Category Archives: Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

John William Tolleson

John William Tolleson, courtesy Nancy LewisJohn William Tolleson is not my ancestor. If my great-great-grandmother’s life had turned out a bit differently, however, I wouldn’t be here. She was once engaged to John William Tolleson.

In my great-great-grandmother’s diary (PDF download), she only mentions him six times:

  • December 2, 1893: “Wrote to J.W.T. and Mary Hutton.”
  • December 12, 1893: “Got a letter from J.W.T.”
  • December 16, 1893: “Helped clean up and wrote a letter to J.W.T.”
  • January 5, 1894: “Uncle Jeff came for me late and had two letters for me from Mr. Custis telling of the marriage of J.W. Tolleson & Minnie Mathis and the other from Mary.”
  • January 14, 1894: “Cleaned out my trunk and hunted up J.W.T.’s letters which were in No. [she left off the count].”
  • February 4, 1894: “After my usual prayer, I retired. Mr. A- and I burned my letters from J.W.T. 44 in No.

Even in her diary, Stella rarely vents her personal, private thoughts, but reading between the lines, it looks as if the engagement was already over or going sour by the time she began the diary. I did find it interesting that a little more than a week after she heard of his marriage, she pulled out J.W. Tolleson’s letters to her and re-read them. In a symbolic act to sever ties to the past, she and her fiancé Amos Cunningham burned some letters from J.W. Tolleson. However, I understand that some of these letters survived the purge.

I am not sure how long the engagement lasted or whether Stella and J.W. Tolleson kept in touch. On a lark, I decided to see if I could discover what happened to him. I was armed with a fair amount of information from Stella’s diary.

  1. I knew his initials and last name.
  2. He had married a woman named Minnie Mathis.
  3. Stella seemed to know Minnie.
  4. He was probably about the same age as Stella.

I searched Ancestry.com and found him on the 1910 and 1920 censuses with his wife Minnie (click thumnails for larger images).

Tolleson, 1910 Census

Tolleson, 1920 Census

Based on information from these census records, I was able to learn his first name was John, and that he was born in about 1865, which made him about two years older than Stella. I also learned that he moved to Oklahoma. On the 1910 census, his occupation is “Superintendent” at the “City School” in Byars, McClain County, Oklahoma. In 1920, his occupation is listed as “Teacher.” Stella Bowling also taught school before she married my great-great-grandfather Amos, and I speculated that she may have met J.W. Tolleson when they were in school together.

My grandfather’s cousin recently sent me a photo of Stella at the Parker Institute in Whitt, Parker County, Texas in 1891 or 1892 (Click for larger version):

Parker Institute, 1891-1892

Stella is in the middle row, far left side. She has a dress with buttons that form a “V” across her chest. I decided to see what I could learn about this school. This is what I discovered (via Handbook of Texas Online):

Parker Institute, the first school to offer college-level classes in Parker County, was established by a Mr. and Mrs. Bales in 1881 at Whitt in northwestern Parker County. In 1884 the Northwest Texas Methodist Conference selected the institute to be its flagship college in North Texas. The conference appointed Amos Bennett, a graduate of DePauw University, to be director of the school. For nine years he served as the institute’s administrator and only full-time faculty member. Assisted by instructors who had been his students in Kentucky and Texas, Bennett developed a curriculum that stressed traditional classical subjects, including Greek and Latin. Parker Institute graduated three or four students during its twelve years of existence. The first was Beulah Sprueill, who became a member of Parker’s faculty for some time. Two later had distinguished careers in the field of education. Jefferson Davis Sandefer, who graduated in 1892, served as president of Hardin-Simmons University for thirty years (1909-40), and Charles Shirley Potts, who graduated in 1893, served as dean of the Southern Methodist University law school for twenty years. Parker Institute was not able to compete with the growing number of colleges that appeared in North Texas in the early 1890s. It surrendered its charter in 1893 and became a public school.

The first graduate mentioned, Beulah Sprueill, was a friend of Stella’s. She mentions writing letters to her or receiving letters from her several times in her diary.

