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Childhood Memories

I wrote this piece about a year and a half ago at an English teacher conference here in Georgia. It’s about my grandparents’ garden.

Bruce's MarigoldsMy grandparents kept a garden, or to be more precise, several gardens in their yard. In the front yard, right in front of the front door, they grew marigolds with large, bulbous orange and yellow heads, almost too perfect and too similar to look real. Around the corner from the front door, on the side of the house they grew roses. You had to be careful with the roses. They were beautiful, but terrible. In the backyard, way in the corner of the yard, they planted purple irises. The power lines hung low over their backyard, and I can never hear doves today without being once again in the back yard. The other two gardens were devoted mainly to experiments. Granna usually had some zucchini going, but we tried watermelon with some success, and one year she let me pick out some seeds, and I grew some pretty little flowers that looked like closed mouths. I could squeeze right under the bud and make the mouths look like they were talking. Princess was buried in the corner of the garden with a little wooden cross to mark her resting place. The grass was thick and green and cool under my bare feet in the summer. We used to lie under the bean tree in her front yard at night and look up into the sky filled with stars and almost feel like we were falling into the sky. I knew how much work went into cultivating this yard. Every year I somehow wound up being dragged along to Dardano’s Flowerland for the big spring trip. We circled around the greenhouses for hours as they puttered, inspecting and selecting plants. I tried to do anything to relieve the boredom. I looked for rocks with green moss growing on them under the wet flower trays. I touched all the plants. It seemed like the yard was transformed as if by magic almost overnight somehow into a wonderland of plants and trees and flowers. The sprinkler ran every other day; Papa never tried to cheat the water restrictions that I knew of, but his lawn was always verdant and lush.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Muffet

Johnson Franklin Cunningham, pictured below with my great-great grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham, sent the letter that follows to Amos’s daughter Dessie Cunningham Gray. I think it could mean a great deal to an African-American family if I only knew how to get the information to that family. If anyone knows of a good place to send this letter that might help it get into the right hands, please let me know. I have written about Johnson Franklin Cunningham in previous posts:

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham

Lexington, Georgia

Rte. 2 Box 8

Sept. 13, 1952

Mrs. John R. Gray

Pampa, Texas

Dear Mrs. Gray:

Your letter has been received. I was happy to know that you all arrived safe and that your father made the trip just fine.

I too was sorry I did not get to see you all again before you left for Texas, however, I am hoping that you can make a trip back to Georgia again soon.

Thanks very much for sending the pictures. I have enjoyed looking at them. I shall pray continually for your boy and all others that are in Korea.

I am inclosing a copy from those papers in this letter that you want.

Best wishes to your father.

From

J.F. Cunningham

The pages that follow appear to be a record of slave and free births in his family and are not in an order that was discernible to me, but may make sense to someone who knows more about the family.

Births

Isabel child of Tillis was born on the 8th day of July 1856

Alford child of Tillis was born on the 29th of June 1858

Eliza Ann child of Charlotty was born on the 5th day of April 1859

George Alexander child of Charlotty was born on Monday the 12th of November 1860

Louisa child of Charlotty was born the 7th of December 1862

Hal child of Tillis was born on the [blank space] of June 1860

Green child of Conelia was born on the 14th day of August 1862

Lucy child of Elizabeth was born on the 23rd day of April 1862

Isaah child of Tillis was born on the 4th October 1862

Warren child of Conelia was born on the [missing word] of Jan. 1864

John Washington child of Thena [unsure if that is the correct name; handwriting difficult to decipher] was born on the 1st day of March 1865

Green Terrel of Franklin County was born on the 19th day of October 1829

Correy Isibel child of Kidy was born 1st day of September 1872

Mandy child of Kidy was born the 15th September 1874

Dewit Clinton child of Kidy was born on the 1st day of Oct. 1877

Samuel Terrel Sherman child of Green T. Conelser [handwriting difficult to read] Terrel was was born on 31st day of January 1871

