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Month: August 2006

Blogging Family History

Posted in Genealogy and History

Artwork © Christina Martinez Byvik, San Diego Union-TribuneWhen 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.

I found a poem on Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings yesterday that really captures why genealogists do what they do.

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.

Johnson Franklin Cunningham: Will Executor Extraordinaire?

Posted in Research Questions

Johnson Franklin CunninghamJohnson Franklin Cunningham was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia1 on October 17, 1823 and died in Denton County, Texas on January 9, 18992. He lived with his family in Oglethorpe County, Georgia until 1880, when he moved his family to Texas.

I do not have a copy of his will, and I’m not sure if he even made one. He does, however, make an appearance in the wills of several other people as a witness and executor. I found this curious. Why would so many people ask him to witness or execute their wills? Did he have legal training? If so, I don’t have any evidence of it. My grandfather Udell says that his grandfather, Amos Cunningham (Johnson Franklin’s son) told stories of his father being a minister (I haven’t found documentation). It makes sense that people might feel comfortable asking their minister to witness or execute their will.

William W. Power
12 Mar 1847
To my wife Martha Power during her natural life or widowhood, my whole and entire estate. At her death or marriage, my entire estate (except the negro slaves) to be sold, and after my daughter Anna G. Power is paid $100.00, then to be equally divided among all my children, viz, Elizabeth M., Anna G., Susan [or Samson?] P. and Mary W. Power. My negro slaves to be divided into as many equal lots as I have children at the time of my wife’s death; if my wife should marry, she shall have an equal share with my children in every respect. My Executor & Executrix may sell my tract of land on Brushy Creek and other tract on North River at the expiration of a lease to Mr. Cook for four years. Also the tract where I now live. My wife may give off portions of property as she can spare to my children as they marry or become of age. Executrix: my wife Martha Power. Executir: Willis Strickland. Signed: William W. Power. Witness: Richard B. Gholston, Francis Power, Johnson F. Cunningham. Rec’d 23 Sept 18483

Thomas J. Black
3 Nov 1854
All my land and property to be equally divided between my five children: Milla A. S. Black, Barbara W. Brown, Jonathon C. Black, Celia C. Black, and James W. Black. Executors: My friend John B. Moon and my brother John W. Black. Signed: Tho. Ja. Black. Witness: James S. Black, Thomas M. Anthony, Johnson F. Cunningham. Rec’d 7 May 1855.4

Mary Ann [Williams] Black
State of Georgia, Oglethorpe County I Mary Ann Black being of sound and disposing mind and memory do make, publish and declare this to be my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all other wills by me before made.

Item 1st I give and bequeath unto Charles Filmore Sanders son of William J. Sanders my bed that I now sleep on and the furniture with it and one small chest known as my sugar chest, and one small round trunk.

Item 2nd I give and bequeath unto Eliza Eberhart a colored woman (that formerly belonged to me) all my wearing clothes, bandboxes and baskets and one small oven, one stone jar, one small boiler and all my earthenware – this I do for actual service she has rendered to me – besides other considerations.

Item 3rd I give and bequeath unto my son James S. Black all the balance of my estate ready money real or personal or mixed of what ever kind.

Item 4th I appoint my worthy friend Johnson F. Cunningham executor of this my last Will and Testament. In testimony where of, I have hereunto set my hand and seal. July 24th 1868. Mary Ann X [her mark] Black [seal]

Signed, Sealed and declared in presence of and in the presence of each other this July 24th 1868.

