Saturday, January 11, 2014

Meeting Grandma Prater: The Fleming's of Brownsville,Tennessee

Edith Fleming-Prater 1922

I remember the day that I met my husbands paternal Great Grandmother, Edith Elizabeth Fleming Prater. He had always spoke of her, saying that she had this tiny voice. It was soft, yet high pitched. Making her sound very young. He told me that when he and his sisters went to  grandma Prater's house as children, there were never any other children or family around. No cousins, aunts or uncles. It was so strange. Different than most families. Already the curiosity about grandma Prater's family history was brewing. Where was her family?  It was Thanksgiving day that year and my father in law had brought her home from the nursing home to spend the day with the family. I approached the woman in the wheelchair with caution. Looking back, I think I was a bit nervous. When she spoke, I noticed her  very tiny voice. It was my children's first time meeting her also. She seemed fascinated with my son, who was just a little boy back then. She hugged him and started to cry when she heard his name. He is the 4th generation of the family name, Charles. I could see that she had a very special bond with her grandson, Charles, ( my father in law) who she raised as her son. Meeting her that day only made me more curious to find out all about her history. And so the questions began..

Edith was born in November of 1904 in  Memphis,Tennessee to  Robert Fleming and Jennie King. As far as I know she only had one sibling, a sister named Vivian. I began searching for her in the census records and was surprised that I found her so easily. For every census year up to 1930, I found Edith living with her grandparents, Emmet and Elizabeth Fleming and her father Robert Fleming. It appeared that she was raised by her grandparents. Her mother, Jennie was no where to be found in the census. I wondered where she was? After the death of Edith's grandmother, Elizabeth. Edith and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the story my Father in law told me, Grandma Prater (Edith) was expecting. Being an unwed mother, she was being sent away to stay with relatives in Buffalo New York. The picture shown above was taken when she was getting ready to leave. I wonder who lived in New York..Another clue to figure out. After her daughter, Mary Louise was born, Edith came back to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there that she met Albert Thomas Prater. They were married in 1925. He was from Newman, Georgia. His parents were Israel Prater and Cornelia Huggins. Thomas had three sisters, Lola, Ida Belle and Sarah.

Edith and Thomas moved to Minneapolis, Mn about 1946 with their young grandson Charles.Thomas opened a grocery store called Prater's Grocery. The family lived in the back of the store. They later moved to a house in south Minneapolis. Years later Thomas and Edith both worked for the U.S. Navy department. Thomas died in 1977 and Edith died in 1990.

Looking For the Fleming Family:

As I continued to trace the history of Grandma Edith Prater. I started searching for her father Robert. I found him living in Brownsville, Haywood county, Tennessee. As I sifted through census records, and went back further. I found Robert along with his parents and siblings. By the time that I reached the 1870 census I felt like I found gold! There was Robert's father, Emmet, his parents Thomas and Harriet Fleming and a load of brothers and sisters and their families. A whole page of Flemings!  Peter and Melissa Austin were living next door. I had heard the name "Austin" before. I have a hunch that Melissa was Thomas and Harriett's daughter. From 1870-1940 they stayed in the same place. Brownsville, Tennessee. According to the  census, they were all farmers. I wondered how life was for them. So this was Grandma Prater's family. Now I have to try to put the families together and find out who they were. along with locating the slave owner..more to come.

1870 Census- Brownsville,Haywood co, TN

Robert Fleming-Father of Edith Fleming Prater


© 2014 Denise Muhammad 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Searching For Charles William McKinney: The Value of City Directories

Charles E. McKinney (son of Charles W. McKinney) 1947
It's funny how I can have my mind all set on spending the weekend searching for a certain ancestor and then BOOM!- a thought, a word, a sentence, or even a picture..sends me totally in another direction. This past weekend it was my husbands endless talk about how little he knew about his paternal grandfather, Charles William McKINNEY. I had become frustrated with searching for this side of his family and had decided a few months ago to put that research on hold for awhile. It was obviously time to dig in again..the ancestors called, and I had to respond. However frustrated that I may get. Quitting is NEVER an option for me. So, I pulled out the notebook that my father-in-law left, thinking maybe there was a clue that I missed. Family stories are like puzzles, each piece is a clue to the past. Sometimes going back over notes and stories, It makes me think of things that I had not thought of before. On my father-in-laws birth record it says that his father was from Knoxville, TN. He was born in 1920. I knew that he and his family  had migrated to Cincinnati,Ohio sometime in the 1930's. It was there that he married Mary Louise FLEMING about 1939-40.

