Ancestry.com has a new beta feature whereby you can discover your relationship to famous historical personages. The feature works by gathering data from the One World Tree and comparing it to your own ancestry. I accessed it through a link in my own uploaded family tree at Ancestry.com. If you like, I can invite you to view my tree if you e-mail me or give me your Ancestry.com username. Caveat: the information in the One World Tree is only as reliable as the genealogists who shared that information, so there are errors. In fact, I think I have found a few, but I didn’t go over the information with a fine-toothed comb.
I want to publicly thank Chris at the Genealogue for helping me make the Salem Witch Trials more relevant and real to my students, who just finished reading Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible. Chris shared the stories of his two accused ancestors, Mary Easty and Sarah Wilds, as well as his thoughts on “witch hunts” and the lessons we can draw from Miller’s play. Thanks a lot, Chris! My students really enjoyed it! They were very impressed I knew someone connected to these events, and even more impressed with your writing, which they said “sounded like an article.” From students who struggle with writing, this was meant as high praise.
My great-grandfather Herman Cunningham served in the Army during WWI. Thanks to Randy Seaver, I recently learned how to obtain his service records (for free!), but I also learned that there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missiouri in 1973 that destroyed the records of Army personnel discharged from November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960. According to NARA’s website:
No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. Nevertheless, NPRC (MPR) uses many alternate sources in its efforts to reconstruct basic service information to respond to requests.
What this means is that I may be able to obtain some information about my great-grandfather’s service, but probably not much. However, considering I was never able to ask my great-grandfather, I know a good deal about his WWI experience — my grandfather has shared it with me.
My Dad was drafted in WWI and was sent to Camp McArthur near Waco, Tex. for training. He was sent to Camp Dix in New Jersey where he was then sent to Newport News, Virginia where he was shipped on a boat to St. Nazairre [St. Nazaire], France.
My grandfather’s cousin Mary Davis sent me this picture of my great-grandfather (on right) with John Roy McCravey of Floydada, Texas (left):
I am not sure who John Roy McCravey is, but I speculate that perhaps they had their photo taken because they were from the same general area of Texas. At the time this photo was taken, Mary Davis noted that Herman Cunningham was from Whitfield, Swisher County, Texas. Floydada, where John Roy McCravey was from, is located in Floyd County. If any of his descendants happen by here, I would love to hear from you.
According to my grandfather,
Dad hadn’t been there [France] long when he contracted meningitis. At that time there was no cure for meningitis. They were sent to a church (French) for care until they died. As you mentioned, only Dad and another soldier (Negro) from Little Rock survived. When Dad left the hospital he was returned to a “replacement depot.” The war was over so it was merely awaiting a ship for home. Well, Dad came down with the mumps. He turned up his coat collar and wouldn’t go to the medics for fear they would put him in the hospital again — The ship took them back to Virginia and then by train — home.
I managed to find a copy of my great-grandfather’s WWI Draft Registration Card on Ancestry.com, but the quality is poor and it is difficult to read:
The Card had the following information:
Name: Herman Cunningham
Address: Clarendon, Texas
Date of Birth: Mch. 16, 1895
Place of Birth: Denton Co., Texas
Employed by: Self
Where employed: Donley Co.
Marital status: Single
No prior military experience
Did not claim exemption from service
No loss of hand, foot, eye, both eyes or other disability
The information presented on this card would seem to indicate that Herman Cunningham was living not in Swisher County, but Donley County at the time of his induction. You can click here to see a map of Texas counties that will show you how close Swisher, Donley, and Floyd Counties are.
My grandfather related a funny story about my great-grandfather’s trip home:
The train had a lay-over in New Orleans so Dad was able to try fried oysters. He had heard his buddies talk about how much they wanted to eat oysters. The waiter asked how many oysters he wanted. Well, Dad didn’t have a clue what an oyster was so he said “a couple dozen.” That was two plates piled high. Poor Dad got very sick after eating them. To his dying day he never ate another oyster.