At Ancestry.com, I found a family tree that included John William Tolleson and Minnie Susan Mathis, so working on the hunch that the information about his middle name was correct, did a Google search for John William Tolleson. I found a post at the Tolleson Family Genealogy Forum (Genealogy.com) written by Nancy Lewis who was looking for information about the Tolleson family. I replied to her post, and we have been conversing over e-mail today.

Nancy pointed me to her Family Tree Maker Genealogy Site. While perusing her site, I discovered the following photo of John William Tolleson and wife Minnie Mathis Tolleson with their children (click for a larger version):

Tolleson Family

After studying this photo and the school photo, I think J.W. Tolleson is in the Parker Institute photo. It is hard to tell with 100% certainty, given the differences in light and the age difference in the two photos, but I believe that he could be the tall man with a mustache in the top row. It is even harder to determine whether or not Minnie Mathis is in the photo, but she resembles the woman on the far right, front row.

I was very interested to connect with relatives of Stella’s former beau, and I invite any other Tolleson researchers to connect as well. I also want to thank Nancy for sharing her family with us. To me, one of the great things about genealogy is being able to make connections like these.

Herman Cunningham: World War I

Herman Cunningham, WWIMy 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):

John Roy McCravey (Floydada, TX) and Herman Cunningham (Whitfield, TX)

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:

Herman Cunningham, WWI Draft Registration Card

The Card had the following information:

Name: Herman Cunningham
Age: 22
Address: Clarendon, Texas
Date of Birth: Mch. 16, 1895
Natural born
Place of Birth: Denton Co., Texas
Occupation: Farmer
Employed by: Self
Where employed: Donley Co.
No dependents
Marital status: Single
Race: Caucasian
No prior military experience
Did not claim exemption from service
Medium height
Medium build
Blue eyes
Brown hair
Not bald
No loss of hand, foot, eye, both eyes or other disability
Precinct: 2
County: Donley
State: Texas
Dated: 6/5/1918

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:

Herman Cunningham and Alvin Cunningham, 1942?

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
State: 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: Private
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
Height: 00
Weight: 060

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.

Letter From Udell Cunningham, July 2006 Part 3: Generals in the Family

Doris [my grandmother] has two relatives that reached the General ranks in the Air Force. She had a cousin in Ardmore named Jack Thurman. He was in the Seabees during WW2 and was a 2nd Class Petty Officer. He had two sons that went to West Point Military Academy. One of the boys reached Brigadier General. He was the commander of Zweibrucken AB Germany when Wayne [my uncle] was stationed there. The other one reached Major General. Wayne has a book written by a (now deceased) General that was the first commander of Space Command at Colorado Springs. Well, in his book he told how General Thurman was used as the pit bull of the Air Force. If the Air Force had a base commander that the gen. staff at the Pentagon wasn’t pleased with they sent Thurman to the base. He would go there and find enough to fire the commander. What a job. I knew old Jack, he was a butcher at a grocery store. He must really be proud of his sons to make flag rank (general or admiral).

Note: You can read more about Major General James D. Thurman, one of the men referenced in this section of my grandfather’s letter, at his Ft. Hood, Texas biography page. He is currently — I believe — Commander of the Multinational Division, Baghdad, commanding 29,000 troops from all nations allied with America and fighting in Iraq. He is not in the Air Force, but rather the Army. An informative article, Why I Serve: Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, helps unravel more details about Maj. Gen. Thurman’s background:

Major General James D. ThurmanFORT HOOD, Texas, Aug. 26, 2004 — “I came from a very patriotic family,” explained Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman on why he joined the Army.

“When I was just a little guy, I remember going to Memorial Day with my grandfather, a World War I vet, and the whole town would turn out,” recalled the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division. “He didn’t talk much about being in war, and he didn’t ask for medals or recognition. He made me realize early in life that the liberties and freedom we enjoy are not free.”

In the northwest corner of Thurman’s office, a rubber chicken hangs on a polished wooden plaque. The message is simple: “There ain’t no free chicken in the world, you’ve got to work for stuff.”

He said the quote represents a lesson he learned from his grandfather during his upbringing in the rural Oklahoma town of Marietta, population 3,000.

Framed flags, certificates, awards and photographs cover the walls of his office; memorabilia from almost three decades of service to his country.

