Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lower Scioto Valley History Website Launched

Lower Scioto Valley History: Shawnee State University’s Local History Workshop is now on-line. This new website is meant to encourage the study and preservation of local history. I’d like to thank those who helped fund and support the creation of this on-line resource. First, thanks go to Jerry Holt, the former Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Jim Miller, the long-serving chair of the Social Sciences Department at Shawnee State. It was Jerry and Jim who first supported the development of a local and oral history curriculum. With their support I was able to attend the Ohio Humanities Council’s annual Oral History Institute at Kenyon College. Then with the support of two grants from the Ohio Board of Regents’ catalystOhio initiative and the ongoing support of the Department of Social Sciences I and my students were able to conduct oral history interviews and develop other primary source material for the website. Dr. Stylianos Hadjiyannis and Dr. Michael Barnhart, who also received grant money for the project, contributed their know-how in helping me design and develop the website.

The website has oral history interviews, image and map scrapbooks, an archive of primary research documents, and a list of related website links. The interviews include the latest recordings, which focus on the Norfolk and Western Railway Strike of 1978. Earlier interviews focusing on the shoe, steel, and nuclear industries are also available.

In the scrapbook section, highlights from the Harald Daub Collection are also now available. The Daub Collection consists of clippings from the personal scrapbooks of former City Councilman Harald Daub. These highlights focus on Daub’s election in 1979, the controversy surrounding a proposed downtown mall for Portsmouth, and city council’s attempt to fire City Manager Barry Feldman. More highlights covering the successful campaign to recall Daub and other councilmen will be added in the near future. Thanks are due Harald Daub for allowing the presentation of these highlights.

In addition to the scrapbook section of the website, the digital archive section includes copies of historically significant letters, manuscripts, and government documents. As with the rest of the website, new content will be added in the future. Currently, there are only a handful of documents on-line; one of which, known as the “Sears Letter,” dates back to 1981 and involves the proposed downtown mall.

The current controversy over the re-use of the old downtown Marting’s Department Store building for new city offices has marked a return to local politics for Harald Daub. His recent Ohio Election Commission complaint against the Marting’s supporters for false advertising, has generated letters to the editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times that have rehashed Daub’s roll in the Feldman/Mall Controversy of 1980. Did Daub and his supporters kill the mall project, as one recent letter writer claimed? Are they to blame?, as Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce President Michael Gampp suggested in a recent fund raising letter for their pro-Marting’s city building plan. “Our City has been paralyzed for almost thirty years by a group of individuals who wish to use threats and intimidation as tools to further their agenda and silence anyone with a different opinion.”  According to Gampp, “During this time our City has, at best, stagnated and in many ways, deteriorated.  Recalls, mudslinging and personal attacks have not helped our situation.”

The economic woes of Portsmouth since the 1970s have been the primary cause of political upheaval and in-fighting among the city’s residents. Systemic changes in the economy, nation-wide and across the globe, brought de-industrialization to the Ohio valley and Portsmouth like many other river cities has been devastated economically. Blame for the decline has become central to understanding local politics. All parties in the current controversy want what they believe is best for the town, but both sides fix the responsibility of the decline on the other. To some outside observers these divisions have come to be seen as one of the greatest hurdles to reviving the city. A struggle for control of local government and the future of the city is underway and this struggle has its origins in the Feldman/Mall Controversy of 1980.

Highlights from the Daub Collection help shed light on this area of Portsmouth history; although an incomplete record, it is hoped that other documents related to these controversies will be preserved for history’s sake. The scrapbook section of the website is open to submissions from the public. If you have letters, newspaper clippings, or other documents that you’d like to add to a scrapbook, whether on the 1980s Feldman/Mall Controversy, the current quarrel over the Marting’s building, or any other historical event in Portsmouth’s past please consider submitting it for inclusion.

These digital scrapbooks are modeled on the legendary Portsmouth scrapbooks created by Henry A. Lorberg at the turn of the 20th century. The original Lorberg Scrapbooks can be examined in the Local History Department of the Portsmouth Public Library. The new Lower Scioto Scrapbooks are meant to replicate this incredible local history resource, but do it through the latest computer technology.  During the 1890s and first decades of the twentieth century Henry Lorberg went door-to-door collecting items for his scrapbooks.  His multi-volume collection of photos, news-clippings, and other ephemera offers an amazing window into the past. Hopefully, these new digital scrapbooks will help open another window through which we all can come to a better understanding of how we got to where we are today.