Being that I have been unsuccessful in finding his family in the census. I decided to see if I could search the city directories for Cincinnati, Ohio. Starting with 1940, I worked my way back. According to my father-in-law, his father, Charles W.  had a sister named Christine and a brother named J.D.  I was told that his mother was a fair skinned woman known as Mrs. Hunt. As my eyes scanned the page, I found a Christine McKinney. Her address was listed as 539 Carlisle Ave. A few lines down I  noticed a J.D. Mckinney. He had the exact same address. My next step was to search the 1940 census for Cincinnati.

I couldn't believe what I found next. Christine and J.D. Mckinney living with a woman named Lottie HUNT! She was born in 1886. Christine was 16 and J.D. was 17. They were from Tennessee. Everything matched, I feel sure that it is them. It turns out that the Mrs. Hunt that my father-in-law spoke of was the grandmother. I was jumping out of my chair! I had found my first connection to Charles W. McKinney's family. I had looked at this directory months ago, How did I miss this?  I went back to the 1940 city directory to see if I could find Lottie HUNT.  There she was, living at the same address as J.D. and Christine. She was listed as the widow of CHARLES HUNT. Wow! I had another name. I continued to search the city directory back to 1930. I found the family up to 1935. So this gives me a clue to when they may have came to Cincinnati.

I wondered why Christine and J.D. were living with their grandmother. Where were their parents? I still don't have their names. At least I have more to search with now. I am confident that I will find a another connection. I'm off to search for Miss LOTTIE HUNT and her husband CHARLES HUNT. Hopefully they will lead me to Charles William McKINNEY and a whole family. I'm sure that their out there somewhere.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whispers In The Deep South: Many Rivers To Cross

Augustus & Viola Wooley (Woods) with their son Augustus Jr.
After viewing episode four of Many Rivers to Cross tonight, I just had to finish penning this blog post.  This episode made me think of my husband's family, my family. It's interesting that through marriage, families are intertwined.Your family becomes my family and so on and so forth..

My recent visits with my mother in law have been very interesting. They usually are. I asked her what life was like growing up in Alabama in the1950's. For many years I've heard stories about her parents, Augustus WOOLEY and Viola WOODS. I remember her father, my husband's Grandad, so many years ago. Unfortunately I never got to meet his grandmother, Viola. She passed away shortly before I came into the family. They were both from Alabama. The cities of Johns and Calera. Augustus left Birmingham in about 1956, moving his family to Minneapolis, MN. His father Berry WOOLEY had also left Birmingham and came to Minnesota earlier. With family still living in Birmingham and Jasper. He would drive the family from Minnesota to Birmingham, Alabama and back again to visit family, only stopping for gas. No stops to eat in those days. Viola cooked before they left home and brought the food with. Nearly a twenty hour drive back then. After viewing Many Rivers To Cross and hearing about the "Negro Motorist Green Book" I now understand why stops were few to none.
Augustus Wooley

I thought about my recent trip to Alabama to visit my husband's family. Which gave me some insight to what life must of been like for so many who came from the south. This was my first time visiting Alabama and I was excited to see where my husband's family had lived for generations as well as meet family. I had always wondered why his grandparents left Birmingham in the 1950's to come to Minnesota..the longer that I spent time in the south I began to get a better understanding of why they left.