Years later, my great-uncle Alvin Cunningham (Herman’s son) would enter the Army and fight in WWII. Here is a picture of my great-grandfather Herman Cunningham in his WWI Army uniform, posing with his son Alvin in his WWII Army uniform:
I found Alvin’s WWII Army Enlistment Record at Ancestry.com:
Name: Alvin H. Cunningham
Birth year: 1921
Race: White, citizen
Nativity State or Country: Texas
County or City: Floyd
Enlistment Date: 10 Oct 1940
Enlistment State: Texas
Enlistment City: Fort Bliss El Paso
Branch: No branch assignment
Branch code: No branch assignment
Grade code: Private
Term of enlistment: Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law
Component: Selectees (Enlisted Men)
Source: Civil Life
Education: 2 years of high school
Civil occupation: Geographer
Marital status: Married
Clearly the height and weight are mistranscribed or an original error, but I think the rest of it is correct. According to my grandfather:
I just read your comments on the web sites and wish to add to your data. Mostly trivia — Alvin didn’t go to France. He went to the Pacific theatre of operations. He was in the “Americal” division as an assistant machine gunner. When they were in combat on Negros Island a mortar shell landed near their gun emplacement and killed the gunner and an ammo carrier. Alvin being the assistant gunner took over as gunner. He was injured by the blast but could function. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart that day. When the war ended he went to the Tokyo area of Japan and served the 1st Cavalry Division in the motor pool as a mechanic. Alvin was a very quiet person and seldom discussed his war experiences.
While Alvin’s war record is somewhat unrelated to the post at hand, I will probably not have occasion to post it elsewhere. My mother told me that Alvin used to come and visit my grandfather (his brother) often. The two of them would sit in silence for most of the visit until Alvin would announce he’d better go. I think it is interesting that they felt so comfortable in their silence. Alvin died very young of a brain aneurysm, so I never had a chance to meet him, but based on my grandfather’s letters, I believe that he looked up to his older brother a great deal and that they were close.
If I am able to learn anything more about my great-grandfather’s service record, I will post it here.
Portions of this post quote a letter from my grandfather:
Cunningham, Udell. Letter to the author. July 2006.
Slavery was a fact of life in the South before the Civil War. My family on my mother’s side is predominantly Southern, having traveled the traditional migration routes from Virginia and North Carolina to Georgia and Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and ending up in Texas. Some of my ancestors owned slaves.
I will never forget an incident that happened about ten years ago, when my ex-husband, who was in the Coast Guard, was stationed in North Carolina. Our Coast Guard station was small. When a family was going to be transferred, the wives all went out to lunch. When a new family came to the base, all the wives invited her to lunch. So it transpired that our leaving coincided with another family’s arrival, so our lunches were combined. I never met the woman’s husband, who was actually the one in the Coast Guard, and her name escapes me now, but I remember she said she was from Georgia. I told her I was too; I had gone to UGA. I asked her where in Georgia she was from. She told me there was no way I’d have heard of it, it was such a small town. I told her to try me. She told me from Maxeys. Well, I actually did know where Maxeys was, you see, because my ancestors in one branch of the family hail from Oglethorpe County, which is where the small town of Maxeys, Georgia is located. When I told her this, she asked my ancestors’ last name. I told her it was “Cunningham.” The look on her face spoke volumes. She was very quiet about Maxeys and Georgia and my ancestors for the rest of the meal. It was because the Cunninghams she had known in Maxeys were African-American.
I think sometimes genealogists do not like to confront negative elements in their ancestors’ pasts. It can be difficult to learn that a revered grandfather was in the Ku Klux Klan, as Joe Chapman of the Amarillo Globe News recently discovered (free registration required or use Bug Me Not). It is important to remember that people have always been a complex blend of good and evil, and I don’t think that discovering your ancestor did some things you’re not too proud of necessarily negates the good things you’ve learned about him or her.
I recently wrote about my great-great-great-grandfather, Johnson Franklin Cunningham. I’m going to tell you about another Johnson Franklin Cunningham. Here he is, pictured below with my great-great-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham (click to see a larger version).
