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 born..in 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's..life 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

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...