Thursday, August 10, 2017

Who Was Uncle Johnny?

John Wesley Carr

I remember my mother talking about her Uncle Johnny. He was a Chauffeur, had loads of money, and always bought her a big can of baked beans each time he came to visit. The part about the baked beans always made me laugh..I told my mother how odd it was, most children would rather have candy instead of beans. She said that uncle Johnny knew how much she loved baked beans. So he always made sure to bring her some. I thought it was very sweet that her uncle thought of her.

As my mother shared her personal memories of  Uncle Johnny, her mother, Grandma Margaret did the same. It was interesting to hear them both talk about this man who obviously meant a lot to them both. Listening to these personal recollections left me feeling like I knew him personally.

Uncle Johnny, John Wesley Carr, was the brother of my maternal Great-Grandmother, Mary Belle Carr Doyle. He came to St.Paul,  Minnesota about 1920 from Lynchburg,Virginia. For many years, he lived  on Portland avenue in the home of his employer, Sherman Finch. John was the family's Chauffeur for 25 years. My Grandmother, who lived a few blocks away, often spoke of the Finch family, and the beautiful mansion they lived in. Uncle Johnny came for dinner weekly. Alway's with a can of baked beans in hand for my mother. He was a member of the Sterling Club, a social club in St. Paul in the Rondo neighborhood.  He went fishing and hunting often with his friends. After many years of driving he started having trouble with his legs. He also was the custodian at the Minnesota State Capitol for many years. John married Susan Sten in about 1938. Susan was from Germany. As far as I know, they never had any children. I don't think that they were married long. I have not been able to find any information about Susan.

According to my grandmother, Uncle Johnny had more money than he knew what to do with. Much of it he spent on his friends. I started wondering how he acquired his wealth. Just how much did a Chauffeur make in the years 1920 to 1935? How much did a custodian make?  maybe he worked both jobs at the same time. My mother nor my grandmother never really said how he acquired his wealth. I don't think they really knew.

Uncle Johnny was later admitted to Hastings State Hospital  where he died in 1959.  A year after his death, an article was posted in the newspaper stating that he had left an estate of  $35,385 that was being held for his sister, Great-Grandma Mary. My grandmother said that eventually, all his estate went to his fishing buddies.

1.How and why was his estate left to his friends instead of his sister?
2.Where did his money come from?
3.Did he have a will?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Mother, My Friend: DNA and Checking The Boxes

My mother, Gloria J. Bannarn
When I think of my mother. I can still see her smile and I can hear her voice. I remember her hair, how soft it was, I remember the way she smelled, always nice. I remember our wonderful conversations about everything from A to Z. Today, when I think of my mother, the thought of her makes me smile. It is with that smile, that I knew it was finally time to share her story.

My mother, Gloria Jean Bannarn, was my genealogy buddy. In many ways we were a team. I did the research, built the family tree and kept the records. She talked to family, asked questions and constantly reminded me about the ancestors. When she called, she would ask if I had found anything new. She was proud of her heritage and passionate about Genealogy.

My mother always wondered why she looked the way she did. People often asked her where she was from, or the question that annoyed her most,"What Are You? which she always said was rude. Although she identified with being black, or African American. She just didn't understand what it was that other's seen in her and why did they always think she was from another country. Most people just assumed that she was Mexican, Native American, Hawaiian, sometimes even Asian. Total strangers would walk up to her and start speaking in Spanish. It happened so often, that she eventually learned how to speak the language so that she could communicate.

Born to parents, Anthony Bannarn and Margaret Doyle, her mother always spoke to her about their very mixed ethnic heritage, She was told that she was African American, Irish, German, Dutch and Cherokee Indian. Her father's family was African, Irish, Seminole and Muskogee Creek Indian, I have always heard them referred to as "Black Indians". Mom said we were "Loaded With Indian."
A term that both my mother and grandmother used when describing just how much Indian we were mixed with.

