Tax lists can help fill in information between census years. It can provide information on land ownership, a reference point for life events, how many of the household members are taxable, and what other personal property may exist because it was taxable. Tax lists have helped me clarify information on various ancestors.
Miles Lassiter bought land in 1815 and subsequently sold it in 1826. That information seemed to indicate that he was aa free man of color. I had other information that corroborated that. One place I looked for confirmation was in the Randolph County tax lists. I looked for him in tax records and was disappointed at first. It did not seem that he was represented in the tax records. I thought that odd since, as I said, he had bought property in 1815. In looking at the 1820 tax list, I didn’t see it right away. It required learning additional information before recognizing his presence in the tax list. He was actually a slave married to a free woman of color, Healy Phillips. When looking through the list I realized he was not listed as Miles Lassiter. He was listed as Miles Phillip, a free man of color. The tax registrar had used Healy’s surname. This was a singular name. There was no other Miles Phillip(s) in the county at that time, either white or of color.
Properties belonging to Miles and Healy have come down to descendants to the present day. Information in the various deeds and court cases which I discovered while researching my first book about my discovery of Miles Lassiter as my ancestor have provided valuable information to help sort out proper land boundaries.
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams
My grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, wrote in her autograph book, bible, and the inside flap of a book on the life of Queen Victoria, that she was born 28 September 1876, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. I had found her in the 1880 census with her parents, Randel and Sallie (Jacobs) Farnell. I tried to confirm that she was born in Live Oak by locating her father in the tax records. However, there was no evidence of her father in Suwannee County in 1876. The earliest that he could be found was 1877. I began to believe that she was possibly born in 1877 rather than 1876. I had found Randel in neighboring Columbia County in the 1870 census. I turned to the tax records for Columbia County. They revealed that Randel had not left Columbia County when the 1876 tax list was compiled. Once leaving Columbia County for Suwannee County, where his wife’s (Sallie) parents lived, there is no evidence that the family ever returned to Columbia County. Assuming the 1876 date was accurate for Lela’s birth, she was born in Columbia County, but since she lived in Live Oak her entire childhood, from infancy, she may not have known that she was actually born in Lake City.
Joshua W. Williams
When “Aunt Lutie” was passing on stories of our Williams family, she stated that Josh owned a lot of property in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. I set about locating information that would corroborate that story. I looked in the deeds but only found one deed for property to be used for a school. That agreed with information that he had been a teacher. I looked in the tax records but only found one entry in 1877. However, that entry indicated that it was really his wife Ellen’s (Wilson) property. Upon further research, I was able to determine that the land to which my aunt was referring was land belonging to Joshua’s wife’s family, including her mother and step-father, Frances and Alex Gainer.
Thus, taxes can be a very useful tool in resolving our genealogical questions.
 Randolph County Genealogical Society. 1820 Tax List. Randolph County, North Carolina: Miles Phillip. Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Genealogical society.
 See, Williams, M. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My research journey to home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.)
 Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 17, Number 1.
 Williams, M. L. (1990). Lela Virginia Farnell Williams (1876-1914), An Early Student at the State Normal College for Colored Students, Tallahassee, Florida. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 11, Number 4.
 Williams, M. (2006). The Herbert Randell Williams Family. Available from the Author.
Auntie Vern was my mother’s younger sister. She was born 9 March 1918, in Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina. My mother said she remembered the day her sister was born. My mother had been sent across the street to stay with neighbors, the Dudley’s who had a taxi business. My mother had been hoping for a baby brother. When they came to get her to take her home and she heard that it was a baby sister, not a brother, she started crying and insisted they send the baby back and get a boy! My mother adjusted to having a sister and eventually became very protective of her baby sister. They remained close throughout their lives.
Vern’s first months of life were not easy. She had pneumonia, according to my mother and exhibited signs of “failure to thrive.” While still a baby, only about nine months of age, their mother. Elinora Phillips Lee, died. She died on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918 from complications of the Spanish Flu. According to my mother, their mother, my grandmother, insisted on hanging the laundry to dry, but it was a cold and blustery day. Her mother, my great grandmother, tried to get her to come in but she was insistent. Within two days she was clearly sicker, now with pneumonia on top of the flu. The next day she supposedly got out of bed, put on a new suit she had recently made, picked up her baby, Auntie Vern, got back in bed and died shortly thereafter.
Their grandmother, my great grandmother, Mary Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd (later Ingram), affectionately known as “Big Mama,” became their guardian, known now simply as “Mama.” Indeed, for Auntie Vern their grandmother was the only “Mama” she would ever know. My grandmother had four other siblings, all living in the New York-New Jersey area. Some of those in Jersey suggested Louise bring the children, my mother and Vern, to New Jersey where they could help her care for my mother and her baby sister, Vern. They weren’t in New Jersey long when they had to return to North Carolina, Asheboro, where the family originated because Louise’s mother, Ellen Dunson Mayo, had had a stroke and Louise was needed to help care for her. A few weeks after getting to Asheboro, Grandma Ellen died. They stayed in North Carolina about three years before Louise decided to return to New Jersey. I believe she was persuaded to do so because the public-school education in New Jersey was superior to that of Asheboro’s and my mother was by this time school age. So, they returned to Elizabeth, New Jersey where Louise, Vern, and my mother lived with their uncle Percy, and aunt Moselle.