This photo was taken on August 10, 1952 at a family reunion in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. My great-great-grandfather Amos returned to Georgia to visit his sister and see his former home, which he had not seen in 70 years. Johnson Cunningham was a childhood playmate. At that time, he lived in Lexington, Georgia. I decided to see what I could find out about Johnson Franklin Cunningham.
I located him on the 1880 Census with his father James and mother Charlotte in the Grove Creek area of Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The census was enumerated on June 11, 1880. I was unable to locate him (or his parents) on the 1870 census, but I do believe he had been born by the time the census was taken. In 1880, he was 11 years old and worked on his family’s farm. If you click on the thumbnail of the census image below and scroll down to line 6, you will find his family.
I was unable to locate him on the 1900, 1910, or 1920 Census, but I don’t believe that he moved. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I suspect that racism may have played a part in whether or not Southern census-takers were diligent about counting African Americans. At any rate, I found him again in the 1930 Census with his wife Eliza in the same area — Grove Creek, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. This census was enumerated April 14 and 15, 1930. What I was able to learn about him from this census is that he was 61 years old, owned a farm, could read and write, had an adopted son named Carey B. Cunningham and two adopted daughters named Mamie Armstrong and Annie B. Cunningham, and lived on Lexington Road. He probably married about 1902 to Eliza. The entire family was born in Georgia, and both Johnson and Eliza’s parents were born in Georgia as well. If you click on the thumbnail below and scroll down to line 71, you will see Johnson Franklin Cunningham and his family.
Given that Johnson Cunningham’s age in 1880 was 11 and in 1930 was 61, I believe he was most likely born in some time between June 1868 and June 1869. Family members believed him to be 81 to Amos’s 80 years of age, but if his age on the two censuses is correct, then he would have been 83 when the photo above was taken.
I found a Georgia death record for J. F. Cunningham on Ancestry.com:
Name: J F Cunningham
Death Date: 13 Oct 1958
County of Death: Oglethorpe
Age: 90 years
County of Residence: Oglethorpe
This would indicate that Johnson F. Cunningham was born in 1868, which would seem to match the information found on the censuses. In fact, it would seem likely that if all three documents are correct, then Johnson Cunningham was probably born between June 11 and October 13, 1868.
It would most likely be difficult locate his family past the 1870 census. Probably the best bet would be to search through will books, as slaves were often named in wills. No James was mentioned in the will of Barbara Williams (see entry on Johnson Franklin Cunningham in wills). However, a Charlotte is mentioned as the child of Louiza. It is possible this is the same Charlotte. My ancestor Johnson Franklin Cunningham married Mary Ann P. Anthony, who is mentioned in Barbara Williams’ will. In fact, Barbara Williams bequeathed Louiza and her four children Charlotte, Elizabeth, Robert, and Henrietta “and the future increase” to Mary Ann P. Anthony “and her heirs forever.” It is plausible that Charlotte Cunningham, if not her husband James Cunningham, entered the Cunningham family through this will and the subsequent marriage between my great-great-grandparents. Unfortunately, the 1860 Slave Schedules of the U.S. Census did not enumerate African American slaves by name. They are listed under the names of their owners and by age and sex. Click on the thumbnail below to view the 1860 Slave Schedule listing for Johnson Franklin Cunningham of Oglethorpe County:
Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that the U.S. Census lists the correct ages for Johnson F. Cunningham’s parents James and Charlotte Cunningham, then James Cunningham would have been about 31 in 1860 and Charlotte Cunningham would have been about 19. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule above, there is no male of that age, but there is a 19-year-old female. This may be Charlotte. There are also other candidates close in age. Another piece of circumstantial evidence is that James and Charlotte Cunningham had a daughter named Louisa in the 1880 Census. It is possible that James Cunningham was not one of Johnson Franklin Cunningham’s slaves; the Cunningham family in Oglethorpe County was large even at that time. However, it does seem likely that Johnson F. Cunningham’s mother Charlotte Cunningham was owned by my great-great-great-grandfather Johnson Franklin Cunningham prior to the Civil War.
