I often dream about my maternal great-grandmother, wondering what she was like. Was she anything like her daughter, my grandmother? She had long dark hair, her skin color was ruddy, according to the pictures that I saw of her. The U.S. census records indicate that my great-grandmother, Effie, was born in Upper Marlboro, MD and she lived there her entire life. Various census records list her as Effie Adams., F. Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Adams, and later Effie Butler when she got married. Everyone called her Effie, though. Her father’s name was John Quincy Adams (no relation to the president to our knowledge) and her mother’s name was Rachel Kettle.
Beyond that, all I know about her is that she was supposedly “mean as a damn snake.” Apparently, she came to visit my grandmother once after my grandmother moved to Baltimore. My grandmother was holding my uncle, who was a baby at the time, and he was crying for his diaper to be changed. Grandma Effie cursed at the crying baby and all of the noise he made. In fact, she was said to have cursed a lot.
There was another story told about Effie Butler. The legend is that Effie, having been greeted at her door with a crying baby on her porch, looked up and all she could see was the backside of a woman running away as fast as she could. The woman leaving Effie’s yard was one of Mr. Butler’s (as she frequently called her husband) women, running away and leaving their “love child.” Effie then proceeded to pick the baby up and put her somewhere in the yard, in the hot summer sun, and around whatever else was running around loose in the country. I’d like to believe that someone saved that baby that day.
Mr. Thomas Butler, my great-grandfather had another family, and I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to be married to a womanizer and to have many children of her own (roughly 10) by him. Perhaps her meanness was a source of survival and perhaps she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Here is where genealogy research is important, and I hope this story helps in understanding the kind of information that can be uncovered by doing such work. Rumor had it in the family that Effie had a mental illness because she was taken to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Mentally Insane. I had never heard any details about what type of illness she was suspected to have, just that she had to have one since she was housed in their facilities.
Through research, I learned that Crownsville was designated as a place that quarantined black people with tuberculosis. Segregation prevented black people from receiving decent health care in decent facilities, so black people were sent to Crownsville as the result. Crownsville was described as an awful place for African Americans, a place where there have been accusations that black people were used as experiments and their healthcare was neglected.
What I uncovered about my great-grandmother, Effie, is that she was indeed admitted into Crownsville, but as a tuberculosis patient. She did, in fact, die of tuberculosis at Crownsville, according to her death certificate.
Family rumor led me to Crownsville to find her, but research told me how she got there.
Some Suggestions for Getting Started on Family Research:
1. Ask questions and listen to family stories. Write them down and/or record them.
2. Check out U.S. Census records.
3. Look at birth certificates and death certificates.