Category Archives: Genealogy and History

Why Kate Middleton’s Relation to Jane Austen is Not a Story

Catherine MiddletonIn recent weeks, a news story has been making the rounds of all my favorite Jane Austen blogs (I am a huge Jane Austen fan) about the Duchess of Cambridge’s distant relation to Jane Austen. They are eleventh cousins, six times removed. According to Anastasia Harman, a researcher at Ancestry.com, their connection comes from a distant shared ancestor, Henry Percy, who died in 1455. Of the discovery, Harman says, “Given what Kate has done and what Jane wrote about and how those intertwine so much—to find a connection between them is very exciting.”

Not really. Most people are probably connected to Jane Austen about the same degree as Kate Middleton is, which is to say, hardly at all. Ancestry.com users may know that Ancestry.com has a feature that allows users to compare their data with that shared in the OneWorldTree to see their degree of relationship to certain famous individuals (I can’t figure out what algorithm they use, as I have actually been able to prove distant relationships to Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, and it never shows me as related to them).

In order to use this Ancestry.com feature, click on the profile of the person you want to see, mouse over “More Options” on the right, and select “Find Famous Relatives.” The feature relies on the accurate reporting of the users who have contributed to OneWorldTree, hence it’s not very accurate and should not substitute for research. For example, the first famous relative listed on my own profile is Stephen Hopkins, Mayflower passenger. He is supposedly my 12th great-grandfather. The only problem is that the claim rests entirely on my supposed descent from his daughter Bethia. He had no such daughter. As one might imagine, Mayflower passengers and their descendants are fairly well documented, so this connection is easily disproved and yet can be found in OneWorldTree—or I should say could. Bethia “Hopkins” seems not exist in the tree anymore, but bizarrely is still used as a placeholder for the connection.

According the OneWorldTree data, I am actually more closely related to Aunt Jane than Kate Middleton, as they say we are fifth cousins, seven times removed. Do I believe it? Not really. Our connection supposedly comes from our mutual descent from William Howard and Mary Eure. I supposedly descend from Charles Howard, their son, while Jane descends from their daughter, Mary Howard. I imagine the connection, at least in my own family, involves some leaps, as I cannot trace the line back nearly as far as the OneWorldTree line seems to go.

My point in bringing all this up is that eleventh cousins, six times removed is not a close relationship. In fact, the Duchess’s in-laws, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, are more closely related to each other at seventh cousins, once removed. I found this interesting blog post that explains how the math works when determining probability of relationship between two individuals. The author closes his post: “The upshot of all this: If you discover that you share a common ancestor with somebody from the 17th century, or even the 18th, it is completely unremarkable. The only thing remarkable about it is that you happened to know the path.”

Essentially, the only story behind Kate Middleton’s connection to Jane Austen is that genealogists were able to trace the connection. That the connection exists is not a story.

For more information about distant relationships and how common these sorts of connections are, you might find these articles interesting:

Photo via The London Evening Standard.

The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar

Bobby Dunbar (behind car door) with unknown persons

What if you started to research your family history and discovered the mother of all skeletons in the family closet — that you weren’t who you really thought you were? That’s what happened to the descendants of Bobby Dunbar.

Bobby Dunbar went missing at the age of four during a family trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana in 1912. After an eight-month search, little Bobby was found with tinker William Cantwell Walters in Mississippi. The only problem was that Bobby’s mother wasn’t certain he was her missing boy, and another woman claimed he was her son Bruce Anderson. A court found in favor of the Dunbars, who raised Bobby. DNA tests done on family members in recent years have proven that he was actually Bruce Anderson. You have to listen to last week’s episode of This American Life (NPR):

Download link

You can download the program (and learn more about it) at TAL: “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.”

This story made me think of a similar story in my own family (albeit without a kidnapping). At one point during the program, when Margaret Dunbar Cutright is recounting her feelings upon all that Julia Anderson, Bobby’s real mother, lost, I admit I teared up. It’s an amazing story that only listening to the podcast can truly bring justice to.

Photo of Bobby Dunbar with unknown persons, via This American Life.

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iGene Awards

iGene AwardThe current Carnival of Genealogy asks genealogy bloggers to share their top posts in the following categories:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Screen Play
  • Best Documentary
  • Best Biography
  • Best Comedy

I was fairly silent on this blog in 2007 as my family, career, and other interests pushed genealogy into the back seat. It is not my intention to stop posting on this blog, but I don’t foresee posting regularly any time soon. However, I really liked this particular carnival idea. I will be interested to see what others select as the best of their blogs.

