#52Ancestors – (22) So Far Away

Next weekend (22-24 June), descendants of the families who attended Strieby Church and School, in southwestern Randolph County, will gather for a reunion. Those planning the reunion wanted to make every effort to invite as many descendants as could be located from the core families, Hills and Lassiters, and those they married, including Laughlins, Phillipses, and Waldens. I understand about one hundred family members are expected to attend from around the country, including some who have never met anyone from any other ancestral branches.

Over the years, family members and descendants moved away in search of greater opportunities. One branch of the Hill family moved farther away than most living today in North Carolina were aware. Nathan Case Hill, oldest son of Edward “Ned” Hill and Priscilla Mahockly Hill, the principal progenitors of the Hills of Hill Town, later Strieby, and his wife, Sarah Polk Hill, had 10 known children.[1] By 1900, two of those children, Milton[2] and Thomas Julius,[3] had moved away to Jefferson County, Arkansas. Exactly why they moved away is not clear, since they are listed as farmers in Jefferson County, just as they had been in Randolph County, North Carolina. The areas had another similarity, both were significant lumber producing areas. Descendants of these two men knew to this day that their roots were in Randolph County. However, they had lost touch with those back in North Carolina. DNA and on-line family trees changed all that.

Figure 54-Milton Hill
Milton L Hill

The first contact with descendants I was able to make was through a site called “Tribal Pages.” A descendant had a public tree that listed these men and their descendants. She did not seem to know much about their ancestors back in Randolph County. I attempted to contact her, but she did not respond. Nevertheless, I was able to use her information to further my own research and confirm what had happened to descendants and other family members. Later, I would find this same woman had a public tree on Ancestry. Just as I had added the names of descendants identified because of her information on her publicly viewable family trees, so she had added the names of ancestors based on the information he was able to view on my public trees, both on Tribal Pages and on Ancestry. Though we had each benefited from the research of the other, we still had not talked personally. There things stood until I began to DNA test family members.

Figure 107-Aveus Ave Lassiter
Aveus Lassiter Edmondson

One family member I tested was my cousin, Aveus Lassiter Edmondson. At the time she was our oldest living family member. She was 100. Among Aveus’s matches was a man called “W. W.” whose results were managed by “ShanksSharon (Sharon Shanks).” By examining the associated tree, and other information on Sharon Shanks’ contact page, I learned that W. W. was descended from Thomas Julius Hill.

Thomas Julius Hill
Thomas Julius Hill

W. W. also had an ancestry hint shaky leaf. Since Aveus (who has since deceased)[4] was not a direct Hill descendant, the only connection between them was through Sarah Polk Hill, Thomas’s mother.[5] Aveus’s grandmother, Katherine Polk Lassiter (wife of Colier Phillips Lassiter) was presumed to be Sarah’s sister. Both women had been living in the home of Jack and Charity Lassiter in 1850.[6]

Figure 83-Granny Kate Polk Lassiter
Katherine Polk Lassiter

Colier Lassiter, who would marry Katherine Polk,[7] was the bondsman for Nathan and Sarah.[8]  However, since the 1850 census does not name the relationship of those in a household, one can only speculate based on later records or other non-census documents. DNA can also help. In this case, the only plausible reason for Aveus and W. W. to be biologically related would be because Sarah and Katherine were related. Thus, the DNA link between Aveus and W. W. helped confirm that Sarah and Katherine were most likely sisters. Test results of other descendants have continued to reaffirm this genealogical link and reunite our separated family branches. Consequently, I contacted Sharon and we began exchanging information and developed an on-going relationship. Sharon was instrumental in providing pictures of family members from these branches for use in my book on the history of Strieby Church, school, and community.

