Friday, April 18, 2014

Remembering Uncle Mike

Henry Wilmer Bannarn "Mike"
For as long as I can remember. I've heard my mother and grandmother talk about "Uncle Mike". I never met him, but I sure felt like I did. He was like a celebrity in my family. They were obviously very proud of him. Mom always said that my oldest brother, who was and still is very artistic, got his talent from uncle Mike. Growing up, I remember that he could draw anything. Mom always said that artistic expression ran in the BANNARN family and that many relatives were talented in one way or another. I knew that Uncle Mike was the brother of my mother's father, Anthony BANNARN. I also knew that he was an artist. But It wasn't until I got older, and became more curious about my family history, that I began to ask questions about the man called "Uncle Mike". Curious me..I always wanted to know more.

Grandma always had so much to say, and never seemed to mind my questions. Especially when she was in the mood to talk. I knew that she knew the Bannarn's well, I also knew that she had been best friend's with Grandpa Tony and Uncle Mike's cousin, Cleola Bannarn...Grandma was just the right person to talk to.
Cleola Bannarn Davis & Margaret Doyle Bannarn 1939-Minneapolis

Grandma Margaret's memories of Uncle Mike:

Henry Wilmer Bannarn, known as " Mike" to many, was an Artist and Sculptor. He was born July 1910 in Wetumka, Oklahoma to parents, Dee Bannarn and Hassie Thompson. His family came to Minnesota a few years after he was born.

"Mike was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet". He was very good looking, of course all the Bannarn boys were. He was very sweet, a real good guy". I think that grandma admired how good he was to his mother because she mentioned it quite often in our talks, she always said that he came home from school and took care of her. She said that Mike was extremely talented and could always draw well. She remembers him going to art school. He later went off to the war and moved to New York. She remembers his wife Mayola and always talked about how beautiful she was. Together they had three children.

Growing up I never payed much attention to the sculptures that my grandmother had sitting in her home. It wasn't until many years later that she told me that Uncle Mike made them. His sculptures and artwork remain throughout my family today.

I never did ask my grandmother, but I now wonder if she knew all those years ago that he would be so popular one day, his works so great. Mom used to say that she always told them to hang on to his sculptures, they were something to treasure. I wouldn't be surprised if grandma knew after all..

Henry Wilmer Bannarn

Wikipedia has a pretty cool description about Uncle Mike and his work.


© 2014 Denise Muhammad

Source: Interview with Margaret Doyle James

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Friend Of Friends: Lessons From The Underground Railroad #TALIAFERRO


By sjtaliaferro

One night during the holidays I watched one of my favorite movies, Roots: The Gift. The movie stars LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr., in their roles as Kunta Kinte and Fiddler from the television series Roots. In this movie, Kunta and Fiddler accompany their owner to another plantation at Christmas time for a party, and become involved in a plan to help some runaway slaves escape via the Underground Railroad to freedom. A simple, yet powerful story. There are many messages and lessons to be learned from Roots: The Gift.
In one of my favorite scenes, Fiddler and Kunta are helping the group of runaway slaves get to the river where they are to meet a boat that will take them further on their journey to freedom. Along the way they make a stop to pick up other “passengers” on the Underground Railroad. When they come to a farmhouse, Kunta approaches and knocks. The man asks…”who goes”? Kunta responds “Friend of Friends”…in acknowledgment, the man replies “Friend of Friends”. A group of “passengers” exit the house. Kunta, Fiddler, and the group continue their journey.
This year, I was particularly moved by the Underground Railroad scene, and even more so by the phrase uttered by Kunta- Friend of Friends. The phrase, and variations of it, was used along the Underground Railroad as a password or signal to those assisting runaway slaves on their journey North…to freedom. The traditional response to the “who goes there” password is said to have been “A Friend of a Friend”.
A Friend of Friends. Say it… A Friend of Friends, again…A Friend of Friends. It evokes such a comforting, welcoming feeling. A feeling of trust, of sharing, of caring, of kindness, and of friendship, however brief. At the same time, it is transient…adjusting and changing with the circumstances. I’m A Friend of Friends….you don’t know me, but I require assistance…I need your help, and guidance…some information to aid me on my journey…then I’ll be moving on…to the next stop along the way.
The phrase, and the underlying concept, seems particularly appropriate and relevant for those of us in the genealogy community; aren’t we all on some level really just A Friend of Friends? Strangers helping strangers. Friends of friends with a common bond that ties us all together….the desire to know our ancestors, and to tell their stories. A common goal, with different methods, different paths that cross and intersect along the journey. As we travel this road to uncovering our ancestors and their stories we should all embrace the concept…we should be A Friend of Friends. Don’t be afraid or reluctant to share, to care, to guide, or to assist your fellow researcher along their journey.
As an African American researcher my task is two-fold; I research my family, but inevitably I must also research the family of my ancestor’s slave holders if I want to know more about my roots. Often we must seek information (assistance) from those that we do not know to aid us on our journey. It is an unavoidable truth – the descendants of our ancestor’s slave holding families may hold the key to our enslaved ancestor’s past. Slavery is an ugly truth of our shared history. I am not angry with you because your ancestor held my ancestor as a slave; don’t be angry with me because I seek those records that may shed more light on the lives of my people, and help me to tell their story more completely. Some who were members of slave holding families assisted passengers along the Underground Railroad. I challenge you to be A Friend of Friends.
We, as researchers of our African American ancestry, must also remember to share, to care, to guide, and to assist our fellow researchers; reach out, take time….no, make time. Can you request and expect the assistance of others, yet not expect the same of yourself? I urge you to stop being selfish with your research. Don’t miss out on a connection or a long lost cousin because of fear or uncertainty. Post It, Blog It, Share It, and Publish It. Many who were passengers along the Underground Railroad returned to assist others on their journey to freedom. I challenge you to be A Friend of Friends.
True genealogists know all of this, and understand the necessity of it. Indeed, the concept is nothing new in the genealogy community. Random, and not so random, acts of kindness occur every day. So, consider this a wake-up call, my challenge to you. When a fellow researcher comes calling…for info…for guidance…for knowledge…for support – be there – to share, to care, to guide, and to assist.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The family History Project: An Interview With Grandma Margaret