There are no Cunningham slave narratives (that I could find) at either Oglethorpe County’s Gen Web site or Ancestry.com, but it is possible there may be other documents available in Oglethorpe County libraries or another good genealogy library. I have to admire African-American genealogists who are able to trace their family histories. It’s a daunting task in the face of so many holes and incomplete or uninformative records.
I’ll close with a second picture from the family reunion. This picture features, from left to right in back, Johnson F. Cunningham, Dessie Cunningham Gray (Amos’s daughter), Amos Blakey Cunningham, Prentice Elder (Amos’s son-in-law), Velma Cunningham Elder (Amos’s daughter), Lillie Manila Cunningham Case (Amos’s daughter) with her husband Luther Clifford Case and son Virgil Case in back of her, and in front, Cadelia Elizabeth Cunningham Burkhalter (Amos’s sister) and Mary Elder (Amos’s granddaughter). This one also appears to have been taken in front of the Cunninghams’ old barn. You can click on the image to see a larger version.
When I first started this blog a little more than a year ago, I thought it might eventually be a nice way for me to communicate what I am learning about my family history with the rest of the family. I think it has been that. I have been thrilled with the connections I’ve made with cousins, distant and otherwise. I naturally assumed not a single other soul might be interested in anything I would write here. It occurred to me that blogging family history might be a lonely prospect. Few would read or comment on what I wrote.
This may in fact be true, but I have found myself reading the genealogy blogs of others, and I find their musings interesting in spite of the fact that they’re telling their own family histories. Genealogy has been online for some years. However, as Cyndi Howells of Cyndi’s List noted, “Blogs for publishing your personal genealogical research are a relatively new concept” (Blogs for Genealogy). I think she is probably right about this, and I will be interested to see how others apply this technology to researching their family histories, which is why, I suppose, I have started scoping out other family history blogs.
I’m not sure I feel I have anything more to offer in the way of tips for those conducting research, and even though I like to read general genealogy blogs, I don’t really care to write about genealogy news (like the Genealogue). I prefer just to focus on my own family. It is amazing what we are able to do with family history research that wasn’t possible even five years ago.
It struck me one day that a blog could accomplish the same things as any other kind of genealogy website, but it would also be easier to add new content. I decided some time ago to compartmentalize my varied interests into different blogs instead of keeping them all on one eclectic blog. The result is that I don’t post as often on any one blog as a lot of bloggers do, but I probably post something on one of them at least every day.
I have been told more than once that at my current age of 34, I am somewhat young to be interested in genealogy. I do think it is a hobby that most people equate with retirees. It is true that I probably don’t have the time and resources to devote to the hobby that someone with grown children has. However, I was captured by the bug when I saw a chart created by my grandfather’s cousin, Lee Elder, which chronicled descendants of Amos Blakey Cunningham and Stella Ophelia Bowling, as well as listing Amos Cunningham’s ancestry through his grandfather William Cunningham. It never occurred to me before I saw the chart that I had ancestors. I know that sounds really strange, but I don’t think that most people really think about all the people that make up the tapestry of their family history. As I began to learn more about these names on a page, they became living, breathing people, and I was really fascinated by the minutest details of their lives. Sometimes I find myself wondering if they’d be proud of me.
By Leo Anthony Dolan
The history of a family is not dead
it lies in wait for someone to awaken it.
To shine a light on what was done and said
to keep on trying ’til the pieces fit.
For in this search for those who came before me
I’ve found a vibrant, lively, loving set of people
and as they take their rightful spot upon the tree
it’s almost like a bell was tolling in the steeple.
The bell keeps tolling for each one of them
who lived in times both near and times afar
A happy sound it is, quite like an anthem
that says “We live, we speak, remember who we are.”
I will remember you as family of my own.
Indeed, from you, my own life has been made,
my eyes, my nose, my very size was known,
in centuries past the plans for me were laid.
Who knows where finally this search will lead me,
this quest to know of those who went before.
Suffice to say I’ve found a long lost family
and hope they will be honored ever more.
I think that pretty well sums up how I have felt as I have learned about my family.
