Saturday, March 28, 2015

Morris Keller, Sr. (1901-1994)

Morris Keller, Sr. & Catherine Morris, wife

This is my weekly entry for +Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors Challenge where I write about my family's history. 

This post is dedicated to my maternal great-grandfather Morris Keller, Sr.

Like my paternal great-grandfather, Leo Paul Dumas, Morris’ name was spelled differently depending on the linguistic leanings of the person with the pen. In some instances his name was spelled in French as “Maurice”. In the later years, after American influence, it was spelled in English as “Morris”.

My Keller clan originates in lower Vacherie, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana at the Golden Star Plantation. This plantation no longer exists but if you use your handy smartphone, you can plug in these coordinates to find the exact location:


29.9293717 North 

-90.6625893 West 

Most of Vacherie is in Saint James Parish. However, this plantation was just over the parish line. Golden Star was a large sugar plantation well-known its molasses.

Recently, our cousin Gufielle Keller, was interviewed by a local reporter from the Lutcher New Examiner. His story was published on the front page on 26 Feb 2015. The newspaper article detailed his experiences growing up on the plantation, as well as his life after. Before the publication of this article, I had not known the exact name of the plantation where my family labored though I knew our roots in Vacherie were deep.

So, I took to what I do best: interviewing my family members to suck them dry of all the knowledge about both the plantation and my great-grandfather.

Plantation Life

Golden Star Plantation was owned by the Leblanc-Webre family. The plantation was described as a village, which stood until at least the 1960s. Golden Star held African-Americans as enslaved laborers before the Civil War. 

By the early 1900s, Italian immigrants were sent to work on the plantation along with the freed African-Americans who remained. The black and white laborers got along well. The adults worked together. The children played together. Still, segregation ruled supreme. 

The homes of the Italian-American laborers were in the front of the plantation while the African-American laborers were in the back. Whites and blacks were not permitted to attend the same schools. Black children had to walk to their unequal school building with old hand-me-down books from the white school. The white children were given a bus to travel to school and were given the newest resources. 

Even the church was segregated. Though everyone could attend mass at the same time, whites sat on the left while people of color (blacks and Indians) sat on the right. This was the local custom until recent years. As a little girl, I remember trying to sit on the left side of the church. My mom quickly pulled me back across the aisle. I did not realize the reason why until later. 

Back to Morris

Morris Keller is the son of Jules Keller (1858-1952) and Pauline Pryor (1866-1950). He was born 8 Sep 1901 in Vacherie, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. He was baptized at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church on 21 Sep 1901. He is the last of eight children.

I only have one photo of my great-grandfather. As you can see, it is of poor quality. Morris was described as a tall man with a reddish-brown complexion. Historically, his complexion would have been classified as griffe. In Louisiana, it is a term used for people of Indian and African ancestry. Culturally, the family were Creole speakers and eaters. They were also firmly rooted in the local Catholic Church.

According to historical records, the Kellers have a long history on the Golden Star plantation. Not only did my great-grandfather, Morris, work on this plantation, but so did his father, brothers, and sons. 


My grandmother told me that even a couple of my uncles worked on the plantation in the 1960s. They worked for two weeks on their Thanksgiving break. The children would “scrap cane” during grinding (harvest) season. Their job was to pick up the loose pieces of cane after the cutter cut the sugar cane with a blade.  Scraping was easy enough work for children and they were eager to earn a few dollars. They were not permitted to stop schooling to work on the plantation, no matter what the pay. My grandparents would not let that happen. 

My mother remembers visiting the plantation as a child. The children would run around the porch of the “Big House”. The plantation was where our family labored. But it was more than that. It was where they made a life, loved and built a community. It was where they built a family.

Morris’ Family

just a few of Morris Keller Sr.'s descendants
The Keller Clan circa 2010
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church

Morris Keller met and married Catherine Morris (1908-1989), a native of Ascension Parish and the granddaughter of Louisiana State Representative Milton Morris

Together, Morris and his wife raised nine children, four boys and five girls. On 8 December 1994, after 93 long years of life Morris Keller, Sr. passed away. He left the life he built. He rests with his loved ones at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, Louisiana. 