“There are memories and people attached to everything on these walls,” Thurman said recently. “They represent something positive to me, even the rubber chicken.

Thurman’s father and three uncles served in World War II and Korea. And Thurman still vividly remembers the day in 1966 when his older brother arrived home from college and told his parents he was leaving school to serve in Vietnam.

“There are values and a sense of duty and responsibility to this country that I was raised with,” he said.

“There are 10 divisions in the Army and I have the honor to command one. Being with soldiers and being out there making a difference in the world, that’s why I serve. The most precious thing we have are the sons and daughters of this country and I am proud to serve with them.”

(Tam Cummings is editor of the Fort Hood, Texas, Sentinel News.)

More links:

A Google search will return a lot of sites mentioning Major General James Thurman, as he was recently in the news when he ordered an investigation into the killing of of a family of four in Mahmoudiya. I can’t find any information on a second general in the family, but did find several references to two Thurman brothers who were generals in the Air Force. They were born in North Carolina, and I am not sure I am related to them for that reason — as far as I know, the Thurmans in my family lived in the Oklahoma/Texas areas in the last 100 years. In a recent e-mail, my fellow Thurman researcher and second cousin once removed, Chris Stofel, said, “I’m attaching a letter I sent to our cousin Jerry Thurman, grandson of Albert, a little while back. Jerry’s brother Jim (James D.) Thurman is a general in the army.” Maj. Gen. Thurman and his brother Jerry would also be my second cousins once removed. My information is that Jerry Thurman is a retired colonel. I think it could be that our cousins, James and Jerry Thurman, were confused with the Thurman brothers General Maxwell Reid Thurman and Lt. General John R. Thurman, III (who are no relation as far as I know). Doing some digging, I was able to find references to the book my uncle has. It must be From One Stripe to Four Stars by Gen. James V. Hartinger, who was the first commander of Space Command at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, but I can’t search inside the book to see the full name of the General Thurman he referred to. It is probable that it is either General Maxwell Reid Thurman or Lt. General John R. Thurman III rather than my own relative, Maj. Gen. James Thurman.

Click on the thumbnail below to see an image of Albert James Thurman’s WWI Draft Registration Card (Albert James Thurman was the grandfather of James Thurman and Jerry Thurman). Note: It is a poor quality image and difficult to read.

Albert James Thurman, WWI Draft Registration Card

I located Albert James Thurman on the 1930 Census with his wife Mollie. Open this thumbnail image and scroll down to line 58 (near the top):

Albert James Thurman, 1930 Census

He has a son Jack W., who is 6 years old. This is my grandmother’s cousin Jack that my grandfather referred to in his letter. Here you can view Albert James Thurman’s 1920 census record:

Albert James Thurman, 1920 Census

I think this is an interesting example of how a story is passed down or told in a family, and details change or are otherwise unclear, which can result in conclusions that may not be correct.

Letter From Udell Cunningham, July 2006 Part 2

Perhaps I should list the jobs I have had in my military career.

  1. Ditch digger and pipe installation on Attu perhaps this makes me a pipe-fitter.
  2. Rigger on Mobile crane — Philippine Islands . Since the Navy bestowed the rank of MoMM3C (Motor Machinist Mate Third Class) I was supposed to be a mechanic.
  3. Mechanic at Motor pool on Hensley Field, (AF Reserve unit or sometimes called “week-end-Warrior.” This base was between Dallas and Fort Worth.
  4. Photo lab at Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma.
  5. Photo lab at Perrin AFB, Sherman, Texas.
  6. Photo Instructor at Lowry AFB, Colo.
  7. Technical Writer of Air Force Manuals and Training courses at Lowry AFB, Colo.
  8. NCOIC of Photo Lab at Toul Rosiers AB France.
  9. NCOIC of Manual Processing division at Schierstein, Germany. Also called IRCEP Intelligence Research Center — Exploitation Photo. We had a Machine secion for aerial reconnaissance film. I put in lots of time processing photos from spies behind the Iron Curtain. Yes, lots of Russian military were also US spies.
  10. Technical Writer at Lowry — again!
  11. Command Manager of all AF photo labs in Europe. 13 labs from Turkey, Spain, England, Germany, Italy, and Holland.
  12. Retired from AF at Lowry AFB.