Gabriel Watson , J. G. Olive, J. F. Cunningham, State of Georgia

Personally appeared in Open Court Oglethorpe County Gabriel Watson + J Gibson Olive who were witnesses to the within will, after being duly sworn depose + say that they saw Mary Ann Black sign, seal, publish + declare with within to be her last Will + Testament, that at the time thereof she was of sound and disposing mind + memory and that she did it freely without compulsion + that they witnessed the same in the page 39 presence of the Testator at her special request + instance and in the presence of each other. So help us God. Sworn to + Subscribed in Open Court this 5th December 1870 J. G. Olive. G. Watson Georgia Court of Ordinary Oglethorpe County December Term 1870. The within last Will + Testament of Mary A. Black deceased of said county having been duly presented by the witnesses signing the above oath, the same having been duly proven in common form of law in Open Court at this Regular Term of the Court upon the oaths of Gabriel Watson + J. Gibson Olive the subscribing witnesses to said last Will + Testament the third one not doing so as he was named as executor. Ordered, That said Will be admitted to Record. This 5th December 1870 – Filed in Office 5th

Recorded this 6th day of Decr 1870.anuary 1871 – F. J. Robinson F J Robinson /s/ Ordinary O. C. Ordinary + Ex off Clk.5

John P. Tiller
Georgia, Oglethorpe County — I John P Tiller of said County and State being of sound and disposing mind and memory do make publish and declare this to be my last Will and testament hereby revoking all other wills by me made.

Item 1st I give and bequeath and devise unto my wife Martha Ann Tiller all of my estate of whatever kind or nature personal and mixed ready money and change in ?????? during of her natural life or widowhood to be kept for the support of her and my daughter that is not married until they do marry or while they stay with my wife Martha Ann Tiller; also my two sons William M Tiller and John W Tiller to live with my wife until they become of age.

Item 2nd My will is if my wife dies or marries before my youngest child Matta A Tiller becomes of age that my Executors keep my Estate together for the support of my children that is not of age until my youngest child Matta A Tiller becomes of age or marrys when either count happens my will is that there be an equal division of my estate among my children that I have by my wife Martha Ann Tiller.

Item 3rd I appoint my wife Martha Ann Tiller Executrix and my brother Thomas R Tiller Executor of this my last Will and Testament.

J. P. Tiller (Seal)

Signed Sealed published and declared in our presence in the presence of each other and in the presence of the testator this June 11th 1863.

James S Black
J F Cunningham
George S Cunningham
David Graham

State of Georgia, Oglethorpe County — Personally appeared in open Court J F Cunningham and George S Cunningham two of the subscribing witnesses to the within will and after being duly sworn deposeth and saith that they saw John P Tiller sign seal publish and declare the within to be his last Will and Testament and at the time thereof he was of sound disposing mind and memory and that he did it freely without compulsion and that they signed the same as witnesses in the presence of said testator at his instance and request and in his presence and that they saw James S Black and David Graham sign the same as sitnesses in testators presence all of which is to the best of our knowledge and belief so help us god.

Johnson F Cunningham
George S Cunningham

Sworn to in open Court this 7th day of November 1866

E C Shackelford Ordinary

Court of Ordinary November term 1864
The last will and testament of John P Tiller late of Oglethorpe County deceased was exhibited in open Court by Martha Ann Tiller the executrix herein named and was in open Court at this regular term of the Court proven in Common form of law upon the oaths of Johnson F Cunningham and George S Cunningham two of the subscribing witnesses to the same. Ordered that said will be admitted to Record.

Recorded this 11th day of November 1864

E C Shackelford Ordinary6

Brinkley Smith
January 1, 1857/December 1857, Oglethorpe County, Georgia

I Brinkley Smith of said County and State being of sound and disposing mind and memory, make publish and declare this to be my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all other wills by me made

Item 1st I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Alley wife of Jesse Hardman one hundred dollars

Item 2nd I give and bequeath unto my son Isham Smith five dollars

Item 3rd I give and bequeath unto my son Martin Smith’s Estate five dollars

Item 4th I give and bequeath unto my son Elisha Smith sixty dollars which he is now due me for the rent of my land and also give him the privileges of living on my land four years longer from the date of this will if he wishes to do so.

