Catherine A. T. McConnell, a retired Baltimore public school system librarian and educator whose interest in her family's past led her to write articles on African-American history, died Thursday of cancer at her residence in Morgan Park. She was 66.
Mrs. O'Connell retired in 1983 after serving as an assistant principal at Garrison and Northern Parkway junior high schools. She had been media department chairman at Walbrook High School from 1971 to 1980.
In 1963, she moved from Montgomery County, where she had been a teacher since 1952, to Baltimore to become librarian at Edmondson High School.
While growing up in Washington, Mrs. McConnell became fascinated with her family's past. Her interest was fed by visits to a South Carolina cemetery where her ancestors were buried. Those visits signaled the end of summer vacation.
"It was a family ritual," she said in a 1991 Sun interview. "You were constantly reminded of your ancestors."
She listened to the tales and stories of elderly relatives and one day decided to write about her family's past.
She was able to trace her father's family back to a Catherine Cleveland, who with her aunt, Elizabeth Cleveland, came to South Carolina in 1764 from the Banana Islands, part of Sierra Leone on Africa's west coast.
Elizabeth Cleveland, who later married a white physician, had purchased a 750-acre plantation known as Raccoon Hill, 40 miles north of Charleston in the Carolina Low Country, where she grew rice and indigo. At her death in 1808, the plantation, which had grown to 2,400 acres, was inherited by her niece.
"It was really unusual for blacks to own plantations in those days but they were accepted and treated kindly because they came as 'free people of color,' " said a sister, Elsie Taylor Goins of Columbia, S.C., who has researched and written articles with her sister.
"The plantation remained in the family until the Santee and Cooper rivers project flooded much of the land in 1941."
The sisters and Mrs. McConnell's husband, Roland C. McConnell, professor emeritus of history at Morgan State University, journeyed throughout the United States and to Europe and England to research family history.
"We were everywhere, libraries, courthouses, archives and cemeteries," Mrs. Goins said. "The more we found, the more interesting it became."
They discovered Bond Conway, an ancestor who "was a free man of color who possessed papers that he could 'trade and traffic' throughout the area near Camden, S.C., where he was a carpenter," Mrs. Goins said.
The Kershaw County Historical Society there has preserved a house that he built in 1810.
As a result of researching her ancestry, Mrs. McConnell helped to organize the annual Naudin-Dibble Family Reunion, which was first held in 1979. The group has more than 350 members who meet regularly to celebrate their South Carolina roots.
Mrs. McConnell presented scholarly papers at the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. In collaboration with her husband and sister, she wrote "African Americans in Military Bands from Colonial Times to the Civil War," "Maryland Infantry Regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War" and "The Development of the Black Soldier in the Military Establishment."
She and her husband, whom she married in 1983, co-wrote "A History of Trinity Presbyterian Church Through the Years 1959 to 1989."
The former Catherine A. Taylor was born in Asheville, N.C., and moved to Washington in 1942. In 1950, she earned a bachelor's degree in history from Howard University and did graduate work at Catholic and American universities.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3200 Walbrook Ave.
Other survivors include a son, Charles Preston Howard III of Los Angeles; a daughter, Catherine Marie Howard of Baltimore; a brother, John B. Taylor III of Silver Spring; two sisters, Joan Taylor Clement of Washington and Dorothy Taylor of Asheville; her mother, Amanda Felicia Allen Taylor of Washington and Columbia, S.C.; and many nieces and nephews.
Pub Date: 5/21/96