My mother was fascinated with race and culture. The differences in how people looked, the beauty of their hair, skin. She embraced people from all over the world and made friends where ever she went. She often talked about her concern with race boxes when filling out forms or applications, Her questions; Do I check more than one box for race? or do I check them all? do I check any at all? I would tell her that many people choose one or two to identify themselves with. Her argument was, Why should I check just one race box when I'm more that that?  These conversations went on and on.  After all the wondering, I suggested that she take the AncestyDNA test. Her results amazed her, and finally gave her some answers to the many questions she had longed to know. However, there was one big surprise that she did not expect.

 You can probably guess what the biggest surprise of her DNA results was....
 Absolutely NO Native American.  ZERO!..NONE!

I really thought my mother was going to be Angry that she showed zero Native American. After all, She talked about native ancestors all the time, many family members looked Indian. Her grandmother was said to have been full blooded Creek. She didn't understand the Zero.. However, she was still excited and embraced it all. She began studying all the countries that her DNA results showed, she was fascinated with the people and the culture of the areas where her ancestors came form. She told me that taking that DNA test changed her life.

If you knew my mother, then you knew that she was hot tempered and outspoken, yet lovable, fun and easy going. She stood for what she believed and fought for those that could not fight for
themselves. I have always admired my mother for her strength and courage, yet I don't think I ever told her.

She no longer talked to me about her concern with checking the race boxes. She said that she believed that you had a right to choose no matter what society said you were. When I asked her why doesn't she just check one box and not worry about it, her response was..

"Checking one or even two boxes does not define who I am. For I am much more than that". And so.. she checked almost every box.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The House on Dixon Street

I remember my Grandmother Margaret, telling me the story of her family's home that caught on fire when she was a little girl. This story, like all the others, she told over and over again. She didn't have every detail, however, she knew for sure that the house they lived in was on Dixon street and that her Mother was in the bed with her younger brother, Johnny, who was just a baby at the time. She also said that she remembered her mother being carried out.

I was so excited when I came across this article while searching the Des Moines, Iowa newspaper. It was an amazing feeling to read the article. The words brought life to the story grandma told me. The year was 1926 and she was 10 years old. She lived in the home with her parents, Peter and Mary  Belle Doyle, along with her siblings, Rose, Bill, Edythe (Pie), Leonard and baby Johnny.  After reading the article, I wondered if  her father rebuilt the house or repaired the damage. Did they  move? Grandma never said what happened after the fire. I can't believe that I didn't ask her. I wish she was here today so that I could show her the article and ask more questions..

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Memories That Take Me Back Home

I found this picture of me as my mother and I were going through some of her old photos..Sunday school. It brought back a lot of great memories. I remember that dress. It was different shades of pink..I must of been 5 or 6 years old. I was standing in front of this great big picture on the wall in the hallway of the church.

As a child, I remember going to church and weekends at grandma's house. I think that's when I fell in love with getting all dressed up. I loved wearing pretty dresses along with my black patent leather shoes that shined. Gloves, lace tights or Bobbi socks and my little purse, Sunday was church was family day. For a while my sister and I attended Forth Baptist Church Bible School. Mom didn't have a car so the bus would come and pick us up. I remember learning about Noah's Ark and the Ten Commandments. When we went to grandma's house for the weekend.. it was Church again. I still remember the gentle tap on my knee. Grandma would say, " Sit up straight, and pull your dress down..act like a lady".  She'd give me a lemon drop or piece of cinnamon gum. Next she'd give me the change to put in the collection plate,which I kept tightly clenched in my hand until it was time. I was always sad when it was time to go home on Sunday evening. I never wanted to leave grandma's house.

