Sunday, December 29, 2013

Shirley Bannarn Tanksley: Positive Affirmations

Shirley Bannarn Tanksley-1967 ( photo courtesy of Shari Doyle-Chandler)

As this year comes to an end. I find myself reflecting on the past, counting my blessings, and looking forward to the new year. Clearing out the old and making room for the new. I remember my new years resolutions that I made at the beginning of this year. Talking out loud to myself..a trait that I know I inherited from my mother. I had firmly declared that this would be the year that I would take my genealogy research to the next level, I wasn't exactly sure what the next level was. I just knew that I had to do more. I told myself that I would push harder, strive to invest more time and find an improved strategy to find my ancestors.

Looking through my genealogy files I came across some papers that reminded me of my Aunt Shirley. She had given them to me several years ago. It was Thanksgiving day and my family gathered at my brother's home for dinner that year. She smiled, handed me a stack of papers and said. "Here Honey, take these papers",You will know what to do with them more than I will". I was surprised that she gave them to me. knowing how interested she was in genealogy, she had also been researching our history. The papers contained names of family members that she had written, generation after generation with birth and death dates. Included were her notes of some of her research that she had done and information on the Seminole Indians. Once again, I was being handed family information and being told that I would know what to do.

Shirley Ann Bannarn Tanksley was my mother's sister.The oldest child of Anthony Bannarn and Margaret Doyle. She passed away in May of this year at the age of 73. Growing up, we called her the Cool Auntie. A name that we made up for her because of her laid back and soft spoken personality. I never once heard her raise her voice. She was so proud of her family. Always smiling, always optimistic, she could see the sunshine even on a dark cloudy day. I've always admired her for her positive outlook on life and loving spirit. She truly believed in the power of positive thought and the power of prayer. She used to say that there was energy contained in positive and negative thoughts. Be careful of what you say. Your words carry weight, once released into the universe they have the power to change things. Speak what it is that you want into existence. You can achieve anything you want. You must see it and believe it. Positive affirmations being used to manifest change in your life.

When I reflect on this year, the resolutions that I made in the beginning. I realized that my genealogy research has indeed reached another level. I didn't even notice, It swept right past me. Somewhere in the midst of finding the Facebook group AAGSAR (African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research), starting a blog and sharing my family history. It happened. I was at the next level. This was the improved strategy that I had been looking for.

If Aunt Shirley were here, maybe she would tell me that by talking to myself I had called what I wanted into existence. She would love the blog and would be proud that I was sharing the stories. People are placed in our lives for reason, and a season. They touch us in one way or another and become part of the story. Aunt Shirley is still with me, she is with us all. Smiling, turning cloudy days to sunshine and encouraging us with her loving, positive words and thoughts..

Aunt Shirley 2011


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mary B. Carr Doyle: Who Is Frank Molloy?

If you like a good on!

This past summer my cousin gave me this funeral announcement hoping  that I could figure out the mystery of who Frank Molloy is, and is he related to our family. This article was found in a large old bible, that was published in 1882. This bible, with pages crumbling and falling apart had an ornately engraved black leather cover and had belonged to my Great-Grandmother, Mary Belle Carr Doyle. There are no inscriptions inside. Neither one of us had a clue of why it was in the bible, nor had we ever heard the name MOLLOY in our family.

According to this announcement, Frank was a young man who drowned in a boating accident at pine lake in La porte, Indiana. In July of 1886. A young woman by the name of Mrs. Rose Stern was in the boat with him. She drowned as well.

I began researching Frank, trying to find a connection. I found that he was just 16 years old at the time of his death. The news of this accident was printed in several local newspapers, even in the new york times..which I thought was strange. Why so many newspapers, in different states? I also found that Frank was the son of  a very well known Evangelist named  Emma Molloy. Emma was known as the Temperance Evangelist. She also was an editor of a newspaper that she ran with her husband, Edward Molloy. Frank was her only natural child. She had adopted a few other children. So far I've only found her daughter Cora LEE. Emma became a part of a huge scandal when a murder took place on her farm.

  The Graham Tragedy and the MOLLOY-LEE examination


My Thoughts:

Mary B. Carr was born the same year that Frank Molloy died, 1886. So obviously she didn't cut that news clip out of the paper. Maybe the bible belonged to her husband Peter LEE DOYLE. And the news clip was sent to him. Maybe there's a connection between him and Cora LEE. Maybe it belonged to her mother. So who was Frank MOLLOY and how does he relate to my family? I have really tried to think out side of the box on this one..and still, no answers.