Grandma Margaret 14 yrs old.with siblings, baby Esther, Edythe (Pie) and Johnny.

Many years ago,  my oldest daughter came home from school and told me that her class was doing a  family history project and she had to interview an older relative that had lived during the depression of the 1930's. She chose to interview her great-grandmother, my grandma Margaret. I was beyond excited! At the time she was 12 years old and was so excited. She is now 32 and has no interest what so ever in family history. Sad to say, neither do my other two children. I keep hoping that maybe it just hasn't manifested itself in them yet. Only time will tell.

When I told Grandma that her young great-granddaughter wanted to interview her, she was excited. She loved to talk, and talking about her history was even better. I started the kettle that day before she came in the door. My grandma was a die hard tea drinker. She loved a good cup of hot tea. When she came to visit, you would be wise to have the tea kettle on because that would be one of the first things she'd asked for. She would always ask. " Do you have any tea Honey? "   Makes me chuckle just thinking about that.

My daughter began by asking her when and where she was born?  What was it like when you were growing up and during the depression?

Grandma replied:

I was born on February 4,1916 in Danville, Illinois. Life was not easy. Papa and Mama worked so hard. My Papa was a Coal Miner. When I was very little, we lived in the coal mining camps. Sometimes we would move to different towns in Iowa. Before we had a car, Papa drove a wagon pulled by mules.We had to wash clothes by hand. Mama had a great big tub that she put on the fire outside to boil water in to wash the clothes. When I got older, It was my job to help with the laundry and look after my sisters and brother's. We washed the clothes outside in the warmer months. I always had to wash the diapers, which was a terrible mess! I scrubbed them on a wash board and then beat them with a rock.After that they were layed in the sun to dry. In the winter, they were still hung outside. The clothes would be hard as a brick. Eventually Mama got a winger washer, which made washing a little easier. Saturday night was bath night, everyone took a bath and got ready for church the next morning. Some mornings, my papa sent me to the butcher on the corner to get a slab of bacon. When the depression came, it was hard. Many people lost their jobs. Papa no longer worked in the mining camps, many had shut down. He did odd jobs and hauled things for people with his truck. Food was rationed. I don't remember us ever going hungry. We always had enough food to eat. Mama had a big vegetable garden. She would can vegetables, spiced peaches, apples and jam. The jars would look so pretty lined up on the shelf. She baked her own bread. There was no money for fabric. So mama made our dresses out of flour sacks. She used scraps here and there to make quilts. We had chickens in our yard. Papa would slaughter the chicken and mama would fry it up. Sometimes she made gravy and biscuits with it. My papa would  help the neighbors that needed food. He would take a box and pack up some vegetables, bread, a slab of bacon, what ever  he could spare and take it to them. My papa was a good man."

Grandma's father, Peter Doyle, siblings, Johnny and Edythe. Mary Doyle (in Car)

What did you do for fun?

