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..

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...