The Best Image posted on this blog is this one:

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham

This picture features Johnson Franklin Cunningham (left) and my gg-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham (right). Johnson Franklin Cunningham is named for Amos’s father. The two men played together as boys before Amos and his family moved to Texas around 1880. It was interesting for me to learn more about Johnson Franklin Cunningham and his own family. I’m not sure what this picture says, but I am drawn to it. It was taken at a Cunningham family reunion in the 1950’s. It was featured on my February post “Slavery in the Family.”

If “World War I Veterans Reunite After 50 Years” could be expanded and perhaps given the Hollywood treatment, it might make an interesting movie; therefore, it is my nomination for Best Screen Play. I’m not sure who I would get to play the parts, but if I could pick anyone, I suppose my great-grandfather Herman’s young self would be played by Ben Affleck, while John Roy McCravey’s younger self would be Matt Damon. As to who would play their older selves, I’m not sure… for some reason I can’t think of older actors who resemble either man as they are pictured in the post. Well, for that matter, I guess Ben Affleck and Matt Damon don’t either. For some reason I just thought it would be an interesting pairing for the topic of the post.

If I could flesh out the details a little more and fill in the gaps, I think “Civil War Records of William Jones Bowling” would be worthy of the Ken Burns treatment, so I nominate this post for Best Documentary.

The Best Biography posted this year was a tribute to my grandmother, whom I call Granna, back in March. She read it and enjoyed it very much.

For Best Comedy, I would nominate my gg-grandfather Amos’s “Horse Story,” posted in March. I actually worked this one into a short story for children once, but I am not sure where that story is.

I will check out the other posts when this carnival is posted, and will be sure to link it here. I can’t wait — should be very interesting.

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Me on the Census

Miriam started a meme, “Where Were You During the Censuses,” and I have decided to play. I have actually only appeared in three censuses (I think — we’ll see in about 50 years or so, won’t we?). I was born in 1971, so I should be on the 1980 Census as an eight-year-old living in Aurora, Arapahoe County, Colorado.

In 1990, I should be in Warner Robins, Houston County, Georgia as an eighteen-year-old resident in my parents’ home. I graduated from high school that June.

I remember the 2000 Census. I was excited because I was already into genealogy by that time, and I admit I wondered if anyone 100 years down the line would be reading my answers to the responses. I was living in Warner Robins, Houston County, Georgia with my then husband and my oldest daughter (who would have been six at the time), and would have been listed as a twenty-eight-year-old woman.

You know what? Despite the fact that I’ve moved a lot in my life, I don’t think I’ll be all that hard to find, should any descendants ever go looking.

World War I Veterans Reunite After 50 Years

Some time back, I shared with you some photos of my great-grandfather Herman Cunningham and his WWI tentmate John Roy McCravey that my aunt Carolyn had sent me. She told me that she had an article about their reunion, but couldn’t find it at the time. Later, she took the trouble to find the article on microfilm and share it with me. Here it is:

World War I Tentmates Reunited After 50 Years

October 23, 1969, Lockney Beacon

In this age of high speed transportation, our world seems to have shrunk.

For a pair of World War I buddies, the situation was different. Herman Cunningham of Lockney and Roy McCravey of Memphis had no renewed their friendship for half a century until one day this fall.

The local man had inquired for years about his former Army “tentmate” … but to no avail.

This summer he was visiting in a Plainview convalescent home and struck up a conversation with “a fellow who turned out to be from Floydada.” During their chat, Mr. Cunningham asked the Floydada man whether he knew John McCravey.

“No,” was the answer, “but a Roy McCravey used to live there. I think he has a sister still living in Floydada.”

Cunningham’s son-in-law Connie C. Reed, a Floyd County deputy sheriff, knew the woman, who works in a Floydada restaurant. The pair went to see her.

“Do you have a brother named John McCravey?” the Lockney man inquired of the waitress.

“No, but I have a brother, Roy, who now lives in Memphis,” came the reply. Further discussion related that “John” and “Roy” were one and the same individual.

Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham were driven to Memphis for a visit with the former friend several weeks ago by a daughter. McCravey and his wife returned the visit recently.

McCravey had lived in the Plainview and Floydada areas before moving to Memphis.

He and Cunningham became friends in 1918 when they were inducted into the Army and trained together at Camp McArthur, Waco. They shared the same tent.

Later, Cunningham and McCravey shipped out together for France. Shortly after their arrival — “four or five days” — the Lockney man contracted meningitis and was hospitalized in France for treatment.

Before he was “back on his feet,” armistice had been declared.

Back in the states, Herman and Roy got together once for a visit in 1919. That was in the Cunningham home at Whitfield (now Claytonville).

“Then we both moved and we lost connection,” Mr. Cunningham says. He moved to Lockney in 1931.