"We didn't have Television back then. For fun we would have Taffy pulls, Pop popcorn, make fudge, We would play the piano and sing . In the summertime, we had picnics".

What was the cost of rent?

"Well, when I first got married and came to Minneapolis,MN we lived in what they called "Cold Water Flats" they called them that because there was no hot running water, only cold. You had to boil the water to take a bath. Rent was  $10 a month. That was about 1936. Bread was .10 cents a loaf. A good dress was $3.00. I would put my dress on Lay-A-Way. Every week I would walk downtown to pay .50 cents on it until it was paid off". Life was very different back then. People don't realize how easy they have it now compared to the old days.

My daughter put her project together. It came out beautiful. She had to read it to her class. That day she brought home an A!

Grandma and my daughter, Aiesha in 2006.


© 2014 Denise Muhammad

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Shirley Bannarn Tanksley: Positive Affirmations

Shirley Bannarn Tanksley-1967 ( photo courtesy of Shari Doyle-Chandler)

As this year comes to an end. I find myself reflecting on the past, counting my blessings, and looking forward to the new year. Clearing out the old and making room for the new. I remember my new years resolutions that I made at the beginning of this year. Talking out loud to myself..a trait that I know I inherited from my mother. I had firmly declared that this would be the year that I would take my genealogy research to the next level, I wasn't exactly sure what the next level was. I just knew that I had to do more. I told myself that I would push harder, strive to invest more time and find an improved strategy to find my ancestors.

Looking through my genealogy files I came across some papers that reminded me of my Aunt Shirley. She had given them to me several years ago. It was Thanksgiving day and my family gathered at my brother's home for dinner that year. She smiled, handed me a stack of papers and said. "Here Honey, take these papers",You will know what to do with them more than I will". I was surprised that she gave them to me. knowing how interested she was in genealogy, she had also been researching our history. The papers contained names of family members that she had written, generation after generation with birth and death dates. Included were her notes of some of her research that she had done and information on the Seminole Indians. Once again, I was being handed family information and being told that I would know what to do.

Shirley Ann Bannarn Tanksley was my mother's sister.The oldest child of Anthony Bannarn and Margaret Doyle. She passed away in May of this year at the age of 73. Growing up, we called her the Cool Auntie. A name that we made up for her because of her laid back and soft spoken personality. I never once heard her raise her voice. She was so proud of her family. Always smiling, always optimistic, she could see the sunshine even on a dark cloudy day. I've always admired her for her positive outlook on life and loving spirit. She truly believed in the power of positive thought and the power of prayer. She used to say that there was energy contained in positive and negative thoughts. Be careful of what you say. Your words carry weight, once released into the universe they have the power to change things. Speak what it is that you want into existence. You can achieve anything you want. You must see it and believe it. Positive affirmations being used to manifest change in your life.

When I reflect on this year, the resolutions that I made in the beginning. I realized that my genealogy research has indeed reached another level. I didn't even notice, It swept right past me. Somewhere in the midst of finding the Facebook group AAGSAR (African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research), starting a blog and sharing my family history. It happened. I was at the next level. This was the improved strategy that I had been looking for.

If Aunt Shirley were here, maybe she would tell me that by talking to myself I had called what I wanted into existence. She would love the blog and would be proud that I was sharing the stories. People are placed in our lives for reason, and a season. They touch us in one way or another and become part of the story. Aunt Shirley is still with me, she is with us all. Smiling, turning cloudy days to sunshine and encouraging us with her loving, positive words and thoughts..

Aunt Shirley 2011


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mary B. Carr Doyle: Who Is Frank Molloy?

If you like a good on!

This past summer my cousin gave me this funeral announcement hoping  that I could figure out the mystery of who Frank Molloy is, and is he related to our family. This article was found in a large old bible, that was published in 1882. This bible, with pages crumbling and falling apart had an ornately engraved black leather cover and had belonged to my Great-Grandmother, Mary Belle Carr Doyle. There are no inscriptions inside. Neither one of us had a clue of why it was in the bible, nor had we ever heard the name MOLLOY in our family.

According to this announcement, Frank was a young man who drowned in a boating accident at pine lake in La porte, Indiana. In July of 1886. A young woman by the name of Mrs. Rose Stern was in the boat with him. She drowned as well.

I began researching Frank, trying to find a connection. I found that he was just 16 years old at the time of his death. The news of this accident was printed in several local newspapers, even in the new york times..which I thought was strange. Why so many newspapers, in different states? I also found that Frank was the son of  a very well known Evangelist named  Emma Molloy. Emma was known as the Temperance Evangelist. She also was an editor of a newspaper that she ran with her husband, Edward Molloy. Frank was her only natural child. She had adopted a few other children. So far I've only found her daughter Cora LEE. Emma became a part of a huge scandal when a murder took place on her farm.