Thomas child of Tom T. Julian was born on Tuesday the 8th day of Oct. 1867

John Henry child of Tom T. Julian was born on the 16th October 1869

Susan Anna child of Latty was born on the 22nd day of March 1874

William Robertson child of Julian Anna Tom was born on 30th day of June 1874

Clarinda Allin child of Latty T. Tom was born 26th day of April 1878

Mandy child of Charlotty was born on the 13th day of September 1864

Martha child of Henrietta was born on the 25 day of April 1865

Johnson Franklin child of Charlotty was born on Saturday the 17th day of July 1868

S. Elizabeth child of Sarah T. Robert was born on Monday night the 7th of December 1868

James William Rufus child of Henrietta was born on the 14th of January 1867

John Terrel child of Conelia Ann Warren was born on the 27th of January 1868

Eddy child of Sarah T. Robert was born on the 25 day of June 1865

Rolley James Franklin child of Sara T. Robert was born on the 25th December 1866

Charlotty (or Charlotte), Henrietta, and Elizabeth are sisters, the daughter of a woman named Louiza, and all are mentioned in the will of Barbara Williams, November 5, 1850, along with their brother Robert. Barbara Williams owned them and left them to her niece Mary Anne Penelope Anthony in her will. Later, Mary Anne Penelope Anthony would marry Johnson Franklin Cunningham, for whom the writer of the letter quote above was presumably named. Thus, the slaves passed from the Williams to the Anthony to the Cunningham family. Johnson Franklin Cunningham concludes his letter as follows:

My father was a bought slave from Toll Goolsby. His name is James Tolbert Cunningham. You’ll know my family by the name of my mother’s name Charlotty.

My name Johnson Franklin child of Charlotty was born on Saturday the 17th day of July 1868

I was able to discover a great deal about Johnson Franklin Cunningham with some detective work (see the posts I linked at the beginning of this one). I had narrowed his birthdate down to some time between June 11 and October 13, 1868. Also, I was able to deduce his mother was Charlotte and that his father, James, might not have been owned by the Cunninghams. However, I think J. F. Cunningham could be indicating here that his father was bought by the Cunninghams from a man named Toll Goolsby and thus not part of the existing Cunningham family. I believe Toll Goolsby may be Toliver B. Goolsby, who is listed in the 1860 Slave Schedules for Oglethorpe County, Georgia.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo? The goal for participants of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It doesn’t have to be good, nor does it have to be published, but my hope is that my product will be both. I will be participating this year, mainly because I think I have a story to tell. I have some characters walking around in my head, and because they are based on an amalgam of several of my ancestors, I felt it appropriate to share my plans here. I told my department chair some of my family stories, and she told me “You should write a book!” She meant a memoir, but I think fiction will give me more freedom and still allow me to tell the stories of my family.

The working title for my project is Quicksand, and you can follow my efforts at my author profile.

Readers of this blog may not realize I have a book blog where I discuss all my reading. I am currently reading a book I think would appeal to genealogists, and I want to cross-post a blog entry from that blog here in the hopes that some of you might enjoy it, too.

I am about halfway through The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and what a delightful read it has been so far. Not since I first picked up Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander have I read a book that contains a confluence of so many things that interest me or that I can relate to. First of all, I was taken aback when the protagonist, Connie, referred to her grandmother as “Granna.” That’s what I call my grandmother, and I have always believed I invented it. I had to do a Google search to assure myself that other women have indeed been called Granna. You can learn more about my own Granna here.

Second, Connie studies Colonial American history, a time period I have always found fascinating. She finds a mysterious key with a piece of parchment tucked inside its pipe or barrel or whatever you want to call the hollow part of an old key. The parchment has the name Deliverance Dane written on it. Connie sets out on a quest to find out more about Deliverance, whom she discovers was part of the Salem Witch Trials furor in 1692. I have been fascinated with this aspect of American history since about fourth grade. I just couldn’t believe that people in my own country, which prides itself now on freedom, had acted in such a bizarre fashion. I still don’t understand it.