With Lorberg's method in mind, the Lower Scioto Valley History website accepts submissions from the public.  Again, I encourage you, if you have an item -- photograph or other type of document of local or regional interest that captures the past or present -- please consider having it placed in one of the project scrapbooks.  To make a contribution, e-mail a digital copy of your item or send a query to me at afeight at shawnee.edu. Free scanning of documents or images is available following a consultation. When submitting an item, please include text for a caption, explaining (if possible) the who, what, where, and when about the submitted item.

Thanks for reading. Feedback on the new website is welcomed, as well.

To visit the new website click ---> Lower Scioto Valley History

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Great-Great-Great-Grandfather of a President?

Barack Obama’s American Roots Are Traced to the Lower Scioto Valley

Just days before the announcement that US Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party Presidential Nominee, would be campaigning in Portsmouth, Ohio, news began circulating of Obama’s ancestral roots leading back to the Scioto River Valley. On October 5th, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published the fullest account yet. They quote another Scioto Valley notable, current Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, as saying: "Ohio's supposed to be the mother of presidents. Wouldn't it be interesting if we were the great-great-great-grandfather of a president?"

Obama’s earliest direct ancestor in Ohio is a man named Joseph Kearney, who immigrated from Moneygall, Ireland to Ross County in 1849. Members of the Kearney family, however, had been in Ross County as early as 1805, when Joseph’s uncle, Thomas Kearney and his young family had moved from Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas Kearney had earlier left Ireland, sometime in the late 1780s, and had established himself as a master carpenter in his new American hometown. He married a Virginian from nearby Fairfax County in 1791 in a Baltimore Methodist Church.

Exactly how is not yet clear, but by 1805, if not before, Thomas Kearney had come into possession of lands in Ohio’s Virginia Military District. Kearney accompanied a flood of migrants who settled in the valley during the first decade of the nineteenth century. The rapidly growing Ross county town of Chillicothe was not only the seat of the county, it was the seat of the newly created state government of Ohio. Before Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland came to overshadow Chillicothe, this town was the locus of wealth, power, and land speculation in Ohio. Chillicothe to the north and Portsmouth to the south were the axis upon which the region spun and in the early 1800s the valley experienced rapid economic development.

Details of Thomas Kearney’s life in the Scioto Valley are meager, but he appears to have thrived and his success encouraged his brothers and nephews to leave Ireland in a chain of migration that lasted over fifty-years. Thomas would be followed by his brothers and their children in the 1830s and 1840s. One of those nephews, Joseph would have a son named Fulmoth Kearney, and it is through him that a direct link extends to Barack Obama’s mother.

What led Joseph Kearney to immigrate directly to the Scioto Valley in 1849? It was the death of his brother, Francis, in early February 1848. Francis, another nephew of Thomas Kearney, had died in Pickaway County, on his property near the Ross County line. In his Last Will and Testament, Francis gave his Ross County lands on the North Fork of Paint Creek to his brother Joseph and his sons. Joseph appears to have left Ireland nearly as soon as he had received word of his inheritance. Joseph arrived in Ross County in 1849 and his son, Fulmoth, followed a year later in March of 1850.

Fulmoth married Charlotte Holloway, a native of Ross County, whose family had also been among the earliest settlers in the Valley. Fulmoth and Charlotte would later move to Indiana, where Fulmoth died in 1878. Their daughter, Mary Ann Kearney married Jacob W. Dunham, the great-grand-father of Ann Dunham, who it turns out was the mother of Barack Obama.

Roger Kearney, the self-appointed Kearney family genealogist in Ohio, first discovered the Obama connection after reading a sketch of Obama’s genealogy in a newspaper article. The article mentioned that Obama’s mother’s ancestry in America went back to a man named Fulmoth Kearney. It turned out that Roger Kearney recognized the name Fulmoth, as one he had in his database. Working with Ancestry.com, Roger was able to firmly establish the link to Obama and trace it all the way back to Ireland, where the genealogical research continues.

That Barack Obama’s American roots are to be found in the Lower Scioto Valley is a testament to the region’s significance in the history of our nation. In a region with a rich history associated with the heroic undertakings of the Underground Railroad, it seems only appropriate that America’s first African-American (or African-Irish-American) presidential nominee would have ancestors who came to this valley in pursuit of their happiness and their very own American dreams.

This Thursday, October 9th, at 5:30 PM, Shawnee State University will host Senator Obama, where, on the Alumni Green, he will give a speech to a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and members of the surrounding community. The following day, he will campaign in Chillicothe, in Ross County, the original destination of his Irish ancestors who came here in the early 1800s. Welcome home, Senator Obama. Welcome to the Lower Scioto Valley.