  The Graham Tragedy and the MOLLOY-LEE examination


My Thoughts:

Mary B. Carr was born the same year that Frank Molloy died, 1886. So obviously she didn't cut that news clip out of the paper. Maybe the bible belonged to her husband Peter LEE DOYLE. And the news clip was sent to him. Maybe there's a connection between him and Cora LEE. Maybe it belonged to her mother. So who was Frank MOLLOY and how does he relate to my family? I have really tried to think out side of the box on this one..and still, no answers.

 © 2013 Denise Muhammad

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mary Belle and John CARR: The Big Puzzle

Mary B. Carr-Doyle
My maternal Great-Grandmother Mary Bell Carr has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Grandma Margaret talked about her mother often. However, she hardly knew anything about her family history. Mary was born in 1886 in Lynchburg, Virginia. She married Peter Doyle in 1903 becoming a step mother to his three young daughters from his first marriage; Hattie, Mattie and Letha. Mary Belle never talked about her past, not her parents, not her grandparents..nothing. Grandma always said she thought that it was very strange. Who doesn't talk about their family?  she always thought there was some big secret she was hiding. Mary had one brother, John Wesley Carr. Known as "Uncle Johnny". The only thing that was known is that they were from Lynchburg, Virginia. Their mother died when they were children and that they were raised by an aunt. John and Mary were very close. Uncle Johnny didn't talk about his past either. He only said that his mother told him on her death bed to take care of his little sister, Mary. I remember my grandma telling me that in her day, children were seen and not heard. As a child, you just simply did not ask questions. And she never did. She wished that she had known her grandparents. She asked me if I could find out who they were. She said that it would be great if she could just find out what their names were before she died.

As I started looking more into Grandma Mary's past. Cousin Martha, who was very close with Grandma Mary, told me all about her past. She said that Mary Belle and her brother John were the illegitimate children of their mother and the German doctor that she worked for. This doctor took advantage of their mother. The mother died when they were very young. After her death, the father wanted to take Mary and John and raise them, however the mother's family would not have it. She said that they were raised by the mother's family. Aunt Bert or Bertie..she never could remember the name exactly. According to cousin Martha, this was part of the reason why she never spoke of her family. She was too ashamed of being an Illegitimate child.

Looking for Her Parents:
I put up many posts on various message boards hoping to find a connection. Finally a cousin, who seen my post and contacted me. She was from the CARR family. Said that she found the marriage record of Mary and her husband Peter Doyle. This record listed her parents names as Nellie GOGGINS and John CARR There it was! Grandma Margaret was so excited! She had finally found the name of her grandparents.
John Wesley Carr 1884-1959
John W.Carr was born in Lynchburg, Virginia  about 1884. I'm not sure when he came to Minnesota. He first shows up in the 1920 census, where he is shown living with the Sherman Finch Family in St.Paul, MN. He worked as a Chauffeur for the family for 25 years. Mom remembers that he loved to go fishing. He married Sue Sten in about 1938-39. Sue was from Germany. I'm sure that STEN was a shortened version of her original name. After he and Sue divorced he came to live with grandma Margaret. My Mom was a little girl then, she remembers Uncle Johnny bringing her baked beans all the time because she loved them so much. John was a member of the Sterling Club in St.Paul, Mn. To my knowledge he never had any children. He always took care of his sister. He bought her a house after her husband died. Grandma said he had a lot of trouble with his legs from all the driving he did. He died in Hastings, Minnesota in 1956. John was wealthy and left most of his money to his fishing buddies. Grandma always fussed about that.When he died Grandma Mary had him brought to Iowa to be buried in Glendale Cemetery where the family was buried at.

The latest mystery. A cousin who was contacted by a Carr family member, who found adoption records in Iowa stating that that John and Mary were actually NICHOLS and were adopted by the Carr family. She said that the Carr and the Nichols family were related...Hmmm..this is strange being that they were born in Virginia. I'm Still researching this one.

Other than her marriage record. I've never found Mary in any document before 1910. She first shows up in Mahaska county Iowa in the 1910 census, living with her husband and children. As I said earlier, John doesn't show up in the census until 1920, in Minnesota. I realized that searching for my ancestors who were light enough to be taken as white. Makes it more difficult when you don't know exactly what location they were in. Throughout the census records after 1920. John was listed as white and black. Talk about confusing!