Finally, in the last chapter I read, Connie is reading the diary of Prudence Lamson Bartlett. I was struck by how similar the diary entries were to my own great-great-grandmother Stella Bowling Cunningham’s own diary—so devoid of comment on emotions (although Stella occasionally discusses being irritated at someone), so repetitive in their description of the seemingly menial tasks of life. But as Connie says, “In some respects, Prudence’s daily work was her inner life” (158). In the last entry that Connie recounts, this is the entire text:

Febr. 24, 1763. Too cauld to write. Mother dies. (163)

I felt tears well into my eyes, despite the seemingly lack of emotion on the part of Prudence. Connie ascribes it to Prudence’s “cold practicality, her obstinate refusal to reveal her feelings, no matter how culturally proscribed” (163). My own Grandma Stella’s diary was so similar in the respects of recounting the weather, the daily work, where she went, what she bought and how much it cost. I could feel her relief when she wrote the following entry for April 4, 1894:

I paid Mrs. Bragg $7.50 for board & am now even. Owe no man anything (i.e. in $ and cts.)

On the day when her own grandmother died, she wrote:

9-3-’94

Homer & I went to town early.
Grandma died at 6 P.M.
Mr. Amos came & we came home.
Bought a buggy from John Houston $20.00.
Papa was at Aunt Panthea’s.

It couldn’t be more like Prudence Bartlett’s diary in the way it recounts so much pain alongside the mundane. It’s so spooky that if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Katherine Howe must have cribbed my genealogy blog! If you like, you can read my Grandma Stella’s journal (PDF). I transcribed it from a photocopy of the original.

Staying up at night reading this book under the low light of a book lamp over the last few nights has been a pleasure indeed, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next in Connie’s research.

I was able to go to a family reunion and meet some distant cousins, including my third cousin once removed, Helen, who has been a wealth of information with regards to the branch of my Cunningham family who stayed behind in Georgia (mine moved to Texas). I really enjoyed talking to my cousin Walter Burkhalter and his son Ed Burkhalter, who are my second cousins twice removed and third cousins once removed respectively. I don’t have a lot of pictures yet. I didn’t bring my camera, but my mother and her father’s cousin did. The three of us—my mother, her father’s cousin, and me—were the only representatives from the Texas Cunninghams.

Helen said the reunion takes place every year, and has for as long as she can recall. Indeed, I have some pictures from a reunion in the early 1950’s (there seems to be some dispute as to whether it’s 1952 or 1953), which might be the last time any of the Texas Cunninghams came to the reunion.

This first photo is my great-great-grandfather and his sister.

Amos Blakey Cunningham and Cadelia Elizabeth Cunningham Burkhalter

Amos Blakey Cunningham and Cadelia Elizabeth Cunningham Burkhalter

In this photo, Amos Cunningham appears to be saying grace. His sister Cadelia Burkhalter is seated.

Amos Cunningham

I like how the food is set on the back of a wagon in this picture; my cousin Helen said she was at this reunion, so she might be in this photo somewhere:

Cunningham/Burkhalter Reunion

In the following picture, Amos and Cadelia (seated) appear with Johnson Franklin Cunningham, whose mother (possibly both parents) had been slaves in the Cunningham family. My father’s cousin Mary Elder Davis, who came with us to the reunion yesterday, is the girl standing to the right of Cadelia.

Cunningham/Burkhalter Reunion

Johnson Franklin Cunningham with Dessie Gray, Amos Cunningham, Prentice Elder, Mary Elder, Velma Elder, Clifford Case, Manila Case, and Virgil Case and Amos’s sister Lizzie Burkhalter

Irene Burkhalter Hamilton, Dessie Cunningham Gray, Unknown (Burkhalter daughter), Velma Cunningham Elder, Florence Burkhalter Steele, and Manila Cunningham Case.

Irene Burkhalter Hamilton, Dessie Cunningham Gray, Mattie Burkhalter Turner, Velma Cunningham Elder, Florence Burkhalter Steele, and Manila Cunningham Case.