 © 2013 Denise Muhammad

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mary Belle and John CARR: The Big Puzzle

Mary B. Carr-Doyle
My maternal Great-Grandmother Mary Bell Carr has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Grandma Margaret talked about her mother often. However, she hardly knew anything about her family history. Mary was born in 1886 in Lynchburg, Virginia. She married Peter Doyle in 1903 becoming a step mother to his three young daughters from his first marriage; Hattie, Mattie and Letha. Mary Belle never talked about her past, not her parents, not her grandparents..nothing. Grandma always said she thought that it was very strange. Who doesn't talk about their family?  she always thought there was some big secret she was hiding. Mary had one brother, John Wesley Carr. Known as "Uncle Johnny". The only thing that was known is that they were from Lynchburg, Virginia. Their mother died when they were children and that they were raised by an aunt. John and Mary were very close. Uncle Johnny didn't talk about his past either. He only said that his mother told him on her death bed to take care of his little sister, Mary. I remember my grandma telling me that in her day, children were seen and not heard. As a child, you just simply did not ask questions. And she never did. She wished that she had known her grandparents. She asked me if I could find out who they were. She said that it would be great if she could just find out what their names were before she died.

As I started looking more into Grandma Mary's past. Cousin Martha, who was very close with Grandma Mary, told me all about her past. She said that Mary Belle and her brother John were the illegitimate children of their mother and the German doctor that she worked for. This doctor took advantage of their mother. The mother died when they were very young. After her death, the father wanted to take Mary and John and raise them, however the mother's family would not have it. She said that they were raised by the mother's family. Aunt Bert or Bertie..she never could remember the name exactly. According to cousin Martha, this was part of the reason why she never spoke of her family. She was too ashamed of being an Illegitimate child.

Looking for Her Parents:
I put up many posts on various message boards hoping to find a connection. Finally a cousin, who seen my post and contacted me. She was from the CARR family. Said that she found the marriage record of Mary and her husband Peter Doyle. This record listed her parents names as Nellie GOGGINS and John CARR There it was! Grandma Margaret was so excited! She had finally found the name of her grandparents.
John Wesley Carr 1884-1959
John W.Carr was born in Lynchburg, Virginia  about 1884. I'm not sure when he came to Minnesota. He first shows up in the 1920 census, where he is shown living with the Sherman Finch Family in St.Paul, MN. He worked as a Chauffeur for the family for 25 years. Mom remembers that he loved to go fishing. He married Sue Sten in about 1938-39. Sue was from Germany. I'm sure that STEN was a shortened version of her original name. After he and Sue divorced he came to live with grandma Margaret. My Mom was a little girl then, she remembers Uncle Johnny bringing her baked beans all the time because she loved them so much. John was a member of the Sterling Club in St.Paul, Mn. To my knowledge he never had any children. He always took care of his sister. He bought her a house after her husband died. Grandma said he had a lot of trouble with his legs from all the driving he did. He died in Hastings, Minnesota in 1956. John was wealthy and left most of his money to his fishing buddies. Grandma always fussed about that.When he died Grandma Mary had him brought to Iowa to be buried in Glendale Cemetery where the family was buried at.

The latest mystery. A cousin who was contacted by a Carr family member, who found adoption records in Iowa stating that that John and Mary were actually NICHOLS and were adopted by the Carr family. She said that the Carr and the Nichols family were related...Hmmm..this is strange being that they were born in Virginia. I'm Still researching this one.

Other than her marriage record. I've never found Mary in any document before 1910. She first shows up in Mahaska county Iowa in the 1910 census, living with her husband and children. As I said earlier, John doesn't show up in the census until 1920, in Minnesota. I realized that searching for my ancestors who were light enough to be taken as white. Makes it more difficult when you don't know exactly what location they were in. Throughout the census records after 1920. John was listed as white and black. Talk about confusing!

Just a few of my endless questions:
Where were Mary B. and her brother John between 1884-1900?
When did Mary come to Iowa?
Who did she go to Iowa with?
Were they really adopted?
It makes me dizzy..So many unanswered questions. Wait..There's another mystery to this story about Grandma Mary! more about that in my next blog post.