Item 5th I give and bequeath and desire unto my son John B. Smith and my four daughters their names are Nancy and Betsey and Sarah and Rebecca all the rest and residue of my estate of whatever kind or nature real personal and mixed. I give and bequeath the whole balance of my property to my said five children above named in this Item to be equally divided between these five — also that they have the privilege of living on my plantation if they can do so by agreement for their support — if they cannot agree to live together in this way that four of them have the privilege of selling the land for an equal division — their names are John B. Smith, Nancy and Betsey and Sarah — my will is that my daughter Rebecca have nothing to do with the agreement of selling the land that it be left wholly with the other four above named to decide whether they will sell or not — but my daughter Rebecca have an equal share with them in the division. I appoint my son John B. Smith Executor of this my last Will and testament.

Signed sealed published declared in our presence in the presence of each other & in the presence of the testator this 1st day of January 1857 — his mark

Brinkley X Smith {Seal}
Johnson F. Cunningham Rolly H. Mathews
Colerian Mathews7

Barbara Williams
Record of Wills November Term 1851 Georgia
Oglethorpe County

I Barbara Williams of said County being of sound and disposing mind and memory do publish and declare this to be my last will and testament, hereby Revoking all other wills by me made.

1st I give and bequeath unto to Mary Ann P. Anthony daughter of Matthew J. W. Anthony, one negro woman by the name of Louiza and her four children to wit: Charlotte, Elizabeth, Robert, and Henrietta and the future increase of the said female slaves to the
said Mary Ann and her heirs forever.

2nd I give and bequeath unto Mahuldah Anthony daughter of Thomas B. Anthony one negro woman by the name of Teresa and her four children to wit: Evaline, Lucy, Nathan, and Henry and the future increase of said female slaves to her and her heirs forever.

3rd I give and bequeath unto Rebecca Williams Huff, daughter of Barbara Huff, two choice cows and calves, Bed and bedsteads and bed clothing also to Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahuldah each a bed bedstead and clothing for the same.

4th I give and bequeath and devise unto my friend Johnson F. Cunningham all the rest and residue of my estate of whatever kind or nature Real, personal, and mixed ready money and choser [?] in action. I give and bequeath the whole balance of my property to my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham to him and his heirs forever in fee simple and this I do as well out of Regard & friendship for him, as for actual services and kindness he has heretofore rendered to me and which I know he will continue to render in the future.

Another consideration for this bequest is that I have four old negroes that I have owned for many years. They have been faithful servants and they will have to be supported by the said Johnson F. Cunningham and I most earnestly request him to take care of them. Their names are Dave, Charles, Robbin, and Lucy. Also I desire my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham to treat With great and marked kindness a negro girl by the name of Josephene, and the said Johnson F. Cunningham is to pay annually or to ? ill the best manner, for the comfort and support of___? Barbara Huff my Niece, annually the sum of seventy dollars (70) during the natural lifetime of this said Barbara Huff free from all control contracts or interference of any kind of her present or any future husband.

5th I further order and direct that the negroes bequeathed unto Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahuldah Anthony be kept and controlled (sic) by my said friend Johnson F. Cunningham until my said nieces marry or become of age when either event happens then and not till then the said Johnson F. Cunningham is to deliver the negroes bequeathed to the said Mary Ann P. Anthony and Mahulda. The yearly value in the meantime to be applied to the education, support, and maintenance of the said Mary Ann P. and Mahuldah Anthony.

6th I appoint the said Johnson F. Cunningham Executor of this my last will and testament.

signed sealed published
and declared in our presence
in the presence of each other &
in the presents [sic] of the testator.
this 5th day of November 1850. her
Benj. F. Hardeman Barbara x Williams
Rolly H. Mathews Mark
Abel Eberhart
David Graham
Recorded 11 Nov 18518

These are all the wills I know about. If I discover others, I will update this post.

1Johnson Franklin Cunningham said that he was born in Georgia on each census, but his actual place of birth has not been verified.