For the reunion, each of us was encouraged to reach out to those we knew were not in touch directly with the planners, but whom we knew and could invite personally. I knew that Sharon would be interested. She had already expressed a desire to have a reunion with descendants from the Arkansas families returning to North Carolina to see where their ancestors came from. Happily, I was right. Sharon was excited about the reunion in Winston Salem next weekend. I am excited because Sharon will be coming. So, in a way, the Arkansas descendants (who have themselves moved on to other cities, such as Chicago or St. Louis) were far away. They were not only physically far away, but they were, for those in North Carolina, emotionally far away, so far away that they were, in fact, for most, non-existent. It is almost like the prodigal son (daughter?) returning. I am very excited to know that we will be able to talk and hug this once lost, but now found cousin.

Endnotes

[1] 1860 US Federal Census; Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina, Nathan Hill, head. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 213; Image: 431; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00431/38955993?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470427/facts/citation/221841239328/edit/record; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Nathan Hill, head. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 409A; Image: 267; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00267/26491953?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470427/facts/citation/221841239255/edit/record; and 1880 US Federal Census, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Nathan Hill, head. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 195B; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0682. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00682/43215876?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470427/facts/citation/221841238824/edit/record.

[2] 1900 US Federal Census, Old River, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Roll: 63; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120032_00255/6320871?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470436/facts/citation/223091664994/edit/record.

[3] 1900 US Federal Census, Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Milton Hill, head. NARA Roll: 63; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0108; FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120032_00829/6348455?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470432/facts/citation/221849173466/edit/record

[4] Aveus Lassiter Edmondson. (October 23, 2014). Courier-Tribune. (Asheboro, North Carolina). Retrieved from:  http://courier-tribune.com/obituaries/aveus-lassiter-edmondson.

[5] 1880; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 195B; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0682. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00682/43215876?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36243470427/facts/citation/221841238824/edit/record

[6] 1850; Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Catherine Lassiter [sic] and Sarah Lassiter [sic]. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 136A; Image: 278. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00278/12941818?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231719023/facts/citation/223081904763/edit/record

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Calier Lassiter and Catherine Polk, Bond, 26 Sep 1854. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60548&h=3548742&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36231657676&usePUB=true

[8] North Carolina, Index to Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868 [database on-line]. Nathan Case [sic] and Sarey Poke, Bond, 15 Sep 1853. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=4802&h=1120672&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36243470429&usePUB=true

 

#52Ancestors – (17) Cemetery: Eastside Memorial Cemetery, Live Oak, Florida

Over the years since embarking on genealogy research into my family roots, I’ve been able to visit several cemeteries where my family members, ancestors and collateral relatives, have been buried. In North Carolina, where my maternal roots are, I have even been able to get the cemetery and church where my family worshiped, Strieby Congregational Church, declared a cultural heritage site. On the other hand, I had never made a pilgrimage to Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida before 2014 to see where my paternal family had lived. One of the places that was important for me to visit was the cemetery that my aunt and cousin had talked about and described, where our ancestors were buried. I knew it as the “Black City Cemetery,” from the death certificate of my great grandfather, Randel Farnell.

Doc C-Randel Farnell DC
Death Certificate of Randel Farnell

I was able to arrange to meet my cousin, Clark “Randy” Randolph, in Live Oak. He had spent his early years until he was about 15 living in Live Oak. He agreed to show me around. Randy and I both descend from Randel Farnell, he from Randel’s son, William, I from Randel’s daughter, Lela.

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams
Will Farnell
William F. Farnell

Like me, Randy was born after both our great grandfather, Randel Farnell (d. 1928) and our great grandmother Sallie Jacobs Farnell (d. circa 1905) had died. However, he did know other family members, such as Randel’s widow, Priscilla, his second wife, our step-great grandmother. She was much younger than Randel and lived until 1967.

I told Randy that I particularly wanted to see the cemetery where the family was buried. I assumed that virtually all my Farnell relatives and Williams relatives who had died in Live Oak were buried in Eastside, because it was the principal cemetery (maybe even the only cemetery) for African Americans.