Siblings: Mary B. Carr Doyle and John Carr-photo courtesy of Shari Chandler Doyle


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Finding Hassie Bannarn

Hassie & siblings- with parents, Steve Thompson & Alice Fuller
I came across this photo once again today and knew that it was time to pen this blog which is long over due.

This past summer, my mother called to tell me that she had received a picture of her paternal grandmother, Hassie Thompson Bannarn. She said that the picture was of Hassie as a child with her parents and siblings. She knew that I would be excited, being that in all these years we've never been able to locate a picture of her. Once I saw the picture, I was even more curious because I've never heard of Hassie having any siblings except for one sister named Lela. I wondered if they were really her siblings..if so, why hadn't I ever heard of them.

The Photo 
I have been looking at this picture for months trying to figure out why it looks so strange to me.I've looked at every detail, searching their faces, looking at their clothing. And it occured to me, that the little girl on the right is leaning back. Her eyes look strange, slightly off. Actually both girls are leaning a bit. I wondered if they just had bad posture or if they were  deceased. What a morbid thought. However, I know that there was a time when they took photographs of the dead.They all look so sad to me. Still and solemn. I wonder why they didn't smile back then.

My mother never met her grandmother. She died in 1942, when my mother was just a baby. I've always wondered what she looked like, as did my mother. My Grandma used to tell me all about her mother-in-law, Hassie..Mrs. Bannarn as she called her. She said that she was an Angel and the sweetest woman that she knew. Hassie and her husband Dee Bannarn had come to Minnesota from Oklahoma in about 1913. Hassie later developed severe arthritis that left her body deformed. Her arms and hands were drawn up to her chest. She couldn't walk and was confined to her bed. They took her to many different doctors, even to some place were they had hot springs. They still could not figure out what was wrong or how to cure her condition. Her husband and children took care of her. Grandma Hassie's hair was so long, they would have to drape it over the iron bed rail to brush it and it almost touched the floor. My Grandma remembered Hassie's son, Mike, being very close with his mother. She said that he came home from school everyday and took care of her. My cousin, Mike's daughter, remembered a similar story. She said that he would sleep on the floor next to his mother's bed. Grandma was there the day that Grandma Hassie died. She said that when they lifted her off the bed that the bed springs played a song. " My God Near To Thee". I've never fully understood that, but grandma swore by that story and told it to me a million times.

My Mother at 23 years old.
When I asked my grandma Margaret what Hassie looked like. She replied "Like an Indian woman". They were all Indian, meaning, Grandma Hassie's husband  Dee and his family. The Bannarn's. She followed that by telling me that if I wanted to know what she looked like, just look at my mother, because she was the spitting image of her. Same long black hair, same skin tone, same features..she looked just like her. Aunt Jewell, who was Hassie's daughter always told my mother the same thing. That she couldn't believe how much mom looked like her mother, Hassie. 

Lela Thompson Bannarn: Hassie's Sister.
Hassie was from Texas. According to her death certificate she was born in 1880 in Lonestar, Texas to parents Stephen Thompson and Alice Fuller. I have always been told that she was full blooded Creek Indian, however some say that she was also part Cherokee. The first census that I found Hassie in was the 1880 census for Cherokee county, Texas. She was five months old and is shown living with her parents, who were also from Texas. Her race is listed as Black.There is also another child shown living in the same house. Her name was Rosey. She was 3 months old, and also is listed as being the daughter of Steve and Alice. Her race is listed as white and according to this record, her mother was from Georgia and her father was from Alabama. Now I'm trying to figure out , who was Rosey? maybe she was a family member that they took in. It doesn't seem like she was the biological child of Steve and Alice. I've wondered if Rosey is one of the little girls in the picture. Being that they were close in age. It could be. If these are her siblings in the picture. Who are they? and what happened to them? At this point. I have found no information about Rosey or any other siblings besides  her sister. Lela. Lela married Dee Bannarn's brother John, and was part of the migration to Minnesota with the rest of the Bannarn family. 

I continue to search for Hassie, she's so interesting. I've traced her in the census from 1880-1940. I know that she was Indian. However, I've yet to find her listed as that. Always mulatto or black. There's still so much more to find. The search continues..


