Category Archives: African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research

Prologue: Montgomery

complete-montgomery-2
1916 shell cane
cliffgrahamyoung

Clifton Graham

Fannie Mae Turner before marriage
First_Congregation_Christian_Church_in_Montgomery_Alabama

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Mershell Cunningham Graham

My grandfather Mershell C. Graham was born in Coosada Station, Elmore County around 1886. He was not given a middle name. He picked “Cunningham” as an adult. His father farmed. He had a sister and several brothers. At some point the brothers all left for the city, leaving their sister Annie, who stayed in Elmore County for her whole life.

The two older brothers, William and Crawford disappeared into the unknown after the 1880 Census. My grandfather left for nearby Montgomery and from there to Detroit. Jacob died young. Abraham moved first to Nashville, Tennessee and then to Cleveland Ohio, where he died in 1948 of tuberculosis.

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The 1910 Unitd States Census is the first census that my grandfather Mershell (Shell) Graham appears in. Twenty-two year old Shell worked at a railroad repair shop in Waycross Georgia. He was boarding with Irwin and Mary Warren and their three daughters. The Warrens owned their home free of mortgage. Irwin Warren worked as a car inspector for the railroad. Mary Warren did not work outside the home. She had birthed four children and three were living. The daughters, ages 18,15 and 7, attended school. Everyone in the household was literate and identified as black. Below is the household with Mershell Graham at the bottom as a border.

1910 Census form. Click to enlarge.

“Waycross began as a crossroads for southeastern travel. We were first a hub for stagecoach traffic, and then became a center for the railroad when it laid its tracks in the mid 1800’s. As the Plant System Railroad started to grow, so did the town surrounding it.”
Waycross Facts

Mershell was close friend with Cliffton John Graham, who was not a blood relative. He lived with the family for five or six years before migrating to Detroit. My grandmother referred to Mary Graham, Cliff’s mother as her mother-in-law. Cliff came to Detroit at around the same time as my grandfather

Joseph Graham. Born Dec. 25, 1850. Died Dec 9, 1909. He is not dead but sleepeth.

Death of friend Cliff’s father Joseph L Graham(1853–1910) December 28 1909. Montgomery, Alabama, USA

Cliff’s father Joseph Graham, his mother Mary, sister Mattie, Cliff. 715 S. Union Street, Montgomery.

Age 24 — In 1912 Mershell Graham lived at 715 Union Street. This was his close friend, John Clifton Graham’s family’s home. My grandfather was a waiter and Cliff was a bartender. Also living in the house were Cliff’s widowed mother Mary and his sister Mattie.

The asterisk in front of a name meant that they were black. The dots were added by me. (m) means married. (wid) means widow. The letter “h” before the address means “house”. The letter “b” before the address means boards. The Grahams that are not marked, are not in the household with my grandfather Mershell.

1912 Montgomery City Directory

My grandfather Shell’s brother Jacob was three years younger. Jacob died from TB at age 21, on June 30, 1913 in Montgomery County at the Fresh Air Camp. The Fresh Air Camp was set up to try and give health to those with TB.

Death Certificate for Jacob Graham
224 Tuscaloosa Street. Mershell on the railing, Mary in the rocking chair and Clifton seated on the steps.

In 1914 my grandfather was 26. The Graham’s had moved from Union street to 224 Tuscalousa. Mary Grham was working as a cook. Clifton and Mershell were both bartending. Mattie was a teacher.

1914 Montgomery City Directory


Age 27 – Residence 1915 • Montgomery, 224 Tuscaloosa bartender

1915 Montgomery City Directory


In 1916 my grandfather was living with the Grahams at  224 Tuscalousa. His employment is listed as “Farmer.” Clifton is now a funeral dirrector, Mary is a widow and Mattie is no longer in the home, she was studying nursing in Kansas City.

Mattie Graham in her nurses outfit in Kansas City.
1916 Montgomery City Directory

By late 1916, early 1917 my grandfather had made the move to Detroit. He received a letter dated February 16, 1917 from Seligman & Marx at 293 Catherine Street. Catherine Street was located in Detroit’s Black Bottom.

