This is my cousin, Theodore Prather (gloriously aged 94) standing in front of his mother’s headstone (Sarah Copelin) in Montgomery County, MD. Sarah is actually shown 7th from the left in the picture that heads my blog above. Those are members of the Prather family. My grandmother is on the far right end. We are having almost a 200-person reunion in 2 weeks that the family has been planning for about 5 months. I am sooo excited!
Archive for the ‘My Family Research’ Category
We Tree’s Weekly Genealogy Prompt #27 asks us to visit the graves of local celebrities and talk about their lives. I’ll do a small twist on this which is that the celebrity is not in my local area, but is in the local area I am researching.
My maternal ancestors are from a rural, Southwestern county in Tennessee called Hardin County that most folks haven’t heard of unless they’re from there or have been following my post. Many of my family members lived in a town called Hooker’s Bend, which is fodder enough for another post, but Hardin County’s largest city is Savannah (you didn’t know there was one in Tennessee, did you?) Well, as the title of my post exposes, Alex Haley (the author of Roots) is Savannah’s biggest celebrity and he plays a prominent role in the tourism brochures for the area.
Alex Haley grew up in Hening, Tennessee, which is actually several counties over in Lauderdale County. But the reason Alex is Hardin County royalty is that his grandparents were prominent and well-known Savannah citizens from the end of the 19th through the early 20th century. They were Alec/Alex Haley and his wife Queen. They’re also (stated with utter pride) in my family. (His name is found in records written both ways, but I will call him “Alec” in this post to differentiate between him and his grandson.)
The Holts (my grandfather’s surname) are one of my major Hardin County lines and they intermarried with Haleys in two places on my tree. This is sorta confusing, but I’ll give it a shot: my great-great-aunt, Madelina Holt, married Abner Haley. Abner was one of Alec and Queen’s sons. Their other son, Simon, was Alex Haley’s father. Another Holt ancestor married Julia Haley, who was the daughter of Abner Haley. So there are Holts and Haleys all over the place.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Alec and his wife Queen, because they were a fascinating couple. Alec’s fame was mostly because he operated the ferry that took people across the Tennessee river to the city of Savannah when that was the quickest way to travel if your horse took too long. So he knew just about everybody in town, white or black. One year (I can’t remember what year) he saved a white woman who almost drowned, so after that, he was vaulted to forever sit amongst the echelons of “most beloved” colored folk (this incident was written in the local newspaper).
The Cherrys were one of the wealthiest families in Hardin County from the early-mid 1800s, and they owned what came to be known as the Cherry Mansion. The Cherry Mansion sits right on the side of the Tennessee river and was where Alec Haley’s ferry picked up passengers to go “‘cross the river”. His (mulatto) wife Queen worked in the Cherry mansion. Their house was about 100 yards from the Cherry Mansion. So Alec drove the ferry and his wife worked for one of the richest white families in the area. The Cherry Mansion (which still stands and is a tourist attraction) was so grand that when General Grant brought the Civil War through Hardin County for the Battle of Shiloh, he camped out at the Cherry Mansion. Much of this is covered in the book and movie.
When Roots and Queen shot Alex Haley to fame, there was a rush of visitors to Savannah, and people sought out elderly folks, both white and black, to ask them their memories of the couple. This created a positively rich record of them passed down via oral history, in addition to the wonderful book written by Alex. All kinds of neat details emerged, like the fact that people got baptized down at the river. One woman talked about when the circus came to town, how the elephants would swim across the river. Alec was described as a hard-working, smart, honest man who didn’t like “no ‘ficety kids.” Queen was a tiny woman, who claimed Captain Jackson was her father her entire life (she came from Alabama). Queen’s “mental spells” were the stuff of legend–everyone knew of her time spent in the mental hospital at Bolivar. Her spells “made an indelible impression on everybody.” One elder claims, “Miss Queen had fits, but she told us she acted that way to get what she wanted!” Others agreed about how smart she was and how they loved to hear her witty sayings: talking once about a girl’s dress being too short, Queen suggested she put a “condition” around the bottom of it–meaning a ruffle;) Queen’s spectacular way with gardening was noted: “She was crazy about flowers and her yard was beautiful. She had elephant ear plants all over the place.” Stories like these are the kind I live for in genealogy.
As a genealogist, I have enjoyed tracking this family through the census. By 1930, Abner and Madelina Holt Haley migrated to Detroit, part of the Great Migration of African-Americans to the North to find better employment and escape the hardships of the South. Last summer, I joyfully got to meet several of my Haley ancestors who live outside Detroit, in a township called Inkster. We exchanged pictures and information about our shared Tennessee roots.
