2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 32 (Aug 5 – Aug 11): Sister
I “first” joined Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks on its “first” year in 2014… and what a whirlwind year that was… writing, editing and researching daily for 365 days! As much as I wanted to continue the following year, I found that I didn’t have the time to continue another year with that type of research… although I did continue blogging and writing stories at my own pace, which allowed me to write on other topics as well as family stories when ideas came my way… but I’ve often missed it. The first year were no specific weekly prompts like today… but I’m taking a different spin on them. There will be some posts on a specific ancestor, but most will be memories that spring from those prompts. Head over to 2014 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks to read about my ancestors in the first years challenge.
If you’re new to genealogy, make your “first” stop to Amy’s website for genealogy ideas or even join in on this 52 Week challenge… you learn by doing… not procrastinating! There is no right or wrong… anything you do is a start!
The McKinley “Sisters”
When I wrote a recent story for my 2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Large Family, it left me thinking… there’s more to the sisters than I wrote in that post… so I’m continuing here.
L. to R.: Charlie & Emma (McKinley) Murray, unknown woman, Lena (McKinley) & Charlie Van Dusen
What a classic picture… wonder who took this photograph, and why? It was always known that Aunt Emma took all the family photographs we are thankful to have today… so I bet it was her camera used for this classic shot! Charlie Murray was quite the looker here, as was Emma. Lena still looking stern to me, and Charlie Van Dusen was a tall and distinguished man. The entire lot of them remind me of a Bonnie and Clyde scene… Charlie Murray definitely has the gangster swag! As to the “mystery woman” with them in the photo… could it possibly be Charlie Murray’s mother or sister?
Sister No. 1
1886 – 1969
Lena (1886-1969) was born on August 4th, 1886 in the Militia District 107 area of Powelton, Hancock County, Georgia…. to parents of Edgar Lawson (1863-1944), and Rossie L. McKinley (1869-1902). She was the first child born in this family… and with Edgar being a dirt farmer… she was not the son needed to help on the farm. Their second child, also a girl, Cora, born 1888 and soon followed by a third daughter, Emma Mae, born 1892. As boys were needed on the farm… their first son, Joseph Lawson was finally born in 1894, followed by Edgar Thomas in 1895 (my grandfather), Richard Everett in 1896, Nevilla C. in 1898, and Lonnie in 1901. I guess as they seemed to be on a streak with boys… they just kept going!
The sisters mother… Rossie Sharp McKinley (This photo in cast iron frame was shared by cousin Billy McKinley)
My grandfather, Edgar Thomas McKinley (1895 – 1972) was 8 years old when his mother Rossie L. Sharp died… and his oldest sister Lena was only a teenager at age sixteen. The responsibility of all her siblings had just fallen upon her shoulders… maybe that’s why she never had a family… having already felt as if she’d raised enough children. Lena soon became the mother in the family to him, along with the rest of the family… whether she wanted to or not! My mother always talked about how she raised him… and probably why she felt very close to him… visiting and spending two weeks on his farm every summer… even after she married. He also visited her and Charlie (Van Dusen) at their home in Grant Park in Atlanta… driving there by wagon and later by car. Mama remembers those long rides to visit Aunt Lena and spend the day… and how her father would tie the horse in the backyard while visiting… returning home in the same day. I can’t imagine a ride to Atlanta in a wagon… and all in one day. It seems that as soon as you arrived and had your coffee, that it’d be time to untie the horse for the ride home.
Family life changed in the McKinley household for all the sisters and brothers when their mother, Rosie L. (Sharp) died in 1902…. the following year after their brother Lonnie died in 1901. No one has ever said as to why either died, but it was mentioned how Rosie had been very sickly most her life.
I’m sure Lena did what she could for the family and her father Edgar Lawson McKinley, but this country-born girl left for the big city of Atlanta in 1908, and alone as far as I know; that’s the first year I found her living alone on the city census, and single. Lena was 21 years old, single, residing at 75 Rock St. and working as an operator at the Southern Bell Telegraph Company.
