The Civil War in My Family

The Civil War began 150 years ago today. Several of my direct ancestors fought in the Civil War, but I have yet to find a relative fighting on the Union side, even though some of them lived in the North during the conflict.

Shelby McDaniel

My third great-grandfather Shelby McDaniel served in the 9th Texas Field Battery (Lamar Artillery). I actually have a copy of his service record courtesy of my cousin Chris. He was a private under Captain James M. Daniel’s Artillery and was 26 years old on the first muster roll. He went into service on January 18, 1862 at Paris, Texas and was to serve for the duration of the war. The descriptive roll taken on April 8, 1862 describes him as 5 feet 9 inches with a dark complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair. His occupation is listed as mason, his birthplace as South Carolina. At that time his “body [was] sound and health [was] good.” However, by the muster roll in May and June of 1862, he is listed as sick in a hospital in Little Rock, AR. I’m not sure what illness he had, but suspect it was one of the usual war time ailments such as dysentery. It looks like he was released and either was not well yet or became sick again because the muster roll for September and October of 1862 says he is sick in camp from June 1862. He was back in the hospital in Little Rock in November and December of 1862. The remarks say he had been in the general hospital since November 11, 1862. By the March and April, 1863 muster roll, the remarks indicate he was “detailed com. dept., Little Rock, Ark., Oct, 1862 by order Maj. Gen. Holmes.” I believe that his orders changed and perhaps due to his illness, he was transferred to the commissary department (if that is indeed what the abbreviations mean), but I can’t be positive. By the November and December, 1863 muster roll, he had deserted and been dropped from the roll. I can’t say as I blame him much, given he had been sick well over a year.

My descent from Shelby McDaniel:

Shelby McDaniel
+ Mary Shelby McDaniel
++ Elmer Theodore Thurman
+++ Doris LaNell Thurman
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

William Jones Bowling

William Jones BowlingI shared what I know about another third great-grandfather, William Jones Bowling, in a previous post, but I never published my transcription of his pension application, and given the wider scope of this post, I think I will save publication for later this week. In the post I linked, I noted that William Jones Bowling became a minister as a result of his experiences as a POW during the war.

My descent from William Jones Bowling:

William Jones Bowling
+ Stella Ophelia Bowling
++ Herman Cunningham
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

John Thomas Stallings

Another third great-grandfather applied for a pension in 1913 when he was living in Swisher County, Texas. The Stallings and Jennings families were some of the first families to settle in Swisher County in the Texas Panhandle. In his application, John Thomas Stallings states that

I surrendered in front of Petersburg, Virginia on April 23 1865 and was discharged from Federal Military Prison at Point Lookout, Maryland about the first of July 1865 the exact date of which I do not now recall.

It sounds like he was attempting to defend Petersburg at the time that it fell in April, 1865, an event that signaled the end of the war for the Confederacy. This website gives more information about his regiment’s movements during the war.

He was 69 when he made the application and lists his birthplace as Bedford County, Tennessee. He states he had been living in Texas since November 1881. He also says that he was unable to work at the time he applied for the pension. He says his command was organized in Unionville, Tennessee, and it appears he enlisted as soon as the war began in the spring of 1861 and served for the duration of the war with Company F, 23rd Tennessee Infantry. As far as I know, he was quite proud of his service in the Confederate Army; his grave marker mentions his service. A transcription of his marker from at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulia, Texas, reads:

STALLINGS, John Thomas
23 Dec 1843 – 4 May 1916
CIVIL WAR TN 1ST CPL CO F 23
TN INF CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY

My descent from John Thomas Stallings:

John Thomas Stallings
+ Mary A. Silla Stallings
++ Annie Lola Jennings
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

John B. Jennings

John B. Jennings enlisted on June 13, 1862 at Tupelo, Mississippi for Alabama Confederate service, Co. E, 16th Regiment, infantry for 3 years, private, but it is unclear if he is the same John B. Jennings that was my third great-grandfather; the 16th Regiment companies were raised in Franklin and Lawrence Counties. The record gives little information, does not mention where the company fought, and, evidently, he was not wounded. John’s granddaughter, my great-grandmother Annie Lola Jennings “heard that he was in the Civil War.” A family member possesses a small framed photograph; on the back is written “John Jennings, Florence AL, United Confederate Veteran, 19th Reunion, Albert Sidney Johnston.” He’s a rather mysterious figure in general, however, so it doesn’t surprise me that his Confederate records are also shadowy.