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why I Blog: My Heart And Soul

Grandma Margaret and cousin Beanie

Thanks to Bernita Allen I was inspired to pen this blog. After reading her story about her grandma Edna. My grandmother instantly came to mind. Bernita's story, which was like reading a great book. Made me think about the beauty of family and why I blog about family history.

I am the last person that thought that I would ever be blogging. Especially since up until a few short months ago I didn't know exactly what a blog was. It wasn't until then that I realized that the stories that I grew up listening to were enough to fill the pages of a book. Genealogy has been my passion for many years. I thought that having a family tree on was good enough. I've always made my tree public. Sharing my collection of names, dates, and a few pictures. Finding relatives along the way. What I never shared were the stories. These stories of my ancestors are what my grandma Margaret had shared with me all my life. They were wrapped up in the special private moments that we shared with one another. To many moments to count. Thanks to her, I had a personal story to go with the most of the names. Grandma knew something about everyone in the family. Relatives that I didn't know, those who were long gone. They lived through the stories that she told about them. She gave special details of what they looked like, their personality, what their life was like. So much information that since I've started blogging I sometimes don't know where to begin.

Through these stories she was sharing a piece of herself with me. The memories of her parents and her family were special to her and she wanted me to know.  I became fascinated with my grandma and everything about her. The stories of  my ancestors have been engrained in my mind and reside in my heart. I can still see us sitting at her small kitchen table..talking over a cup of tea. Even as an adult I would go spend the weekend with her at her home. I remember the last time that I was there. She insisted that I take the huge family picture book. I refused, knowing how special the pictures were to her. She insisted again, telling me that she wanted me to have them. She said that it was time and that I would know what to do with them. At the time she was 90 years old and I hadn't a clue of what she meant by saying that. I took the book and didn't ask her what she meant. I kept thinking to myself,  had I really asked her everything? What else could I ask her that she had not already told me. I tried hard to think of something..nothing else came to mind. It wasn't long before her life changed. I watched my feisty grandmother who was always sharp as a tack slip away. Her eyes no longer sparkled, their color had changed to a dark dull grey. She had become a victim of Dementia, and it had robbed her of her memories. She no longer recognized me as her granddaughter.
L. to R. Mom with her mother,Grandma Margaret and unknown cousin

Letting Go And Sharing The Story:
The day that I requested to join the new Facebook group AAGSAR (African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research)  was a new beginning. Little did I know that becoming a member of this new group would change my genealogy research as I knew it. I thought it was like any other Facebook genealogy group. I quickly found out that was not true. This is a serious ancestor seeking, helping one another, working group. Thanks to Luckie Daniels and her gentle nudge..well, it was actually more like a big push. Always gently encouraging me to keep moving. I started a blog. In the beginning, it was very uncomfortable. I remember thinking that I have absolutely nothing to say, what would I blog about?  I felt like I needed "Blogging for Dummies". I was not a writer. I certainly was not prepared for this. Following the example of  the great bloggers of AAGSAR..I continued to work on my blog. There were so many beautiful blogs. Each one was amazing. In this group." Each one teach one" truly comes to life.

Everyone stands on the shoulders of those who came before. Someone always leads the way. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I guess I was finally ready to share the stories and a blog was the platform that I needed. I am thankful that I was guided to AAGSAR and for it's creator, Luckie Daniels. With four blogs I would say that I have become a bit addicted to blogging. I still consider myself a newbie, always searching for the right words. Trying to find my way.

I blog because of family, for my grandmother, for the Ancestors who are leading the way. I know now that I must tell their story. It continues to be a journey of self discovery. I have learned that Blogging is truly good for the soul. I now understand why grandma wanted me to have the picture book. I know what she meant when she told me that I would know what to do. She knew what I didn't know.. This is what I was supposed to do. Share the story. She had given me everything that I needed. I just had to reach within myself.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whispers In The Deep South: Many Rivers To Cross

Augustus & Viola Wooley (Woods) with their son Augustus Jr.
After viewing episode four of Many Rivers to Cross tonight, I just had to finish penning this blog post.  This episode made me think of my husband's family, my family. It's interesting that through marriage, families are intertwined.Your family becomes my family and so on and so forth..