Lena had always been thought of as a strong-willed and smart woman… and the first of the family to leave home after her father remarried… as it was known in the family that Lena did not like her stepmother. Aunt Emma soon followed to live with Lena and also found employment at Southern Bell for a short time.
Lena McKinley first found on Atlanta, Georgia city directory (1908)
Edgar Lawson McKinley remarried in 1908 to Nancy Josephine “Minnie” Askew and became an instant mother to all of Edgar’s children except for Lena… as she appeared on the 1908 city directory in Atlanta. She began in the very company that she would later retire from on September 30, 1942. I had heard that she’d worked there for over 40 years… working her way up from operator, to clerk and finally to supervisor… and well known in the company. As mama always said… “she was a very smart woman, and knowing well how to manage money. When she died she left her will to continue caring for her living brothers and sisters… and after the last one died, she left her estate to all her nieces, nephews and great nieces and great nephews.”
Aunt Lena’s retirement card from Bell Telephone Company (1942)
Lena was made a Life Member of Telephone Pioneers of America on November 7, 1945
Lena met Charles Leonard Van Dusen while living in Atlanta, and possibly while living in the boarding house on Rock St; maybe Charles also lived there. Sometime between 1910 and 1915, she married. Charles was from New York, rumored to be Canadian… not sure how he ended up in Atlanta, but somehow they met and married. I have not found their marriage license, but on the 1915 city directory, Lena was listed as married. Cousin Billy told me that the first car Lena and Charlie bought was a Hupmobile (1909-1939)… sure wish we had a photo of them alongside that car.
Charlie and Lena (McKinley) Van Dusen (photo taken posb by 1915)
This photo of Lena seems to have been taken around the same time as the one above… she is wearing the same glasses and has the same waves in her short hair. Possibly this photo might have been taken at the time of her wedding and possibly taken on their wedding day.
After my grandfather was discharged from the Army in 1918, he went to live with Lena in Atlanta and worked in her husband, Charlie Van Dusen’s, cabinet shop… where he learned carpentry. Granddaddy didn’t remain there very long… I guess dirt farming was too much in his blood. He returned home to Greene County where he met my grandmother, Ola Askew; they married in 1923.
Granddaddy and Lena remained close through the years… she visited his farm every summer, often staying over two weeks at a time. I think she enjoyed her summers of farm life… so different from the city life in Atlanta. She enjoyed pitching in to help my grandmother can the vegetables from her garden, or helping her brother on the farm. On one of those summer visits, she decided to cut a door into the dining room that my grandmother had wanted. When Lena set her head to doing something… there was no way it wasn’t going to get done. Lena was very close to my grandmother… her sister-in- law.
The story goes that my grandmother Ola (Askew) had been asking my grandfather to cut a doorway in the dining room for easier access to the back room. To reach it before, you had to go through their bedroom, into the front hallway, and then into the back room… but if a door was cut in the dining room, then you had immediate access into the back room from the dining room. As granddaddy hadn’t really wanted to, he had put it off… Lena quickly decided grandmamma was right… a door should be there… and she took it upon herself with a saw in hand… and cut the opening. Once she cut the doorway, there was no turning back. I was told that granddaddy finished the job. Lena knew how to motivate him… just start the project… and then he had no choice but to finish! I can just imagine the muttering my grandfather as he finished that door frame!
Lena was my mother’s favorite aunt and eagerly awaited her coming every summer for those two weeks. She looked up to her… being a strong female… so unlike her mother who was more passive. Lena even came for mama’s high school graduation in 1947, and sewed a white dress for mama to wear under her gown. Mama laughs about it now, but still says how she hated it because it was too big… everyone back then always wanted to make clothes too big for you… so you could grow into it… getting more wear time! Mama always had wanted her clothes to fit at the moment, not grow into! Lena made many dresses for my mother through the years… she seemed to have been quite the seamstress, even having a unique sewing caddy that she gave to my mother years later. Mama seemed to have followed in her footsteps in the sewing department… she made her own clothes and mine… until I began begging for store bought dresses. (I wrote about Aunt Lena’s sewing cabinet as an heirloom – see link above)
Lena asked my mother to come to Atlanta after she graduated and work at the telephone company for her… but by that time mama had already met my father, who was in the Navy… so her future was already set in place… marriage. Even though mama never left the farm to go live with Lena… she did stay with her for weeks at a time during the summers.
