Monday, March 14, 2016

They Call My Name

My Great-Great Grandmother, Mariah Hall Conaway
Some days it seems like my ancestors call my name. On Different days, it's different ancestors. If  I look long enough , I swear I can see them standing there in the distance saying, "Keep looking chile' I'm right here in front of you" I had spent years searching for Mariah, my paternal Great Great-Grandmother. I could never get past the 1880 census, Just simply could not find her. Becoming frustrated with my research, I decided to put her away and focus on other ancestors.

Last summer this picture was shared at a family reunion. I was told that the woman in the photo was my great grandmother, Barbara Conaway. Although I was excited to see this wonderful photo. Something kept nudging me. Why did her clothes look so old?  I blew the photo up on my computer and searched every detail. I compared it to another picture of Grandma Barbara. They did not look like the same person. Grandma Barbara was born in 1881 and died in 1936. Something just didn't fit. The woman in the photo appears to have light eyes, her hair looks either gray or light brown.and of course, her clothes..I had a feeling that this is was not Barbara. A call to my cousin Ann confirmed my suspicion. The woman in the photo was definitely not Barbara. It was her mother. Mariah Hall Conaway.

After my conversation with cousin Ann, my curiosity sent me back to searching for Mariah and her family. Family oral history says that she was a slave in Franklin county, Missouri. I had already found Mariah's mother, Myra Hall, and her siblings in the 1870 census. The same record that I had searched a dozen or more times. I felt sure that Mariah and her husband Curry had to be in Franklin County somewhere. There was something that I was missing. I got a tip about a research strategy for finding your African American ancestors in the 1870 census called the "Nettie Rule". After reading this article by Tony Burroughs,  Finding African Americans On The 1870 Census  I knew that I had to try again.

I went back and  searched the 1870 census again, going back over the same census record that I had previously found Mariah's mother and siblings listed on, only this time I payed very close attention first names as well as surnames. Suddenly there, sitting at the very bottom of the page, living a few doors away form her mother and siblings, was  Mariah, Curry and their young son, Joseph. Only their surname was not Conaway. It was HUNTER! I could not believe it. How in the world did I miss this!  I never noticed them. I always focused on the surnames. I guess that's why I missed them. Obviously they had changed their name, as many slaves did after they were free. Next, I began searching for the Hunter surname in Franklin County, Missouri to see what I could find.

I found a will for a man named VALENTINE HUNTER. Valentine was a slave holder from Rowen County, North Carolina. He moved to Franklin co, Missouri with his wife Margaret in about 1826 bringing his slaves with him.  In 1849 he left a will  freeing his 13 slaves. Easter/Esther, Nice, Caroline, Curry, John, George, Smith, Mary, Ambrose, Charles, Manda/Amanda, Clinton, Sarah Ann. Could this be my Great Great Grandfather, Curry? Valentine also put in his will that after the death of his wife, Margaret, that his property be sold and the money from his estate be divided among his slaves. Did they actually receive the money? According to documents in the Missouri State Archives. All former slaves actually did receive the money that Valentine wanted them to have. I wondered..Why he would free his slaves in 1849?  Even more, why would he leave his former slaves money from his estate. Many of the slaves were young children and were entrusted to the care of some of the older slaves.

I searched for Curry with this new found name, Hunter. I found him in 1860 living as a free man in Franklin county. He was living with a mulatto woman named Maria Ferguson. I wonder if this woman could be Mariah. So many questions.. who knows, maybe this is my link to all my DNA matches with ancestors from Rowan county, North Carolina and the Hunter and Ferguson surnames. My search continues..


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Following The Voices In The Picture

My Paternal Great-Grandparents James & Barbara Fowler (Conaway)

Lately I've been wondering when or if I would get my spark back for genealogy. That extreme, almost 24/7 passion that has kept me up many nights pondering over the life of my ancestors. Over the past six months, work, family and just busy living life have taken over and I've struggled to keep up with my ancestors. I felt uncomfortable at first, almost like I was letting them down by not penning a blog post, not researching, barely giving them a thought. I knew that the story must continue to be told, there was so much more to share. How could I stop? as I tried to fight the feeling, I suddenly remembered something that Luckie Daniels once told me. She said,  "Just Go With The Flow". Sometimes their voice speaks loud and clear, sometimes they barely whisper and sometimes you don't hear them at all. Whatever it is, it's alright. Just when I began to let go and make peace with myself and this new hiatus, a package in the mail found me and the voices of my ancestors were no longer silent.

