The Rev. James Sunderland Family Collection

Rev. James Sunderland
The Rev. James Sunderland Family Collection is a group of 34 home recordings made around 1907 after Sunderland was given a cylinder phonograph by his children.

In August 1907, Sunderland was living in Oakland, California and had become blind after suffering from failing eyesight for a number of years. Three of his nine children—sons James, Ralph, and Albert, who lived in Omaha at the time—acquired and sent their father a cylinder phonograph. The cylinders in this collection were for the most part recorded by Sunderland’s children for him, and they also sent him a number of pre-recorded music cylinders. In his 1923 autobiography, Sunderland made mention of the cylinder recordings he received and what they meant to him: “My children, particularly Ralph, made personal records of song and speech, the hearing of which almost seemed to bring them and their children to us in personal visits. I made a few records in return, which I sent to them. We all greatly appreciated this exemplification of a marvelous scientific discovery.”

Laura Grace Sunderland (Bliss)
Sunderland’s other children included Laura Grace Sunderland (Bliss), who was born in 1884 and known throughout her life as Grace. Grace was the youngest of James Sunderland’s three daughters, born to his second wife, Laura A. (Tone) Sunderland, who died in 1885 in Ottumwa, Iowa. Sunderland married his third wife, Cleora N. Ham, in 1886, when Grace was two years old. Cleora Sunderland raised Sunderland’s children as if they were her own, and Grace was living with her father and Cleora in 1907 when Sunderland was using the phonograph given to him.

Grace attended UC Berkeley (called California University at the time) and graduated around 1910. She met and married Howard H. Bliss, also a Berkeley graduate, and they lived in Berkeley for a time in a home built on a lot given to them by her father. Grace and Howard Bliss's first child was Barbara, and the couple eventually moved their family to Riverside, where Howard taught college. Grace inherited the cylinder collection from her father, after which it was passed along to her daughter Barbara, then to her daughter’s son Alan McLaughlin, and finally to UCSB in June 2016 so it could be preserved and digitized.