I wish I’d been older than the 8 year old young girl who only looked at Aunt Lena as that stern older woman who scared me. My mother often told me through the years how Aunt Lena was interested in the McKinley family history and talked about the three McKinley brothers who came over from Ireland… one went North, one went South and one went West… and we descended from the one who came South. While I’ve never been able to pinpoint any of that… but if the one who went West is related, then it would have probably been President William McKinley. What I wouldn’t give to go back and sit on Aunt Lena’s front porch with my pencil and paper… I’m sure I’d leave with some great stories!
Researching in those early years was very difficult, but did she really research… or only know the stories she’d heard through the years. Researching at that time meant traveling to courthouses and libraries and encountering people who didn’t even understand what genealogy was all about… they looked at it as… their work day was being interrupted!
From cousin Billy McKinley… “Lena was very intelligent and the family historian, telling stories that I only vaguely remember now of events from the 19th Century. She told about grandpa or uncle somebody or other who was in a prison camp at the end of the war and had to walk all the way back to Georgia. (Could that have been our grandfather Joseph T. Sharp or possibly Hugh Lawson McKinley?) Another story was about one of the grandpa’s that was out in a field plowing with a mule when a thunderstorm came up. A tree fell on him as he made his way back to the house, and the injury caused him to get pneumonia… dying shortly thereafter. She knew how many slaves everybody in the family had owned. She would say “Uncle So and So, he owned such and such number of slaves”… and then repeat that information about the rest of them. Aunt Emma later lived with us for a short time, and during that period she told my mother that Charlie Van Dusen was Canadian and had fled Canada due to some trouble concerning his taxes. I may not have this exactly right, but I think that Emma was living with Lena at a rooming house in Atlanta when they first moved there. Charlie either lived there too, or was hanging around to meet some ladies.”
“I went with my aunt Joanne once to visit the grave of Rossie Sharp McKinley in Powelton… we also visited a cousin who lived nearby; she was in her 90’s, but still sharp as a tack. She told us that Edgar Lawson couldn’t afford a gravestone when Rossie first died in 1902, but a couple years later he bought one and carried it to the cemetery in his horse and wagon to place on her grave. Upon telling my grandfather this, who also was a son of Edgar Lawson, he chuckled and said about the cousin… “Is she still fat?” “No she’s not fat.” He then said, “well she used to be fat.”(I laughed as I read that as it painted such a picture for me of my great uncle chuckling as he asked… and laughing to myself, that after all those years, he still remembered her, but as fat.)”
“Emma told me while living with us how she and Lena had to care for their baby brother Lonnie (b. 1901-d.1901) when he was born as their mother was sickly. She mentioned how they really didn’t know much about caring for a baby, but did the best they could. Maybe being there when he died shortly after his birth caused them to never want children of their own later in life… as it would be something you’d never forget.”
Aunt Lena’s birthday! (Photo shared by Billy McKinley)
We often went to Aunt Lena’s house in Atlanta on weekends … she lived directly across from Grant Park… where the Grant Zoo, and the famous Civil War Cyclorama was. One of the first things she always told me was, “don’t go to the park by yourself, there are bad people down there.” Who listened when you saw a big swing set sitting there that was calling to you? It only took one time of me sneaking down there, and her pulling me back to her house, fussing all the way that I better not do that again… and I didn’t… as I was too terrified of what she would do next time! That was the era of “switches” and the saying, spare the rod and spoil the child… and believe me my mama didn’t spare the rod!