I see my cousin Chris Haley much more often since he’s also here in Maryland and does alot of genealogy-related activities. Alex Haley is his uncle and he also is affiliated with the Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation. He keeps the Roots message alive in his speaking engagements and reminds us all of the wonderful gift Alex Haley left ALL genealogists. In this picture, we were at the FGS Conference in Philadelphia last year.
I’ll end with a photo of Alec Haley’s grave down in Savannah:
Today, I am thinking about my Granddad, Luther Holt. He was born in Hardin County, TN in 1921 and died in Virginia in 1993. Boy do I miss him. I started doing genealogy after he died, and that’s one of my big regrets. I think he would have truly enjoyed all of this.
Luther was something else. He was a tough guy, always the only adult who would curse around my brother and I , which we found simply hilarious. But he had a heart of gold when it came to us. We’d spend summers in Dayton, Ohio and hang out at his house and also my grandmother’s house. My memories of those times are very special. He bought my brother and I some chickens once–the hen laid an egg and I was so amazed! He had a boat that he’d take us out in all the time. He was the first grown up to teach me how to drive (I was 14). He’d play Uno with me for hours, and he bought the best cards for me on my birthday that were always on time. He was just so much fun to be with. I’ll never forget how clean his house was. I’ll never forget him smoking those cigars all the time. This post is for you, Granddaddy. Rest in peace;)
I posted a few weeks ago about finding my ancestor Hannah listed in a cemetery online. A wonderful genealogist who lives in the area not only took a photo of it and posted it online, but he took photos of everything there he could see! That’s one of the reasons I love genealogy. Here is Hannah’s headstone, alongside her husband John Bradley:
I am in Raleigh, North Carolina at the NGS Annual Conference and I am having a ball. Great classes so far, and I’ve got a huge “to do” list of research for when I get back home. Carole and I have such a good time at these conferences.
I thought I’d still post a lesson I learned many years ago, because I think it’s something a lot of people don’t think of. My grandmother, Pauline, attended Bennett College. She loved Bennett and talked about it all the time. Her father was a Methodist minister and Methodism shaped much of her life, so a Methodist College was completely in order. At some point years ago, I decided to write to Bennett to see if they had any of her records. They had everything! They wouldn’t release her grades (I wasn’t interested in those anyway) but they sent me her original application from 1931!
How cool is that? Another page listed her hobbies and extracurricular activities…I would have never guessed my grandmother played soccer. So if your ancestor went to college, write to the school to see if they still have any records left. This worked even better for my grandfather who attended a year at Howard…they sent me everything on him, and it was alot.
Want to know what my favorite part of the application was? A picture from her senior year, that of course no one in my family had ever seen:
WOW. I can almost see her walking across that campus, taking her classes, making friends.
Pauline was a teacher, and her first job out of Bennett was at the Boylan School in Jacksonville, Florida. Boylan was a Methodist (of course) private school for negro girls. I found a website called the Florida Memory Project and downloaded a brochure from the Boylan School just a few years before Pauline would have taught there. It had all sorts of details like what classes the girls would take, how much it cost, and what kinds of clothes they had to bring. That was a nice find. Of course the best thing for Pauline about it was that she met her husband at Boylan and spent much of the next 50+ plus years in Jacksonville. I hope you’ve enjoyed this example of just one more way to bring your family history to life!
I absolutely, positively LOVE court records! OK, I guess I should caveat that: I don’t particularly like court records about myself, but historical court records in search of those ever-elusive ancestors are way, way cool. They are second on my “genealogical excitement” scale only to Civil War pension records. I have an entire brief I do on Court Records because they’re so incredible.
Guess what I found tonight buried in the Hardin County Court Minutes that I ordered and viewed at my local Family History Center? Well, I had been wondering for years how this particular man, Felix Barnes, fit into the community. I have Barnes ancestors, but had never seen him in the household of any of my Barnes kinfolk. So tonight, I found a record of Felix being apprenticed out. But the good part was this phrase, one that we live for in genealogy:
“…the apprenticeship of Felix Barnes, minor child of Lou[isa] Barnes (now wife of Sam[uel] Holt) said boy being an illegitimate mulatto child.“
WOW. I knew Samuel and Louisa Holt’s family well, but never guessed Felix was Louisa’s child. This record doesn’t name his father, but implies the father was white. What’s written here is the kind of stuff you hardly will ever find written anywhere else, or written period, and that’s why court records are a-rockin’-and- a-shockin’.;)