From my grandmother Fannie’s scrapbook. “That’s my Shell” 1-25-59.
My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham came to Detroit from Montgomery, Alabama in 1917. He worked on the steamer “Eastern States” as a steward for awhile and then as a stockman in the library at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan until he retired in the 1950s. Although he had a car, he did not drive to work, he caught the bus, first walking to the bus stop and then riding over an hour to get to work.
Ancestry.com has a new feature called “speculative circles”. They take groups of people that share DNA and who you do not have any matches in your tree. They rate the DNA links from “emerging” (not enough people in the group yet.) to “very strong” which means that the reality of a connection is high. My sister was recently tested and received several “speculative circles.” Most of them were “weak” links. I had also never heard of the people in the trees, nor could I see where we might match up. With one circle, however, there were strong links with 8 out of the 12 people in the circle.
My grandfather Mershell Graham’s sister Annie (Click for more information about Annie) and her children appear in the 1910 US census in Elmore county working as servants for Oscar and Emma (Jackson) Barron . They were there in the 1920 census and until Emma died. Emma was the daughter of Absolom Jackson, a large slave holder in Autauga County (In 1866 Elmore County was formed from part of Autauga).
I began to think that my family may have been slaves on Absolom Jackson’s plantation. My grandfather was born in 1888 in Coosada, Elmore County, Alabama. His mother’s name was Mary Jackson. About 15 years ago a Jackson descendant sent me a copy of the 1832 Will of James Jackson in which he divided up the slaves between two of his sons (Absolom and Crawford) and his son-in-law (Lunceford Long). 1832 was before Mary Jackson (my grandfather’s mother) or her parents were have been born. All of James Jackson’s adult children had large numbers of slaves that, of course, weren’t mentioned in that will. Due to these reasons, I was not surprised that I recognized no names.
I started a tree for James Jackson and his family on Ancestry.com. I do that for any people I think might have enslaved any branch of my family. I use the information to look for wills and bills of sale, anything that might have my ancestors listed.
All of this is leading up to the circle. We share Lunceford Long’s and his wife Nancy Daniel Jackson Long’s DNA with descendants who have a paper trail. Lunceford (1797 to 1857) and his wife Nancy are the nearest common ancestors that all of the lines in the circle share. They are the 6th generation back from me. This means that we have DNA from both Lunceford and Nancy. How could this happen?
At first I thought that meant that one of the sons had a child with an enslaved woman. But the sons are not the closest ancestor, Longford and Nancy are. I believe it means that Lunceford Crawford Long had a baby with an as yet unnamed enslaved woman? And that said unnamed woman was related to Nancy Daniel Jackson so that they shared DNA.
I take all this to mean that I was right and the Jackson’s did own my ancestors. Now to look for more wills and other records that might show names I can recognize and hopefully place in family groups.
Another fine friend of my grandfather. Unfortunately also another unlabeled photograph. I think it was taken in Montgomery, Alabama around 1917 or so. You can see the scotch tape my grandmother used to fasten the pictures in the black paged album.
This photograph of my grandfather was taken in the same place as the one of his friend above. Wherever that may be is lost in the mists of time.
When I started looking for signatures, I thought it would be easy because I have many letters through the generations. The problem was that they did not sign letters with both first and last names. Some repeatedly used nicknames. I was able to find most signatures by searching through documents – marriage licenses, social security cards, deeds, bills of sale and group membership cards. I finally found my sister’s signature in the return address on an envelope and if I’d thought of it sooner, might have found others in the same place.
Clifton Graham was the son of my Grandfather Mershell Graham’s “play” brother, that is they were not blood relatives but considered each other brothers because they were both Grahams from Montgomery, AL. I don’t have much information about him and was unable to find much online. He was born May 28, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama. By 1920 he and his family were in Detroit, Michigan. Below is a photograph of John Clifton (always called Clifton) and his brother Lewis with my Aunt Mary V. and my Uncle Mershell Graham, as children. They were all living in Detroit and I would guess it was taken on Memorial Day or the 4th of July at Belle Isle, a park in the middle of the Detroit River. My mother was probably a baby at the time and too young to be in the photograph. Read more here V…-mail.
The two letters below were written to my Grandparents in March and July of 1945 by John Clifton Graham from Europe during WW 2.
March 29, 1945
Time permits me to drop you a line or two and let you know that I am well, even though I am somewhat in the inner confines of Germany, a country that has been completely pulverized and at present being subjected to the terror of our Air Forces.