Another place that I wasn’t supposed to sneak into was her living room… which was full of antiques… and not a thing out of place. While I didn’t plan on touching anything… and very afraid to do so… I often snuck in there. All of her antiques fascinated me and I wanted to see, but often, quicker than lightning, Aunt Lena discovered me, pulling me out and telling me that I shouldn’t be in places where I’d been told to not go! She felt children shouldn’t touch her things! I’m sure she kept her eyes on me when I came and hardly gave me a moment to sneak!
Mama says she never felt Lena was stern around her, but she knew that Lena didn’t like you to touch her things without asking. One funny trait Lena had was that when she went to bed at night, she sat her shoes up on the mantle… as she didn’t want anyone to step on her shoes. It’s kind of funny to think about… as who’s walking around your house at night! Maybe she thought ghosts were there?
I enjoyed taking baths at her house when we spent the weekend… she had a big claw foot bathtub… and so high that I had to step on a stool to get over the side. I’d never seen a tub like that before… and as I’ve never forgotten it… guess it left a lasting impression on me.
Besides the sewing cabinet (link above in story) Aunt Lena gave my mother… she also gave her a few crystal glasses and salt dishes… the salt dishes I remember being quite intrigued with. The one piece of jewelry she gave mama was a white platinum diamond brooch, which I also blogged about in Friday Heirlooms.
Lena McKinley Van Dusen died January 5th, 1969 in Atlanta, Georgia
Sister No. 2
Cora McKinley Beckum
1888 – 1910
Cora was born in January of 1888 in Powelton, Hancock County, Georgia. She has been the sister that very little has been known of. In 1900, she was 12 years old and living home with both parents, as her other sisters were… but things quickly changed for the sisters, after their baby brother, Lonnie, died in 1901, and soon after their mother died in 1902.
I found a marriage record for Cora in Baldwin County when she married Marshall Norwood Beckum on April 12, 1908… the same year her sister Lena left home… and the same year her father remarried… we might assume she married in Baldwin County as it was told that she had moved there and worked as a nurse.
In the 1910 census, Cora, was listed with her husband and new baby, Lucille, and now living in Powelton, Hancock County … next door to her father, step-mother and siblings. Living next door just makes me wonder even more as to why she married in Baldwin, or rather why she applied for the marriage license there… possibly because her husband was from there? Cora died shortly after her daughter was born from all I’ve heard in stories from my mother. I’ve yet to find anything online to date that, but she is not with Marshall in 1920. It’s been told that Cora’s death resulted from some type of fever and that she’s buried in Gum Hill Cemetery in White Plains, Greene Co., Georgia. Being she was a nurse, possibly she contracted the fever at the hospital where she worked.
On the 1920 census, Marshall is now married to Evelyn “Evie” (Durden) and living in Midway, Baldwin Co., Ga, with children Myrtle Lucille, age 10, and Marshall, age 1. They were living next door to a Carlos Beckum, age 26… both Beckum’s were carpenters… and possible brothers.
It seems that at some point in 1910, Cora died and Marshall raised Myrtle Lucille Beckum by himself until he remarried a short time later… by 1919 Lucille had a sibling. I have not determined how Myrtle ended up marrying in Brattleboro, VT. but once she married, she moved around with her husband to Massachusetts and New York.
Sister No. 3
Emma Mae McKinley Murray
1892 – 1976
Emma Mae McKinley was born on April 4, 1892 in Powelton, Hancock County, Georgia. I’m sure my great grandfather wasn’t happy to have a third girl, but the two other sisters were probably thrilled. Within two years the boys soon began flowing into the family… finally making their father happy.
Emma Sharp – Emma’s mother’s (Rossie Sharp McKinley) sister. This note was found with the photo of Emma Sharp and tells that Emma Mae McKinley was named for her aunt; the photo was taken before Emma was born. (Photo shared by cousin Billy McKinley)
Aunt Emma’s glasses sit next to her address stamp on her great niece, Cynthia McKinley Thrower’s bookcase today. Thank you for sharing with me Cynthia!