Other posts about Mershell C Graham going to Detroit

Bound For the Promised Land
One Way Ticket
Letters From Home
Those Left Behind
Founding a New Congregational Church
The Proposal
The Proposal Accepted
Rev. E. E. Scott
Winter In St. Antoine
The Steamer “Eastern States”

Connections

Witherspoon Presbyterian Church Congregation, Indianapolis, Indiana about 1909. My paternal grandparents are in the backrow, 3rd and 4th from right. Also included are my grandfather’s brothers (next to him) and his brother in law 5th from the left.

“It’s as if somehow a groundwork has already been laid and is continually being laid, and all that we have to do is share information with one another and then the connexions would be revealed.”
Paul Lee June 8, 2009

I have found this to be so true while building my family history. Three of the photographs below were from my collection. The rest are from cousins in various branches of my extended family. I met them through sharing information on my Ancestry tree; my DNA; Facebook and this blog. Along with photos, I also received information that helped build the family story.

For more information about the people in the photographs, follow these links

Congregational Photograph – Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church Indianapolis Indiana – 1909
Joe Jackson Obituary
Poem for Poppy – 1974
Mrs. Annie Graham – Obituary – 1964
Mershell & Annie Graham Relationship Proved – DNA, photos, obituary

Finding Eliza Part 1
Fannie Mae Turner Graham Obituary-1975
She was owned before the war by the late Colonel Edmund Harrison of this county

Making Connections
Grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage – Happy Birthday, bio and photos 1886-1982
Louise Reed Shoemaker

“Memories to Memoirs Chapter Two Early Years of Life”
H is for Henry William Cleage
Jacob Cleage 1874-1942
A is for Albert Buford Cleage
Josephine “Josie” Cleage


What’s in a Marriage License?

Another post from the Drafts folder.

I recently received some family information from one of my granddaughters. I’ve been using the information to see what I can find out. I have not done any research in New Orleans, LA before.

“My great grandmother was born on 2/26/24. Her mother whose first name was Agnes passed away at 18 or 19 due to Tuberculosis. At the time her mother passed, my great grandmother was only four months old. Her fathers name was Joseph Robinson and he passed away when she was twelve or thirteen. She had an older sister whose name was Irene who was approximately thirteen months older. Their mother, Agnes and their father, Joseph married when Agnes was 16 and Joseph was 21.”

I found two marriage records for Grace Robinson. In both, her parent’s were given as father, Joseph Robinson and mother, Agnes McGee. Grace’s birthdate was given as about 1922 in one and about 1924 in the other.

Next, I looked for a marriage license for Agnes McGee and Joseph Robinson. I found their marriage license on Family Search. The actual document was available for viewing and that was great because there is information on it that wasn’t available in the index on Ancestry.

In addition to finding that Joseph Robinson married Agnes on Dec. 11, 1922 in New Orleans, I also found that Agnes maiden name was McGhee and that she was born in New Orleans. Joseph Robinson was born in Jefferson, LA. His occupation was mail service. Was he working as a postman or a delivery man? Both sets of parent’s names were listed, taking the known information back a generation. All of the parents were dead by this date and guardians give permission for their marriage. Agnes’ guardian was Walter Prentiss, her mother’s brother and Agnes’ uncle. I have not found a relationship for Charles J. Sylvester.

Historical Re-enactment Avalon Pierce

Zadie Canon portraying Avalon Pierce in 2019.

Avalon Pierce was the granddaughter of Abram and Amanda Cleag. Her mother was their daughter, Sarah Idena Cleag Pierce. After her parents troubled marriage ended in divorce, Avalon was raised by her grandparents. She attended school and was literate. She signed her grandmother’s pension application because Amanda could not write.

Six months after her grandfather’s death, Avalon died of Pulmonary tuberculosis, on a Tuesday morning at home. She was about fifteen years old.

Avalon is buried next to her grandfather Abram.

In 2019 the Historical Society of Long Beach, CA, Avalon Pierce, granddaughter of Abram and Amanda Cleag, was brought to life by Tori-Ann Hampton. Above she tells her story as found in various records, newspaper articles and speculations.

