Monday, November 25, 2013

12 Years A Slave: Pain And Survival

This past weekend I finally went to see 12 Years A Slave. I tried to prepare myself for what I had heard about the movie. There was no way that I could prepare for this..I cried though most of the movie and almost walked out a few times. I felt an overwhelming grief and sadness. As I continued to sit there watching, I thought that maybe I should have just stayed home. This was painful..there was no way around that. I felt numb walking out of the movie husband and I rode home in silence. The words would not come. It took a while to come back to reality. I just had to pen this blog, had to get out what I couldn't speak about. All during the movie, I kept thinking to myself that I cannot believe that this was once a reality of the life of my ancestors. THIS really happened? Yes, I know that it did. It was just so painful and horrific, It seemed unreal.

Solomon Northrup... His story, his determination, not to just live, but to survive was Amazing. I thought about the many that were kidnapped and never reunited with their family. Our ancestor's, how strong they must have been to survive slavery. They endured so much...painful as it is, this is a real part of history that must be told.

I thought about my ancestors, about my 2x Great Grandmother, Sarah Doyle. I could see her in the movie. She came to the plantation as a child and later became a house slave, a cook, and had several children by her owner. Sarah's cabin would have been the one closest to the plantation house. She tended to Mrs. Lee, the slave owner's wife. How terrible that it must have been to be hated and mistreated by the mistress because her husband, the slave owner, took advantage of his slave..over, and over again.

As my daughter and I talked about the movie, I shared my thoughts with her. Although I want my grandsons, who are 6, 8 and 10 to know their history. And my 10 year old grandson is extremely interested in history, always asking questions. He reminds me of myself. Yes, he would love to see this movie. I just don't think he needs to see this movie now. It  can wait. Since neither of my children seem to be interested in their family history. I realize that I am the one. The one chosen to tell the stories of my ancestors to my grandchildren. The same as my grandmother shared the stories with me.

I am the daughter of my ancestors..I am here because they survived. Their stories must be told. They live on in me and will continue to live in the generations to come.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My FOWLER Line: An Angel In The Act Of Genealogical Kindness

Grandma Luella 1910-1991
I have learned that helping fellow genealogists is a great part of Genealogy research. Where would we be without the helping hand of others. This story is just one of many....

My relationship with my paternal grandmother Luella Evandle FOWLER was different than most. Because I never once met her. Something that I never fully understood. Growing up, my sisters and I only knew her through  phone calls and letters. Mom would call her and put us on the phone. She would always talk to us about our father, her son. She would tell us that he loved us girls in spite of his absence in our lives and that we should always be sweet to our mother. Looking back, I am thankful for the many conversations that I did have with her. However, it was one conversation that gave me the pieces to this family puzzle and started me on my journey. At sixteen, my habit of writing everything down was just beginning. I still have the notebook that I took notes in during our conversation all those years ago. I guess that being a "Pack Rat" has it's benefits.. Little did I know that this would be the last time that we spoke.

I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. She started by telling me when she was born, November 5, 1910 to James Fowler and Barbara Christine CONNWAY.  She married Ollie Taylor, her first husband about 1926. She married her second husband Paul C. Pryor, in the 1930's. Her family was from Missouri. Most lived in Frankilin county. The towns of Washington, South Point, Pacific. Also, Boonville and Webster Groves. Her siblings were; Golden, Lawrence, Hazel, Charles, Sadie, Archie, Barney and Frankie. She told me that her maternal grandmother was a slave. Her name was Mariah CONNWAY and even though she looked like a white woman she was still sold into slavery. Mariah's mother was an enslaved woman named Myra HALL. Myra was born about 1807, some records say Kentucky and some Virginia. She is thought to have been owned by a German slaveholder in Missouri. Like her daughter, Mariah, she also was very fair and looked white. Grandma Luella continued to give me more information, telling me about the day my father was a little shack of a log cabin along side of the Missouri river in Washington..all I could say was Wow!

I was amazed as I later found that my grandmother's family stayed in the same location generation after generation. The only ancestors in my entire family on all sides that stayed in the same area after years after slavery ended. They never left. I have located most of them in Franklin county records from 1870-1940.

Melanie: An Angel in Genealogical Kindness      
I few years ago I posted a message to the message boards. I had found many death records on the Missouri Digital Heritage  website, an absolutely wonderful site for Missouri research. I was curious to find out more about the location of the cemetery's and my relatives. Called Washington and Old City Cemetery. I received an email from a woman asking me if I was sure about the name of this cemetery. After my reply, She offered to search for cemetery records. I was surprised and very grateful for her kind offer.

The next day she emailed me back with not one, not two, but a whole list of names. I recognized the names. Many were my grandmother's family. I was floored when she told that she would search the cemetery over the weekend and try to find their grave sites. WHAT! did I read this right? I thought to myself..okay, surely she charges a fee for her research services. When I asked her, She replied "No" and said that she would be in that area and that it wasn't far from her. The next email a day or two later provided me with more than I expected. Not only did she walk the cemetery, finding that there was not one single relative that had a headstone, she went to the county office and found obituaries, Birth, death and marriage announcements. I thought to myself, this woman must be a relative of mine. Who would do that? spend their whole weekend searching for a family that's not theirs. Her final emails contained maps of South Point, Missouri with links to other websites.