Emma was only ten years old when her mother, Rossie died in 1902… so tragic for a young child to lose their mother at such an early age; big sister Lena soon became mother to the family until she moved to Atlanta in 1908. Emma remained at home, even though the father remarried, but soon after the 1910 Census, she followed Lena to Atlanta and married Charles H. Murray on August 20th, 1911. She possibly lived with Lena and met Charlie through Lena or her soon to be husband Charlie Van Dusen… no one has ever said.
My mother always said that Emma worked with her sister Lena, but in checking the city directories and census, she seemed to never work, so possibly it was a short time until she married. Charlie was a bookkeeper at The Western Electric Company… he possibly made a good enough salary for her to stop work.
Emma and Lena celebrating Easter… tell-tale basket sitting on floor! I believe this photo to be slightly older than the one below.
Emma and Lena (Feb. 1959) McKinley. As Lena has her coat on, I’m assuming she might be visiting Emma. Someone might have had a birthday, as Lena is holding a gift… but Emma was born in April and Lena in August.
Emma and Lena with their brother Richard McKinley
Many Sundays Aunt Emma and Uncle Charlie drove down to the farm to see her brother… my grandfather, Edgar T. McKinley; probably Lena and Charlie also went. Mama often has talked about the Sunday dinners at the farm… where everyone enjoyed putting their feet under her mothers table. Mama tells me how she’d sit out on the back stoop, while hoping the adults would leave her a piece of chicken. In those days, the children ate after the adults… eating what was left. One story mama remembered was how she snuck in her mother’s kitchen and put a chicken breast up in the cabinet… ensuring she had a piece for dinner. She got a switching for that… but she got her chicken! Mama said that often the children were lucky to even find a biscuit left, on some of those dinners if everyone came. When she thinks back now, she feels sorry for her mother, as it seemed she did all the work… cooking the dinner and cleaning up while everyone else enjoyed eating that meal.
Those Sunday dinners often had the men walking a little wobbly after they returned from a visit up to the barn with granddaddy… where they must have all had a few drinks from granddaddy’s hidden liquor stash… probably hidden under the corn crib. Mama always talked about his hidden stash that the local law often tried to find… but never did!
The one thing I have to thank Aunt Emma for is all the photographs she took of my mother and grandparents when she came. It seems she was the only one who had a camera and enjoyed taking photographs… much to mama’s dismay… as she hated being asked to pose… and smile!
Mama hasn’t forgotten this day when Aunt Emma took this photo as she sat by her mother Ola (Askew) McKinley… twisting and turning in that chair… always hoping that this was the last photo Aunt Emma would take for the day. I love it… Thank You Aunt Emma for making mama pose for those pictures!
Charlie and Emma (McKinley) Murray… photo looks to have been taken at Flat Rock in Siloam, Ga; possibly her younger brothers above… and photo probably taken by her camera.
I don’t have many memories of Emma, but I do remember that she was more soft spoken and not as stern as Aunt Lena appeared to me as a young child. Why we didn’t visit her house when we visited at Aunt Lena’s… I’m not sure… but probably because mama was more close to Aunt Lena.
Aunt Emma’s cameras… the very ones which took many of the photos I have today of my mother and grandparents… she never visited without her camera. Thank You Aunt Emma for taking all those photos!
My cousins Cynthia McKinley (Thrower) and Beverly McKinley Smoak have graciously shared several of the mementos they inherited after Emma’s death… they were younger, so didn’t really know Aunt Lena, but they spent much time with Aunt Emma; Emma lived with their family in her later years.
Photo Left: Edgar Lawson McKinley and Rossie Sharp McKinley – parents of Lena, Cora and Emma McKinley. Photo Right: Edgar Lawson McKinley and Nancy Josephine Askew; second wife of Edgar L. McKinley. She was more known as Miss Bay to everyone… but no one ever knew why. (Photos shared by Beverly M. Smoak)
Emma and Charlie, like Lena and her Charlie had no children in their marriage either. Both woman outlived their spouses and each lived alone, although they lived near each other… both buried in Westview Abbey Mausoleum, Atlanta, Georgia with their husbands.
Stay tuned for Week 33: Comedy
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