2Some family members have given Johnson Franklin Cunningham’s death date as January 9, 1896, but his grave marker says January 9, 1899. I’m not sure which is correct, as I don’t have a vital record in my possession.

3Madison County Will Book B, Will Abstracts, page 43

4Madison County Will Book B, Will Abstracts, page 855Oglethorpe County Will Book E, Part 1, pp. 38-39, Georgia Archives Drawer 46, Box 11, Transcribed by Michael M. Black

6Oglethorpe County Will Book D, page 522, Transcribed by Wayne D. Tiller

7Oglethorpe County Will Book D, page 364, Transcribed by Jeannie Smith Zadach

8Transcribed by Jerry Mathews Palmer, unknown source

Family Tree Maker Website

Posted in Genealogy 101

Before I began using Family Tree Legends software to manage my genealogical research, I used what is arguably the most popular software program, Family Tree Maker. One of the features I liked most about FTL is that it enables the user to automatically update his/her information via the Internet as long the user is connected to the Internet while running FTL. The user doesn’t have to do anything. All information changed or entered into the program will automatically show up on the user’s website. This is handy if one’s computer completely crashes and it is necessary to reconstruct data. I had this happen once, and starting over from scratch was hard.

Family Tree Maker also allows users to create websites, but they are more difficult to maintain, as the user must create a user name and password, upload the information from the program, and upload it again if any changes are made. I have a Family Tree Maker site, but I can’t remember my user name and password, and the e-mail address I had associated with it doesn’t work anymore. I don’t think it is likely that it has hurt any researchers out there not to be able to contact me because of the tree on that site, but it really bothers me that I can’t get in there and put up a redirect to this blog.


Murder in the Family, Part 3

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories

John B. JenningsThis post is the third of a three-part series.

John B. Jennings, pictured to the left, circa 1870, was murdered in the street in broad daylight on June 26, 1875 in Russellville, Franklin County, Alabama.

According to the Jennings family Bible in possession of Arthur Jennings, the Jennings family’s American antecedents were in Virginia and Georgia. The Jennings Bible mentions John B. Jennings had three brothers: Dick, Jim, and George; Jim and George were John’s half-brothers.

John B. Jennings married Lucinda Fannie Curry on May 7, 1865 in a wedding officiated by Rev. Joseph White of Molton, Alabama. They had five children: Alpha Jennings, born June 2, 1866; Daisie Z. Jennings, born September 29, 1867; Veto Curry Jennings, born September 17, 1869; Richard Otto Jennings, born October 14, 1871; and Worth Alston Jennings, born December 6, 1873.

Northern Alabama was especially tumultuous during Reconstruction. In Harper Lee’s novel, Scout Finch’s first grade teacher, Miss Caroline, introduces herself to the class:

Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region… North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background. (16)

Reconstruction was difficult in North Alabama. Removed from Alabama’s capital in Montgomery, North Alabamians often clashed politically with their Southern counterparts and had a close affinity with Tennessee (Jennings 2). Politics is said to be the reason why John B. Jennings was killed.

Prior to Jennings’ death, North Alabama suffered under an outbreak of violence including burglary, arson, and murder. According to Arthur Jennings, John B. Jennings drew the ire of a political candidate because of something Jennings said at a political rally. In an alternate version of the story, the grudge between Jennings and the candidate originated with an article that had appeared in the The North Alabamian newspaper during the summer political canvass. The candidate, George C. Almon, sought Jennings out, according to Arthur Jennings, so that he could “give him a whipping” (qtd. in Jennings 2). According to Arthur Jennings, things did not go quite as Almon planned, and he had to “take one instead.” Arthur Jennings believed that Almon told a clerk at a hotel across the street from John Jennings’ blacksmith shop that he saw a mad dog coming up the street. The clerk gave Almon the gun. He walked over to the door and shot John in his shop from across the street. John B. Jennings was struck by four large buckshot and died within a half hour.