I stumbled upon the Wikipedia article detailing relationships between presidents of the United States. I found this snippet interesting:
The most recent common ancestor of all persons of Western European descent may be as recent as 1000 AD, according to mathematical modeling (from Comments on Royal Descent at Ancestry.com). Computational scientist Mark Humphrys believes that everyone in the West is almost certainly descended from Charlemagne, and nearly as certainly descended from Muhammad, or even less well-known historical figures such as Strongbow (from The “Bush is Descended from Strongbow” Media Flurry of Jan. 2005). Many family trees going back ten generations or more will connect to more than one dozen U.S. Presidents, if all female ancestors and their descendants are traced. This list should be of the closer, more significant relationships that have notable qualities.
I remember how excited I was to find my own connections to Charlemagne and Strongbow, among other illustrious antecedents. Somehow it comforts me to see that just about everyone else can make those connections, too.
Here is proof positive that genealogists will go to any lengths to establish a connection with someone famous. Well, not really. This was sort of an accident. I was researching my Clark ancestry and discovered that the sister of one of my ancestors was an ancestor herself of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the inimitable Mark Twain. I figured his genealogy had to have been well-researched; thus, figuring out how we’re related shouldn’t be too hard. As it turns out, Mark Twain is my fourth cousin, five times removed. Check out this diagram and see how.
Mark Twain’s genealogy, according to Genealogy.com, is as follows, working to Samuel Langhorne Clemens back from our common ancestors.
Christopher Clark (1681-1754) m. Penelope Johnson (1684-1760) in 1709.
+ Rachel Clark (1714-1792) m. Thomas Moorman (1705-1767) in 1730.
++ Rachel Moorman (abt. 1753-abt. 1833) m. Stephen Goggin (1752-1802) in 1773.
+++ Pamela (or Pamelia) Goggin (1775-1844) m. Samuel Clemens (1770-1805) in 1797.
++++ John Marshall Clemens (1798-1847) m. Jane Lampton (1803-1890) in 1823.
+++++ Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910).
I descend from two separate lines in the Anthony family, which joins up to the Clark family (as I will demonstrate). I will trace both lines here for you, but for the sake of clarity (and my sanity), I did not do this on the diagram.
Christopher Clark (1681-1754) m. Penelope Johnson (1684-1760) in 1709.
+ Elizabeth Clark (1721/1722-1825) m. Joseph Anthony (1713-1785) in 1741.
++ Joseph Anthony (1750-1810) m. Elizabeth Ann Clark (1754-aft. 1810) in abt. 1773.
+++ Micajah Anthony (1782-abt. 1850) m. Rebecca Williams (1782-1832) in abt. 1805.
++++ Matthew Jouett Williams Anthony (1808-1868) m. Ann Blakey Roberts (1810-1873) in 1830.
+++++ Mary Ann Penelope Anthony (1835-1917) m. Johnson Franklin Cunningham (1823-1899) in 1851.
++++++ Amos Blakey Cunningham (1871-1962) m. Stella Ophelia Bowling (1867-1938) in 1894.
+++++++ Herman Cunningham (1895-1980) m. Annie Lola Jennings (1899-1982) in 1920.
++++++++ Udell Oliver Cunningham (1925-) m. Doris LaNell Thurman (1930-) in 1950.
+++++++++ Patti Jo Cunningham (1951-) m. Thomas Ray Swier (1951-) in 1971.
++++++++++ Dana Michelle Swier (1971-)
++ Agnes Anthony (1761-unknown) m. Churchill Blakey (1760-1837) in 1780.
+++ Elizabeth Blakey (abt. 1788-unknown) m. Thomas Roberts (abt. 1785-unknown) in abt. 1808.
++++ Ann Blakey Roberts (1810-1873) m. Matthew Jouett Williams Anthony (1808-1868) in 1830 (see remainder of descent above from Matthew Jouett Williams Anthony).
Think I have a shot at any sort of inheritance? 🙂
About seven or eight years ago, when I first began working on my family history in earnest, I discovered that much of my heritage is Scottish. My paternal grandfather was mostly German, but my other three grandparents each had some Scottish background. I am not sure about my paternal grandmother — I found a census record this year that throws into doubt whether she was born a Campbell or was adopted by a stepfather named Campbell, but until I have proof otherwise, I’ll take her word for it.