Sunday dinner was one of the best parts of the day. Whatever the occasion, family was there. Uncles,aunts,cousins..and food, there was so much food! Roast turkey and dressing, greens, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, raisin pie and some sort of  fruit cobbler...and ice cream, there was always ice cream. I remember that I hated potato salad. I always complained, saying that it didn't go together. "Who eats potato salad with turkey and dressing, I grumbled". Why not mashed potatoes and gravy?  clearly my opinion didn't matter. When I was growing up, you ate what you got and that was it. I had no choice in the matter. It makes me laugh thinking about those times. My mother later explained to me that it was a family tradition. Her grandmother made potato salad. In fact, many of the recipes that my grandmother made were the same recipes that her mother made. My mother also made the same recipes, the same way. Now I and recipes came from the ancestors, passed down through the generations, mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter. Now I get it.

Years later, grown and married with children of my own. There I was still going to church with my grandma. I loved spending  the weekend with her. Waking up to the smell of the roast turkey that she had put in the oven at the crack of dawn. I could hear the word of the gospel playing on the television that she listened to as she got dressed. As we sat in church, I'd smile to myself as she still tried to put  money in my hand for the collection plate like she did when I was a child. Maybe in her eyes I would always be her little granddaughter.

It's funny how life changes. I now make the same potato salad that I used to hate, as well as all the other recipes passed down. Grandma's no longer here. But I can still hear her say.  Always Thank God. Everyday. Thank him, Thank him and Thank him.


Monday, May 23, 2016

The Day That Papa Died

It's been five years since grandma passed away and I miss her so. Of all the many things that I miss about her, I think I miss our talks at the kitchen table the most. The kitchen was small and round and had a drop leaf on each side that made it bigger. It sat against the wall in her kitchen, in front of  two large windows that faced the side of her house. She loved to watch the birds out the window as she sat there. This table is where the stories came to life. Grandma always talked about her father, Papa, as she called him. I think that they must have been very close because you could feel the love when she spoke of him.

She told me about the day that her father died. Peter Lee Doyle, Papa, died in September 1934. They brought the coffin to the house that day. Grandma said that in those days when someone died they brought the body into the living room and had the funeral service right there at your house. People would come and pay their respects. The day that Papa died brought a few surprises..The day that grandma said goodbye to her father was the same day that she met her sisters. Three girls that she had never seen before came for the funeral. She said they all were fair in complexion  with long sandy brown hair and looked Indian. Her mother said, "Meet your Sisters, Hattie, Mattie and Letha.   She said that she never even knew that they existed until the day her father died and they showed up at the door.

Hattie, Mattie and Letha were her father's daughter's from his first marriage. They came from Virginia to Iowa at a young age and were raised by grandma's mother. Mary Bell Doyle (Carr). By the time grandma got older they were already gone and married. She always talked about her sisters, giving me every detail.

Hattie Doyle was the oldest, born in 1895. She married Dave Turner and had many children. She raised her family in Des Moines Iowa.

Mattie Doyle was born in 1897 and  married William Wheels in Buxton, Iowa.

Letha Doyle married Leonard Hale and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Grandma always said that she ran a Tavern, but finding her in the census states that she ran a rooming house. She died in 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Unfortunately I only have a picture of Hattie.

Hattie Doyle Turner. Photo courtesy of Dave Turner

Monday, March 14, 2016

They Call My Name

My Great-Great Grandmother, Mariah Hall Conaway
Some days it seems like my ancestors call my name. On Different days, it's different ancestors. If  I look long enough , I swear I can see them standing there in the distance saying, "Keep looking chile' I'm right here in front of you" I had spent years searching for Mariah, my paternal Great Great-Grandmother. I could never get past the 1880 census, Just simply could not find her. Becoming frustrated with my research, I decided to put her away and focus on other ancestors.