Almon surrendered himself to the sheriff. His trial took place on June 28 and 29, 1875. He was acquitted of murder — it was determined he acted in self-defense. If Arthur Jennings’ version of the story is true, it is hard to believe that George C. Almon acted in self-defense, but I have a feeling that Arthur Jennings’ version is rather kinder to John B. Jennings by virtue of the fact that he was family. It may be a popular redneck joke, but there is a grain of truth to the notion that a valid Southern defense for murder has been “he needed killin’.”

An account of the murder was published in a Tuscumbia, Alabama newspaper. The writer, using the pen name Russel Villian, “found fault with both men[:] Jennings for insulting [Almon] and [Almon] for acting with [S]outhern chivalrous behavior” (Jennings 3). Russel Villian did not say what exactly it was that John B. Jennings said to George C. Almon, but it may be that it was bad enough that the jury apparently felt Jennings’ murder was justified; indeed, the reporter Russel Villian believed John was at least partly responsible for his own murder.

Almon prospered in Alabama government and politics. Five years after the murder, Almon was a practicing lawyer in Russellville (Jennings 3). He was appointed a probate judge, and in 1886, he was elected to the Alabama State Senate in the 12th district.

Fannie told her descendants that she feared her sons would seek revenge against Almon if she didn’t move them away from Alabama. She must have realized that striking out against a person with Almon’s clout would be at best a fruitless endeavor, and at worst, result in more deaths. Fannie moved the children to Honey Grove, Fannin County, Texas in 1880. Ten years later, the family moved to Swisher County in the Texas Panhandle.


Jennings, Jan. 2006. Descendants of John B. Jennings. (PDF version of document sent in e-mail to Dana Huff, 24 Jul. 2006).

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1960.

Read “Murder in the Family, Part 1” and “Murder in the Family, Part 2.”

Murder in the Family, Part 2

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories

This post is the second of a three-part series.

Mary Shelby McDaniel was my grandmother, Doris LaNell Thurman Cunningham’s grandmother. She was born in Sulpher Springs, Hopkins County, Texas, on September 1, 1873 to Mary Bates McDaniel; her father, Shelby, was murdered around Christmas in 1872.

Very little is known about Shelby McDaniel. His parentage is uncertain, but Gerald McDaniel, who descends from Mary Shelby’s older brother Greenberry McDaniel, connected Shelby to the Gwinnett County, Georgia McDaniels; however, the 1850 census does not reveal a Shelby in the household of the man Gerald McDaniel believed to be Shelby’s father, James McDaniel. It is possible that Shelby left home before the 1850 census was taken, as he would have been about 17. One possibility for Shelby McDaniel includes:

S.C. McDaniel (age 16) in the home of his mother Mary McDaniel (age 52), with brothers Robert W. (age 22), W.P. (age 21) and E.C. McDaniel (age 14) and sister C.A. McDaniel (age 18) in Chester County, South Carolina, in 1850.

Gerald McDaniel passed away some time ago, and his website is no longer accessible through conventional means; however, if you access it through this link, you should be able to read some of it. You can access his genealogy here; McDaniel information is available here. Could Gerald’s granfather, Greenberry McDaniel, have named his son Shelby Clifton McDaniel using his father’s full name? It makes the S.C. McDaniel candidate more interesting…

Shelby was already in Texas by 1860, as he appears on the 1860 Census for Lamar County, Texas, married to Mary with son David. Most of what I know about Shelby McDaniel comes from my second cousin once removed, Chris Stofel. According to Chris, who has Shelby McDaniel’s Civil War records, Shelby “mustered in the 9th Texas Field Battery, Texas Light Artillery (Lamar Artillery)” in January 1862 in Paris, Lamar County, Texas. He was described on the roll as “5’9″, dark complexion, brown eyes, dark hair, a mason, born in SC, body sound and in good health.” Chris added that Shelby was “present for a few months, then was listed as being sick in the General Hospital/St. John’s Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, from November 11, 1862. He spent several months there and on November 12, 1863, he was listed as having deserted and was dropped from the rolls.”