Finally, here is a picture my mother took at yesterday’s reunion of Helen and me (I’m in the turquoise shirt) looking at photos on my computer while my grandfather’s cousin Mary Elder Davis examines one of the genealogy books Helen has created. Alas, we weren’t able to identify who the subjects of the photos were, so they will comprise a future post in the hopes someone can identify them.

Left to Right: Me, Helen, and Mary Elder Davis

Left to Right: Me, Helen, and Mary Elder Davis

My grandfather Udell Cunningham is fond of telling the story about how his birth was erroneously recorded, causing a great deal of trouble for him later on.

My grandfather was born 3 May 1925 in Tulia, Swisher County, Texas.  The Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (available on Ancestry.com) lists his birthday as 3 March 1925. The way my grandfather tells the story, the clerk in charge of recording births on the ledger was “too lazy” to turn the page to May. His memory is that he was recorded with an April birthdate; however, the record says March.

At some point, it became necessary for him to have the error corrected, but making the change proved to be difficult, as vital records employees refused to make the change without evidence. Ultimately, my grandfather had to bring his parents to the record office to swear as to the date of his birth before he was able to get a corrected birth certificate. The date in the Texas Birth Index is still incorrect.

While vital records are excellent proof, and genealogists should always cite sources, we should always remember that even vital records can be incorrect. It’s better, if you can, to check information against several sources. Worse errors than birthdate mistranscription have occurred, and we can save ourselves a lot of time in correcting erroneous files if we use multiple sources.

This post was written in response to the Geneabloggers Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt.

My cousin Dara sent scans of the following letter from my great-grandmother, Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart Lightle.  I have discussed her story previously on this blog.

Kiona, WA

April 6, 1940

Dear Bessie,

I was sure glad to hear from you again. I looked in vain for a letter all winter.

I have been sick so much but did not go to bed as I had too much to do.

Alice and her baby were here after she left the hospital [Gertrude’s daughter Alice]. She was too weak to do anything for quite a while, then the baby got sick, too. He just began to get better when Tom came home from PWA camp sick with the “flu.” He took that & was a very sick baby. They went home with him so they took care of him, but I took it too.

I  was in bed off and on for a month, then I began to be bothered with my eyes & they are bad yet. I wear glasses to read or sew, but I couldn’t do either one for several weeks. Now I can only read a few minutes at a time.

I am glad you [sic] Mother Zeiglar is better. I think of her so often.

Now for your questions.

  1. You were born in Metaline, Pend O’Reile Co. Washington [Pend Oreille County] March the 26-27 or maybe 28th 1924. I have forgotten the exact day, but you have that already.
  2. My maiden name was Gertrude Nettie Perkins.
  3. I was born at Hector, Minnesota September 13, 1887.
  4. Your fathers [sic] name was Omar Alfred Gearhart born in Iowa (I don’t know what town) February 29, 1884.
  5. [Omar Alfred Gearhart] Died in Spokane, Washington December 29, 1930 age 46.

I never had a birth certificate for you.

Your father was Holland Dutch decent [sic] [actually Pennsylvania Dutch, or German] and his ancestors settled in the Ohio Valley. If you will write to Grandma Gearhart she can tell you more than I can. Mrs G.D. Gearhart Box 196- Maxwell, Iowa.

I am English on my fathers [sic] side. His folks settled in Virginia shortly after the Revolutionary War and were English Quakers. My mother’s folks were Scotch & Irish & one Great-great-grandmother on her fathers [sic] side was English, named Smith.

Granny’s father came to this country before the Civil War & settled in Wisconsin. His name was Montgomery & his wife’s name was MacGregor, both scotch [sic]. My uncle Sherm Young at 1320 So. 7th Street in Yakima can tell you about them.

You had mumps and chicken-pox and no real accidents & was never inside of a hospital while I had you.

I had 13 children, one was still-born (dead) and one premature as far as I know [word missing] are 11 living.