For the past 50 years the World War I buddies’ trails had not crossed … until a chance conversation put Cunningham on the trail. Maybe it is a small world!

Here is a picture of Roy McCravey (left) and my great-grandfather (right) in 1918:

John Roy McCravey and Herman Cunningham, 1918

And here is a picture of the two at their 1969 reunion:

John Roy McCravey and Herman Cunningham, 1969

It is interesting that I was able to correctly estimate a date for this photo. I guessed it was taken in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s based on similar photos I had seen in my parents’ and grandparents’ photo albums.

Inheriting Given Names

I know some people prefer not to name their children after family members. A solid argument can be made for giving a child a name that is entirely their own, at least within the context of the family. When someone is calling for Dana at family gatherings, I always know they mean me. I believe I’m the only Dana in any branch of my family; I’ve yet to prove otherwise, anyway.

My daughter Maggie has an old-fashioned name. We named her for her grandmother, Margaret, my husband’s mother. Indeed, when parents name their children, it is generally for a close relative rather than a distant ancestor. What I didn’t realize, however, is that the name Margaret stretches quite far back in my husband’s family. My husband’s second cousin Bobbye Phillips connected with me online and shared her Ancestry.com family tree with me.

My mother-in-law’s mother was Margaret Emma Ledbetter (1916-1995), daughter of Clarence Ledbetter (1868-?) and Rosanna Belle Beasley (1881-1946). Rosanna Beasley’s paternal grandmother was Margaretta Etta Pugh Beasley (1827-1898). It’s possible that Margaretta Pugh’s mother, Prudence Jane Nicks Pugh (1794-1887), named her daughter after her own paternal grandmother, Margaret Doaks Nicks (1752-?). Prudence’s paternal grandfather also had a mother named Margaret — Margaret Edwards Nicks (1717-1753).

I find it fairly interesting that the name Margaret has been passed through my husband’s family for nearly 300 years. In some ways, it feels like a connection across the generations. My friend Roger has an interesting essay (which I contributed a small part to) on naming practices around the world: “What’s in a Name?”

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Memorial Day

Inspired by Randy’s post about relatives who have served in war time in the armed services, I honor the following ancestors who I know to have served our country during war.

Vietnam

  • Thomas Ray Swier, my father: Air Force

World War II

  • Udell Oliver Cunningham, my grandfather: Navy
  • David Edwin Swier (1921-2001), my grandfather: Army

World War I

  • Herman Cunningham (1895-1980), my great-grandfather: Army

Civil War

  • William Jones Bowling (1840-1916), my great-great-great-grandfather: Army, CSA
  • Shelby McDaniel (1833-1872), my great-great-great-grandfather: Army, CSA
  • John Thomas Stallings (1843-1916), my great-great-great grandfather: Army, CSA

Revolutionary War

  • Joseph Anthony (1713-1785)
  • Joseph Anthony, Jr. (1750-1810)
  • Churchill Blakey (1760-1837)
  • David Kennedy (1768-1837)
  • Alexander Kennedy (ca. 1738-after 1800)
  • James Stallings

Not included on this list are any relatives whose service records I haven’t discovered yet. Following is a list of other relatives who have served in the military:

  • Ryan Anthony Fondulis, my brother-in-law, currently in the Air Force
  • Martin Priester Cunningham, my cousin, currently in the Air Force
  • Teddy Wayne Cunningham, my uncle, retired Air Force
  • Billy Loid Thurman (1936-1991), my great-uncle, Army in Korean War
  • Alvin Herman Cunningham (1921-1962), my great-uncle, Army in World War II

Vintage Memorial Day Postcard

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all the veterans, family members or not, for their sacrifices.

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Slavery in the Family

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham, 1951

Rod Stewart said, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Furthermore, the cliché goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the axioms must be true. This picture was taken at a Cunningham Family Reunion in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1951. The man on the right is my great-great-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham. He was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1871, but his family moved to Texas in about 1880. He went back to Georgia for the first time on the occasion of this reunion. It was the first time he’d seen his sister Lizzie Burkhalter since the family left for Texas.

The man on the left is Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was named for Amos’s father, Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was born in about 1868, also in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, to former slaves named James and Charlotte Cunningham. I believe that James Cunningham had been owned by Amos’s father, and I feel quite certain that Charlotte was. I posted about some of my findings previously, so I won’t duplicate the entire post here. I have always been told by Amos’s grandchildren, including my grandfather and his cousin Mary Elder, that when they were little, the two men in the picture were playmates.

News broke recently that due to research efforts by Megan Smolenyak, Reverend Al Sharpton’s roots may be traced to a slave owned by relatives of Strom Thurmond. I found the story very interesting. I would like to find out what happened to the descendents of slaves owned by my own family, but I’m not sure how to go about it. First of all, the issue is sensitive, and rightly so, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Secondly, records are so sketchy, even after the Civil War.