My descent from John B. Jennings:

John B. Jennings
+ Veto Curry Jennings
++ Annie Lola Jennings
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

Four of my mother’s second great-grandfathers served on the Confederate side in the war. I have not been able to verify service for her other second great-grandfathers Johnson Franklin Cunningham, John L. Willis, or Nathan Taylor Meeks. Johnson Franklin Cunningham may have been a bit on the older side when the war began. He would have been 38. My grandfather tells a story he heard from a relative about this ancestor being in the war, but I can find no service record. He lived in Oglethorpe County, Georgia at the time. John L. Willis may have been too young, having been born in 1849. He lived in Franklin County, Alabama during the war. Nathan Taylor Meeks was born in 1847 and may also have been a bit too young, certainly at the beginning of the war, but I could find no record that he enlisted later. He lived in Tippah County, Mississippi during the war. I have not been able to determine the name of her remaining second great-grandfather, but I do know the family was likely living in Illinois at the time, and it stands to reason that if he was of age to serve, he may have served in the Union.

On my father’s side, four of his second great-grandfathers were of age to serve, but I can find no service records. Conrad L. Gearhart lived in Licking County, Ohio at the time of the war; I’m not sure where Joseph Alfred Willhide lived, but he was in Iowa by 1880 after having been born in Maryland; William Henry Young was living in Sibley County, Minnesota, and Wilson Wages was living in Magoffin County, Kentucky. It stands to reason any or all of them might have fought for the Union, while Wilson Wages could as easily have fought on the side of the Confederacy. However, I could find no records. I do not know who his other four second great-grandfathers are with any certainty.

Whether my ancestors served in the war or not, the war had a profound impact on their lives. Many on my mother’s side would eventually settle in Texas and Oklahoma, most likely because, as my grandfather always puts it, Texas was viewed as a land of opportunity. Some of my father’s family, too, continued west, eventually settling in Washington State. It is less clear whether or not the Civil War impacted them as profoundly as it did my mother’s ancestors.

Richard L. Swier

Our family was shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of my uncle, Richard Swier, on Sunday, March 27. He was 58 years old.

Rick was my father’s younger brother. He was born in Yakima, Washington on September 13, 1952. His death notice mentions three children: Richard L. Swier, Jr., Rhonda Swier, and April Martinez, who was his stepdaughter. He also had twelve grandchildren.

When I was very small, my father was in the Air Force and stationed in San Bernardino, California at the same time as Rick served in the Navy and was stationed at San Diego. He visited us a lot on the weekends. Unfortunately, I don’t remember him. My father was transferred to Germany in 1973, and I never saw Uncle Rick again after that.

Some pictures of Rick:

Clockwise from bottom, Thomas Swier (my father), David "Buck" Swier, Betty Campbell Swier holding Deborah Swier, Walter "Randy" Swier, and Richard "Rick" Swier
Rick in High School
From left to right: Rick, my grandfather David Swier, and Randy Swier
Rick and his children Rick, Jr. and Rhonda
My grandfather David Swier with Rick in his Navy uniform

Rest in peace, Uncle Rick.

 

