Category Archives: Alabama Family

What do you do when you find hundreds of living relatives? Part 3

Cortland New York was transformed into Evergreen Alabama for 2 days last week. Aunt Cissy brought so many pictures, family artifacts and stories that she had me saying “ya’ll” like a pro way before lunch time!

Henry Dunn Robison ca1927 in Evergreen Alabama

Henry Dunn Robison ca1927 in Evergreen Alabama

But to me, the visit was far more than pictures and documents, all of which are in themselves treasures seeking a caretaker. So much is lost when their value is not recognized. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” is an adage that comes to mind to underscore an important lesson. Their value increases exponentially when a family member who knows or knew the people in the photos, or the story behind the events perhaps because they were there at the time, or are able to pass along the story of family treasures left for subsequent generations can put “meat on the bones,” so to speak.

So what is there beyond the tangible? Let’s begin with the stitching together of bits and pieces of stories overheard in childhood when the background of those stories are met with “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!” Really? The reality is what you don’t know might drive you crazy! Or it may lead you to assumptions that are so far beyond the truth, a very warped picture of your own family emerges. What’s the real story behind the story?

For some, this family culture in which my sister and I grew up may be hard to imagine. We were denied access to a rich part of our family’s story, its history, its traditions, the real people who comprised where we came from. As a child, the things of children are enough to fill the days. But as we grew and matured, questions inevitably crept into our minds. Why did he or she do this or that? Why did they, collectively, act the way they did good or bad?

I would have to say that it is impossible to put it all together. It’s far too late to experience the past and be an active part of it. Compare it to reading about the Revolutionary War. It happened, we know that as a fact. But what was it like? What was the culture at the time? Who were the people involved and what were they like? All we can do is listen to the stories and try to be a part of it.

Now I’m learning about the lives of the characters I had only heard about, or more specifically “overheard” about if there is such a term.

I should point out that I’ve met with other members of my father’s long lost family. I’ve written about Aunt Sarah earlier. She had been my first contact and the source of nearly everything else I wanted to know. Or rather, everything else I didn’t know I wanted to know until I accidently found her. From there, I met another Sissy. Mary Elizabeth Robison Derr is a cousin, the daughter of Herbert “Uncle Hub” Robison my grandfather’s brother. Uncle Hub was a businessman in Evergreen Alabama and was once its Mayor. She was tremendously helpful with family stories about life in Evergreen where my father lived off and on before he enlisted in the US Navy.

The 2003 Robinson/Robison Family Reunion was quite an event. About 300 or so members of my extended family attended. It was held near Elkmont, Limestone County, Alabama. It took me quite some time to sort out who everyone was and how we were all connected. After all, my 4th great grandfather, Hezekiah, had 12 children, 11 boys and 1 girl. At least 10 survived to adulthood and 9 of whom married and had families of their own. The long and the short of it is this: After nearly 16 years of researching both maternal and paternal ancestors, and with the help of Aunt Sarah, Sissy Derr, David Sanders (a second cousin who started all of this!), Tom Moore, and many others, I’ve managed to put together basic genealogical data on 978 descendants of my paternal great grandfather, Hezekiah, with details on roughly half of those.

Diane Robison Lillie - Cissy Robison Hunter - Dave Robison

Diane Robison Lillie – Cissy Robison Hunter – Dave Robison

The latest treasure trove has come from someone who was closer to my father than anyone I’ve ever met, Cissy Robison Hunter. I’d tell you her birth name but she would not appreciate it! Your welcome Aunt Cissy!

Finally, my sister and I do not have words to thank all of the family members who have contributed to the story of us. But most especially, Aunt Cissy who came north to visit, hug, discuss, share and enrich our lives that much more.

 

 

What do you do when you find hundreds of living relatives Part 2

It was Friday evening about 8:30 pm. Karen and I pulled into my sister’s driveway in Cortland, New York. She greeted us warmly with hugs and kisses, but I kept looking over her shoulder to get a look at the woman I came here to see. Apparently having nodded off after her long flight from Alabama, Aunt Cissy looked perfectly comfortable but not so much that I wasn’t willing to go over and wake her up!

By this time, my brother-in-law, Ray, had come out of the house to watch the big event. Karen and I walked slowly toward Aunt Cissy followed by Diane and Ray as he came down the steps to the back yard. Aunt Cissy wasn’t really sleeping.  She was hoping to give me a bit of a scare. It worked! She leaped up in a big “Surprise!” moment…

Diane Robison Lillie - Cissy Robison Hunter - Dave Robison

Diane Robison Lillie – Cissy Robison Hunter – Dave Robison

When I finally got my arms around her, I said to everyone that I felt as though I was hugging Aunt Cissy, my grandfather Cecil Lee Robison, his parents Erskin and Linnie Otto Peace Robison, their parents Samuel and Mary Hardin Robison, their parents Green Coleman and Eliza Ann Francis Rochelle Robinson and lastly, Green’s parents, Hezekiah and Tabitha Grantham Robinson. Hezekiah’s father might have been Jonathan Robertson a mid-1700’s Scots-Irish immigrant. But that, so far, has yet to be proven. What a crew!

 

My aunt is the daughter of my paternal grandfather and his second wife. That means she is my half-aunt. But that’s just a technicality. To Diane and me, she is a full-fledged aunt!