Randy Randolph and Margo Williams
Clark “Randy” Randolph and Margo Lee Williams

Randy and I started our tour around Live Oak at the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society library. Jinny Hancock, the president, explained that there were two sections to the cemetery. The section currently being used was well cared for by the city of Live Oak. The older section of the cemetery was privately owned. She said that section was not maintained and badly overgrown. She told us that the city had tried to buy the property so that it could maintain both sections, or even just manage it so that it could be cleaned up. The owner was not forthcoming. Jinny felt we would not be able to get into that section of the cemetery.

Jinny Hancock and Randy Randolph
Jinny Hancock, President of the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society, and Randy Randolph

After leaving the library, Randy and I toured around Live Oak, looking at property sites where family homes had stood or still stood. Randy pointed out the house where he had lived. He said that when there was a storm and the street flooded he would dive off the front yard into the flood waters. I thought it amazing that he never was seriously hurt doing that, but I also couldn’t help but reflect on all the water moccasins he said would come swimming along in the flood waters. I was feeling glad I had grown up in New York City. Eventually we made our way to the cemetery.

Eastview Cemetery, Live Oak, Florida
Eastside Cemetery, Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida

The new section of the cemetery was very familiar to Randy. Many of his paternal relatives, the Randolphs, are buried there. We walked around looking at the various headstones. The cemetery reminded me of pictures I had seen of those in Louisiana, with large concrete slabs over the various plots, names inscribed on the slab tops. However, none of our Farnell ancestors were buried in that section. They were buried in the forest of trees on the far side of the cemetery. There was an old access road that led alongside the woods. We walked down the road but realized we couldn’t tell where anything was in the woods. We decided that it didn’t make sense to continue walking on the road when we couldn’t tell where we were. Besides, I was concerned about snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers. Only a few months earlier my legs had been devoured by chiggers while walking in the Strieby cemetery in North Carolina, landing me in the doctor’s office. I was not anxious to repeat that experience. Randy, however, was not going to be deterred.

Looking at old section of Eastview Cemetery, Live Oak, Florida
Looking at old section in the trees of Eastside Cemetery, Live Oak, Florida

Randy was undaunted because Randy was a former Green Beret in Vietnam. He was used to the jungle. He had walked out of Vietnam at the end of the war, through the jungle and the mountains. Though retired from his life of military undercover work, he took that same approach to the cemetery. Before I could say anything, he had run into the old cemetery, through the weeds, through the trees. All I could do was yell out, “Be careful!” He said he had found a few headstones. He began reading off the names. I was shocked. He had found the headstone of Charlie and Mamie Manker. Charlie was the son of George and Carrie (Harvey) Manker. Carrie was the sister of Ellen (Wilson) Williams, my great grandmother. He was able to see a couple more markers. Eventually the forest won. It was too difficult even for Randy to tackle. Besides, that part of the cemetery was technically private land. I wasn’t anxious for either of us to have an encounter with the local constabulary for trespassing. We hadn’t seen any police, but I did not wish to tempt fate. Yes, I’m a coward.

Eastview Cemetery Sign, Live Oak, Florida
Eastside Cemetery Sign, Live Oak, Florida

Needless to say, I had mixed feelings about how this cemetery visit turned out.  On the one hand, I had seen in the flesh where my family members were buried. Based on information I already had that my (maternal-paternal) great grandfather Randel Farnell was buried in this cemetery in a family mausoleum and finding the Manker headstones (Mankers being on my paternal-paternal side), I feel certain that most of my Farnell-Williams ancestors are buried in Eastview Cemetery. This would be before my immediate family, my grandfather, William Gainer Williams, his wife, Lela Farnell Williams, and their children, moved to New York and then New Jersey. I only wish this cemetery was as accessible as Strieby, St. Mark’s, or Salem Cemeteries in Randolph County, North Carolina or Beech Cemetery, in Rush County, Indiana, all cemeteries wherein lie my maternal-maternal family ancestors.  I hope one day this cemetery will also be easily accessible and I will be able to visit the actual gravesites of my Farnell and Williams ancestors.