Frank Chatman

Bridge into Quicksand, Kentucky
Quicksand Bridge

Last week, I began a series on my father’s grandparents, all of whom (I believe) died before I was born, or at least before I had a chance to meet them. This week’s post is likely to be short, as I know next to nothing about my great-grandfather, Frank Chatman. I did not even discover that he was my great-grandfather until a couple of years ago. Thinking I had little chance of learning anything about my paternal grandmother’s family, I ordered her birth record. I knew she was born in Breathitt County, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure of the name of the community or town. The abstract on Ancestry.com through the Kentucky Birth Index was puzzling. I had believed my grandmother’s maiden name was Campbell, but her birth name was Fay Trusty (Fay being her middle name, as I understood it), the same as her mother’s maiden name. I wondered if perhaps she was born out of wedlock and her parents married later. Finding her and her mother on the 1930 census in Middletown, Ohio with the last name Trusty and living in the home of my grandmother’s aunt and uncle seemed to confirm the suspicion. I knew I wouldn’t solve the mystery unless I ordered a copy of my grandmother’s birth record. It was surprisingly easy to obtain. I thought I would need to offer some sort of proof of our family relationship besides just saying she was my grandmother, but no such proof was necessary. I think that’s a little scary, even if it did make things convenient for me. When I received the record, imagine my shock to discover that Osa Campbell was not my grandmother’s father. Rather, her father was a man named Frank Chatman. His occupation was listed as convict, and his home the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

Of course, my first question was What did he do? The second was Did my grandmother know this man was her father? I found out later that the answer to the second question was yes, but not until after her mother and any other family members she could ask about it had passed away. The answer to the first is more complicated. I wrote to a state archivist asking for help, and she seemed to take a genuine interest in the case. She actually sent me a copy of the 1930 census (even though I already had it). This is her reply to my first query:

Our office has received your request for a criminal record involving Frank Chatman (Breathitt County, 1929).  I have searched our records and have found no entry for Frank Chatman in Breathitt County.  If this case could have taken place in another county, please let me know.

I apologize for any inconvenience.

I wrote that I had no idea where the crime took place. Here is her reply:

I have searched our records further (primarily our prison records) and found a couple entries for a Frank Chatman.  One was for a Frank Chatman (Chapman), whose crime occurred in Martin County, and another entry whose crime occurred in Pike County.  Both were for willful murder.  If one of these Frank Chatmans is your great-grandfather, I believe it would be the one from Pike County.  This occurred in 1921, when he was 15 years old, and his sentence was only for 5 years.  I believe the Frank Chatman that you found on the 1930 census was for the Martin County Chatman–he received a life sentence, and he was 42 when his crime occurred.  I have made copies of our prison record that I will send to you, but I will also try to locate the Pike County case–likely will not have a lot of info, though.  If I find it, I will certainly send it to you.

Hope this brings a bit of clarity.

The trouble with accepting either of these men as my great-grandfather is that the first is about the right age, but he shouldn’t have been in prison at the time of my grandmother’s birth—according to the record, he served five years, which means he should have been out of prison before my grandmother was born. Now if his case took some time to come to trial, it could make sense. How did he only get five years for murder? He was fifteen, but one would think his sentence would have been longer even so. The other one that the archivist says was 42 and which I found on the census introduces some confusion. The census says he was 27, which makes him also a fairly good fit for my great-grandfather despite what the archivist said. Both Pike and Martin counties are not far from Breathitt County, and either is a logical place of origin for my great-grandfather.

I think the only way I will find out the truth is to go to Kentucky and do some research in newspapers and libraries both in Breathitt County, where my grandmother was born, and through the prison archives. It seems somehow fitting that the name of the town in which my grandmother was born is Quicksand. The story inspired me to write a book that remains unedited in a file on my computer. I did find a fellow Ancestry.com member with some intriguing information in her family tree. If  I win Who Do You Think You Are? sweepstakes, I know what case I’m going to put my professional genealogist on. I sure wish I was able to pursue this thread now, though.

Omar Alfred Gearhart

Some time ago, I began a series of posts on relatives I remembered from my lifetime, writing about the four great-grandparents I knew on my mother’s side of the family. I did not personally know any of my great-grandparents on my father’s side. All of them probably* died before I was born, and things are complicated by the fact that my grandfather David Swier was adopted, so he has two sets of parents: his adoptive parents and his natural parents. I have been able to learn a great deal about them both through research and through connecting with cousins who descend from the same family.

In this series, I plan to share what I know of my great-grandparents on my father’s side, beginning with my natural great-grandfather, Omar Alfred Gearhart.

