Ohio Historical Society Partners With Tyler Family on Legacy Project

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African American family to meet at first family reunion Aug. 5-6 in Columbus, Ohio.

Descendants of James Seneca Tyler, the first African American elected Clerk to the Ohio House of Representatives, and his wife, Maria McAfee, daughter of an indentured servant who helped raise the children of the prominent Alfred Kelley family of Columbus, will meet August 5-6 in Columbus for the Tyler Family "Homecoming" Family Reunion.

Many of the descendants will be meeting each other for the first time.

In the Tyler Family Legacy Project, a partnership between the Tyler family and the Ohio Historical Society, the Tyler Family Reunion will include a reception, a small exhibit and a genealogical workshop at the Ohio Historical Center's Archives/Library in Columbus.

Staff members of the Ohio Historical Society will videotape interviews with Tyler family members, make copies for the family and place the series of recordings in the Society's permanent collections. In addition, the Tyler family and the Ohio Historical Society will unveil an Ohio Historical Marker about the Tyler family, which will be placed in Goodale Park in Columbus later this year. James Seneca Tyler lived at 1107 Highland Ave. in Victorian Village with his family from the 1880s until his death in 1916.

"The Ohio Historical Society is delighted to partner with the Tyler family on this important legacy project," said Cynthia Ghering, assistant director of curatorial services for the Ohio Historical Society. "Our collections include some significant material about the family of James Seneca Tyler and Maria McAfee Tyler. We believe it's vitally important to continue to document this family's history and to share it with others."

Distinguished family members include James Seneca Tyler (1837-1916), the first African-American elected Clerk to the Ohio House of Representatives and a personal friend to former Governor Joseph B. Foraker and President William McKinley; and sons Jesse Gerald Tyler (1879-1932), an accomplished classical pianist; physician James Adolph Tyler (1871-1932); Julius Boston Tyler (1872-1944) the first African American to score a touchdown for Ohio State University football in 1896 and journalist Ralph Waldo Tyler (1859-1921), the first black war correspondent to report on the activities of African-American soldiers stationed overseas during World War I.

Ralph Waldo Tyler also worked as society editor for The Columbus Dispatch, cultivating as sources his many acquaintances who were servants of prominent families of Columbus. Tyler also was secretary to Robert F. Wolfe, publisher of The Dispatch and The Ohio State Journal.

In addition, James Seneca Tyler's grandsons, all deceased, include Harold McAfee Tyler, a Chicago lawyer who defended the Tuskegee Airmen at Freeman Field; Waldo Woodson Tyler, a pharmacist and entrepreneur who founded Tyler Drug Stores; and Ralph C. Tyler, an engineer and stand-out Ohio State University athlete who founded the Ralph Tyler Companies, an engineering and architectural consulting firm in Cleveland.

Living descendants of James Seneca Tyler and Maria McAfee Tyler include Dana Tyler, great-great-granddaughter, co-anchor for WCBS-TV in New York and a former journalist for WBNS-TV in Columbus; Lauren Tyler, great-great granddaughter, investment banker and managing director of B.E. 100 Quetzal/JPMorgan Partners in New York; Ralph S. Tyler, great grandson, president & CEO of Ralph Tyler Companies in Cleveland; Charles Tyler Collins, great grandson, former tour director for Stevie Wonder; and Collins' daughter, Tyler Collins, an accomplished recording artist who has worked under the Disney label.

The family's achievements also are noted in Annette Taborn, a blues singer, and Amy Tyler Wilkins, a principal partner in The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to educational reform.

The family reunion will bring together about 60 of James Seneca Tyler's descendants, most of them meeting for the first time, said Kelly McCoy Williams, James S. Tyler's great-great-granddaughter and director of business development for icrossing Inc. in Chicago.

"Tyler descendants share a legacy of achievement that has not only impacted the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus but also illustrates the contributions of an African American family to Ohio's rich history," said McCoy Williams, co-chair of the project. "The Homecoming is a great opportunity for the descendants who live in Ohio and in other parts of the country to come back to Columbus and our roots. We are pleased to have the support of the Ohio Historical Society in documenting, preserving and sharing our family's fascinating history."

McCoy Williams said the family reunion project began last summer after she and her family visited COSI in Columbus and saw a picture of an old mansion in an Ohio Historical Society exhibit now belonging to the Columbus Historical Society and on display at COSI. The mansion was the Alfred Kelley home on East Broad Street, which was demolished in 1961.

"I knew something of my family's connection to that house, through Maria McAfee's mother, Ann Fowler," McCoy Williams said.

In 1817, when Ann Fowler was five years old, Major Melancthon Woolsey Welles separated the child from her mother and gave her as "wedding gift" to his daughter Mary Seymour Welles and his new son-in-law Alfred Kelley to accompany them on their journey to the Ohio frontier and to serve as nurse for their future children. Ann and her mother were the property of Welles of Lowville, N.Y., when slavery was still legal in that state.

Alfred Kelley was among the first 50 settlers of Cleveland, its first mayor and a major property owner. Kelley's Island was named after him. He served in the state legislature and moved to Columbus in 1830 as he developed Ohio's canal system. Alfred and Mary Kelley had 11 children, nine of them born before Ann Fowler married William L. McAfee. The McAfees' daughter, Maria McAfee, married James Seneca Tyler in 1859.

"When I saw the picture of the Kelley mansion, I knew that my ancestor, Ann Fowler McAfee, had helped raise the Kelley children," McCoy Williams. "My husband encouraged me to delve deeper into my family history, and I did."

In addition to a reception at the Ohio Historical Center on Friday, Aug. 5, reunion activities include a genealogical workshop on Saturday morning at the Ohio Historical Center and a keynote talk Saturday evening, at Embassy Suites Dublin, by Larry Lorenz, a journalism professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, who recently published, "Ralph Waldo Tyler: the Unknown Correspondent of World War I," in Journalism History, an academic journal.

The Tyler Family Legacy Project is the first in-depth partnership between an Ohio family and the Ohio Historical Society. The Tyler family reunion Aug. 5-6 follows another African American family reunion hosted at an Ohio Historical Society site this summer. On July 16, descendants of President Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings met at Adena Mansion & Gardens in Chillicothe in the family's first reunion outside of Virginia.

For more information on the Tyler Family Legacy Project and homecoming activities, visit http://www.tylerfamilylegacy.com or contact Kelly McCoy Williams at 888.232.1906.

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