My recent visits with my mother in law have been very interesting. They usually are. I asked her what life was like growing up in Alabama in the1950's. For many years I've heard stories about her parents, Augustus WOOLEY and Viola WOODS. I remember her father, my husband's Grandad, so many years ago. Unfortunately I never got to meet his grandmother, Viola. She passed away shortly before I came into the family. They were both from Alabama. The cities of Johns and Calera. Augustus left Birmingham in about 1956, moving his family to Minneapolis, MN. His father Berry WOOLEY had also left Birmingham and came to Minnesota earlier. With family still living in Birmingham and Jasper. He would drive the family from Minnesota to Birmingham, Alabama and back again to visit family, only stopping for gas. No stops to eat in those days. Viola cooked before they left home and brought the food with. Nearly a twenty hour drive back then. After viewing Many Rivers To Cross and hearing about the "Negro Motorist Green Book" I now understand why stops were few to none.
Augustus Wooley

I thought about my recent trip to Alabama to visit my husband's family. Which gave me some insight to what life must of been like for so many who came from the south. This was my first time visiting Alabama and I was excited to see where my husband's family had lived for generations as well as meet family. I had always wondered why his grandparents left Birmingham in the 1950's to come to Minnesota..the longer that I spent time in the south I began to get a better understanding of why they left.

Viola Woods Wooley
I visited the Tuskegee University Institute. Home of Booker T. Washington. I was so amazed by this man and his educational history. The red bricks. Wow, such a rich history. I was in awe as we passed by the massive cotton fields. Cotton as far back as my eyes could see. A sight that I've never seen before. I could see the ancestors in the field and hear their whispers. Something that gave me a slight chill. Alabama was the south, life was what it was. And you knew your place. Segregation. Plain and simple.White and Colored drinking fountains, Everything divided by color. Something that I've tried to imagine, but just couldn't seem to grasp. A  visit to the Civil Rights Museum  gave me a better understanding of segregation and so much more. I left thinking to myself, Why wouldn't you want to leave the south back then? I wiped a tear from my eye as we crossed the street to see the16th street Baptist Church. The church that was bombed  in 1963, four young girls died. Again, I felt a slight chill.
Arlington Antebellum Plantation-Birmingham, AL
 I was in awe as I viewed this beautiful yet enormous home, a plantation called Arlington. It sat, like a watch guard over the city, surrounded by small houses, our family lived only blocks away. I couldn't help but think of the enslaved ancestors who once lived on this plantation. I wondered  what happened to them after slavery ended. I could feel their presence. How could I be here in this place and not think of them and all that they endured. I wondered what their life was like, were my ancestors slaves here? I thought about it the rest of the day and night. Slavery, a reality that was everyday life. I felt a strange chill..cold. This visit was bitter sweet.

"Lifting The Veil"  Monument at Tuskegee University


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Notebook: A Gift Of History

My ancestors on my husbands side of the family have been poking me for quite some time. Their voice is loud and clear. It's time to share their story. And so we begin..

My husband has witnessed first hand my obsession with genealogy and my excitement as I have connected with new found relatives over the years. So I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised when he asked me one day, when was I going to find someone on his side of the family? I chuckled as I realized that he was interested in his ancestors after all..I took that as my cue to start digging into his past. His request was to find out something about his paternal grandfather who he knew absolutely nothing about.

I'll begin with my husband's father, Charles Emmit McKinney. He was an interesting individual, to say the least. Although I had known my father-in-law for years. I never asked him about his family. All I knew is that he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Edith Elizabeth FLEMING-PRATER, whom he affectionately called "Mom" and her husband Albert Thomas PRATER.

Charles Emmet McKinney
One day when he came to visit. I began to question him on his family. He told me that they were all from Tennessee and had migrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. He told me bits and pieces about his family. Most of which my husband didn't even know. I was amazed!  I was even more surprised when a few days later my husband came home with a notebook that his father instructed him to give to me. I opened it and there it was. He had written his family history, beginning with his great grandmother. There were Birth and death dates, Stories, pictures. My father-in Law passed away not long after this. How glad I am that we have this history to share. Glad that I was moved on that day to ask him the questions. What he left, a notebook written in his handwriting are puzzle pieces to the past. If I had of never asked him, I probably would not have known.

Charles was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 18, 1940 to Charles William McKinney and Mary Louise Fleming. His parents; who married as young teenagers, didn't stay together long. He described his parents as people who loved to party. His grandmother disapproving of this, took young Charles and moved to Minneapolis, Mn in the 1940's. Charles loved to sing and was a popular teen singer around Minneapolis in the 1950's. He was a member of  two bands. The five Velvetones and Little Charles  And The Big M's.