Photo Credit: Find A Grave

He leaves behind an extensive host of descendants and relatives, many of whom still call Vacherie home. See the photo above.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leopold "Leo Paul" Dumas (1884-1966)

This week I chose to write about my paternal great-grandfather Leopold Dumas. He is such a fascinating man because he is born on the cusp of tremendous change.

1. First, Leo is sandwiched between people born into American slavery and those who would never know those particular horrors. Pierre, Leo's father was born into slavery. Leo was not. Whew!

2. Secondly, Leo is also caught between the linguistic turn from Louisiana French to American English. He grew up in a bilingual household. The dual language culture is evident in his name. At times it is the French "Leopold", then other times it is written in English as "Leo Paul".

3. Finally, he is the last ancestor on this line who I have found documentation with the Catholic Church. After Leo, most of the family became Protestant. This was a shock because I never knew this side of my family had Catholic roots.

Leo's Childhood:

Leo was born in the summer of 1884. The exact date has been yet to be determined. I am not sure if he actually knew it because it changed so often in documentation. We can confirm, he was baptized 31 Aug 1884 at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, Saint James Parish, Louisiana. 

He was the fourth child of seven, born to Pierre Dumas and Marie Henriette Brown. Similar to my grandmother Julia Jones, by age 16 he is orphaned. The elder two children were young adults and lived on their own. Marie Anastasia, the oldest daughter, took on the responsibility of raising the two youngest children: Jean and Roselius.

Aunt Lise and husband with Leo and Noelie
in 1900 US Census

My great-grandfather and his sister younger Noelie went to the care of their paternal aunt and godmother Lise Dumas and her husband Julien Jefferson. Their roles were reversed as Aunt Lise aged. Lise lived with Leo after she became widowed.

Leopold and family in the 1910 US Census
with Aunt Lise Dumas Jefferson

Making a living:

Leo's WWI draft card
I find it interesting our last name is spelled phonetically without the "s". 

Leo worked on the neighboring sugar plantation. He lived close enough to walk to work from his small home. He worked at the well-known Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Saint John the Baptist, Louisiana. Laboring on a sugar farm was extremely hard work. There were not many options for black men in the rural South.

Marriage Certificate in French of
Leopold Dumas and Laurence Morris
Courtesy of S. Jefferson

Leo's family:

At age 22, Leopold married a 19-year old beauty named Laurence Morris. Though Leopold converted to Protestantism, Laurence remained faithful to the Catholic Church.

They had six children: 


Some of the children became Protestant like their father. Others remained Catholic, like their mother. Laurence passed away on 12 Apr 1936. Shortly thereafter, Leo remarried a younger woman named Mary Smith. Together, they had one child. Leo would bury two wives. Mary would pass away in 1944, leaving him a single father of a little girl who would barely know her mother.

Leopold Dumas I
Grave at Willow Grove Cemetery
Wallace, Saint John the Baptist, Louisiana

Leo's Legacy:

Researching my Pop Leo has been a beautiful experience. He has taught me so much. Despite the struggles and difficulties of his life, he remained strong for his family. He continued to work hard and provide them with the love and support they needed.

He left the Earth richer with his love and generosity. He was a landowner; he was astute regarding the legal matters of owning property, ensuring his heirs were able to inherit. The property he inherited remains within our family to this day. 

Pop Leo taught me to leave something for the next generation. Be a blessing, not a burden. Prayerfully, I will follow in his footsteps.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Honoring the Sunset of Clarence John Dumas, Sr. (1956-1997)

Clarence John Dumas, Sr.

This post was first published on my personal Facebook page.

Today is not only my sunrise. It is also my father's sunset.
So, I cannot let the day pass without taking a moment to honor my father.
18 years ago today,
my beloved Dad transitioned from his role as my earthly father
to claiming his eternal post as my guardian angel.

I am reminded of you constantly
I see you in my brother's face
I hear you in my son's laughter
I recognize you in my nephew's mischievous grin.
You are a constant presence in spirit.
Perhaps that's the benefit of losing your body- the ability to escape the limits of time and space.

I think about the conversations we had about life, love and family.
I remember the fun we had running around '90s New Orleans.
You always made a point to support us individually and challenge us continually.
I hope we are all that you dreamed we should be.
I pray we make you proud, Dad.

Keep Destiny company.
See you next lifetime.