There is much to tell but due to censorship, I am restricted to a great extent, which you no doubt know. The weather the past few days has been grand and spring is in evidence at ever turn in this war torn country. We are getting a rest for the time being but it is like the lull before a storm, thus by the time this letter reaches you much will have passed under the bridge.
I received a long letter from M.V. last week and will answer today, while time still permits. I must close now so as to time my correspondence due over a period of 2 weeks, My regards to Grandma Turner, Alice, Aunt Daisy,
Love Cliff Jr.
What was happening in March 1945
March 29: The Red Army enters Austria. Other Allies take Frankfurt; the Germans are in a general retreat all over the centre of the country.
March 30: Red Army forces capture Danzig.
March 31: General Eisenhower broadcasts a demand for the Germans to surrender.
June 25 1945
Received your letter of June 9th and appreciated the fact that you dropped me a line or two. I heard from M.V. yesterday and she is quite well, likewise my pin up gal Diane.
I have passed the convalescent stage and fit as fiddle once more. I have been transferred out of my present ward and now await transportation to a replacement depot, up somewhere near Paris from there, I shall be assigned to either my original unit or another unit altogehter.
I hope that I can come home from here but at present the outlook isn’t too optimistic but I shall keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. Give my regards to Grandma Turner, Daisy and Alice and all my love to both of you. Write again soon.
Your nephew Cliff Jr.
June 5, 1945 – Allies divide up Germany and Berlin and take over the government. June 26, 1945 – United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco.July 1, 1945 – American, British, and French troops move into Berlin. July 16, 1945 – First U.S. atomic bomb test; Potsdam Conference begins. July 26, 1945 – Atlee succeeds Churchill as British Prime Minister.
Cliff did survive the war and return to make a life for himself in Detroit. I’m trying to find more specific information but so far I have only found several church booklets from Plymouth United Church of Christ in the 1960s that show he was very active in the church. There are even a few group photographs. Unfortunately they aren’t labeled so I don’t know which is him. Found a photograph of him in 1973 with my grandfather, Mershell Graham. Taken just a few months before my grandfather died.
My maternal grandparent’s names were Mershell Cunningham Graham and Fannie Mae Turner Graham. They were both born in Alabama in 1888. Mershell was born in Coosada Station, Elmore County. Fannie was born in Hayneville, Lowndes County. Both counties are near Montgomery.
Before moving to Detroit, Mershell worked on passenger trains in the dining car. After coming to Detroit in 1917 he worked on a Great Lakes Cruise ship as a steward and finally put in 30 years at Ford Motor Company in the parts dept at the River Rouge Plant, before retiring.
My grandmother Fannie, managed her uncle Victor Tulane’s store in Montgomery before her marriage. After their marriage in 1919, she didn’t work outside of the home. They both lived until I was in my mid-twenties. My grandfather died in 1976 at 86 years. I was 26. My grandmother died in 1977 at 87. They both died in Detroit. We spent every Saturday at their house when I was growing up and for the last year of college, they lived downstairs from us. They lived in that flat until they died. So I knew them and also research them.
My paternal grandparents were Albert Buford Cleage and Pearl Doris Reed Cleage. Albert was born in Louden county, TN in 1883. Pearl was born in Lebanon, KY in 1886. They were married in Indianapolis in 1910. My grandfather worked on a Great Lakes Cruise line summers until he finished Medical school and became a family physician.
We lived down the street from them for several years when I was 5 and 6 years old. We saw them often. My grandfather died in 1957 after being ill for awhile. He was 73. I was 11. My grandmother lived until 1982. She was 96. I was 35. I knew both of them. I also research them.
Below are links to some of the many posts about my grandparents on this blog.
Both of my grandfathers worked on the Great Lakes steam ships. My maternal grandfather, Mershell Graham, worked as a steward for the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company when he first came to Detroit in 1917. He had previously worked in the dining cars of passenger trains. After several years he got a job at Ford Motor Co. where he remained until his retirement 30 years later.
My paternal grandfather, Albert B. Cleage, Sr, worked for the same company in 1909. He was a medical student in Indiana and earned money during the summer by working on the Eastern States cruise ship as a waiter. The excerpts in this post are from his letters.
June 19 1909 I left Indianapolis last night at 7:25. Stayed all night in Hamilton Ohio. Am now in Toledo at 10 AM. Will leave for Detroit 2: 15.
June 20, 1909 Arrived in Detroit yesterday at 4:00 PM, and left for Buffalo via “Eastern States” Star. on which I am at work. Was lucky. Am well, found two old school friends on same boat!
