Authors: Jay Price, Carolyn Schmidt, Paul Leeker
Charles T. Payne
Charles T. Payne was born in Knox County, Missouri in June of 1861 to Benjamin Payne and Eliza Black Payne. Benjamin Payne died in 1878, leaving Charles as the main support for his mother and younger brother, Alexander, in the northeastern Missouri town of Edina. By 1880, the 18-year old Charles supported the family as a cattle buyer. In the 1880s, Charles moved to the Kansas City area, settling in Johnson County.
In 1889, Payne married Della Wolfley. The oldest child of Robert Wolfley and Rachel Abbott, Della was born in Ohio in 1863. By the 1874, the family had relocated to Johnson County, setting on a farm in near Edgerton along the tracks of the Lawrence, Leavenworth and Galveston Railroad.
Charles and Della remained in Johnson County, where they raised their children, Lillie, Rolla, Estelle, Frank, Elva, Virgil (who died as a child in 1909) and Ora. Della died in the spring of 1906 at the age of 47, perhaps the result of complications while giving birth to her eighth child. Her obituary mentions that she died at home after a surgery performed the week earlier and one of her surviving children was only a few days old. This child, Anna, died soon after.
Charles lived and worked in Johnson County for the rest of his life. His work as a cattle buyer as a young man in Missouri gave way to being an auctioneer in Lenexa by 1900. By 1910, the family lived on a rented a farm in Aubry Township. In the years that followed, Rolla, for example, went to Peru, Kansas, as part of that region’s oil boom. By 1920, Charles lived in the working class community of Rosedale, where he repaired tires in a tire shop. With him lived Frank, a store clerk, Lillian, a school teacher, and Ora. In 1930, Charles was again a livestock dealer living on Adams Street in Kansas City, Kansas. When Charles died in Kansas City, Kansas in 1940 at the home of daughter Stella Lowmiller, his living children (daughter Ora Payne Moritz had died in 1924) included Rolla in Augusta, Kansas; Frank in Kansas City; and Lillian in Rantoul, Kansas.
Thomas Creekmore McCurry
Thomas Creekmore and Margaret Isabelle McCurry were President Obama’s great-great-grandparents on his mother’s side. Thomas McCurry was born on January 19, 1850 in Missouri, the son of blacksmith Harbin McCurry. Family tradition says that a three year old Thomas McCurry even shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln when the future president visited the area. The McCurry family lived in southwestern Missouri. The year Thomas was born, the family was in Ozark County, Missouri, in the border with Arkansas, and in 1860, they were in Newton County located on the border of Kansas. Some family stories suggest the family was the target of pro-Confederate Bushwhackers during the Civil War. In the early 1870s, the family moved from Missouri to the Salt Creek Township of Howard County in southern Kansas. In 1875, quarrels in rival communities over where the county seat should be located resulted in Howard County being split between Elk County to the north and Chautauqua County to the south. Thomas would eventually settle in the vicinity of Peru in Chautauqua while his brother, Samuel, was in Longton of Elk County. In the years that followed, most of the McCurry family relocated to what became Pontotoc County, Oklahoma.
Thomas’ wife, Margaret Isabelle Wright was born in Arkansas on July 22, 1869. She was one of Joseph Wright and Frances Allred’s thirteen, and the family farmed Carroll County, Arkansas. After the Civil War, Joseph was a representative from Carroll County to the reconstruction era constitutional convention of Arkansas in 1868. In the early 1880s, however, the family moved to Chautauqua County, Kansas. Margaret and Thomas McCurry married in 1885, when he was thirty five and she was just fifteen.
Thomas and Margaret rented a farm in Belleville Township near Peru, Kansas. The couple had five sons: Jacob, Thomas, Joseph, Franklin, and John. Initially starting out in farming, the children pursued various paths: Joseph went to work in the developing oil fields, while Franklin became a pharmacist for the local drug store. In addition, the couple had two daughters: Leona, who would become Obama’s great grandmother, and Ruth. Margaret died on November 28, 1935 in Peru. Her death came four years before the death of Thomas in 1939, her markedly older husband.
Rolla Charles Payne and Leona Belle McCurry
Rolla Charles Payne was born on August 23, 1892 in Johnson County, Kansas, to Charles T. Payne and Della Wolfey. Rolla Payne attended one year of high school before relocating to Chautauqua County, Kansas. The 1920 census lists him as Head of Household and living with his partner, William O’Hara. This census also lists Rolla Payne as being a bookkeeper for the Prairie Oil and Gas Company. The job as a bookkeeper would have been a better position than working in the oil fields, both in terms of salary and social prestige.
Rolla’s wife, Leona Belle McCurry was born on May 7, 1897, in Chautauqua County, Kansas to Thomas and Margaret McCurry. The 1920 census lists Leona Belle McCurry as being a schoolteacher and living in a boarding house. Soon after his marriage to Leona McCurry, in 1921, he and his family moved to Augusta, Kansas, a larger and more prosperous town than Peru. The 1940 census lists Rolla Payne as renting his home at 1136 State Street. In the year 1939 he worked 42 hours a week and earned an income of $2,100 annually.
Leona and Rolla Payne had four children: Madelyn was born in 1922, Charles was born in 1925 and a second daughter, Arlene, was born in 1926. Another son, Jon Virle, was born in 1938. Later in life, the Paynes relocated again, this time, to Winfield, Kansas, where some residents still remember them. Rolla and Leona died several months apart in 1968.
Madelyn Dunham née Payne
Madelyn Payne was born on the November 29, 1922 in Peru, Kansas. She was the oldest of three children of Rolla Payne and Leona Payne née McCurry. Her younger brother Charles was born in 1925 and a younger sister, Arlene, was born in 1926.
The family moved from Peru to Augusta in the 1920s, when Madelyn was still a young girl. Her education took place in Augusta, starting with Garfield Elementary School and concluding with her graduation from Augusta High School in 1940. Friends described Madelyn as being a kind and warm-hearted person who had high personal standards. Mary Francis Kennedy Lawrence recounts that Madelyn made the honor roll every term until she met her future husband, Stanley Dunham.
On the night of her senior prom, Madelyn Payne married Stanley Dunham in a secret ceremony in Wichita, Kansas. Madelyn and Stanley had one child, a daughter named Stanley Ann. Even though she was already married by this time, during the Second World War, Madelyn worked at Boeing building B-29 bombers. After the war, the couple continued to live for a time in Kansas but then began making a series of moves across the country. They spent some time working in Texas, and then moved to the Pacific Northwest. Their daughter, Stanley Ann, graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1960. The Dunham family eventually moved to Hawaii. This was to be their final move and the couple lived there until their deaths. Madelyn and Stanley raised President Barack Obama from the time he was a young man until he went to college. Obama described Madelyn, known as “Toot,” as being the cornerstone of the family. Madelyn Payne Dunham died on the eve of the election of 2008, never seeing the man she helped raise become President.