Omar Alfred Gearhart (standing) with brothers John and George

Omar Alfred Gearhart had the unusual birthday of February 29, 1884. He was born in Colo, Story County, Iowa to George Douglas Gearhart and Ruth Ella Willhide.

I learned a lot about Omar Alfred Gearhart from his World War I draft registration card. He was living in Spokane, Washington on September 12, 1918 when he registered. My grandfather David would be born in that same city in 1921; however, the 1920 census lists Omar’s residence as Wallula, Walla Walla County, Washington. He is described as having a medium height and build, gray eyes, and black hair. His wife’s name is given as Gertrude Gearhart. Gertrude was born Gertrude Nettie Perkins.

 

Omar Alfred Gearhart and Gertrude Nettie Perkins with their oldest child John Douglas Gearhart

They married on Christmas Day in 1910.

His occupation is listed as “Laborer, Mechanical” on his draft card, and indeed he owned a garage later on. I wish he had passed his aptitude for car mechanics on to me, but he did pass it to his son and grandson (my father). At the time of his draft registration, however, he was working for the city of Spokane. I wonder if he might have been responsible for keeping city vehicles in working order. Omar Alfred Gearhart would have been a young man when the earliest cars were manufactured, and I find it interesting that he was on the ground floor of this new industry.

Family lore holds that he survived gunshot wound to the head, but that the head injury altered his personality. I don’t know the circumstances, but he would later be murdered in his garage by his business partner, leaving behind Gertrude, who was pregnant, and their eleven children. Gertrude was unable to work, and though the eldest children picked up work here and there, ultimately the family was torn apart when Gertrude gave her children up for adoption.

In a letter to her daughter Bessie, Gertrude shares some family information, including that she believed her husband’s origins were Dutch. They were not. The family who adopted my grandfather was Dutch, but his natural ancestors on his father’s side were German—Pennsylvania Dutch, corruption of the German Deutsch, which may be the source of Gertrude’s confusion.

While Omar Alfred Gearhart’s parents would remain in Story County, Iowa for the rest of their lives, Omar moved to Washington State. I’m not sure what brought him there. He was certainly living there before 1910 when he appears on the census in Moran, Spokane County, Washington. In the 1900 census, he is still living in Iowa with his parents, which makes sense, as he was 16 years old.

At one time, his brother John was living with him (1920 census), and it appears as though they were in business together. Interestingly, family researchers seem to have some confusion about his location. Another John Gearhart living in Missoula, Montana and married to a woman named Margaret appears to have been grafted onto this tree. He can’t have been in both Missoula and Wallula, Washington in 1920, and the census clearly lists John Edward Gearhart as Omar’s brother, so there can be no confusion about whether he’s the correct person. I have no reason to believe John Gearhart was involved in Omar’s death, but I also cannot find him or his wife in the 1930 census, which would have been taken in either the year before or the year that the murder took place. I should note the Missoula, Montana John Gearhart was also born in Iowa, although in 1884 rather than 1880. Perhaps he was a cousin or other relative of John Edward and Omar Alfred Gearhart’s. It’s confusing, though, because he was in Montana when he registered for the draft during World War I.

I should note, however, that I also can’t find Omar Alfred Gearhart on the 1930 census; though his death date was given by Gertrude in a letter to her daughter Bessie as December 29, 1930, this date doesn’t make sense with other information because my grandfather had already been adopted by the Swiers by the time the 1930 census was taken, and his sister Jessie and brothers John and Donald were living in different homes, all listed as boarders. However, it could be that the details of the story are confused and that the children were taken away before their father died. On the other hand, in that same letter, Gertrude couldn’t remember the date Bessie was born, and she also said her husband was Dutch. I couldn’t find the other children or Gertrude on the 1930 census, either. I hope that the 1940 census may shed some light on what happened, but until I can do some serious searching in newspaper archives, I don’t think I’ll learn much more about Omar’s death. I do have one living great-aunt, but she did not remember the details of the event and indeed didn’t realize she’d been adopted until my grandfather told her about it at school. She would have been around two years old or so when it happened.

*I don’t know when my great-grandfather Frank Chatman died.