Last summer this picture was shared at a family reunion. I was told that the woman in the photo was my great grandmother, Barbara Conaway. Although I was excited to see this wonderful photo. Something kept nudging me. Why did her clothes look so old?  I blew the photo up on my computer and searched every detail. I compared it to another picture of Grandma Barbara. They did not look like the same person. Grandma Barbara was born in 1881 and died in 1936. Something just didn't fit. The woman in the photo appears to have light eyes, her hair looks either gray or light brown.and of course, her clothes..I had a feeling that this is was not Barbara. A call to my cousin Ann confirmed my suspicion. The woman in the photo was definitely not Barbara. It was her mother. Mariah Hall Conaway.

After my conversation with cousin Ann, my curiosity sent me back to searching for Mariah and her family. Family oral history says that she was a slave in Franklin county, Missouri. I had already found Mariah's mother, Myra Hall, and her siblings in the 1870 census. The same record that I had searched a dozen or more times. I felt sure that Mariah and her husband Curry had to be in Franklin County somewhere. There was something that I was missing. I got a tip about a research strategy for finding your African American ancestors in the 1870 census called the "Nettie Rule". After reading this article by Tony Burroughs,  Finding African Americans On The 1870 Census  I knew that I had to try again.

I went back and  searched the 1870 census again, going back over the same census record that I had previously found Mariah's mother and siblings listed on, only this time I payed very close attention first names as well as surnames. Suddenly there, sitting at the very bottom of the page, living a few doors away form her mother and siblings, was  Mariah, Curry and their young son, Joseph. Only their surname was not Conaway. It was HUNTER! I could not believe it. How in the world did I miss this!  I never noticed them. I always focused on the surnames. I guess that's why I missed them. Obviously they had changed their name, as many slaves did after they were free. Next, I began searching for the Hunter surname in Franklin County, Missouri to see what I could find.

I found a will for a man named VALENTINE HUNTER. Valentine was a slave holder from Rowen County, North Carolina. He moved to Franklin co, Missouri with his wife Margaret in about 1826 bringing his slaves with him.  In 1849 he left a will  freeing his 13 slaves. Easter/Esther, Nice, Caroline, Curry, John, George, Smith, Mary, Ambrose, Charles, Manda/Amanda, Clinton, Sarah Ann. Could this be my Great Great Grandfather, Curry? Valentine also put in his will that after the death of his wife, Margaret, that his property be sold and the money from his estate be divided among his slaves. Did they actually receive the money? According to documents in the Missouri State Archives. All former slaves actually did receive the money that Valentine wanted them to have. I wondered..Why he would free his slaves in 1849?  Even more, why would he leave his former slaves money from his estate. Many of the slaves were young children and were entrusted to the care of some of the older slaves.

I searched for Curry with this new found name, Hunter. I found him in 1860 living as a free man in Franklin county. He was living with a mulatto woman named Maria Ferguson. I wonder if this woman could be Mariah. So many questions.. who knows, maybe this is my link to all my DNA matches with ancestors from Rowan county, North Carolina and the Hunter and Ferguson surnames. My search continues..


Friday, April 24, 2015

This Long Journey: Making a Home In Minnesota

Home of John Henry and Emiline Bannarn  5058 Humboldt ave N.  1914-2000
I must have passed by this little green house a dozen times or more before I knew it's relation to my family. I had walked my daughter to school many days. Passing by the Creek, by the small church in the neighborhood. I stood on the ground where my ancestors once stood totally unaware of their lives here. By the time I found out that it was the home of my Great Great-Grandparents, John Henry and Emiline Bannarn, the city of Minneapolis was already making plans to demolish the house and my cousin Delores was trying to save it. The house sat on the corner of  50th and Humboldt avenue. It's been 100 years since John Henry and Emiline came to Minneapolis and built their home. Back in those days this area of Minneapolis was considered the country...Today it's considered the city. Funny how times change.