Cissy was no disappointment! She came loaded with stories, photographs and documents along with her excitement and genuine happiness over finally getting to meet Diane and me. She also brought 2 crocheted Christmas decorations, hand-made 5 X 12 wall hangings that have the word “NOEL” set crocheted into them.

Onto to Cissy’s story, blended with what I know based on the few stories I heard as a child or more recent genealogical research.

Cissy knew my father, Henry Dunn, but he was at least 15 years her senior. By the time she was born, Henry was living back in Evergreen with his mother, Mary Virginia, and his overbearing grandmother, Gilma Robertson Dunn. Gilma was widowed in 1918 when her highly successful businessman husband, Henry Wright Dunn, was driving out of town and heading up the hill on his way to pick up a nurse he had hired to work in his household. His car stalled on the hill and he rolled backwards and into the oncoming L&N train heading through town. He died 2 days later and his gravestone is marked, “Death Loves a Shining Star.” He had been a Ford and Buick dealer (a mega dealer in the early 20th century!), a hardware dealer and the owner of extensive rental properties in and around Evergreen. These stories I had learned through my own research, trips to Alabama, newspaper articles, cemetery visits, vital records and other family records that were made available to me. Henry Dunn had traveled up to Anniston from time to time to visit his father and step-mother. The visits were very short and long on antipathy.

Gilma Robertson Dunn  (1873-1954)

Gilma Robertson Dunn (1873-1954)

Back in Evergreen, Gilma had long ago managed to have my father’s birth records destroyed as she was no fan of the man her daughter had married and it seemed as though she didn’t want Cecil’s name to be associated with her grandson, Henry Dunn. Perhaps she was hoping to marry off her daughter to another man and have that man adopt Henry. Whatever the motivation, this turned out to have been a convenient decision on her part for her own nefarious purposes. Not only was Henry Dunn sent from one aunt and uncle to another, he was sent off to a boarding school in Mississippi, back to his father in Anniston and wherever else they could put him. Amazingly, the 1930 US Population Schedule shows 5-year-old

Henry’s parents, Cecil Lee and Mary Virginia, living on one side of town while Henry was in the household of 3 single African-American domestics on the other side of town. Fast forward to December 7th 1941. My grandparents were divorced with Cecil remarried and Mary living in Evergreen either alone or with my father whenever that was convenient for the family. But what were they to do with 15-year-old Henry? To Gilma, that was easy. She had a son who was a Lieutenant Commander in the Army Air Corps. Gilma had the connections to obtain an affidavit claiming the Henry was 2 years older than he really was. Voila, “17-year-old” Henry Dunn Robison joined the US Navy, enlisting in early January of 1942, 4 weeks after the Japanese attack.

 

Aunt Cissy knew my father. She was frightened by him given his age and height. He was over 6 feet tall, even as a teenager. He was also a much different person than Cissy’s 4 brothers. The dynamic in that household was far different than anything that my father ever experienced. So I can only imagine how “pleasant” Henry Dunn’s infrequent visits to his father and step-mother would have been.

 

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right  hand corner.

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right hand corner.

Henry Dunn’s father, Cecil Lee Robison, was also a tall man. He was a successful businessman in Evergreen working as an accountant and had been a deacon of his church. In other words, a well-respected citizen of his community. However, his home life was less than the typical 1940’s or 1950’s home life. His relationship with his family was not particularly warm and cozy. However, he was a loyal and faithful father and husband who, along with Hilda Mae, his wife, raised 5 children who were respected in their own right: a mayor, a teacher, a State Fire Marshall,

an independent business owner, an early DNA researcher… All quite successful.

There are quite a few more details I’d like to share. I’m sure you’ll want to hear about Uncle Michael, the early 1960’s DNA researcher at Duke University.

So as much as I’ve tried to put this whole amazing story into 2 parts, I’ve got to stretch it out with at least one more installment and maybe two.

Stay tuned!

 

Hezekiah’s Farm

This link is to an aerial view of what was my 4th great grandfather’s farm in Alabama. http://www.findaspring.com/locations/north-america/usa/robinson-hollow-spring-elkmont-alabama/. It’s located on Robinson

HESAKIAH ROBRSON: Yet another way to spell Hezekiah Robinson or is it Robison or maybe Robertson!!

HESAKIAH ROBRSON: Yet another way to spell Hezekiah Robinson or is it Robison or maybe Robertson!!

Hollow along Robinson Road near Elkmont, Limestone Co, Alabama where you’ll find Robinson Family Cemetery.

After marrying Anne Grantham who died young and then his sister-in-law Tabitha Grantham, Hezekiah Robinson (or Robison or Robertson or Robson) settled here after his service in the War of 1812.  The Robinson Family Cemetery is here but hidden by the trees in this view.  He was born sometime between 1777 and 1784 in Virginia and died in 1852 in Elkmont on his farm. His gravestone reads “HESAKIAH ROBRSON”!  Another case of “speeling duzn’t cownt”!!

Hezekiah’s widow, Tabitha spent almost 30 years trying to claim her widow’s pension. Government bureaucracy and the confusion as to how to spell his last name, letters went back and forth from Elkmont, Alabama to Washington for years!  She finally won out but died about 2 years later.