My job in USAFE was in Recce operations, Europe under a Col. Andrews and our next in command was Major General Creech. He was later a full General in charge of the AF in Germany otherwise called CINC USAFE.

Another Johnson Franklin Cunningham

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).

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham

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.

James Cunningham family, 1880 Census of Oglethorpe County, Georgia

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.

Johnson Franklin Cunningham family, 1930 Census of Oglethorpe County

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
Gender: M
Race: C
Age: 90 years
County of Residence: Oglethorpe
Certificate: 25882

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:

Johnson Franklin 1860 Slave Schedule, Oglethorpe County, Georgia

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.

Cunningham Reunion, 1952

Letter from Udell Cunningham, July 2006 Part 1

In this continuation of writing about thing[s] I recall I may write about things previously written. Please remember that old men suffer from memory lapse. Also, I may even embellish tales previously written. These two faults were discussed recently on a T.V. program. Historians say that us old WW2 Vets do this a lot. We tend to remember a little but lie a lot and we tend to embellish stories every time we repeat them. These were discussed at length when the Smithsonian tried to put the Enola Gay B29 bomber on display with the placards saying that the U.S. did not need to drop the A-Bombs as Japan was ready to surrender. They implied that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed needlessly. The uproar from WW2 Vets made them change their stories. [See Wikipedia’s article on the Enola Gay for a discussion of this exhibit.] On the personal side of the issue I am thoroughly convinced that the A-bombs saved my life. I was in training at a base on Samar for being used as an underwater demolition job in Tokyo Bay during the second invasion of the Mainland of Japan. (The First was down on the very south island.) UDT men or commonly called Frogmen have a very short life. They were met by Jap frogmen who had spear guns — or from the demolition charger. When I was not needed to give my life during the planned invasion I was returned to “Seabee” duty. We — those in training — were placed on inter-island Ferry boats and taken to Cavite Naval Base in Manila Bay.

At Cavite we were placed on trucks and taken on the route to the big naval base at Subic Bay. Along the route the commander of the Convoy of truck[s] tried to “give” us to other units along the way. He couldn’t give all of us away and we wound up [as] surplus work slaves to existing unitls at Subic Navy Station. I was assigned to a work crew at the “lumber yard.” Actually I was called a rigger on a mobile crane used to lift lumber off trucks. Then the Filipino workers sorted and stacked the wood. The main job I did was play cards — to be interrupted when a truck of lumber arrived. Really rough duty.

Census Trail, Will Martin Huff

My husband’s grandfather, Ben Martin Huff, was born on February 22, 1912 in Tennessee to Will Martin Huff and his wife Sallie. Following Will Martin Huff’s paper trail has not been easy. According to his WWI Draft Card, he was born June 18, 1890. The absence of the 1890 Census has made discovering information about his parentage particularly hard. Even if he had not been born when that census was taken, it is possible his parents would have been married and appeared together on the census.

The first place I started was the 1930 census, where I very quickly found William Martin Huff, his wife Sallie, and son Ben Martin Huff, living in Williamson County, Tennessee (see their information starting on line 1; click on thumbnail to see larger image):

William Martin Huff 1930 Census

I tracked back to the 1920 census, where W.M. Huff, wife Sallie, and son Ben were living in Williamson County:

W.M. Huff 1920 Census

Will Martin Huff was 27 on the 1920 Census and 38 on the 1930 Census. Dates on the census should be taken with a grain of salt, as mistakes were often made; however, his age is consistent across both censuses, which led me to believe that perhaps the date on his WWI Draft Registration Card was incorrect:

Will Martin Huff WWI Draft Registration Card

I thought perhaps I might find him in the home of his parents in the 1910 census, but I was not able to. I did find a candidate for Will Martin Huff in Obion County working as a hired man for the Parrish family:

Will Huff 1910 Census

As you can see, he is 17 and born in Tennessee, so the details fit; however, I wondered why he was in Obion County when all of my other data seems to indicate he spent all of his life in the Williamson County/Nashville area. I am not 100% certain that this Will Huff is the one I’m looking for.

