Janice Williams

“Aunt Oat”

In Genealogy records, General Musings, Second Generation Stories on August 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I have a little mystery in our branch of the Cunningham family I’ve been trying to figure out with no luck. Maybe you can shed more light on the story somehow.

I come from the William Henry Cunningham branch of the Capt. James and Susie family. He was the sixth child in the family. I am descended from his daughter Henrietta.

But it is her sister Lottie Oatley Cunningham that I am curious about. I’ve been told she was called “Oat.”



That’s her with her husband Oscar Mason. They were married February 26, 1902 when she was – dare I say it – an old maid at 28!

Here is a picture of her later in life:



In her pictures she always looks rather fun-loving. She died in 1969, so I’m sure many of you knew her. I did not know her, but I knew her daughter Wilma – who we all called Bill.

But the mystery goes back to May 3, 1873, her birth. At some point a while back I found her death certificate. Everything on it appeared to be correct. It had the correct full names of her parents and the information was all given by her daughter, who I know would know whereof she spoke. But it listed her birth as “Kansas.” That made no sense to me in this family of Texans where the Cunninghams were firmly established in Comanche County and every child in their family appeared to have been born in Comanche County. Flukes of records happen all the time so I just assumed it was an error and wrote it down, but wrote down my doubts about it, too.

Just a few weeks ago I came across that notation and decided I could check census records as another source. I looked at the 1930 census after Oat was married and living in Cisco, Texas. It clearly shows her birth in Kansas (it has it spelled out and everything). In 1920 they were living out west of San Angelo in Mertzon, Texas, and, again, the census shows Kansas spelled out as her birthplace. In 1910 they lived in Stamford, north of Abilene, and again, yes, Kansas. Not only is her birth listed as Kansas on her line, on their daughter’s line, it has where her parents were born and clearly shows Kansas again for Oat’s birthplace.

Back to the 1900 census where Ota (as it was often recorded) was living at home and was single at 27 in Comanche County. Here the evidence really piles up because one would assume that the parents were the ones that answered the census takers questions. Again, Kansas is her birth next to Texas for her younger sister Maggie.

I’m sure you’ve concluded that Oat was born in Kansas and I suppose I have, too. Things are odd in the 1880 census however where she doesn’t exist! Her parents and her older sister Mollie and her older brother Thomas are listed in the census, but she is missing along with her sisters Henrietta and Maggie (all three under 10 at the time). I searched high and low and can’t find them in the census, so I don’t know where they were being hidden at that point.

But if we move on on the premise that she was born in Kansas… WHY? I’ve been reading up on the cattle drives to Kansas and she was born in 1873 at the very peak of the cowboy culture and cattle drives from the Comanche area straight up the Western Trail to Ellsworth, Kansas. Did her mother Mildred go along on a cattle drive? I found a Cunningham cousin’s family tree on ancestry.com and she has Oat born in Kansas City, Missouri, but with no source to verify it with other than census and our family’s 100th anniversary book. Neither say that where she was born with that town. Sure, there were trains in those days, but from what I’ve read, there weren’t any that extended toward Comanche at all and it was later in the 1870s before they were very prevalent in the northern part of the state at all. Mildred going out on the cattle drive makes the most sense, even though she had a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son at the time. Maybe they went along, too?

This is one of those mysteries that I doubt will ever be solved to my satisfaction. But if you have ideas on how to search or remember Aunt Oat once telling you all about her Kansas birth, please let me know.


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