Several months ago, my cousin Darren told me about an up coming family reunion in Missouri this summer. I couldn't wait to meet the cousins that I had connected with online. Finally I would get to meet my Paternal Grandmother's side of the family. For months I made plans to make the trip..Imagine my  disappointment when I wasn't able to attend. A few weeks later my cousin Elizabeth, whom I've yet to meet, sent me items from the reunion. A Family reunion book, full of pictures, names, dates, kinship reports along with T-shirts and a DVD. I nearly fell off my chair when I opened the package! Smack dead on the front of the book was a picture of my Paternal Great Grandparents, James & Barbara Fowler! I had wondered for so many years what they looked like. It's such a good feeling when you connect with cousins through genealogy and they embrace you  as mine have. I've never met any of them, yet we are family. Looking at their faces, I see my father, my grandmother..I see me.

Pictures really do speak a thousand words. They capture moments in time in the lives of our loved ones and serve as inspiration and encouragement to continue to find ancestors and share their story. I hear them saying "Get up Girl! there's more to find!". I am dedicated to finding my ancestors and sharing their stories, however, the lesson that I'm learning in this journey is that it's alright to take a break from time to time...even our ancestors stopped to rest on their journey.

Following the spirit of the ancestors and going with the Flow..

Cousins at the family reunion 2014


© 2014 Denise Muhammad, A home in Missouri

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Digging In Franklin County: The Search For Mariah Hall Conaway

Growing up, I remember my conversations with my grandma Luella, my father's mother. As a teenager, I was already curious about my family history and wanted to know more. The day that she told me about her family, I quickly grabbed my yellow notebook and began writing as she talked. Grandma began to rattle off names of her parents, sisters and brothers..and then she began to talk about her grandmother.. Mariah. She said that her grandmother looked like a white woman and could have easily passed for that. Even though she looked white, she was made a slave. I still remember the tone in her voice that day, she said it like she was surprised, she just couldn't believe that she was a slave. I remember having the feeling that Grandma wanted me to know. I was 16 at the time and little did I know that this would be the last time that I spoke with my grandma Luella. I still have that yellow notebook, the one that I wrote in as she spoke to me. Over the years I have referred back to this notebook often, searching for clues to find the woman named Mariah.

I found that Mariah Hall Connaway, was born in or around Franklin county, Missouri in about 1839 to MYRA and Abraham HALL. She married Curry CONWAY around 1865. Together they had children; Joseph, Daniel, Maggie, Sarah, Frank, Louis, Benjamin, Barbara. I descend from Barbara who was grandma Luella's mother. I have found CONWAY spelled at least six different ways. I'm not sure what the original spelling was, perhaps Conway turned into Connaway, Connoway, etc. As a result of how the name sounded to the census taker. Mariah and Curry lived their life in Franklin county, Missouri with most of their family members. Looking into my father's family I found that their roots run deep in Missouri. My search for Mariah led me to find her mother MYRA HALL as well as some of Mariah's siblings; Rufus, Sedonia and Wesley Hall. Aunt Frankie, my father's sister, remembered Mariah, her mother Myra and Mariah's daughter, Barbara all being light skinned with long brown hair. Being that I've yet to find any photos of Mariah, Myra or Barbara, I really enjoyed hearing about what they looked like. Mariah died in 1928 and is buried in the Old City cemetery in Washington, Missouri along with her husband Curry and several other family members. Sadly, there are no headstones for any of them.

Researching slave ancestry has been challenging to say the least. Spending hours searching slave documents trying to find ancestors is painful. Although I have yet to find the owners of Mariah and her mother Myra, I have not given up the search. The ancestors are calling, and they have a story to tell.


© 2014 Denise Muhammad

Sources: Interviews with Luella Pryor
and Frankie Taylor

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My FOWLER Line: An Angel In The Act Of Genealogical Kindness

Grandma Luella 1910-1991
I have learned that helping fellow genealogists is a great part of Genealogy research. Where would we be without the helping hand of others. This story is just one of many....

My relationship with my paternal grandmother Luella Evandle FOWLER was different than most. Because I never once met her. Something that I never fully understood. Growing up, my sisters and I only knew her through  phone calls and letters. Mom would call her and put us on the phone. She would always talk to us about our father, her son. She would tell us that he loved us girls in spite of his absence in our lives and that we should always be sweet to our mother. Looking back, I am thankful for the many conversations that I did have with her. However, it was one conversation that gave me the pieces to this family puzzle and started me on my journey. At sixteen, my habit of writing everything down was just beginning. I still have the notebook that I took notes in during our conversation all those years ago. I guess that being a "Pack Rat" has it's benefits.. Little did I know that this would be the last time that we spoke.

