures were to grandma. Throughout my life they would become important to me too. We would bury grandma on that trip to see us. I was sad, but I felt I had made her happy with me.


Finding your ancestor during the Jim Crow Era 1876-1965 helps you to concentrate on historic records generated during this period of time in which your ancestor was named. I concentrated on finding my paternal grandmother for the first time during the Jim Crow Era. Once you initially do this you will be able to go through it again for the same person identifying still more records to research.


The Jim Crow Era lasted from 1876 until 1965, but Ora Nelms Foster lived from 1895 to 1971. I tracked her from 1895 to 1965, and I began with the most recent records first. As I found historical records on the timeline, I made a list of records I could consult the next chance I get:


  1. Church records each place she lived.

  2. Newspapers in each place she lived.

  3. Business records in Memphis, Tennessee (saleswoman of her own grocery store)

  4. Macedonia Baptist Church, Del Paso Heights, Sacramento, California

  5. Sunset Lawn Cemetery, Sacramento, California

  6. School records (Bobby Foster - St. Augustine in Shelby County, TN)

  7. DuPont Power Plant, Millington, Shelby County, TN (Robert Foster)

  8. Son, Robert Foster, was born in Wynne, Arkansas

  9. Three month old son, Herman Foster, died 16 February 1926. Check cemetery.

  10. Married in Turrell, Arkansas. Get original marriage certificate.


As you can see, this already gives me places to look in the future before you have even digested the the places where I found her below. I began with the most recent historical records. The most recent records will led you to the previous places. That's the way we research. Each record is connected to the next.


1964


I first found Grandma, Ora Foster, in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 in 1964 in Sacramento, California on Roanoke. The directory said she was a widow of James. James Foster, her husband, had died about two years prior to this.


Title: Sacramento, California, Suburban Directory, 1964



1962


Ora Foster was mentioned when her husband James Foster's death appeared in the Sacramento Bee Newspaper (Sacramento, California) on 23 March 1962. I notice that a church, Macedonia Baptist Church, and the internment, Sunset Lawn was given. I can look up the cemetery to see what I can find on FindAGrave.com. I can also try to find the church.

Ora Foster, James Foster obituary, Sacramento Bee Newspaper (Sacramento, California), 23 March 1962, page 47, column 1, Newspapers.com <https://www.newspapers.com/clip/58279772/the-sacramento-bee/>



1954


In 1954, the family was living in Memphis, Tennessee according to the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. I found my grandmother, Ora Foster. on Michigan as well as my Uncle Ted and his wife, Aunt Thelma. James was his official first name.

Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1954


1951


My grandma, Ora Foster, was a saleswoman in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 in 1951 on Michigan. I remember being told that she had a grocery store. My grandfather is not listed with her. He was a travelling carpenter.


Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1951



1943


Grandparents, James and Ora Foster are listed on Horace in Memphis, Tennessee in 1943. Son, James Jr. (Uncle Ted) and Aunt Thelma were living on Barton in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995.


Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1943




1942


Grandparents, James and Ora, are living on Barton. James Jr. (Uncle Ted) and Aunt Thelma are living on Rayburn in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 in 1942.

Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1942




1940


In 1940, grandparents, James and Ora, and James Jr.(Uncle Ted) and Aunt Thelma Foster are living together on Barton in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995.

Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Original data: Original sources vary according to directory. The title of the specific directory being viewed is listed at the top of the image viewer page. Check the directory title page image for full title and publication information.



1930 United States Federal Census


I was excited to find this 1940 Census because it had my dad, Bobby, on it. You can see James and Ora had an older son named Robert. When my dad went to college, he felt Robert was just another name for Bobby. I know he was more respected by society having changed his name to Robert. That is how he explained it to me. What you were called by people in the world was very important to a man of a darker color. It is very important especially when you get a job. He went far in life.


"United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9M1-6SVR?cc=2000219&wc=QZXB-BTK%3A792528401%2C799218201%2C799874201%2C799874202 : accessed 30 August 2020), Tennessee > Shelby > Civil District 2, Memphis, Ward 35 > 98-230 Civil District 2, Memphis City Ward 35 (Tract 55 - part) > image 11 of 30; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.




1939


Both grandparents, James and Ora, and James Jr. (Uncle Ted) and Aunt Thelma were living on Essex in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995.

Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1939





About 1939


I was totally excited to find a record for Robert Foster by looking up the name of my grandmother, Ora Foster, in the U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947.

This is the first place his birth and birthplace is also mentioned. I knew him as Uncle Buddy all my life. He was working at DuPont Power Plant in Millington, Shelby County, Tennessee.


The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Tennessee, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 98



1938


Grandparents, James and Ora Foster were still living on Essex in Memphis, Tennessee in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995.



Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Original data:Original sources vary according to directory. The title of the specific directory being viewed is listed at the top of the image viewer page. Check the directory title page image for full title and publication information.




1930 United States Federal Census


James and Ora were the parents of 12 children. The 1930 Census shows the first six sons living in Lunsford, Poinsett, Arkansas. My grandma had gotten married at 15.

Year: 1930; Census Place: Lunsford, Poinsett, Arkansas; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0010; FHL microfilm: 2339823





1926


In 1926 Ora was in Memphis, Tennessee were she lost her son, Herman Foster according to the Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966. I heard about Herman, so hopefully I will find the cemetery mentioned below. They think he died from bronchitis.



"Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-XC3H-Y1N?cc=1417505&wc=34D8-T38%3A1580559301 : 15 October 2018), 004183286 > image 1982 of 2511; Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.




1920 United States Federal Census


My great grandparents, Henry and Lucy Nelms, and Uncle John and Aunt Josie Hardaway, and grandparents, James and Ora Foster, all next to each other in the 1920 Census in Bolivar, Poinsett County, Arkansas. James and Ora had two small boys, James Jr. and Robert.


Year: 1920; Census Place: Bolivar, Poinsett, Arkansas; Roll: T625_75; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 198




About 1915


I have to get the marriage record for James and Ora. They got married in Crittenden County, Arkansas according to Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957


Name: Ora Nelms

Gender: Female

Residence: Turrell, Arkansas

Spouse's name: James Foster

Spouse's Gender: Male

Spouse's Residence: Turrell, Arkansas

Event Type: Marriage Bond

FHL Film Number:1020235


Ancestry.com. Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.






1910 United States Federal Census


Ora Nelms Foster was one of 11 children from DeSoto County, Mississippi. I know that her parents had the same last name. Their enslavers were two brothers that moved with them from North Carolina. Josie was one of her closest sisters.


Year: 1910; Census Place: Beat 3, DeSoto, Mississippi; Roll: T624_738; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 0017; FHL microfilm: 1374751





1900 United States Federal Census


Ora was born in 1895 according to this 1900 Census. The family moved back and forth between Tennessee and Arkansas and Mississippi. Here they are in Shelby County, Tennessee. Another sister, Olean, was close to Ora. Living next door to them a Charles Nelms who I do not know yet. He is on the previous page.


"United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-XC6S-YKB?cc=1325221&wc=9BW6-7M6%3A1030551301%2C1032158201%2C1032280101 : 5 August 2014), Tennessee > Shelby > ED 49 Civil District 13 (west part) > image 35 of 41; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


All of these historical records have the potential of me learning more about Ora Nelms Foster. They connect to the historical records that I mentioned in the beginning that I will search out, and all those records will link me to more. By focusing on the Jim Crow Era 1876-1965, I will uncover more records that document Ora.


This research takes focus. I talk to many people who want to learn how to get started or they just want me to do the research for them. Just e-mail me at robinfoster@genealogyjustask.com.


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