Just a few of my endless questions:
Where were Mary B. and her brother John between 1884-1900?
When did Mary come to Iowa?
Who did she go to Iowa with?
Were they really adopted?
It makes me dizzy..So many unanswered questions. Wait..There's another mystery to this story about Grandma Mary! more about that in my next blog post.

Siblings: Mary B. Carr Doyle and John Carr-photo courtesy of Shari Chandler Doyle


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Finding Hassie Bannarn

Hassie & siblings- with parents, Steve Thompson & Alice Fuller
I came across this photo once again today and knew that it was time to pen this blog which is long over due.

This past summer, my mother called to tell me that she had received a picture of her paternal grandmother, Hassie Thompson Bannarn. She said that the picture was of Hassie as a child with her parents and siblings. She knew that I would be excited, being that in all these years we've never been able to locate a picture of her. Once I saw the picture, I was even more curious because I've never heard of Hassie having any siblings except for one sister named Lela. I wondered if they were really her siblings..if so, why hadn't I ever heard of them.

The Photo 
I have been looking at this picture for months trying to figure out why it looks so strange to me.I've looked at every detail, searching their faces, looking at their clothing. And it occured to me, that the little girl on the right is leaning back. Her eyes look strange, slightly off. Actually both girls are leaning a bit. I wondered if they just had bad posture or if they were  deceased. What a morbid thought. However, I know that there was a time when they took photographs of the dead.They all look so sad to me. Still and solemn. I wonder why they didn't smile back then.

My mother never met her grandmother. She died in 1942, when my mother was just a baby. I've always wondered what she looked like, as did my mother. My Grandma used to tell me all about her mother-in-law, Hassie..Mrs. Bannarn as she called her. She said that she was an Angel and the sweetest woman that she knew. Hassie and her husband Dee Bannarn had come to Minnesota from Oklahoma in about 1913. Hassie later developed severe arthritis that left her body deformed. Her arms and hands were drawn up to her chest. She couldn't walk and was confined to her bed. They took her to many different doctors, even to some place were they had hot springs. They still could not figure out what was wrong or how to cure her condition. Her husband and children took care of her. Grandma Hassie's hair was so long, they would have to drape it over the iron bed rail to brush it and it almost touched the floor. My Grandma remembered Hassie's son, Mike, being very close with his mother. She said that he came home from school everyday and took care of her. My cousin, Mike's daughter, remembered a similar story. She said that he would sleep on the floor next to his mother's bed. Grandma was there the day that Grandma Hassie died. She said that when they lifted her off the bed that the bed springs played a song. " My God Near To Thee". I've never fully understood that, but grandma swore by that story and told it to me a million times.

My Mother at 23 years old.
When I asked my grandma Margaret what Hassie looked like. She replied "Like an Indian woman". They were all Indian, meaning, Grandma Hassie's husband  Dee and his family. The Bannarn's. She followed that by telling me that if I wanted to know what she looked like, just look at my mother, because she was the spitting image of her. Same long black hair, same skin tone, same features..she looked just like her. Aunt Jewell, who was Hassie's daughter always told my mother the same thing. That she couldn't believe how much mom looked like her mother, Hassie. 

Lela Thompson Bannarn: Hassie's Sister.
Hassie was from Texas. According to her death certificate she was born in 1880 in Lonestar, Texas to parents Stephen Thompson and Alice Fuller. I have always been told that she was full blooded Creek Indian, however some say that she was also part Cherokee. The first census that I found Hassie in was the 1880 census for Cherokee county, Texas. She was five months old and is shown living with her parents, who were also from Texas. Her race is listed as Black.There is also another child shown living in the same house. Her name was Rosey. She was 3 months old, and also is listed as being the daughter of Steve and Alice. Her race is listed as white and according to this record, her mother was from Georgia and her father was from Alabama. Now I'm trying to figure out , who was Rosey? maybe she was a family member that they took in. It doesn't seem like she was the biological child of Steve and Alice. I've wondered if Rosey is one of the little girls in the picture. Being that they were close in age. It could be. If these are her siblings in the picture. Who are they? and what happened to them? At this point. I have found no information about Rosey or any other siblings besides  her sister. Lela. Lela married Dee Bannarn's brother John, and was part of the migration to Minnesota with the rest of the Bannarn family. 

I continue to search for Hassie, she's so interesting. I've traced her in the census from 1880-1940. I know that she was Indian. However, I've yet to find her listed as that. Always mulatto or black. There's still so much more to find. The search continues..


© 2013 Denise Muhammad