Yo chiren

Friday, March 6, 2015

Keeping Up with the Joneses: The Story of Ignace Ernest Jones (1880-1930) and His Two Wives

This is the week 10 post for Amy John Crow's 52 Ancestor challenge. The challenge is to write about one ancestor per week. This week's optional theme is Stormy Weather

I chose to write primarily about the life of my paternal great-grandfather Ignace Ernest Jones. But similar to the post on my maternal great-grandparentsI decided to write about the married couples. This is the story of a blended family, the Joneses-I. Ernest Jones and his two wives.

Researching this branch of the family was confusing at times because of all the different kinds of relationships. Ensuring I had the right connections: full, step and half-relatives was a fun puzzle. Gladly, I managed to keep everyone straight. I did not give up. It was so worth it in the long run. 

St. John the Baptist Parish Louisiana
Towns in St. John the Baptist Parish

Ernest's Story

Ignace Ernest Jones (1880-1930) is my paternal grandmother. He is the father of my grandmother  Julia Jones Dumas. Earliest records reveal he was born in March 1880 in Wallace, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, USA. (Another Pisces, yay!) Sometimes my grandfather was referred to as Ignace, at other times it was Ernest. I always knew it was him based on the relationships of other family members. 

The first record I find him in is the 1900 Census. He is 20 years old and living with his parents Adam Jones and Mary Leonce. He was the second oldest of several children. 

His siblings were: 
  • Maurice (Morris)
  • August
  • Amontine
  • Clifford 
  • Vanderbilt "Victor"
  • Angele
  • Clarence (whom my father and brother are named after)
  • Olive
  • Willis 
As an elder son, Ernest worked as a farm laborer to assist his family financially. 
I am happy to say he was a literate man. 

In 1908, Ernest married Adelaide "Bella" Grant, daughter of Benson Grant and Clementine Williams. Adelaide was previously married to an Edward Dennis, however, she became a widow after only 3 years of marriage. No known children are identified from that union. As a widow, Adelaide worked as a cook for a private family to support herself.

As a married couple, Adelaide and Ernest were able to have children. They were especially lucky with the female sex. Together they had four daughters: 
  • Cora 
  • Elvira
  • Julia
  • Shirley

Ignace Ernest Jones' WWI Draft Card
Date of birth is believed to be incorrect due to earlier records stating March 1880. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

The above image of a World War I draft card shows that Ernest worked as a farm laborer, cutting rice on the neighboring plantation. I was able to identify his employment at the historic plantation, Whitney Plantation, when it was under the management of St. Martin & Perret. 

Ernest's time with his first wife, my great-grandmother would be cut short due to her untimely death. At the age of 47, Adelaide passed away in 1922 due to pneumonia, making Ernest the single father of 4 daughters. This was a major storm for Ernest to weather during his life.

Finding Love Again...
Four years later, Ernest would marry a woman 15 years his senior named Gertrude Duhe, widow of Philip Rogers. Gertrude was a native of Mt. Airy, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. When she married my great-grandfather, she was the single mother of  seven children. 

After Ernest and Gertrude wed, they would add two more children: Lucille and Alvin Jones to the family. That made a total of 13 children! 
The Jones bunch was established well before the famous Brady Bunch

Another Storm 
Ignace Ernest Jones lost his life on 1 Jan 1930. He left behind 13 children and a young wife. Two years later, Gertrude would also pass away. The orphaned children were split between family members who were able to rear them. Uncles, aunts and godparents stepped in to assist in raising the children. My grandmother, Julia, went to the care of her Uncle Willis. 

Researching this line taught me a great deal about what it means to be family. I also learned that my family has a long tradition of naming children in honor of parents, grandparents as well as uncles and aunts. Such was the case of myself, brother, father and uncles. 

In our culture, we often think of family as a married couple married with their biological children. We think of blended families as a modern phenomenon. But, this is not the case. There have been blended families since the beginning of time. The circumstances may have been different, but the outcome was still the same. There may have been multiple moms and dads, extra siblings and bonus children. In the end they loved one another deeply. This is what made them family.

I will leave you with a throwback photo. This made me smile. 
T: Ernest Dumas L: Ms. Leola
R: Julia Jones Dumas B: Uncle Willis Jones