I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. She started by telling me when she was born, November 5, 1910 to James Fowler and Barbara Christine CONNWAY.  She married Ollie Taylor, her first husband about 1926. She married her second husband Paul C. Pryor, in the 1930's. Her family was from Missouri. Most lived in Frankilin county. The towns of Washington, South Point, Pacific. Also, Boonville and Webster Groves. Her siblings were; Golden, Lawrence, Hazel, Charles, Sadie, Archie, Barney and Frankie. She told me that her maternal grandmother was a slave. Her name was Mariah CONNWAY and even though she looked like a white woman she was still sold into slavery. Mariah's mother was an enslaved woman named Myra HALL. Myra was born about 1807, some records say Kentucky and some Virginia. She is thought to have been owned by a German slaveholder in Missouri. Like her daughter, Mariah, she also was very fair and looked white. Grandma Luella continued to give me more information, telling me about the day my father was a little shack of a log cabin along side of the Missouri river in Washington..all I could say was Wow!

I was amazed as I later found that my grandmother's family stayed in the same location generation after generation. The only ancestors in my entire family on all sides that stayed in the same area after years after slavery ended. They never left. I have located most of them in Franklin county records from 1870-1940.

Melanie: An Angel in Genealogical Kindness      
I few years ago I posted a message to the message boards. I had found many death records on the Missouri Digital Heritage  website, an absolutely wonderful site for Missouri research. I was curious to find out more about the location of the cemetery's and my relatives. Called Washington and Old City Cemetery. I received an email from a woman asking me if I was sure about the name of this cemetery. After my reply, She offered to search for cemetery records. I was surprised and very grateful for her kind offer.

The next day she emailed me back with not one, not two, but a whole list of names. I recognized the names. Many were my grandmother's family. I was floored when she told that she would search the cemetery over the weekend and try to find their grave sites. WHAT! did I read this right? I thought to myself..okay, surely she charges a fee for her research services. When I asked her, She replied "No" and said that she would be in that area and that it wasn't far from her. The next email a day or two later provided me with more than I expected. Not only did she walk the cemetery, finding that there was not one single relative that had a headstone, she went to the county office and found obituaries, Birth, death and marriage announcements. I thought to myself, this woman must be a relative of mine. Who would do that? spend their whole weekend searching for a family that's not theirs. Her final emails contained maps of South Point, Missouri with links to other websites.

I never did find out who Melanie was. If she was a  relative, or just a kind woman who wanted to help me. I truly appreciate her time and her sacrifice to find these gems of information. This was an act of Genealogical Kindness that I will be sure to pay forward.

My great-Grandfather, James Fowler

My 2x Great-Grandfather James Fowler Sr.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gullah Geechee: Shouldn't Our History Be preserved?

                                                                                                                                                                     This morning my sister shared a story with me on Facebook. It definitely caught my attention, and
she knew that it would. This article really hit home with me because Gullah Geechee is part of my heritage. My great Grandmother Frances (Fannie) WILLIAMS was of this culture. Her family, originally from New Orleans, migrated to Mississippi and later settled in Arkansas where my Grandfather, Ollie Taylor was born.

The article talks about this small community in Georgia, called  Sapelo Island. It is one of the earliest freed slave settlements. Many of the descendants of  slaves still live there today. The Gullah Geechee people are being forced to sell because of rising property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, they are making their story known. No, my family is not from Georgia..that I know of. I cannot remain silent. I feel that I must share this and speak up.

I cannot believe that this is happening! all because of taxes?..really? a whole 50 people on the island. What exactly are they being taxed for? why can't this land be preserved. I think that it should be declared a national historic landmark. It's more than just a place. It's about a culture, a way of life. The history of a people that would be destroyed if this land is sold.  If dozens of plantation homes, civil war lands, buildings are declared historic why shouldn't this be?

Shouldn't our history be preserved?

Okay, I'm done ranting. Just had to get it out. I hope that others will stand and lift their voice. Someone has to help share the story.

If you don't stand for something. You will fall for anything.