Chris Stofel says that Shelby was murdered around Christmas in 1872. “His body was found floating in a river or creek.” To this day, we are not sure why Shelby was murdered. Chris has heard three different versions of Shelby’s murder:

  1. Shelby was robbed as he was returning home from working in Gainesville, Texas; he supposedly had a lot of money with him.
  2. Shelby was murdered by the jealous husband of a woman he was having an affair with.
  3. Shelby was pro-Unionist and was killed by unreconstructed Rebels.

Chris said that many older relatives describe Shelby as a “rounder,” so any of the three versions is possible. Merriam-Webster’s definition 2 of “rounder” is “a dissolute person : WASTREL.”

As far as descendants know, this murder has never been solved.

Source: Stofel, Christopher. Letter to Jerry Thurman. Unknown date.

Read “Murder in the Family, Part 1.”

Murder in the Family, Part 1

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories

Three of my direct ancestors have been murdered under what can only be described as mysterious circumstances, at least to those generations that followed them.

When I received a copy of my grandfather’s obituary, I received a wealth of information I had never expected to receive. I had always known he was adopted, but I knew little about the circumstances, and I didn’t know the names of his natural parents. I learned from the obituary that he had been the natural son of Omar and Gertrude Gearhart and had eleven sisters and four brothers.

His living sisters included Eva Heier, whose name I recognized from annual Christmas cards, Margie Water, Jessie Riddle, Betty Ann Bailey, Ruth Anderson, Carol Babb, Dorcas Tobin, and Helen Marie West. I was able to quickly determine that the last five were his adoptive sisters, Elizabeth Ann Swier, Ruth Swier, Carol Mae Swier, Dorcas Pauline Swier, and Helen Marie Swier. That meant that his natural surviving sisters must have been Eva Heier, Margie Water, and Jessie Riddle. His only living brother was Frank Walker. As the Swier family had no sons aside from my grandfather, I knew Frank, too, must have been a natural brother.

My grandfather also had three sisters and three brothers who preceded him in death: Mary Smith, Ruth Kyker, Alice McReynolds, Junior Gearhart, John Gearhart, and Donald Cannon. All of these siblings were natural siblings.

I posted a message on a genealogy forum, asking for information, and I heard from Dara Rowe, the daughter of Frank Walker. As it turned out, Dara knew what had happened that caused the Gearhart family to be scattered to the winds: my great-grandfather had been murdered.

Omar Alfred Gearhart worked as a garage mechanic. He suffered a head injury in a shooting accident that altered his personality. According to Dara, he became an alcoholic. There was an intimation that he became abusive. These types of injuries have been known to cause personality changes in some people. The circumstances are unclear, but some time later, Omar Alfred Gearhart was murdered. Dara believed it to have been his business partner, but I have found no news stories that report Omar Alfred Gearhart’s murder, so I cannot be certain.

Omar Gearhart’s murder threw his family into chaos. His wife Gertrude was pregnant and unable to support her ten children. Once the baby was born, Gertrude tried to feed the three youngest children at her breast; the older children tried to find work where they could. The family was starving. Gertrude heard that the Washington State authorities planned to take custody of the children. Fearing they would be separated and grow up not knowing each other, she sought advice from her pastor, who brought her situation before the congregation of the church. Congregants adopted the children except for the older children and the baby. I cannot be certain which children were not adopted, but I know for sure that those adopted included Jessie Riddle, Donald Cannon, Frank Walker, and my grandfather, David Swier.

I do not know where Gertrude was in 1930 when the census was taken; I cannot find her. However, my father told me that she remarried and her last name was Lightle. I found her Social Security Death Index record and determined she died in Pasco, Franklin County, Washingon.

Stay tuned for “Murder in the Family, Part 2.”

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