June 20, 1909 I am sitting in an old ware-house door on the wharf at Buffalo, – tell me there isn’t an element of romance in my location to say the least. I will be in Detroit again tomorrow and will see many of the boys whom I know there. You can imagine how worn out I am – just stopped traveling this morning, and if the boat ever comes into dock again I shall go immediately to bed. I went uptown to get some things and it went up the Lake and left me, but it will return soon.
June 24, 1909 Lawrence has come and we are working together.
June 27, 1909 (On board the Steamer “Eastern States” – Lake Erie) This is Sabbath night about 10:00 o’clock and we are about six hours ride out of Detroit and about twelve miles from land in the shortest direction. Surroundings are such as to impress one with his insignificance and emphasize the fact that he is indeed kept by Jehovah’s care. I shall first endeavor to acquaint you with the boat on which I am working. It’s name is “The Eastern States” and runs from Detroit to Buffalo. We leave Detroit one day at 5 PM and arrive in Buffalo the next morning at 8 o’clock, staying in
Buffalo all day we leave again for Detroit in the Evening at 5 PM you see we spend one day in Detroit and one in Buffalo. Today we were in Detroit and would it interest you to know how I spent it? Well, if it will interest you; after breakfast was over about 9 am, I went down to our “quarters” (I suppose you have only a faint conception of what that word means – I describe it later.) and slept until 11:30 – served lunch, after which Aldridge and I walked up town for about 2 hours – smoked some cigars, came back to the boat and took a couple of hours more of sleep. So you see I am putting in plenty of time sleeping. This stuff I’m sure does not interest you and I will not bore you longer but as I promised to say something about our “quarters”
It is one large room about 35 x 40 ft. in which are 32 beds – just think of it!! Those beds or better bunks are arranged in tiers of three and I at the present time am sitting on my bed (the top one) and there are two other fellows below me. What ventilation we get comes through six small port holes the diameters of which are about 6 in.
The fellows are a cosmopolitan aggregation, men from everywhere and at any time you can hear arguments and discussions on all subjects – Sensible and nonsensible. There are several students on board – boys from Howard University, Wilberforce University, Oberlin University, Michigan, and Indiana and out of them there are some very fine fellows to know… I could talk all night about the desirable and the non-desirable features of my Steamboat experience.
July 3, 1909 (Enroute to Buffalo, Steamer Eastern States) Yesterday while Lewis and I were walking up the street in Buffalo, whom did we see standing on the corner (as if lost) but Miss Berry of Indianapolis, her brother and his wife and a Miss Stuart an Indianapolis teacher. Well to be sure we were surprised and they too seemed agreeably so. We spent the day with them taking in the zoo and other points of interest. They visited our boat and we showed them through it. That was experience number one.
Secondly – our boat was in a storm last night I awoke last night amid great excitement in our quarters and found that it was only possible for me to lie in bed with quite a great deal of effort. The old boat was being mightily tossed and driven and the angry waves were rising a high as your house or higher. We were sometimes on top of them and again between them at all times with a feeling that we would every minute be swallowed up by them. Great excitement prevailed. Most of the waiters got up and put on life preservers thinking they would have need of them. I neither was afraid or sick. Nothing serious happened and we arrived in Detroit only a few hours late this morning.
We are tonight taking over to Buffal0 a 4th of July Excursion. A large crowd is aboard. A great number of extra waiters are aboard and an extra amount of noise is present and unfavorable to letter writing accept the effort…
After WW2, automobile travel replaced steamer travel and gradually the ships were retired, burned and scrapped. Here is a timeline for the Eastern States from the link above.
Laid down as EMPIRE STATE.
1902, Jan Launched Wyandotte, MI.
1909 Owned Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Co, Detroit, MI.
1930 Owned Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Co., Detroit.
1950 Laid up, Detroit.
1956, Jun 21 Owned Lake Shore Steel Co & Siegal Iron & Metal Co, Detroit.
This photograph was taken about two years after the one of my grandmother Fannie at Sugar Island. Grandma Graham was my grandfather, Mershell Graham’s adopted mother. Mary Virginia was born in April 1920 so she would be 2. Clifton was the son of my grandfather’s adopted brother, Clifton. Mershell Jr was born in June of 1921 so he must be about 1 year old. My mother was born in February, 1923 so my grandmother may have been just pregnant with her here. The park tables and benches are so unanchored. They are all cement now.