Unknown Subjects

Do you ever watch Criminal Minds? Maybe un-subs isn’t the best terms for these folks. As far as I know, they’re decent, law-abiding people. My aunt Carolyn sent these photos to me hoping I could identify the people in them, but I can’t. We think they may be connected with the Kennedy family. If you recognize anyone, feel free to enlighten us.

This appears to be the same man. I am wondering if he might be Michael Danaher. The image in that previous post did have “Uncle Mike Danaher” penciled on the reverse.

The man in this next series of images appears to be the same person. He resembles Palmer Danaher, but these photos are too old to be of Palmer, which makes me wonder if the man in the images above could possibly be a Kennedy, perhaps one of the sons of William Wesley Kennedy and Cynthia Walker Palmer Kennedy. My reason for saying that is my great-great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling had a severe sort of countenance, especially along the brow, which looks to be a straight line, just like the man in those images. So, first an image of the Bowlings before the series with the same man. My great-great-grandmother is the woman seated on the right.

If Michael Danaher is in these images, then the woman is likely Adelia Parthenia Kennedy Danaher, and to be honest, she does resemble Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling, who would be her sister. However, the images could just as easily be George Payne and Panthea Narcissa Kennedy Payne, another aunt and uncle Stella mentions often in her diary.

He kind of resembles my great-great-grandfather William Jones Bowling (the man in the photo with the family above), but I feel sure my aunt would have been able to identify photos of him. He did have a brother named Isham Merriman Bowling, and it could as easily be a picture of him.

This is probably the same woman as above with the photo of the couple because it was attached to the second images of the man above in a hinged frame.

I wonder if this one is of LulaBab Danaher:

The quality of this image is fairly bad:

I have a hunch that the photos are of various members of the Danaher and Kennedy families, but I’m not sure.

These photos were in a box belonging to Aubrey Bowling Cunningham, who was my great-grandfather Herman Cunningham’s younger brother. Carolyn noted that it is not like my great-great-grandmother Stella Bowling Cunningham to leave the name off the back of an image—thanks to her good habits, almost all the photos Carolyn has are identified, I believe.

The Danahers

My aunt Carolyn sent me a lot of photos hoping to solve a mystery. In the hopes that perhaps someone might happen upon this blog and help me identify the pictures, I plan to write a series of posts about what I know of the photos. I am going to start with some photos I do have identified. Carolyn suspects the photos are from the same family of Kennedys. My great-great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling was a member of this family.

Michael Danaher was born in Maryland to Irish immigrant parents and married Adelia Parthenia Kennedy in 25 Jul. 1866 in Fayette County, Tennessee. In the 1880 census, his occupation is described as owner and superintendent of a shingle mill, and the family were living in Ludington, Mason County, Michigan. I should note that some of his son’s records identify Michael’s birthplace as Pennsylvania.

Michael Danaher
Photo identified as Michael Danaher

Their daughter May became an artist. Here is her picture.

May Danaher
May Danaher

Isn’t she beautiful? She was my great-great grandmother Stella Bowling Cunningham’s first cousin. In her diary, she recorded that cousin May gave her a breast pin as a wedding gift. Stella married Amos Blakey Cunningham on 30 May 1894. Stella’s mother Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling was sister to May’s mother Adelia Parthenia Kennedy Danaher. The fact that the Bowlings and Danahers stayed close is demonstrated by the fact that Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling named one of her sons Oliver Danaher Bowling. Sadly, the child only lived to the age of two. Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling gave birth to eleven children, but six of them would die in childhood. Stella refers to her aunt Adelia Parthenia Kennedy Danaher as “Aunt Delia” in her diary. Mary and Delia were daughters of William Wesley Kennedy and Cynthia Walker Palmer. I’ve seen some erroneous information on Ancestry.com family trees linking William Wesley Kennedy to a woman named Malinda Richardson. To my knowledge, he was never married to anyone else, and his wife’s name on census records is always given as some variation of the name Cynthia:

  • 1850 Census, Tippah County, MS: Cynthia W.
  • 1860 Census, Tippah County, MS: Cintha W.
  • 1870 Census, Lauderdale County, AL: C. W.

