Monday, October 10, 2011

Research Day One: Higgins Family & Wendell Culley

     I had planned to spend my day researching The Higgins Family of Worcester, MA.  My mother love to tell stories about the history of our family on her mother's side, and in her journal she stated that my Great Grandfather Ambrose E. Cully
"lived in the plantation house (in the "manor", as it were), he learned to be a "gentleman", because he grew up in that sort of atmosphere, so being really able to "pass for white", and being well-schooled in the "gentlemanly" skills, he became a professional "gentleman's gentleman" or valet, for a very rich family in Worcester, Massachusetts."
     The very rich family my mother talked about were the Higgins.  They were millionaires and very well-known in Worcester. In 1890's it was not uncommon for families of the sort to have many servants under one roof.  Ambrose was the chief of the household staff.

     I also know that the two oldest daughters of Ambrose, my Aunt Hannah & Zara (of the "Jefferson's TV sitcom), worked for the Higgins and they were treated as their "pets".  They were given a great deal of financial help.

     So with this information, it is very important that I learn more about the Higgins family, so I started a family tree on of  the Higgins.   The purpose of the family tree, is so I can have some sort of timeline and get some sort of idea which Higgins household (according to generation) my family worked for.

     I went online to look at the Worcester, Massachusetts Public Library Catalog to see exactly what information I wanted to begin ordering copies of some of the Higgins Family Papers.  There are journals, financial statements and expenditures, biographies of family members, books, etc.  If I can get the time again, I am going to make another trip to Worcester and spend time looking in the Archives.  This is how far I got with the "Higgins" today, which I felt was not enough.

  I was pleasantly side-tracked by Professor Richard Falco from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  I had made initial contact with him at the beginning of 2011 to let the Professor know that my Grand Uncle Wendell Culley should be in his Jazz History Database that is specific to New England Jazz musicians.  I had come across it, I believe in 2008 and found other Jazz artists mentioning Wendell.  I also had found a genealogical Jazz musician tree that was created by another professor in MA, that placed Wendell at the base of the tree.  From these few informational points, I knew that I had to ensure that Wendell had his story told to the Jazz World and expressed to Dr. Falco that I would like him to be included, and he agreed.  

     Wendell had been a trumpet player for Noble Sissle, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and other greats.

This is one of the emails I received from Professor Falco:

     "In October, I will be conducting a class on "field research" and preservation of historical materials related to New England jazz.
 At that time, I'd very much like to contact you and/or other family members and friends of Mr. Culley.  My plan is to do telephone interviews with a few folks and use edited versions of the phone interviews on the web site.
 As you locate more names or more materials, please feel free to send them off to me via email.  I will compile these materials and have them ready for the Fall when I begin teaching this course.
 Please feel free to contact me over the Summer or Fall with any updates or questions you may have.
 Thank you for following up with this email.
All the best in your continued search!
 Rich Falco
Professor Richard Falco
Director of Jazz Studies
     So the call from Professor Falco was to confirm my interview which will be done electronically over a video system allowing me to be present in his class next month.  I will have the opportunity to share background information on the Cully's of Worcester, Ma, and the life of Wendell P. Culley, through an interview process that will be recorded and placed in their archives.  I am so looking forward to this opportunity. 


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