I never did find out who Melanie was. If she was a  relative, or just a kind woman who wanted to help me. I truly appreciate her time and her sacrifice to find these gems of information. This was an act of Genealogical Kindness that I will be sure to pay forward.

My great-Grandfather, James Fowler

My 2x Great-Grandfather James Fowler Sr.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Grandma Mary: The Evangelist

This blog post was written for The 5th edition Carnival of African American Genealogy REBIRTH: (CoAAG)  Hosted by Luckie Daniels of  Our Georgia Roots and Our Alabama Roots

Mary B. Doyle 1886-1966

There are many church memories that I could blog about, however when I think about Church memories relating to an ancestor. My Great-Grandmother comes to mind. She is pictured here in her robe, bible in hand.

Growing up I've always been told about my maternal Great-Grandmother, Mary Belle CARR DOYLE. Although I have no memory of her, my mother and grandmother talked about her so often, I've often wished that I did. I've always admired her strength and courage, which spoke volumes to me in all the stories that I've been told about her. Known for her quick "Hot temper". She was the feisty patriarch of our family. My Grandma would chuckle as she told me that her mother Mary was the one who gave out all the whippins' when she and her siblings were children. She followed that by saying..."My poor father". She was born 1886 in Lynchburg, Virginia. If you were in Grandma Mary's house, you better believe that come Sunday you were going to church. No doubt about it! You could also expect to attend the church revivals. My mother  was very close with her grandma and loved going to church with her. After church, the family gathered for Sunday dinner. Mom say's that Grandma Mary made the best Lemonade in the world! The family attended Bethel AME Church in Des Moines, Iowa for many years. The church is still there and many family members still attend today.
Mary B. Carr Doyle-1920's

Grandma Mary was an Evangelist and was very well known in the community. She preached the word in her home church and also traveled all over. She often visited the sick and shut in. Many day's you could find her at the local prisons, where she also preached. My mother said that she often stayed up half the night praying, and remembers her sitting in her chair praying and rocking. Grandma Mary laid a spiritual foundation of faith and family in her children that has been passed down to theirs.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Skin That I'm In

Margaret Doyle
I have been thinking about this blog topic for days. Trying to decide if I should share more of my grandmother's story. Athough genealogy does bring pain, my intent is never to hurt anyone's feelings. However, this story, like all the other's was a part of her and I think that she would want me to share..

When my maternal Grandmother passed away nearly three years ago at the age of 94. My family came together as families do. At her memorial gathering each of us grandchildren stepped up to share kind words about her. She was the only grandmother that we knew growing up. When my brother spoke about her, he started out by saying " I never knew that my grandma was white". It was then that I realized that even in our family many did not know about her Identity. I just assumed that we all knew.   I realized that her history needed to be shared with everyone. Although she identified herself as being black or "Negro" as she would say. She did look white and could have easily passed for that if she wanted to. Growing up, we didn't see the color of her skin. She was just Grandma. We were crazy about her and she was always, always there.

My Grandparents: Anthony Bannarn and Margaret Doyle
She came from a mixed race family. Her father Peter DOYLE was Native American and Irish. Having red hair and blue eyes he looked more white than anything. Her mother, Mary Belle CARR was black, Indian and German. She had eight siblings, out of which two of her brothers were darker in color than the rest. That in itself caused racial issues between the siblings.

Out of the many talks that we had over the years. The one thing that she never talked about was the color of her skin. I wondered if she had ever passed for white. I always sensed that it was a touchy subject for her and although I was curious I could never bring myself to ask her. It wasn't until she was almost 90 years old that she finally shared her story with me. As she started talking I noticed the far away look in her eyes. It seemed as if she was no longer in the room..she had traveled back in time to share her story with me. Her pain was so obvious.

Her Story:
Siblings: Margaret and Robert Leonard Doyle
Growing up in Iowa in the 1920's and Great depression era of the 1930' was not easy. Most people thought that her father was a white man with a black wife. It was a time when they didn't ask you what you were. The color of your skin spoke first. Her father; the son of a slave, knew first hand about the struggle that his white looking children faced. He told her to marry into the black race because the white race would never accept her. While her brother Bill struggled with his identity, being darker than his fair skinned siblings..her sister Rose passed for white to get jobs in the rich neighborhoods of Iowa. Swearing her siblings to secrecy, she told them that should they see her to just act like they didn't know her. She talked about how prejudice Des Moines, Iowa was and all the racial slurs her family suffered.The Klu Klux Klan was a real and active force in many Iowa towns. They burned a cross on her family's front lawn in the 1920's. After she married my grandfather, Anthony BANNARN and moved to Minnesota. She still faced discrimination. As the country went into WWII she went to work to help take care of her family. She would get hired for jobs. They never asked about her race, and she never told them. All was fine until they found out that she was colored, and then she was fired. This happened many times.

I loved her even more for sharing her uncomfortable memories with me. I understood so much more about who she was. She had answered all the things that I was curious about but could never bring myself to ask her. She knew me as her quiet  granddaughter, forever asking questions about the family. She also knew that I wanted to know all that there was to know about her and her ancestors.. maybe that's why she finally shared her story with me.
Grandma holding my sister, me and my brothers  - 1965


© 2013 Denise Muhammad