Friday, April 18, 2014

Remembering Uncle Mike

Henry Wilmer Bannarn "Mike"
For as long as I can remember. I've heard my mother and grandmother talk about "Uncle Mike". I never met him, but I sure felt like I did. He was like a celebrity in my family. They were obviously very proud of him. Mom always said that my oldest brother, who was and still is very artistic, got his talent from uncle Mike. Growing up, I remember that he could draw anything. Mom always said that artistic expression ran in the BANNARN family and that many relatives were talented in one way or another. I knew that Uncle Mike was the brother of my mother's father, Anthony BANNARN. I also knew that he was an artist. But It wasn't until I got older, and became more curious about my family history, that I began to ask questions about the man called "Uncle Mike". Curious me..I always wanted to know more.

Grandma always had so much to say, and never seemed to mind my questions. Especially when she was in the mood to talk. I knew that she knew the Bannarn's well, I also knew that she had been best friend's with Grandpa Tony and Uncle Mike's cousin, Cleola Bannarn...Grandma was just the right person to talk to.
Cleola Bannarn Davis & Margaret Doyle Bannarn 1939-Minneapolis

Grandma Margaret's memories of Uncle Mike:

Henry Wilmer Bannarn, known as " Mike" to many, was an Artist and Sculptor. He was born July 1910 in Wetumka, Oklahoma to parents, Dee Bannarn and Hassie Thompson. His family came to Minnesota a few years after he was born.

"Mike was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet". He was very good looking, of course all the Bannarn boys were. He was very sweet, a real good guy". I think that grandma admired how good he was to his mother because she mentioned it quite often in our talks, she always said that he came home from school and took care of her. She said that Mike was extremely talented and could always draw well. She remembers him going to art school. He later went off to the war and moved to New York. She remembers his wife Mayola and always talked about how beautiful she was. Together they had three children.

Growing up I never payed much attention to the sculptures that my grandmother had sitting in her home. It wasn't until many years later that she told me that Uncle Mike made them. His sculptures and artwork remain throughout my family today.

I never did ask my grandmother, but I now wonder if she knew all those years ago that he would be so popular one day, his works so great. Mom used to say that she always told them to hang on to his sculptures, they were something to treasure. I wouldn't be surprised if grandma knew after all..

Henry Wilmer Bannarn

Wikipedia has a pretty cool description about Uncle Mike and his work.


© 2014 Denise Muhammad, They Came From Virgina

Source: Interview with Margaret Doyle James

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Digging In Franklin County: The Search For Mariah Hall Conaway

Growing up, I remember my conversations with my grandma Luella, my father's mother. As a teenager, I was already curious about my family history and wanted to know more. The day that she told me about her family, I quickly grabbed my yellow notebook and began writing as she talked. Grandma began to rattle off names of her parents, sisters and brothers..and then she began to talk about her grandmother.. Mariah. She said that her grandmother looked like a white woman and could have easily passed for that. Even though she looked white, she was made a slave. I still remember the tone in her voice that day, she said it like she was surprised, she just couldn't believe that she was a slave. I remember having the feeling that Grandma wanted me to know. I was 16 at the time and little did I know that this would be the last time that I spoke with my grandma Luella. I still have that yellow notebook, the one that I wrote in as she spoke to me. Over the years I have referred back to this notebook often, searching for clues to find the woman named Mariah.

I found that Mariah Hall Connaway, was born in or around Franklin county, Missouri in about 1839 to MYRA and Abraham HALL. She married Curry CONWAY around 1865. Together they had children; Joseph, Daniel, Maggie, Sarah, Frank, Louis, Benjamin, Barbara. I descend from Barbara who was grandma Luella's mother. I have found CONWAY spelled at least six different ways. I'm not sure what the original spelling was, perhaps Conway turned into Connaway, Connoway, etc. As a result of how the name sounded to the census taker. Mariah and Curry lived their life in Franklin county, Missouri with most of their family members. Looking into my father's family I found that their roots run deep in Missouri. My search for Mariah led me to find her mother MYRA HALL as well as some of Mariah's siblings; Rufus, Sedonia and Wesley Hall. Aunt Frankie, my father's sister, remembered Mariah, her mother Myra and Mariah's daughter, Barbara all being light skinned with long brown hair. Being that I've yet to find any photos of Mariah, Myra or Barbara, I really enjoyed hearing about what they looked like. Mariah died in 1928 and is buried in the Old City cemetery in Washington, Missouri along with her husband Curry and several other family members. Sadly, there are no headstones for any of them.

Researching slave ancestry has been challenging to say the least. Spending hours searching slave documents trying to find ancestors is painful. Although I have yet to find the owners of Mariah and her mother Myra, I have not given up the search. The ancestors are calling, and they have a story to tell.


© 2014 Denise Muhammad

Sources: Interviews with Luella Pryor
and Frankie Taylor

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...