My husband recently had to go to school to deal with a discipline issue regarding our kindergartner, Maggie. Her principal’s name is Mr. Huff, but he is a tall, distinguished African American. Apparently at one point, Steve and Mr. Huff broached the awkwardnes of the situation, and my husband asked Mr. Huff where his family was from. Mr. Huff told Steve, “Actually, my great-great-grandfather was white.” Steve replied, “Well, knowing my family, who knows?”

I would like to invite anyone who believes they have traced a connection to any of the lines I’m researching to contact me.

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Teaching the Holocaust Through Family History

My friend Kevin Murphy, who teaches 8th grade language arts at West Middle School in Nampa, Idaho, and I are working on a joint family-research project. He mentioned that he was teaching the Holocaust. His students would study a play based upon The Diary of Anne Frank and other works of literature, then do a research paper. I reminded him that I teach at a Jewish high school and had access to books and people who might be good resources for him. He had a better idea — what if our students collaborated so that mine could help his learn about history through my students’ family stories?

My students are currently in the process of answering interview questions posed by Kevin’s students via a wiki he set up for this purpose. His students are interviewing their own families about their own histories. My students are excited about sharing. Some of my students are desendants of Holocaust survivors. Kevin’s students felt that learning about my students’ families would enable them to hear “the stories and not just the history.”

If you get a chance, check out our work in progress.

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Music

I have found myself wondering lately what kind of music my ancestors liked. There are clues to be found here and there. For instance, my ancestor David Kennedy was renowned for his skillful fiddling. David Kennedy was a gunsmith and owned a gun factory in Mechanics Hill, Moore County, North Carolina. One of my favorite stories (probably apocryphal) is that Kennedy was tired of paying what he considered to be high prices for the gun locks he imported from New York. The problem was, he didn’t know how to make them himself. Supposedly he rode all the way to New York from his North Carolina home on a horse to discover how the locks were made. He charmed the gun lock factory workers with his fiddle playing, and they allowed him to observe the process of making the locks. Of course, after this, he made his own locks (source: My Southern Family by Hiram Kennedy Douglas).

David Kennedy’s own Bible records his family’s country of origin as Scotland. I would like to think he played those famous fiddle tunes brought over from Scotland and Ireland and helped frame what would become bluegrass, but the fact is, I’m not sure. According to a wise man who knows, the difference between a violin and fiddle is that a violin is carried in a case and a fiddle is carried in a flour sack.

I learned from relatives that my great-great grandfather Amos Cunningham, who married David Kennedy’s great-great granddaughter Stella Ophelia Bowling, was also a fiddle player. Stella mentions it in her journal (after her wedding!):

Thursday May 31st 1894

It was muddy but we came any way.

I left my father’s home to go to a new home.

“I part from love that hath still been true,

“I to into love yet untried and new.” – A new trial I never had before.

We had a very pleasant trip if it was muddy.

Reached Aunt Panthea’s after four some.

I fixed up a little & we came on.

The guests were here when we came and I was so embarrassed — more so than when we married.

They had a real good supper and all went off nice.

Had music on violin, banjo, & organ.

The married ones & all staid all night – only 27 and 30 for breakfast.

All seemed to enjoy it.

Of course, they teased Mr. Amos & I some.

Stella played the organ, and she mentions this fact several times in her journal.  She also mentions that her mother (Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling)  played the organ as well.  On a couple of occasions, Stella complained about others playing music as it interfered with her concentration.  Amos and Stella’s daughter Lillie Manila Cunningham also played the fiddle and was given Amos’s fiddle upon his death.  I’m not sure who has it now, but I assume it would be someone among the descendants of her children Luther Clifford Case or Virgil Amos Case.

My grandfather played trombone back in school, and he still listens to big band swing, which was pop music when he was a teenager.  My grandmother loves country music and Elvis.  I remember hearing her hum as she sewed.  I often asked her what she was singing, but she always said she didn’t know.  I’m not sure if she heard them somewhere or made them up, but they sounded like hymns.

I love music, and I have been a musician myself.  Is such an appreciation genetic?  Is there a reason why the music I have the most visceral appreciation for is blues, Celtic, and bluegrass?  It’s something I have long wondered about.  My mother has often expressed her own appreciation for the sound of bagpipes, which is something I enjoy as well.  My daughter, unlike any other teenager I have ever known, prefers Celtic music to popular music.

Time passes, but folk music can perfectly capture a time and place.  Sometimes listening to it makes me feel as if I am connecting in some small way with ancestors I never met.  We can still play or dance to the same music.

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