Viola Woods Wooley
I visited the Tuskegee University Institute. Home of Booker T. Washington. I was so amazed by this man and his educational history. The red bricks. Wow, such a rich history. I was in awe as we passed by the massive cotton fields. Cotton as far back as my eyes could see. A sight that I've never seen before. I could see the ancestors in the field and hear their whispers. Something that gave me a slight chill. Alabama was the south, life was what it was. And you knew your place. Segregation. Plain and simple.White and Colored drinking fountains, Everything divided by color. Something that I've tried to imagine, but just couldn't seem to grasp. A  visit to the Civil Rights Museum  gave me a better understanding of segregation and so much more. I left thinking to myself, Why wouldn't you want to leave the south back then? I wiped a tear from my eye as we crossed the street to see the16th street Baptist Church. The church that was bombed  in 1963, four young girls died. Again, I felt a slight chill.
Arlington Antebellum Plantation-Birmingham, AL
 I was in awe as I viewed this beautiful yet enormous home, a plantation called Arlington. It sat, like a watch guard over the city, surrounded by small houses, our family lived only blocks away. I couldn't help but think of the enslaved ancestors who once lived on this plantation. I wondered  what happened to them after slavery ended. I could feel their presence. How could I be here in this place and not think of them and all that they endured. I wondered what their life was like, were my ancestors slaves here? I thought about it the rest of the day and night. Slavery, a reality that was everyday life. I felt a strange chill..cold. This visit was bitter sweet.

"Lifting The Veil"  Monument at Tuskegee University


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Notebook: A Gift Of History

My ancestors on my husbands side of the family have been poking me for quite some time. Their voice is loud and clear. It's time to share their story. And so we begin..

My husband has witnessed first hand my obsession with genealogy and my excitement as I have connected with new found relatives over the years. So I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised when he asked me one day, when was I going to find someone on his side of the family? I chuckled as I realized that he was interested in his ancestors after all..I took that as my cue to start digging into his past. His request was to find out something about his paternal grandfather who he knew absolutely nothing about.

I'll begin with my husband's father, Charles Emmit McKinney. He was an interesting individual, to say the least. Although I had known my father-in-law for years. I never asked him about his family. All I knew is that he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Edith Elizabeth FLEMING-PRATER, whom he affectionately called "Mom" and her husband Albert Thomas PRATER.

Charles Emmet McKinney
One day when he came to visit. I began to question him on his family. He told me that they were all from Tennessee and had migrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. He told me bits and pieces about his family. Most of which my husband didn't even know. I was amazed!  I was even more surprised when a few days later my husband came home with a notebook that his father instructed him to give to me. I opened it and there it was. He had written his family history, beginning with his great grandmother. There were Birth and death dates, Stories, pictures. My father-in Law passed away not long after this. How glad I am that we have this history to share. Glad that I was moved on that day to ask him the questions. What he left, a notebook written in his handwriting are puzzle pieces to the past. If I had of never asked him, I probably would not have known.

Charles was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 18, 1940 to Charles William McKinney and Mary Louise Fleming. His parents; who married as young teenagers, didn't stay together long. He described his parents as people who loved to party. His grandmother disapproving of this, took young Charles and moved to Minneapolis, Mn in the 1940's. Charles loved to sing and was a popular teen singer around Minneapolis in the 1950's. He was a member of  two bands. The five Velvetones and Little Charles  And The Big M's.

Now we come to Charles' father. Charles William Mckinney. I call him the mystery man. I don't have any pictures of him. What I know about him is written on one page, contained in the notebook that my father-in law wrote. He is describes his father as a man small in stature that liked to sing and wanted to be a prize fighter. He looked like he was mixed, part negro and Asian with curly hair. Charles William was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in about 1920. His mother was a light skinned woman known only as Mrs. Hunt. He had a sister named Christine and a brother named J.D. Charles is listed in the1940 census in Cincinnati,Ohio living with his wife Mary Louise and her parents.

What ever happened to Charles W. Mckinney? the answer to that question remains to be found. I am sure that he is out there somewhere, along with a whole family waiting to be found. In the meantime, I will continue to put this puzzle together..tracing the ancestors one leaf at a time.



© 2013 Denise Muhammad