The Alabama Marriage Collection also has a record of his marriage to Cynthia W. Palmer on 10 Mar. 1840. A reminder to check your sources before attaching people to your Ancestry.com tree, folks. This is how major confusion sets in.

May Danaher painted this summer landscape in 1924 (found via Artfull Eye Gallery):

May Danaher art

Here is cousin May with LulaBab Danaher (her name is given as Lulu Babb on the 1880 Census). I am not sure of the exact spelling of her name, as it is given several different ways: Lula Babb, Lulu Babb, Lula, and LulaBab being some variations.

May and LulaBab Danaher
May and LulaBab Danaher

Here is a picture of their brother Palmer, whose name likely derives from his grandmother’s maiden name:

Palmer Danaher
Palmer Danaher

Palmer’s age was given as two on the 1880 census, but his World War II draft card lists his date of birth as July 14, 1879. He looks about four or so here, I estimate this photo dates from about 1883 or 1884. I’m kind of curious about Palmer. The 1920 and 1930 censuses list him as a roomer in what looked to be some sort of large boarding house. His World War II draft card reveals this location to be the Hotel Pines. It was located on Main Street, Pine Bluff, AR. His occupation is given as lawyer. I wonder what he was doing living in that place. He was single, so it stands to reason that he did it as an expedient—someone to take care of the wifely duties he perhaps didn’t want to perform. He certainly lived there a long time. He is listed as living with his parents in 1910, but his World War I draft card dated 12 Sep. 1918 lists his residence as the Hotel Pines, so he lived there over 20 years at least.

This last photo is a mystery. It’s Kent Danaher, but I’m not sure who he is or how he’s connected to the rest of the Danahers, unless he is May, LulaBab, and Palmer’s brother Kennedy Danaher. I can only find him on the 1880 census, so I wonder if he might have died young. He definitely resembles Palmer in the face.

 

Kent Danaher
Kent Danaher

Black Sheep

Lake District SheepKim Cattrall learned on this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that her grandfather was a bona fide black sheep. Her grandfather, George Baugh, left his young family—his wife and three daughters—and married again without taking the trouble of obtaining a divorce. He then fathered four more children with his second wife, who apparently never knew about her husband’s first family.

The episode made me think of the mysterious black sheep in my family, and when Kim Cattrall started her search, she had little more information about her grandfather than I do about my own ancestor. His name is Frank Chatman, or at least that’s all my grandmother’s birth certificate says. His place of birth is conjectured to be Kentucky. His age is given as 25 in 1929, which makes his birth year about 1904. His occupation is given as “convict” and his residence the “Kentucky State Penetenchury” [sic].

Obviously it’s a sensitive topic, and family members that might feel concern over the story are still alive. However, the reason I decided to write about it is that no one living has anything to be ashamed about, nor have they done anything wrong. You don’t get to choose your relatives.

I would love to know what he did, but so far, my efforts to find out have been hampered by my inability to take a trip to Kentucky and dig up more evidence. I know a professional genealogist could probably get to the bottom of the story. An archivist with the Commonwealth of Kentucky did try to help me, but she didn’t uncover much. She found two possible candidates, both of whom were incarcerated for willful murder, but no really solid, definitive leads. I have a hunch the search will be complicated by the fact that my great-grandfather’s name was probably not exactly “Frank Chatman.” Frank might have been a nickname, and his last name could have been Chapman or any of the other soundex varieties one might expect. Searching my grandmother’s family has revealed that folks were not too particular about spelling names correctly or even the same way twice, and census records have been downright difficult to search. I’m hoping the 1940 census will reveal some leads when it comes out next year. I have, on the other hand, been able to construct a sad, if skeletal, story about my great-grandmother, who lost two small children during infancy—one to dysentery, of all horrors. My great-grandmother herself died fairly young before the age of 60 of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, Frank Chatman, or whatever his name is, will have to remain a mystery until I have a little more time to devote to the detective hunt or unless I win Ancestry.com’s Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: llamnudds

The Old House in Lockney

My aunt shared with me this portrait of my great-grandparents’ home in Lockney, Texas. (Click for a larger image.)

