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Gathering Oral History from an Older Cousin

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster

This is the best African American genealogy oral history interview that I have shown you so far. I interviewed the interviewee before and after meeting her, and now that she has passed, I am still finding more.

Robin R. Foster, Lutherine Vance Smith, Edna L. Foster, AdrianneMcClure Benjamin in 2005 at Lutherine Vance Smith’s in the Waverly District inColumbia, SC. Photo taken by Ellis McClure.

The picture above was taken the first time my daughter Adrianne and I had met Lutherine. We had moved to Hopkins, SC and we had come out to Columbia where she lived to meet with her. I had known of her and had even done an oral history over the phone where I was able to ask questions about my great grandparent and my grandparents.

Oral History with Lutherine in March 2005

I first spoke with Lutherine when I called her to do an oral history interview.  I was living in Joliet, Illinois, and I called her and put her on speaker phone. I asked her the following questions:

Lutherine Vance Smith to Robin R. Foster, oral history, 23 March 2005, page 1, Joliet, Illinois
Lutherine Vance Smith to Robin R. Foster, oral history, 23 March 2005, page 2, Joliet, Illinois
Lutherine Vance Smith to Robin R. Foster, oral history, 23 March 2005, page 3, Joliet, Illinois
Lutherine Vance Smith to Robin R. Foster, oral history, 23 March 2005, page 4, Joliet, Illinois
Lutherine Vance Smith to Robin R. Foster, oral history, 23 March 2005, page 5, Joliet, Illinois

You can probably tell that it was hard for her to answer my questions by phone. She had never met me. She was much more forthcoming once I moved to South Carolina. Through her I met, Frank and Wayne Gilbert and their mother, Lois, and their families. Vivian Vance Lemon stayed across the street until she died. She had buried her husband in Charleston.  Vivian was Lutherine’s first cousin. Mattie Vance Boyd and her husband lived next door.Mattie was Lutherine’s sister.

Out in Gadsden was where many family members still live. My grandfather and grandmother, Emory W. Vance and Otis Edna Tucker Vance moved there when from Columbia when my mom was very small. Emory built an additional home on his property for his dad, Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance and MarthaVance.

Getting to Know More

We came to visit her every week. She was very hospitable.  I would also go over and help her with things around her house. It was very hard to remember she was not my first cousin but my mom’s. Through her I was able to get to know many family members that lived in the area.  I got to know the places I needed to research such as Bethel AME Church, the family church. Randolph Cemetery which was the burial site of my great grandmother, Lula Johnson Vance.

Lutherine Vance

Lutherine attended Booker T. Washington High School and graduated from Allen University in 1944 with a degree in education. She taught first grade at Howard Elementary School until 1970 and then transferred toBradley Elementary School in the same year until her retirement in 1985. She has also taught at various other schools in the Columbia area for a total of 34years. She had been co-host to a number of Johnson-Vance Reunions along with our cousin, the late Senator Frank Gilbert and families.

Lutherine Vance Smith

Aunt Lou, as we affectionately called her, would make a delicious meal when we would come to visit. I would get to know the people related to me in the area. She even knew some of my grandma’s cousins. We would see what she was growing outside like beautiful flowers or tasty vegetables or catch up with what was in the news.

I even helped her with researching her mother’s side of the family.  Frank Luther Vance and Wilhemina Burton Vance were her parents. Wilhelmina’s parents were from Ridgeway, SC. Frank and Wilhemina had Charles, Lutherine, Frances, and Mattie. Frank was another son of Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance and Nunia Johnson Vance, my great aunt.  Lutherine was the last of the children living.

Lutherine lived in her parent’s house alone on Barhamville Rd. She lived there when Mattie died, and when Frances died, her younger sisters. She died in January 2017. I was recovering from my stroke so I could not attend. I am certain she is happy I am continuing with this work.

“Everyone needs a straight-shooter in her life, and for me that’s Aunt Lou. Thanks for taking care of Palmetto Cemetery graves we have buried there, and all that is precious to me. Thanks for the Southern hospitality, but most of all, thank you for being here when I found my way home,” Robin R. Foster, Brought Home by a Story 2009 Johnson-Vance FamilyReunion Booklet, Columbia, South Carolina.

Recent Findings

I recently discovered her Find AGrave Memorial. Her obituary is included there. Mattie had purchased the land where she lived next door to Lutherine from her parents, Frank and Wilhelmina Vance. I found that deed just this last November: 

Book 106, Richland County, South Carolina, Deeds, From Jan. 1, 1950 to 1958, Register of Deeds, Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Ellis McClure.
Book 106: 162, Richland County, South Carolina, Deeds, From Jan. 1, 1950 to 1958, Register of Deeds, Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Ellis McClure.
Book 106: 163, Richland County, South Carolina, Deeds, , From Jan. 1, 1950 to 1958, Register of Deeds, Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Ellis McClure.

Sharpen the Saw

I started by recording Lutherine’s oral history from Joliet, Illinois which would have sufficed had I not moved to Hopkins, SC. After moving there, I realized she would tell me much more because she came to trust me. Like many of my oral histories, I will continue to uncover more and more.  Lutherine’s Find A Grave Memorial and Mattie’s deed is only the beginning.

Now that Lutherine passed on, I can take information given to me and seek out more truth which won’t trouble her in this life. Do you need to seek out truths that may make some who have given you oral history uncomfortable?  How will you get around this?  Let us know in our Facebook Group.

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