My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Campbell. The Campbells were and are a prominent clan in Scotland. Of course, as I noted, she may have been adopted, but even if she wasn’t, her last name may have been. Not everyone with the name Campbell can truly trace lineage back to the clan, because many people not of that clan took the name. However, my grandmother was born in Kentucky. The Campbells were a Highland clan, and many Highlanders emigrated to America and settled in North Carolina following the Battle of Culloden. It stands to reason, given popular migration routes, that some Highland Campbells might have moved west to Kentucky. The Campbells might be best known for their infamous slaughter of the Clan McDonald in the Glen Coe Massacre. You can learn more about authentic Campbell tartans from the Clan Campbell Society of North America.
My mother’s maiden name is Cunningham, which is derived from a Lowland clan in Ayrshire. The Cunningham Clan has been dormant since 1796 with the death of the last chief. Family legend states that the Cunninghams in my family came to America from Ireland. Cunningham is indeed derived from either Ireland or Scotland, so it may be that my Cunninghams are not affiliated with the Cunningham Clan, either.
My great-great-great-grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Kennedy ¹. Genealogy research in the family, based on the memoirs of David Kennedy (1768-1837), a prominent member of the Kennedy family, and my gggggg-grandfather, indicated that the Kennedys came to America from Scotland via Ireland. According to David Kennedy’s family Bible: “My great grandfather was from Scotland by the name of Alexander. He fled from that country in the time of the great rebellion [that would be the rebellion of 1715 in protest over bringing George I to the throne rather than the Stuart Pretender] to Ireland.” David Kennedy’s Bible records are fairly comprehensive and have been of great help to genealogists.
My great-great-great-grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Graham ². I can trace my Graham lineage with some degree of certainty to Sarah Elizabeth Graham’s father, Gideon Graham. One resource states that Gideon Graham may have been one-half Cherokee — the research supposedly proving this exists, but I have not physcially obtained it. It is curious that he would be living in Indian Territory so very early if he had no Native American ancestry — at least as early as 1838, as he married there at that time. I do not know whether it was his mother or father who was Cherokee. If it was, indeed, his father, then it would seem he took the name Graham rather than was born with it, thus this particular clan wouldn’t be a part of my family’s history; however, I can’t be sure. His mother’s lineage is seemingly more sure than his father’s, which would tend to lend credence to the notion that his father was Cherokee; however, it would have been highly irregular for a white woman of that time to marry a full-blooded Cherokee — the alternative is much more likely. It is my hunch that he is not of Cherokee ancestry at all, though I will admit that my great-grandmother, Lucille Willis, has some Native American features. This thread at the Graham Family Genealogy Forum seems to indicate that at some point, a false genealogy was concocted for the Graham family. I have found some research that ties Gideon to John Graham and Mary Pennington of North Carolina. The Graham Clan in Scotland were Jacobites, and it stands to reason that they emigrated to North Carolina with other fallen Jacobites after 1746.
In terms of my Scottish lineage, the clan that seems most surely a part of my family’s history (based on research, both my own and that of others) is the Clan Kennedy. Records from David Kennedy’s family Bible indicate a link to the Kennedys of Ayrshire. If this link is proven, it connects eventually to Robert the Bruce through his Stewart descendants. Learning about my family’s history has awakened an interest in Scottish history that might not have been, had I not discovered links such as these. Whether they are actually historically accurate and provable or not, I am thankful for all I’ve learned about history through researching genealogy.
Dana Michelle Swier (me)
Patti Jo Cunningham (mother)
Udell Oliver Cunningham (grandfather)
Herman Cunningham (great-grandfather)
Stella Ophelia Bowling (great-great-grandmother)
Mary Elizabeth Kennedy (great-great-great-grandmother)
Dana Michelle Swier (me)
Patti Jo Cunningham (mother)
Doris LaNell Thurman (grandmother)
Lucille Inez Willis (great-grandmother)
Melvina Meeks (great-great-grandmother)
Sarah Elizabeth Graham (great-great-great-grandmother)