Sapelo island historic-slave community Faces Tax Rise


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pain Of Genealogy

My father,with my sister and brother-about 1968
After my recent post, I spoke with my sister over the phone. We talked about many things, mainly about our parents, our history and the mystery of  Grandpa Ollie's name, TAYLOR. Which isn't really his name. My sisters are amazing, the encouragement that I get from them to continue blogging and search for our family's past is awesome! They are all my team. Our conversation made me realize something that I never thought of before. That tracing our Genealogy brings pain. I didn't realize that as much as we want to know about our father's past, that it would hurt so many to dig into it?. Pain is definitely the gift that no one wants. 
I think that sometimes the pain of remembering the past is just to difficult for some, especially the elders. They just don't want to talk. They will tell you in a heartbeat that they don't know anything. Short and to the point! like, don't ask me, I don't really want to talk about it. I have heard it so many times before. I was recently asked, "Why in the world would you want to look up dead people? " Yes, that bothered me. However, It does not stop me. I realize that I am supposed to tell their stories.
If you can get them to talk, good for you! Fortunately I was blessed with a grandmother that wanted to share her history and always pushed me to find out more about our ancestors. She once told me about a cousin that had started researching the family and uncovered some big family secret and stopped researching. We never did find out what that secret was. They come from a different generation, when children were seen and not heard. Grandma used to say that you just didn't ask questions back in those days. Oh, if only I would've of been a fly on the wall!
I have learned that there is a method to asking questions, always be respectful and don't push. They talk when they are ready. Be patient. Although digging into our past can sometimes be very painful and feelings and emotions surface that we thought we buried deep in us long ago..The pain becomes a real and necessary process on the journey to finding who we are and where we come from, the struggles our ancestors endured and the sacrifices they made.
The Pain of Genealogy, it's all part of the process as we follow the footsteps of our ancestors. Let go and follow the spirit! 


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Journey To Find My Father...I thought I Knew My Name

My father, Jesse Carl Taylor w/ my sister Lisa and brother Tony. 1965
Today, while searching for my ancestors...much to my surprise, it was my father who kept nudging me. As I ignored him, wanting to stay focused on a certain ancestor. It became clear to me that it was time to blog about him and share his story. As I've said before, the search for my father has been a life long journey. I've always wondered what happened to him. Where he was, what was his heritage, and how do I find him?  no one seemed to have the answers....

Growing up my mother taught us to be proud of who we are, which included being proud of our name. We were the PRYOR'S. Growing up in a small community, I had eyes all around me. EVERYONE knew my mother. Those were the days when you got checked by the other mothers in the neighborhood if you were caught doing wrong..and they had no problem at all letting your mother know!

I remember my father, playing with us as children. He always wore a crisp white T-shirt and Khaki pants. His hair was jet Black, thick and wavy with a hint of a curl, much like mine. He was a truck driver for Allied Van Lines for years and drove all over the country. He liked to cook and could fix anything. Even though he made his home in Minneapolis, MN where he met and married my mother in the 60's, home for him was Kansas City, Missouri. His family who had migrated from Arkansas lived in Cape Girardeau and New Haven, Mo.

The decision to look for him was easy. I had been researching the history of my family for years and had found a ton of relatives. So I thought, why shouldn't I be able to locate my father?..piece of cake,..Right? well, it wasn't that simple. After hours of questioning my mother, I found that my father had two Surnames. Actually two names all together; first, middle and last. Talk about confusing!  Further research revealed that when his mother married his step father, Paul Pryor. My father took on his surname, although he was never legally adopted. Switching his first and middle name around, he was enrolled in school under the name, Carl Jesse Pryor. He enlisted in the army, and fought in world War II under that name. His military record shows his birth date as 1927. This confirmed the story that my mother told me. That he joined the Army at 15 after lying about his age. He was actually born in 1930. I found it odd that even though my grandmother said his birth name was VALRIE Jesse Taylor. His birth record lists him as Jesse Carl Taylor. How absolutely confusing is that!!!

While the search for my father has been challenging, frustrating at times and very exiting. Especially discovering my Creole ancestry! It has also been painful and disappointing. I never did find my father. By the time I found him, He had passed away five years earlier. What a huge disappointment that was! Little did I know that he had started using his given name, Jesse TAYLOR. His obituary lists him as Jesse Carl TAYLOR-PRYOR..I guess he used both names.

So, although my family carries the name PRYOR. The name that my mother always thought we should be so proud of. It is NOT my name. What's even more surprising..I was recently told by my aunts and uncles, that neither is TAYLOR!..That's a topic for another blog post.

© 2013 Denise Muhammad