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Month: February 2007

Slavery in the Family

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, and Genealogy and History

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham, 1951

Rod Stewart said, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Furthermore, the cliché goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the axioms must be true. This picture was taken at a Cunningham Family Reunion in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1951. The man on the right is my great-great-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham. He was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1871, but his family moved to Texas in about 1880. He went back to Georgia for the first time on the occasion of this reunion. It was the first time he’d seen his sister Lizzie Burkhalter since the family left for Texas.

The man on the left is Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was named for Amos’s father, Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was born in about 1868, also in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, to former slaves named James and Charlotte Cunningham. I believe that James Cunningham had been owned by Amos’s father, and I feel quite certain that Charlotte was. I posted about some of my findings previously, so I won’t duplicate the entire post here. I have always been told by Amos’s grandchildren, including my grandfather and his cousin Mary Elder, that when they were little, the two men in the picture were playmates.

News broke recently that due to research efforts by Megan Smolenyak, Reverend Al Sharpton’s roots may be traced to a slave owned by relatives of Strom Thurmond. I found the story very interesting. I would like to find out what happened to the descendents of slaves owned by my own family, but I’m not sure how to go about it. First of all, the issue is sensitive, and rightly so, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Secondly, records are so sketchy, even after the Civil War.

My husband recently had to go to school to deal with a discipline issue regarding our kindergartner, Maggie. Her principal’s name is Mr. Huff, but he is a tall, distinguished African American. Apparently at one point, Steve and Mr. Huff broached the awkwardnes of the situation, and my husband asked Mr. Huff where his family was from. Mr. Huff told Steve, “Actually, my great-great-grandfather was white.” Steve replied, “Well, knowing my family, who knows?”

I would like to invite anyone who believes they have traced a connection to any of the lines I’m researching to contact me.

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Teaching the Holocaust Through Family History

Posted in Genealogy and History

My friend Kevin Murphy, who teaches 8th grade language arts at West Middle School in Nampa, Idaho, and I are working on a joint family-research project. He mentioned that he was teaching the Holocaust. His students would study a play based upon The Diary of Anne Frank and other works of literature, then do a research paper. I reminded him that I teach at a Jewish high school and had access to books and people who might be good resources for him. He had a better idea — what if our students collaborated so that mine could help his learn about history through my students’ family stories?

My students are currently in the process of answering interview questions posed by Kevin’s students via a wiki he set up for this purpose. His students are interviewing their own families about their own histories. My students are excited about sharing. Some of my students are desendants of Holocaust survivors. Kevin’s students felt that learning about my students’ families would enable them to hear “the stories and not just the history.”

If you get a chance, check out our work in progress.

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Posted in Genealogy and History

I have found myself wondering lately what kind of music my ancestors liked. There are clues to be found here and there. For instance, my ancestor David Kennedy was renowned for his skillful fiddling. David Kennedy was a gunsmith and owned a gun factory in Mechanics Hill, Moore County, North Carolina. One of my favorite stories (probably apocryphal) is that Kennedy was tired of paying what he considered to be high prices for the gun locks he imported from New York. The problem was, he didn’t know how to make them himself. Supposedly he rode all the way to New York from his North Carolina home on a horse to discover how the locks were made. He charmed the gun lock factory workers with his fiddle playing, and they allowed him to observe the process of making the locks. Of course, after this, he made his own locks (source: My Southern Family by Hiram Kennedy Douglas).

David Kennedy’s own Bible records his family’s country of origin as Scotland. I would like to think he played those famous fiddle tunes brought over from Scotland and Ireland and helped frame what would become bluegrass, but the fact is, I’m not sure. According to a wise man who knows, the difference between a violin and fiddle is that a violin is carried in a case and a fiddle is carried in a flour sack.

I learned from relatives that my great-great grandfather Amos Cunningham, who married David Kennedy’s great-great granddaughter Stella Ophelia Bowling, was also a fiddle player. Stella mentions it in her journal (after her wedding!):

Thursday May 31st 1894

It was muddy but we came any way.

I left my father’s home to go to a new home.

“I part from love that hath still been true,

“I to into love yet untried and new.” – A new trial I never had before.

We had a very pleasant trip if it was muddy.

Reached Aunt Panthea’s after four some.

I fixed up a little & we came on.

The guests were here when we came and I was so embarrassed — more so than when we married.

They had a real good supper and all went off nice.

Had music on violin, banjo, & organ.

The married ones & all staid all night – only 27 and 30 for breakfast.

All seemed to enjoy it.

Of course, they teased Mr. Amos & I some.

Stella played the organ, and she mentions this fact several times in her journal.  She also mentions that her mother (Mary Elizabeth Kennedy Bowling)  played the organ as well.  On a couple of occasions, Stella complained about others playing music as it interfered with her concentration.  Amos and Stella’s daughter Lillie Manila Cunningham also played the fiddle and was given Amos’s fiddle upon his death.  I’m not sure who has it now, but I assume it would be someone among the descendants of her children Luther Clifford Case or Virgil Amos Case.

My grandfather played trombone back in school, and he still listens to big band swing, which was pop music when he was a teenager.  My grandmother loves country music and Elvis.  I remember hearing her hum as she sewed.  I often asked her what she was singing, but she always said she didn’t know.  I’m not sure if she heard them somewhere or made them up, but they sounded like hymns.

I love music, and I have been a musician myself.  Is such an appreciation genetic?  Is there a reason why the music I have the most visceral appreciation for is blues, Celtic, and bluegrass?  It’s something I have long wondered about.  My mother has often expressed her own appreciation for the sound of bagpipes, which is something I enjoy as well.  My daughter, unlike any other teenager I have ever known, prefers Celtic music to popular music.

Time passes, but folk music can perfectly capture a time and place.  Sometimes listening to it makes me feel as if I am connecting in some small way with ancestors I never met.  We can still play or dance to the same music.

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