From what I’ve heard, my grandfather, Vernon Black, didn’t get much from his biological father—not even his surname. Vernon’s mother, Catalina Edel, divorced Vernon’s biological father, Zyonia Ray Shearer, when Vernon was only 5½ years old “on the ground of gross neglect of duty.” On several occasions, my grandfather even denied that Ray Shearer (the name his father went by) was his father. In his later years, my grandfather was somewhat more forthcoming about his biological father, but it was clear that Vernon held onto a lot of resentment for Ray.
I’ve never seen a picture of my great-grandfather Ray Shearer, nor do I know of any items that once belonged to Ray. What little I know of Ray I learned from my grandfather’s sister, Anelia (short for her given name of Anna Cornelia) Shearer. She was just a little over a year old when Ray left the family, but she kept his last name and kept his memory alive.
I’ve been going through a stack of papers and letters from my grandfather’s teenage years, and I found one envelope that was particularly worn out and discolored (as compared to the relatively clean envelopes that contained letters from Vernon’s friends and girlfriends). When I removed the letter contained in the worn envelope, I was surprised to see that it was a letter from Ray to Vernon, dated July 2, 1932, when Vernon was 15½ years old.
In a recent post I discussed my 4th-great-grandfather James Benton McMurry’s travels from southern Kentucky to central Indiana in 1830. That got me to thinking, what were the roads he traveled along like? What routes did these roads follow? What sights and landmarks would James have encountered on the road? How long would the trip have taken?
Thanks to a pair of travel maps from 1829 and 1831, I know roughly where the roads of 1830 Kentucky and Indiana were located (these maps show the towns that are connected by roads, but the roads as illustrated therein are, to a large degree, schematic). Determination of the precise routes that these roads took will require a bit of what I call “armchair landscape archaeology.”
Landscape archaeology is the study of how humans have modified their physical environment, whether directly (e.g., building a dam or diverting a stream) or indirectly (e.g., through farming). Roads and highways, especially long-used ones, can leave enduring impressions on the landscape. The clues left by an old road, if read correctly, can aid in tracing the road’s long-abandoned route. Unlike prehistoric archaeological pursuits, the study of early 19th century transportation routes concerns structures that are relatively recent. It can therefore be considered a type of historical archaeology, because there may be written records and/or oral histories that can aid in understanding and contextualizing the subject of the investigation.
I wanted to see if any other members of the McMurry family made the move from Kentucky to Indiana in 1830–1831, but what I discovered is that James Benton McMurry was quite the land baron. I’m still looking, but so far I’ve found 17 parcels of land that he purchased, for a total of 2,153.67 acres (3.4 square miles). That may not seem like a big number, but he owned more land than two countries (4.3 times as much as Monaco and 19.6 times as much as Vatican City)—crickey! And I don’t think I’ve found all of his land yet—watch out Nauru!
In my previous post, I determined that my 3rd-great-grandfather, Luke R. McMurry, moved to Indiana (from his birthplace in southern central Kentucky) with his family in 1831–1834, when he was only 6–9 years old. I discovered that Luke and his siblings moved with their parents to southeastern Montgomery County, Indiana, where Luke’s father, James Benton McMurry, my 4th-great-grandfather, purchased four parcels of land totaling 480 acres (.75 square miles). I further learned that James’ half-brother, Hisner McMurry, also migrated from Kentucky to Indiana at the same time, and that he purchased two parcels of land totaling 240 acres.
What I haven’t yet discovered is why the two McMurry families moved 225 miles north from southern central Kentucky to eastern central Indiana in the early 1830s. In this post, I’ll start looking into how and when and perhaps why the McMurrys made the move from Kentucky to Indiana.
Until recently, I had assumed that my 3rd-great-grandfather, Luke Robinson McMurry, was the only sibling of his family to migrate to Washington from the family’s home in Kentucky. I also assumed that Luke left Kentucky for Indiana on his own, as a young man. I recently learned that both of these assumptions were wrong. Luke appears to have been less of a maverick and remained closer to his birth family than I had imagined.
I don’t know why I thought that Luke broke with his family and moved north and then west on his his own, but that appears to not be the case. From the record of his siblings’ birthdates and places, it appears that Luke’s entire family migrated about 225 miles north when Luke was only 6–9 years old, moving from southern central Kentucky (Allen County, KY) to eastern central Indiana (Montgomery County, IN) by the time of the birth of his youngest sibling, Sarah Margaret McMurry, on January 22, 1835. I’ll look into evidence for an earlier family migration to Indiana in this post.
As for whether Luke and his immediate family ventured to Washington Territory on their own or with a larger group of family members, I recently visited Washington State’s Southwest Regional Archives facility and went through their old land grant indexes to help work out local land ownership details for our family. In their Grantor Indexes (handwritten indexes to real estate sales, organized by seller), I found an entry that documented a sale of land in January 1892 by Luke’s eldest brother, Isaac McMurry. The deed that was indexed gave the names of Isaac’s wife and daughter, confirming that this Isaac McMurry was indeed Luke’s brother. Later in this post, I’ll see what else I can learn about Luke’s brother joining him in Washington.
In part one and part two of this post, I introduced and discussed a trio of oil paintings that I had last seen back in the 1990s. These paintings were reportedly done by my great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller McMurry, who died near Carlisle, Arkansas, on February 6, 1876, when she was only 47 years old. I was told by my first cousin twice removed, Art McMurry, the owner of the paintings at that time, that they were painted by Elizabeth while she and her husband were traveling west by wagon. If that were indeed the case, then these canvases would have been painted at some point between Elizabeth and Luke’s marriage in 1851 and Elizabeth’s death in 1876.
Last month I traveled to Olympia, Washington, to see my father and do some family history research. Thanks to the help of my cousin Crystal (Art’s great-granddaughter), a fellow family historian, I was able to locate and visit two of the three paintings. These two—the pastoral scene and the still life with flowers—were in the home of Crystal’s grandmother Carole (Art’s daughter). The last time I had viewed the paintings, the rain had prevented me from being able to take good photos of the paintings. For the five days I had been in Washington before meeting with Crystal and Carole, the weather had been mild and clear. On the day I was to meet Crystal and drive out to her grandmother’s house, the sky opened up and we had torrential rain as well as thunder and lightening; even the locals were surprised by the volume of the downpour.