The watercolor was painted by Ted Bell in July 1977. My great-grandparents, Herman Cunningham and Annie Jennings Cunningham, bought this house in 1936 and lived in it until they both passed away in the 1980’s.

This painting of the house is exactly like I remember it. The windmill was one of our favorite playgrounds. We used to climb it, which was probably dangerous. You can see a tree between the house and what I think was a small barn or shed. There was a knothole in that tree. My great-grandfather used to whittle and carve out of nut seeds and fruit pits—little owls, little baskets. He had hidden one of his owls in the knothole of that tree. He called me over to show it to me, and I remember being filled with wonder. I also remember feeling very special. I didn’t see my great-grandparents much, and when I did, it seemed there were always so many people that a moment of attention from my great-grandfather, whom we called Pa Pa,  felt very special.

The tree in the front of the house near the road had low-hanging branches that were perfect for climbing.

The barn had brand new kittens inside it, and the whole farm was littered with Pa Pa’s Prince Albert Tobacco cans.

It was amazing to be able to see it again in this watercolor. I’m so glad it exists.

Stella

Stella Ophelia BowlingAugust 11, 2010 will mark the 72nd anniversary of the death of my great-great-grandmother, Stella Ophelia Bowling Cunningham. I find her endlessly fascinating, perhaps because I know more about her than I many of my other ancestors. She left behind a diary (pdf), a letter to my great-uncle Alvin Cunningham, and several other letters I haven’t shared on this site.

Stella’s father served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, as did most of my ancestors who were the right age because most of my ancestors lived in the South. If I had relatives in the Union Army, I haven’t discovered them yet. He was captured and sent as a POW to Camp Douglas in Illinois, where he had a conversion experience and became a minister. Stella’s mother was Mary Elizabeth Kennedy. Stella and her mother both played the organ. They came from a musical family. Family legend has it that David Kennedy, Stella’s great-great-grandfather, charmed the secret for making gun locks from the New York factory from which he purchased them for his gunsmithing business by playing the fiddle for the workers. Probably untrue, but a great story.

Stella and her family traveled from Tennessee to Texas in a covered wagon and settled near Dallas, living in Wise County (1880 Census) and perhaps Collin or Denton County, as Stella married in Collin County, and her family lived in Denton when the 1900 Census was taken. She definitely lived in Denton with her husband after her marriage.

Stella was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Texas in the 1880’s and 1890’s. She seemed primarily to be concerned with keeping good order in her classes. She stayed with different families, one of which was the Cunninghams. She married their son Amos in 1894. They had seven children together: Herman Cunningham (my great-grandfather, 1895-1980), Dessie Mary (1897-1992), Lillie Manila (1899-1974), Alfred Morgett (January-April 1901), Velma Helen (1903-1996), Aubrey Bowling (1908-1977), and Nina Varena (1910-1990).

The family moved out the Panhandle region of Texas between 1910 and 1920. Stella lived in Swisher County, where my grandfather was born, and in Armstrong County. Her son Herman would meet his future wife Annie Lola Jennings in the same way that Stella met Amos: she was a teacher and boarded with Stella and Amos.

Stella had been engaged previously to John William Tolleson and Roscoe M. Payne. I actually had some really nice exchanges with descendants of John William Tolleson a few years back. All of us were very interested in the story of our ancestors’ engagement. Stella mentions burning some of Tolleson’s letters with Amos, though she did keep some from Roscoe, which I have copies of and have promised not to share. It looks as though Stella broke off her engagement with Roscoe because she didn’t approve of his business, which sounds like a pool hall.

For a time in the 1930’s, she lived in Rosebud, New Mexico, a town that no longer exists. Stella died in Claude, Armstrong County, Texas.

Perhaps one of the reasons I find her so interesting is that she did leave enough of herself behind in her writing for me to get a sense of her personality. To me, that’s what family history and genealogy are all about: learning about the real people in your family, what they were like, what they did. It saddens me that so many people think it’s a waste of time or that genealogists are only interested in finding famous ancestors.