John Henry BANNARN  was born a slave in Missouri about 1850. He was the son of NANCY SAUNDERS and his Irish slave owner.  At some point John ended up in Texas where he met EMILINE SPENCER. Emiline was of Seminole Indian ancestry and was also born enslaved. She was the daughter of Jesse and Sally Spencer, who were both from North Carolina. John and Emiline were married July 4, 1869 in Hunt County, Texas. Together they had 10 children. Thomas, Dee, John, Walter, Monroe, Albert (Goree), Ellora, Laverne. The names of two of the children remains a mystery. I have always been told that my Bannarn ancestors moved often, never staying in one place for long and always traveled by covered wagon. Maybe this is indicative of their Native American ancestry. Looking at the census records this seems to be true. Between 1870-1910 they lived in many cities throughout Texas and Oklahoma.

Around the turn of the century, the Canadian Government began advertising land in Canada. They sent newspaper ads like this to Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and other states. My ancestors like so many others left the south with the hope of finding a better life for their family. John Henry and Emiline along with some of their children and grandchildren, left Oklahoma in about 1912 and headed for Canada. Some family members got sick along the way and had to turn around and go back. My family's oral history says that my Great Grandfather, Dee Bannarn, John Henry's son, killed a man for making a pass at his wife Hassie. Fearing for their lives, the family left. I've wondered how much of the story is true..maybe the reason they left Oklahoma was a little of both. When they got to the border of Canada, for reasons unknown, John Henry and Emiline were turned away. Their son Albert, affectionately known as Goree, and his wife Lola, were allowed past the border and settled in Alberta, Canada. They had two daughters, Cleola and Gladys. After being denied access into Canada, John Henry and Emiline headed for Minnesota. They settled in the city of Minneapolis. They first show up in the city directory in 1913 living on 3rd street south. In 1914 John Henry and Emiline became one of the first to build a home in a small African American community in north Minneapolis called "Maple Leaf and Humboldt Heights".  


                                                                                5058 Humboldt Ave North

Despite all efforts to save the home, the city of Minneapolis decided to proceed with their project. A decision was made to take the house apart and study the method that John Henry built the home. Historian Carole Zellie started researching the history of the neighborhood and the families that migrated from the south. There were interviews with many family members. I remember how excited my grandmother, Margaret Doyle Bannarn, was to share her memories of the Bannarn family members as well as many pictures.

                                                                                               Demolition Begins           
In the summer of 2000, family members gathered at the J.H. Bannarn home to watch the demolition. Piece by piece, brick by brick they began to take the home apart. What they found in the process was very interesting. The home was built with salvaged wood. Some pieces were charred which indicated that there may have been a fire at some point. A closer study revealed that there was not a fire, John Henry had reused the burnt wood from another home. The original house was much smaller than what the photo shows. The front half as well as the porch were later additions. The house was layered with Asphalt, Depression Brick and Tar Paper. The foundation was made of rocks and bricks that were roughly set in cement by hand. I remember one of the workers that day said that John Henry must of been a short man because the basement ceiling height was not much over five feet. I was surprised when they pulled the walls apart, and found the insides lined with nothing more than newspaper for insulation. At the end of the research. There was a booklet made, detailing the history of the families. It is now available in the local library.

Today, the homes are gone. Green grass and trees line the Greenway where the homes once stood. There is a plaque that sits in the middle of the block, implanted on a large rock, in memory of my ancestors along with the many other families who migrated to the Minneapolis Shingle Creek area, Maple Leaf and Humboldt Heights community and made a home there in the early 1900's.

I am reminded of  John Henry and Emiline each and every time I drive down Humboldt  avenue..Occasionally I stop, and walk on the grass where the house once stood. As I stand there in their footsteps, I try to imagine what their life was like 100 years ago. I can see Grandma Emiline in her garden..I can see her gathering eggs in the chicken coop,  there's Grandpa John Henry down at  Shingle Creek fishing for today's supper..

L. to R. Bannarn family members..Carla Pryor, Gloria Bannarn Pryor, Deloris Grigsby, Denise Wooley-Muhammad,
Neighboring families: Lillian Schoefield, Cecil Adair and Cherie Adair. 2000


© 2015 Denise Muhammad, They came from Virginia