“We didn’t say too much about it”
Mary Kearney describes how she felt when her father told her the family history.
Theme: Oral History Transmission
Residence (at time of interview): Columbus, OH
When Mary Kearney was seven, her father, G. Victor Cassells, called her and her siblings into the living room and showed them a small, leather-bound photo album. He said, “I want you children to know who your ancestors are,” and told them that Thomas Jefferson was their third great-grandfather. The treasured album, which came through her grandfather Cyrus Craton Cassells, a Civil War veteran, now belongs to Mrs. Kearney.
She married James A. Kearney and raised six children, writes poetry, and worked as a personnel security specialist for the Department of Defense for seventeen years. An avid historian of the Woodson family, she gave to Monticello an ingenious piece of her father’s woodworking: a chain carved from a single piece of walnut.
4 Feb. 2000, Whitehall, OH
Interviewee: Mary Kearney
Also present: Linda Carr, Richard Carr, Theresa Murray, Vivian Hewitt, Dr. John Hewitt, Peggy Harrison
Mary Kearney wrote a poem as a tribute to all descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
We Couldn’t Say
Down in the country, on a small mound
Sat a small brick house, down from the town.
The birds sang songs that all birds knew,
Flying and chirping in the late spring hue.
The children all loved this place in the hills,
Working and playing and looking for thrills.
Some folks say this family was great;
There were only a few that showed their hate.
Some others that you thought would never be a friend
Named their children after this famous man’s kin.
But one winter day our father did show
A small brown album with relatives aglow.
“These are your ancestors,” he said to us.
We were shocked and amazed but warned not to make a fuss.
After years of silence, as the world can see,
This famous man was kin to me.
(published in Timeless Voices, a poetry anthology of the International Library of Poetry)