I was a little more fortunate on the 1900 Census, as I was armed with a clue. Steve told me he was certain that his grandfather Ben Martin Huff had an aunt named Verda Huff Fulghum. I located her with her parents L.R. Huff and Mary F. Huff [maiden name Price], in Williamson County in 1920, starting on line 33.

L.R. Huff 1920 Census

As you can see, Will Martin is not living in the home (he was married and had his own home), but I felt I at least had parents’ names to work with. Here they are in 1910. Again, Will Martin Huff is not in the home, but it seems reasonable to assume he was old enough to leave home (as young as 17 or as old as 20).

Lee Huff 1910 Census

Searching the 1900 census proved more difficult, as it appears the census-taker wrote over the top of L.R. Huff’s name (and every other head of household’s name, too). However, the wife is Mary, there is a step-son Willie M. Huff and a daughter Eula. I think this must be Verda based on the birthdate, but I don’t know why she is listed as Eula here. It could be a first name or middle name, or simply an error. I do feel reasonably confident that this is the correct family:

Huff 1900 Census

Because the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire, this is as far back as I can take Will Martin Huff. Assuming he was born in 1890, as his WWI Draft Card indicates, then he probably was not even on the 1890 Census. However, his parents might have been married. Note that his birth is given as Jan. 1891 on this census. The month is the same as the draft card, but the year is off by one.

Conclusions:

  • The 1930 Census on which William Martin Huff appears was enumerated in April. His January birthday would already have passed. He is 38 years old on this census, which would indicate he was born in 1892.
  • The 1920 Census on which W.M. Huff appears was enumerated January 13, 1920 — five days before Will Martin’s birthday as given on his WWI Draft Card (January 18). His age is given as 27. This would indicate that Will Martin Huff was born in 1892.
  • The 1910 Census I have tentatively identified as showing Will Huff lists his age as 17. It was enumerated on April 26, 1910. This would indicate that he was born in 1893; however, it should be emphasized that I am not certain I have the same person here.
  • The 1900 Census including Willie M. Huff was enumerated June 27, 1900. His age is given as 9 and birthdate as Jan. 1891. Of course, this would indicate he was born in 1891.
  • The WWI Draft Registration Card indicates his birthdate as January 18, 1890.

Because we have conflicting information, and, I might add, I haven’t yet found a birth record, I am unsure whether Will Martin Huff was born in 1890, 1891, or 1892. Because I am not sure 1910 Will Huff is the Will Huff I’m looking for, I’m setting aside 1893 for now.

I found it curious that Willie M. Huff is listed as step-son to L.R. Huff on the 1900 Census, so I investigated. I discovered that L.R. Huff is Lee Roy (or Leroy) Huff, the son of Samuel Martin Huff and Martha Harris of Williamson County, Tennessee. I didn’t know if he took the name Huff from this stepfather, but I thought it possible that he didn’t — otherwise, he might have been listed as L.R.’s son. When my grandfather was adopted, he was listed with his adopted parents’ last names and described as their son. The fact that Willie M. Huff was listed as a step-son indicated to me that he may not have been adopted by L.R. Huff, but instead had already been a Huff before his mother married L.R. Huff. My mother-in-law indicated that this was indeed the case:

“Also, you were asking about Will Martin. His mother married Will Martin’s uncle so he was already a Huff” (letter to the author from Margaret Lane Huff, August 7, 2006).

Naturally, I assumed, given the time period, that Will Martin Huff’s father had died and his bereaved mother found comfort in the arms of her husband’s brother, whom she later married. This does not seem to be the case. According to Rose Walls, another Huff researcher:

There is a divorce around 1897 I will have to look for again, Mary Price Huff was deserted by her husband William T. He took her and her child to her brothers house in Maury County and never came back for her. I did not read the whole thing. (e-mail to the author, August 12, 2006)

Update 11:34 P.M, August 14, 2006: According to a new e-mail from Rose Walls to Jackie Pace, forwarded to the author:

I looked at the divorce I told you about today at lunch: Mary F. (Price) Huff Vs William T. Huff – Dated 1893 — They had married in 1888.