This is the last post in this series.

Liddie Cleage Glass Claims Reimbursement

Amanda’s sister Liddie helped her during her injury, hospitalization and handled the burial details. She wrote to the government to be reimbursed for the money she had spent. She did receive it.

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Application for Reimbursement

State of Tennessee
County of Shelby

On this 18 day of Oct 1921

Liddie Glass, age 67 years, a resident of Memphis county of Shelby, state of Tennessee, who, being duly sworn according to law, makes the following declaration in order to obtain reimbursement from the accrued pension for expenses paid (or obligation incurred) in the last sickness and burial of Amanda Cleag, who was a pensioner of the United States by certificate No. 686390 on account of the service of Abram Cleag private in Co. I 1 Reg U. S. Col vol H. A.

That pension was last paid to May 4, 1921 Was in hospital on August, 4 not at home and couldn’t return it.

1. What was the full name of deceased pensioner? Amanda Cleag

2. In what capacity was deceased pension? Widow

3 If deceasent was pensioned as an invalid soldier or sailor – No

a. Was s/he ever married? yes
b. How many times and to whom? Abram Cleag. Once.
c. If married, did his wife survive him? Yes

4. Was there insurance? No

14.  Did the deceased pensioner leave any money, real estate or personal property? No.

18. Did pensioner leave an unendorsed pension check?  No

19. What was your relation to the deceased pensioner?  Sister

20. Are you married? Yes

21 What was the cause of pensioner’s death? Fracture of left leg.

22. When did the pensioner’s last sickness begin? 7/22 – 1921

26. Where did the pensioner live during last sickness? Collins Chapel Hospital

27. Where did the pensioner die? At the hospital

28. When did the pensioner die? August the 9, 1921

29. Where was the pensioner buried? Mount Zion Cemetery

30. Has there been paid, or will application be made for payment to you or any other person, any part of the expenses of the pensioner’s las sickness and burial by any State, County, or municipal corporation? No

31. State below expenses

W.S. Martin    physician – not paid                   $112.50
Medicine        none
Nursing care  none
McCoy & Joyner Undertaker – not paid          $74.00
Livery             none
Cemetery                              $12.00
Other expenses none                      

Total                                      $198. 50

32. Is the above a complete list of all the expenses of the last sickness and burial of the deceased pensioner? Yes

Sallie Bradd
Fannie Scruggs
Liddie (her X mark) Glass
Statement of doctor
Reimbursement
Claimant Liddie Glass
Pensioner Amanda Cleag Widow
Rate $30. Last paid to June 4, 1921 at $30
Last illness commenced July 22, 1921    Date of death August 9, 1921  
Accrued pension $66
Physicians bill $112.50
Undertakers bill   $74.00
Total                  $186.00

Click link to read more about Lydia Cleage Glass

Bill from W. S. Martin, MD @ Collins Chapel Hospital
Undertakers Bill

Amanda Cleag – Historical Re-enactment

Historical Society Long Beach Cemetery Tour 2018 – Zadie Cannon as Amanda Cleag
Photo by Kayte Deioma

In August last year, I received a comment on this blog from Roxanne Padmore of the Historical Society of Long Beach offering me information about the death of Abraham Cleage. Of course I was! We began several months of sharing information and gathering more about Abraham and Amananda who had relocated from Athens, TN to Austin, TX to Los Angeles, CA and finally (for Abraham) Long Beach, CA.

The Historical Society puts on a graveside reenactment at the end of October in Long Beach Municipal Cemetery, where Abraham is buried. Abraham was highlighted in the past but in 2018 they wanted to tell the story from Amanda’s point of view.

After sharing newspaper articles and information from records and speculating, we ordered Abram’s and Amanda’s Civil War Pension files. The information we found there changed the narrative significantly and prompted me to order the pension files for other men who served with Abram Cleage and their widows in Company I, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery, during the Civil War.

Deposition by Notary Public Shooner

During her testimony Amanda Cleag was questioned about the signature on her deposition because she could not write. She explained that her granddaughter Avalon signed for her. In this depositon, the notary who took the deposition explains how Avalon came to sign the document.