The one[s?] born dead were never named. The others are:–

John Douglas Dec 25, 1911
Ruth Isabelle Apr 9 1913
Eva Marie Aug 13 1914
Jessie Nadine, Apr 6, 1916
Alice Gertrude, Nov 23, 1918
Donald Omar, July 11, 1920
Edwin Guy, Dec 29, 1921 [my grandfather]
Frank Manley, July 12, 1923
Bessie Louise, Mar 27, 1924
Margery Feb 2 1927
Alfred Aug 5 1929

Do you know whether Margery is adopted or not? I forgot to ask them when I was up there.

Lots of love & kisses,

Your [missing word]

It’s important to know the family background in order to put this letter in context, and the story I linked at the beginning of this post is the best place to start. Until this week, I had never seen a photo of my great-grandmother. Within the space of two days, I have received two different photos from two cousins and an additional photo of Omar Alfred Gearhart, my great-grandfather.

This first image depicts Omar Gearhart with his brothers John and Earl:

Omar, John, and Earl Gearhart

This image is of Omar Gearhart and his wife Gertrude Nettie Perkins with their oldest child John Douglas (circa 1912):

Omar Gearhart, Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, and John Douglas Gearhart

This final picture is of Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, her mother Isabell Lowe (sometimes listed as Mary Isabell, Mary Isabelle, or Isabell M. on the census; Lowe is the surname of her second husband, Guy Lowe), and Isabell’s mother Ophelia McKilrick (name unverified) with John Douglas Gearhart in 1912:

Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, Isabell Lowe, and Ophelia McKilrick with John Douglas Gearhart

Reunion for Mac

I downloaded Reunion for Mac, and I have been trying it out this afternoon.  It felt sad to put in the death details for my grandfather’s sister Eva Marie Gearhart Heier:

Eva M. Heier

Eva M. Heier, 93, of Yakima died Sunday.

Mrs. Heier was born in Spokane and lived in Yakima later in life. She had many occupations, including working as a clerk for the post office.

Survivors include a son, David Bunce of Yakima; and a sister, Marjorie Waters of Menan, Idaho.

No services are planned at this time.

Keith and Keith Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

From Yakima Herald-Republic, Aug. 30, 2007

We did not know she had died until about October or November of last year, when my mother asked me if I knew anything.  I looked up her obituary on Ancestry.com.  I sent her a letter, and now that I’m thinking about it, I may even have sent it after she died.  I wanted to find out what she could tell me about her family, which has such a tragic story.  I’m not sure who to ask at this point.  Our family was in touch with Aunt Eva, but I’m not sure whether I can still locate Aunt Marjorie Waters mentioned in the obituary as living in Idaho.

Reunion has an iPhone app, and I decided this application would be a great tool for genealogists who are using Reunion.  I love my iPhone and already use a lot of the other helpful apps available, and I can see that this particular app will be valuable when my computer isn’t handy to look up information or to input information.

I would like to do some family research this summer.  I haven’t had much time to work on the family research in some time, and it’s something I miss, particularly after exchanging some nice e-mails with a newly found cousin today.

Hi folks.  I bought a MacBook for grad school/work/play back in August.  I am thinking I’d like to go ahead and do genealogy on it, and I’m looking for a good software program.  I have been checking out Reunion, but I don’t know if I am missing something better.  Do any of you know anything about genealogy software for the Mac?

Site News

I don’t know who still keeps up with this blog after the dearth of updates, but I felt I should explain myself.

First of all, I have been tired of the blog’s look for some time, and I finally found a theme I liked to replace the old one with.  Second, I have returned to graduate school (Master’s in Instructional Technology) and become English Department Chair, both of which have left me with very little time to keep up with geneaology.  It tends to be a summer pursuit.  No wonder so many folks wait until they’re retired to take it up — the amount of time and research involved could occupy anyone full time, and I just can’t do that right now.  However, I am still interested in it as a hobby and will continue to sporadically update this blog as I am able.

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