Saturday, December 9, 2023

Mary Alice Barnes Pearson - My Funeral Talk

My cousin, Mary Alice Barnes Pearson, was the daughter of my father's sister, Mary Cannon Barnes. She died on April 7, 2012 and I spoke at her funeral. My talk was as follows:

Last Friday morning when I learned that Mary Alice had died, I was absolutely devastated, not only because Mary had become a close friend, but also because of the vast quantity of family history information she carried inside her head.

Mary is my first cousin, someone I have known all of my life. But six or seven years ago, because of some family history projects I was involved with, I started to have consistent contact with her.

Mary was the de facto custodian of our family’s records. She has been collecting newspaper articles, obituaries, engagement and wedding announcements, photographs, family newsletters and similar items for the descendants of our second great grandparents, George and Ann Cannon, for many years. She has retained letters from our great grandparents; journals, calendar notes and photographs from our grandparents; and stacks and stacks of letters written by our parents. Thank you Mary for preserving  these foundational documents of our family’s history.

Mary has been collecting genealogical information for years. She estimated that she has nearly 19,000 listed descendants for George and Ann Cannon and that she is still missing several thousand. She also estimated that she has about 3,500 listed ancestors of George and Ann Cannon. Thank you Mary for carrying the burden of this research which we have all been encouraged to do.

A number of years ago she mentioned to me that she was working on a project to catalogue the missions and educational backgrounds of the George Cannon descendants. But she was actually recording virtually all of the information included in a typical obituary. I indicated a willingness to assist her, which she took me up on. I set up a spreadsheet and she started to send me obituaries, some old, some recent, and I started to review and record the relevant information.  I got through 176 obituaries before I cried “uncle” and told her I was taking a break, but to keep sending me obituaries. Ironically, my last email from Mary was three days before she died: two obituaries from the Tribune, each with her summary of the parentage of the decedent going back to George Cannon, so that I could fit each one of them properly into the family tree. Thank you Mary. With your death, I have renewed determination to put my shoulder to the wheel again.

For me, the most rewarding part of the information compiled by Mary is the window into the lives of my ancestors, helping me to know them better. Just a couple of examples.

Mary transcribed the journal kept primarily by our grandmother, Luella, on a trip taken by automobile with the family back to Rhode Island for a business convention in 1929. My father, Bill, the youngest in the family, was age four. On July 12th, as they were heading back home and getting near Chicago, they were going to visit the Chicago stock yards. Luella recorded, “Billy wants to see cows get their beans cut off.” When I first read that I laughed uncontrollably for five minutes. The thought of my buttoned down, staid,  grandmother writing that was beyond my comprehension. Luella then went on to record, we “saw pigs, cows & sheep killed.” Ted, my father’s older brother, then said of the stockyards, “once was enough.”  

Mary transcribed the first year of grandfather’s mission journal from 1907 to 1910 when he served in the German Mission. I offered to transcribe the rest. Ed was serving in Konigsberg, East Prussia, now part of Russia. While he was out of town, one of the missionaries, a Brother Burdette, drowned in the Baltic Sea. When Ed got back to Konigsberg and learned of Burdette’s death, he was so stunned he had to stop and catch his breath for several minutes. He telegraphed the mission president, dealt with a police investigation, arranged for a coffin and transfer of the body back to the States, and dressed the body. It was illegal for LDS missionaries to preach in East Prussia, so when Ed dealt with the police he tried to conceal his identity. However, the police found a ministers certificate on Burdette’s body and determined that Ed was also a missionary. He was able to protect the identity of the other missionaries in Konigsberg, but he was “banished from the Kingdom of Prussia,” leaving on the same train with Burdette’s body. Thank you Mary for helping me to get to know my ancestors in a different way.

Mary has given me more than 100 letters and postcards written by my father to my grandparents while he was going to school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. During this period my father was hit by a taxi and nearly died and had to spend months in rehab. These have been mostly transcribed. Just a few weeks ago, Mary wrote me that she had collected letters from my father’s girlfriend to my father, during that same period. That girlfriend later became my cousin Melissa’s mother-in-law, and Mary was going to provide each of us with the information. Thank you Mary for having the foresight to preserve what others would have thrown away.

Melissa and her husband, Tim Evans, were serving a mission at the Mormon Battalion Visitor’s Center in San Diego until just recently. While there, Mary told me that Melissa had asked her if we had any ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. Mary told Melissa of four, possibly five that she knew of. Then Mary started to do some research and found ten more, making 15 in all, and she thought there may be even a few more, something she still needed to do more research on. Then Mary provided information to Melissa about one of our ancestors who served in the Mormon Battalion.  

One of my personal projects has been learning as much as I can about the life of our third great grandfather, Captain George Cannon of the Isle of Man, who was a slave boat captain and died during a mutiny on his own ship. Mary, who has visited the Isle of Man, was an invaluable resource in suggesting sources for material, providing genealogical information, and giving her opinion on various aspects of his life as information was uncovered. In particular, she was able to locate the family member who had Captain Cannon’s original logbook for voyages of the Ship Iris in 1798 and 1799, between Liverpool, Africa and Jamaica. I was able to visit that family member with Mary Alice, hold and leaf through the logbook, and take pictures. It was a real thrill. We are currently waiting for copies of recently discovered legal documents from Jamaica that detail the capture of two ships by Captain Cannon off the coast of Hispaniola. Thank you Mary for your very skilled help on my project and the projects of other family members. I am sad that you won’t be here to share in the insights that should be offered by these newly discovered documents.

Mary traveled around the country with Clair visiting historical sites and sites important to the family’s history. After Judy and I visited New England last year, Mary wrote me of a similar trip she had taken. One of the places she visited was the Revolutionary War site of the Battle of Saratoga where our 5th great grandfather turned the tide of the battle insuring a US victory. Then she traveled to Groton, NH where William Tenney, the father of Eliza Tenney Cannon, was born, and past Tenney Mountain where they had a ski resort. She also followed the Pioneer Trail all the way from Nauvoo to Salt Lake, twice. Once in 1978 and again during the Sesquicentennial in 1997. On the last trip, she had taken along accounts of our various ancestors who followed the same route and read the accounts as they traveled along. She noted finding the Garner cemetery and at the Visitors Center in Council Bluffs, the Bible which William Garner, the brother of our ancestor Phillip, carried with him as a member of the Mormon Battalion. Thank you Mary for your example of incorporating family history into your travels.

Mary contributed material to the Cannon Family Historical Treasury and for Davis Bitton’s biography of George Q. Cannon. She also proofread Bitton’s manuscript and clarified and corrected a number of things. She was listed in the acknowledgements of both books for her contributions. Thank you Mary for your efforts in helping to produce probably the two most important modern books that relate to our family history.

My wife and Russ Cannon have both expressed to me that Mary’s reunion last Friday with her family beyond the veil must have been both joyous and unusual. I’m sure she was able to recognize and call by name most of her ancestors. In particular, I am hoping that she has sought out Captain Cannon and discovered the particulars of his death by mutiny, something that has eluded me and others despite much research. And perhaps Mary may find a way to make that information available. Thank you Mary. I am waiting and hoping.

1 comment:

  1. This was such a great talk--so specific and personal to Mary. She would have loved it.