I found Lee Roy Huff listed as Leroy Huff in the home of his father, Samuel Martin and mother Martha in 1880:

Huff 1880 Census

Notice that Martha’s name is written as J. Martha and her son as T. William. I looked at a few pages to be sure my hunch was right — the census taker wrote middle initials as first initials — J. Martha Huff instead of Martha J. Huff and T. William Huff instead of William T. Huff. I speculated that this William T. Huff might be Will Martin Huff’s father. Rose’s e-mail would seem to indicate that this is, indeed, the case. The 1900 Census listing for Lee Roy and Mary Huff indicated that they had been married three years, which would mean they married about 1897.

What I am wondering is why is Lee Roy Huff listed alone on the 1930 Census, clearly stating he is married:

Lee Huff 1930 Census

While his wife Mary lives in Nashville with some of her children, stating that she is widowed?

Mary Huff 1930 Census

Sometimes genealogy makes me feel like I’m shaking skeletons out of the closet, but I must say, that makes it all the more interesting.

Letter from Udell Cunningham, November 2005 Part 16

Halloween is coming soon. The Halloween that occurred when I was a kid was different from the social event of today. We did the trick part, but the treat didn’t happen at all. Our main trick was tipping over the outhouse, trashing the place in general. Teachers and principals bore the brunt of our meanness. One year we even put a horse-drawn wagon on top of the school house. I don’t know how the kids were able to put a wagon on the schoolhouse because they had real problems getting it down. Another time we put a snake in a teacher’s desk. Real inspirational things — but no treats.

Another stupid thing was taking a shoe box, filling it with barnyard droppings. Then wrap the box in brown paper and place it beside the road. We would be hidden nearby to see the unsuspecting finder unwrap their finding. Big fun. I heard that one such prankster put a wildcat in a box. This time… about a hundred yards down the road all four doors slung open and the car ran into the ditch. And we thought we were having fun.

When I was a kid we could go to the movie for a dime. When you were 12 years you had to pay adult fare of 25¢. Boy there was sure a lot of eleven-year-old kids in those days.

Letter from Udell Cunningham, November 2005 Part 15

When [we] were stationed in France, Doris [my grandmother, Udell’s wife] had to carry a “French I.D. card.” She even had to carry it when she hung clothes on the line. If caught without it she was subject to arrest and [would be] jailed. The only amazing thing about this card is that it was required of all American women over 16 and French prostitutes! The card didn’t identify which category you were. The French tried to force the Canadians to this indignity, but the Canadian general told them where they could stick it.

And then I get orders to Wiesbaden, Germany and that my family should stay in France as I would have base quarters within a month. One of the items on my base clearance was to visit the French cmdr. office to return the I.D. card to the French. I told them my wife was not leaving France and needed to keep the card. It was a standoff until I told those Frogs [sorry — that was the term he used!] I was going to call HQ USAFE and tell the Inspector General of the trouble. They went ahead and cleared me by exacting my solemn promise that we would drive by when I returned for my family. I still have the card! Well, Wayne [my uncle, Udell’s son] has it. The Frogs deny the existence of this card, but I have one.

Letter from Udell Cunningham, November 2005 Part 14

When I was a toddler Dad had to tighten the bearings on his ’28 Chevy. Well, when finished it was too tight for the starter to start the motor. They needed to get it out of the driveway to the street where they could pull it and get it going. We were hand-pushing it out to the street. There was a ditch by the sides of the road and when they almost had the front end on the level road the truck rolled back into the ditch area. I was shoving on the front fender, fell down, and the truck ran over me. We never went to a doctor, but I couldn’t walk for a long time. Mom pulled me everywhere in a little red wagon. I finally walked again. For some reason I was X-rayed after retirement and the doctors asked me when I broke the bones in my foot. I told them I had never broken my foot. They showed me on the X-ray — I guess that happened way back when I was about four years old. Back in those days you never went to the doctor unless you had money. We never had money. I saw my first doctor when I went into the military in 1943. When I went to school I needed eyeglasses to read the stuff on the blackboard. The teachers would allow you to move around the room so you could read the blackboards. I got my first glasses at age 17 when I saved enough money to get them at Plainview [Texas].

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