Artamissa Sparks

Artamissa Sparks WillisArtamissa Sparks Willis is my great-great-great-great grandmother. She was born on 15 January 1816 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. She married my great-great-great-great grandfather Andrew Jackson Willis about 1834. They would have eleven children together: David, Newton Allen, Catherine J., Nathaniel A., Milton, Mary, Andrew Jackson, John L. (my great-great-great grandfather), Samuel, James Joseph, and Daniel.

Many researchers in her line mistakenly believe she is a descendant of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins. This lineage is erroneous. It is reported as follows:

Stephen Hopkins
+Bethia Hopkins
++John Kelsey
+++Esther Kelsey
++++Hiel Parmelee
+++++Giles Parmley
++++++Mary Parmely
+++++++William Sparks
++++++++Artamissa Sparks

There is one major problem: Bethia Hopkins is not the daughter of Stephen Hopkins. According to fellow genealogist Gregg Wager:

The long tradition that assumes that William Kelsey’s wife’s name was “Bethia Hopkins” is based on Hinman’s misreading the 1663 record regarding William Kelsey’s daughter Bethia and her husband David Phillips. This confusion was further compounded by attempts by zealous genealogists to link this “Bethia Hopkins” to the pilgrim Stephen Hopkins. There is no reliable record of William Kelsey’s wife.

Stephen Hopkins had two daughters named Elizabeth (one died before the other), but both died before marrying and could not be Bethia. In any case, William Kelsey’s wife is not proven, as Wager stated. Over zealous people (I hesitate to use the word genealogist for something so sloppy) have linked Bethia to Stephen Hopkins in order to provide a Mayflower passenger for their family trees, but any cursory study of Stephen Hopkins’s life reveals he had no such daughter. Being a Mayflower pilgrim, his life is more carefully documented than many others of his time. It’s been my experience that many sloppy family historians try to make three connections: 1) Pocahontas, 2) a Mayflower pilgrim, 3) nobility and royalty. I am not saying that folks don’t have those connections, but not as many folks as claim to.

Artamissa Sparks’s name is often also given Artamissra and Artamissia. I don’t know much about her. She is reported in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses as living in Franklin County, Alabama. Artamissa Sparks is an ancestor of my grandmother Doris Thurman Cunningham, and I have often found it interesting that the Jennings family, ancestors of my grandfather, Udell Cunningham, were living in the same county at the same time as the Willises. I have strong gut feeling that they must have at least known of each other if not known each other well. How coincidental that their descendants would marry less than 100 years later in Texas. To my knowledge, the families had not been in contact. The Willises lived mainly in Oklahoma after Grover Cleveland Willis, my great-great grandfather migrated there from Alabama, while the Jennings family migrated to Texas. My grandmother was born in Oklahoma, but her family did have some connections to Texas on her father’s side, which is possibly how her family wound up living in Texas in the 1940’s and early 1950’s when my grandparents met and married.

If you look closely at Artamissa’s hands, you’ll see she has six fingers on one. I have not heard of other family members with polydactyly, but I find it interesting. While the photograph is poor quality, it is possible to tell that she looks like a Willis, as one might say. I see my great-grandmother Lucille Willis Thurman resembles her, anyway.

Here is a picture of Artamissa’s son John L. Willis with his wife Ann McNatt and two youngest children, Elisha Clayton Willis and Bell or Belle M. Willis:

John L. Willis family

Here is a picture of Artamissa’s grandson Grover Cleveland Willis with his wife Melvina Meeks.

Grover Cleveland Willis and Melvina Meeks

And here is a picture of Artamissa’s great-granddaughter and my great-grandmother, Lucille Willis Thurman:

Lucille Inez Willis

The Willises have deep-set eyes that they appear to have received from their ancestor Andrew Jackson Willis, but I see something of Artamissa passed down through the generations, too.

Artamissa Sparks Willis died on August 6, 1886, making next Friday August 6 the 124th anniversary of her death.

Note: Photographs of John L. Willis and family and Artamissa Sparks were found on Ancestry.com via users rhoades1160 and jones6360.

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A Genealogy Blog by Dana Huff