Deposition E
Edmund D. Shooner
25th day of May, 1909
Long Beach, Los Angeles, California

I am 65 years of age. My post office address is No 134 East 2nd St., Long Beach Calif – Occupation, Real Estate and notary public.

I have been a resident of this city for the past six years, and I have been acquainted with this claimant, Amanda Cleag since a short time after the death of her husband, the soldier, Abram Cleag, whom I had known a year or so before his death.

I remember well and distinctly that just about a year ago this claimant came into my office with her niece, Avalon Pierce, and A. J. Orelli and had me execute an application for pension for her and her niece, Avalon Pierce, and A. J. Orelli signed her said pension application as identifying witnesses and her niece, or rather her granddaughter, Avalon pierce, signed claimant’s name to the said pension application; as claimant was unable to write her own name. I personally know that claimant Amanda Cleag, authorized her granddaughter, Avalon Pierce to sign her, Amanda Cleag’s name to that pension application, which I now identify, since you have exhibited that said pension application to me. That entire pension application is in my own handwriting, except the signature of the claimant made by the identifying witnesses, one of whom being the said granddaughter.

I remember well and distinctly that claimant, authorized Avalon Pierce to sign her, claimant’s name to that pension application and if such authorization had not been given to said Avalon Pierce by Amanda Cleage, I would not have officially executed said pension application.

Yes, sir, that is my signature, as notary public to that pension application now before me, sworn to by the claimant at the time, and it is legally correct as far as my knowledge extents in these pension matters; yes claimant acknowledged under oath the contents of her pension application, and authorized her signature to be attached to it by her granddaughter, Avalon pierce and I personally saw the said Avalon Pierce sign the name Amanda Cleag to the said application, and saw her sign her own name as an identifying witness and saw Mr. A. L. Orellie sign his name as an identifying witness, that date May 6, 1908.

From information recently obtained for me from claimant, her granddaughter, Avalon Pierce is dead.

Am not interested The words “since” “not” and “by” interlined before signing.

This has been read to me, I have understood questions and my answers are correctly recorded

Edmund D. Spooner
Notary Public
Desponent

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 25th day of May, 1909

“…Amanda belonged to Alec, David’s brother”

Click to enlarge

Deposition A Case of Amanda Cleage by Jerry Cleage

I am about 75 years old, I reckon. I live in Athens, Tennessee.

In slavery I belonged to David Cleage and Amanda belonged to Alec, David’s brother. I knew Amanda. In the time of the war she was married to Lou Deadrick and she got a divorce from him after the war. I knew Lou well; he went from here to Chattanooga several years ago.

After her separation from Lou Amanda did not marry again here; she soon afterward went away with a white family named Tucker, and I have never seen her since.

With the Tucker family also went a colored man named Abe Cleage, who had been a soldier – his name was Abram Cleage.

Abraham had no wife here; he had had no wife here – I knew him and his brothers well. All of his brothers are dead. Abe never came back home and I haven’t known whether he is alive or not of late.

Amanda and Abram were not married when they left here; I don’t know whether they married afterword or not. I think I hear they did. Amanda’s mother lived here and I use to hear about Amanda sometimes through her.

I have lived in this county all my life. Amanda had only one husband up to the time that she left here.

I have no interest in this claim for pension. I understood the foregoing as it was read and my statements are correctly recorded.   

Jerry Cleage (His Mark)

Attest

Florence Cleage
Celia Deadrick
Nellie Deadrick

Posts about Jerry Cleage

“…and a slave for life” Bill of sale
Jerry Cleage and Charlotte Bridgeman
He also testified in various other pension applications.

Death Certificate – Amanda

Click to enlarge.

On July 22, 1921, Amanda broke her leg, receiving a compound, open, fracture. She was taken to Collins Chapel Hospital in Memphis where she died on August 8, 1921. Her sister Lydia and her husband Charles lived in Memphis. Amanda may have been visiting or may have moved to Memphis to be closer to her sister. Two weeks later her kidneys failed and she was dead at 84 years. Lydia was the informant on the death certificate. Amanda Cleage was buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery on August 9, 1921.