Now we come to Charles' father. Charles William Mckinney. I call him the mystery man. I don't have any pictures of him. What I know about him is written on one page, contained in the notebook that my father-in law wrote. He is describes his father as a man small in stature that liked to sing and wanted to be a prize fighter. He looked like he was mixed, part negro and Asian with curly hair. Charles William was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in about 1920. His mother was a light skinned woman known only as Mrs. Hunt. He had a sister named Christine and a brother named J.D. Charles is listed in the1940 census in Cincinnati,Ohio living with his wife Mary Louise and her parents.

What ever happened to Charles W. Mckinney? the answer to that question remains to be found. I am sure that he is out there somewhere, along with a whole family waiting to be found. In the meantime, I will continue to put this puzzle together..tracing the ancestors one leaf at a time.



© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Gullah Geechee: Shouldn't Our History Be preserved?

                                                                                                                                                                     This morning my sister shared a story with me on Facebook. It definitely caught my attention, and
she knew that it would. This article really hit home with me because Gullah Geechee is part of my heritage. My great Grandmother Frances (Fannie) WILLIAMS was of this culture. Her family, originally from New Orleans, migrated to Mississippi and later settled in Arkansas where my Grandfather, Ollie Taylor was born.

The article talks about this small community in Georgia, called  Sapelo Island. It is one of the earliest freed slave settlements. Many of the descendants of  slaves still live there today. The Gullah Geechee people are being forced to sell because of rising property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, they are making their story known. No, my family is not from Georgia..that I know of. I cannot remain silent. I feel that I must share this and speak up.

I cannot believe that this is happening! all because of taxes?..really? a whole 50 people on the island. What exactly are they being taxed for? why can't this land be preserved. I think that it should be declared a national historic landmark. It's more than just a place. It's about a culture, a way of life. The history of a people that would be destroyed if this land is sold.  If dozens of plantation homes, civil war lands, buildings are declared historic why shouldn't this be?

Shouldn't our history be preserved?

Okay, I'm done ranting. Just had to get it out. I hope that others will stand and lift their voice. Someone has to help share the story.

If you don't stand for something. You will fall for anything.

Sapelo island historic-slave community Faces Tax Rise


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pain Of Genealogy

My father,with my sister and brother-about 1968
After my recent post, I spoke with my sister over the phone. We talked about many things, mainly about our parents, our history and the mystery of  Grandpa Ollie's name, TAYLOR. Which isn't really his name. My sisters are amazing, the encouragement that I get from them to continue blogging and search for our family's past is awesome! They are all my team. Our conversation made me realize something that I never thought of before. That tracing our Genealogy brings pain. I didn't realize that as much as we want to know about our father's past, that it would hurt so many to dig into it?. Pain is definitely the gift that no one wants. 
I think that sometimes the pain of remembering the past is just to difficult for some, especially the elders. They just don't want to talk. They will tell you in a heartbeat that they don't know anything. Short and to the point! like, don't ask me, I don't really want to talk about it. I have heard it so many times before. I was recently asked, "Why in the world would you want to look up dead people? " Yes, that bothered me. However, It does not stop me. I realize that I am supposed to tell their stories.
If you can get them to talk, good for you! Fortunately I was blessed with a grandmother that wanted to share her history and always pushed me to find out more about our ancestors. She once told me about a cousin that had started researching the family and uncovered some big family secret and stopped researching. We never did find out what that secret was. They come from a different generation, when children were seen and not heard. Grandma used to say that you just didn't ask questions back in those days. Oh, if only I would've of been a fly on the wall!
I have learned that there is a method to asking questions, always be respectful and don't push. They talk when they are ready. Be patient. Although digging into our past can sometimes be very painful and feelings and emotions surface that we thought we buried deep in us long ago..The pain becomes a real and necessary process on the journey to finding who we are and where we come from, the struggles our ancestors endured and the sacrifices they made.
The Pain of Genealogy, it's all part of the process as we follow the footsteps of our ancestors. Let go and follow the spirit! 


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

52 Ancestors, Week 5: in The Census

Mariah Hall Conaway I'm playing catch up with the 52 Ancestors challenge. It's funny how quickly you can get behind. The promp...