Monday, March 15, 2010

The Sweeter The Juice

All America is in me.
-Shirlee Taylor Haizlip author of the book The Sweeter The Juice.

On the television program The Antiques Roadshow people bring things they or their relatives own to a designated place for appraisal by experts provided by the producers of the show. I am a fan of The Antiques Roadshow and find the most fascinating thing about it the family stories told about the items brought in. So many family heirlooms turn out to not jive with the stories that have been past down from generation to generation. Treasured objects either turn out not to be as old as the now owners were led to believe and/or they have not been acquired where and when the family stories said they were. Tracing my family history has turned out the same way. The stories I've been told may not be true but this is alright since the real stories may be even more intriguing.

As a child I was told that my grandfather's father was a boyhood pal of Adlai Ewing Stevenson (Vice-president under Grover Cleveland and grandfather of Adlai Ewing Stevenson II) and that at some point they made a pact that when they grew-up each one would name their first son after the other. This pact was the reason why my grandfather was named Adlai Ewing Shannon.

The problem with this story is I cannot find anything to support it. I can't even find any record of my grandfather before 1917. I do know where he was born so I tried looking for records of Shannons in the town where his family supposedly lived. I have discovered there were many, many families named Shannon in the region so that line of inquiry quickly turned into a dead end. What I needed were some first names to look up but which ones? I thought about my father and his brothers given names and realized there seemed to be a tradition of passing the grandfather's first name on as the middle name of the first born son. So, if my hypothesis was correct, my grandfather's grandfather's name would be Ewing.

I entered the name into the search box at and found a 1910 Federal Census record for a Ewing Shannon living with his son James in the area where my grandfather was born. This bit of information lead me to believe I was on the right track as James is my father's first name. Then I notice the word mulatto written in the race column. This fact could explain why I can not find any record of my grandfather before June of 1917, he may have decided to step across the color line to pass for white. I have called the historical society in the town where my grandfather was born and they have agreed to do a little research for me whenever they have the time. If this information turns out to be true I am happy to report that my grandmother Shannon will start spinning in her grave.

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