By the time Vern was ready for high school Louise was sick, having problems with high blood pressure. Moselle was married and lived with her husband elsewhere in Elizabeth. From things I was told, Moselle was not the maternal sort; she was not helpful when it came to “parenting.” According to Vern, Moselle was something of a party girl. She “loved to have a good time.” My mother was living with a family in Corona, Queens, New York where she worked as a seamstress for the wife, Mrs. Charlotte Dietz who had a dress business. With no other options Vern was sent to live with another aunt, Maude, and her daughter “Maudie” in Flushing, New York.
Although she was in Flushing, she attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, where she studied business subjects, including typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping, along with traditional academic subjects. She was athletic and ran track. However, she wasn’t getting along with either Aunt Maude or Maudie. By her senior year my mother was married. Aggravated with the way Aunt Maude treated Vern, my mother moved Vern to the Bronx to live with her and her new husband, my father, Herbert R. Williams. Louise was dead by then, so there was no viable option to return to Elizabeth. Besides, Vern liked New York far better than Elizabeth. I’m not sure why she didn’t like Elizabeth, she never seemed to have a reason other than to say she thought life in New York was more interesting.
Vern finished high school and eventually went to work for a local movie theater in the ticket booth. As she explained later, they needed her to be eighteen, she wouldn’t be eighteen for almost another year, but she told them she was eighteen. She doctored some papers and presto change, she had the job. Around this time, she met and married Paul Oden. However, the marriage didn’t last very long. Having separated from Paul she took advantage of the opportunity to move to Washington DC to work in the war (WWII) effort. She found work quickly and lived in a home for single young women. She missed home, however, and was known to show up on any given weekend, having ridden the train from DC, often having to stand much of the way because of crowded train cars. One of those trips was made because I had been born. My mother said that after seeing me she said. “Now we are three.”
Vern’s visits were always met with great anticipation and excitement. My mother was very fashionable, but somehow Vern seemed glamorous. She had short hair, that she spent time on curling and waving and pinning. She wore make-up all the time, and the ultimate cool factor for those days, she smoked. I was certain she had a grand life in Washington. After all, she worked in a big office. That had to be grand. When it was Christmas, or my birthday, or Easter, she always brought or sent beautiful gifts.
The first of many Easter vacation trips to Washington to see Auntie Vern began when I was five. My mother and I took our first plane trip, leaving from LaGuardia Airport which was across the street from where we lived in Queens. When the pilot mentioned how high we were flying, I announced I was certain we were on a jet. We weren’t of course. Auntie made sure to take us sightseeing to the monuments and shopping. I remember riding on the trolley. Auntie was indulgent, even letting me roller skate around her apartment. Like my mother she was a good cook and I loved eating her pound cakes.
It was later that year or the next year that Auntie gave up her single status for the second time. This time she married a young dentist, originally from Louisiana, Craig R. Means. They married at our house in New York. I got to be the flower girl. True to form my mother had everything organized. I felt very grand in my dress with my basket of rose petals. It was an elegant wedding.
Vern and Craig lived in Washington for several years. About the time I was around 10 years of age, Craig had the opportunity to buy a dental practice in Salisbury, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. Thus, began our trips across the Chesapeake, often at Thanksgiving or Easter to spend the holidays with them. Christmas was always spent “at home” in New York. In those days, Salisbury was a small southern town. It had a downtown area but was in many ways very country. Neighbors had chickens and a rooster that managed to crow every morning about sunrise, true to form. My aunt knew several families with children, so I was able to have fun with kids my own age, instead of spending all my time with the adults.
When I was about 12 or 13, Vern and Craig moved to Camden, New Jersey. They lived in a large townhouse, with front and back stairs. There were three full floors. It was on a main street, Broadway, next to a bar. A Roma gypsy family lived upstairs from the bar. They had a psychic reading business. Visits to Camden were much more solitary. There were no kids my age to play with and neither my parents nor my aunt thought the area safe, so I didn’t play outside. I spent most of my time reading, waiting for her to come home from work so that we could talk.
After a few years, Craig developed problems with rheumatoid arthritis and could no longer practice dentistry. He went to graduate school in Ohio to specialize in periodontics with hopes of teaching at Howard, his alma mater. Vern moved back to Washington and returned to working for the federal government. Craig visited on weekends. Apparently, he visited less and less as time went on. Then one day the divorce papers were delivered. The marriage was over. I was a senior in high school. Auntie was single for the last time. She never married again.
As I got older, Vern and I grew closer, more like sisters. After finishing graduate school in New York, I moved to Washington to pursue additional studies. I moved in with her. We lived near the waterfront. When our building was sold and became a condominium, we chose not to buy. We found a new apartment home in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was a bigger apartment. It would be her last move. She would live there for nearly 20 years. I, on the other hand, would move in and out as my life went through a variety of life changes.
One of those changes was marriage and the birth of my daughter in 1992. Since my mother lived in New York, it was Vern who would take the part of the grandmother, although we continued to call her “Auntie.” We had dinner with her every Friday night, and usually spent Sunday afternoons with her as well. During the week, once I returned to work, she was the primary caregiver. On the few rare occasions that my then husband and I went out, Vern was our babysitter. As it turned out, my daughter’s birthday was only a few days before Vern’s. Naturally, we celebrated both, often-times on the same day, which my daughter loved. They were kindred spirits after all. They were both Pisces. My husband and I often remarked that if our daughter was to choose between us and Vern, it would be Vern, hands down. They were inseparable. However, the love affair that my daughter had with Vern and my relationship with Vern was soon overshadowed by something that had begun before my daughter was born, but it would come to define our last years with Vern. Vern had Crohn’s Disease. She’d developed the symptoms around 1987. Now, about ten years later, she took a turn for the worse.
It was a weekday and I had been calling her all day to confirm that she could watch our daughter while we attended a PTA meeting. I figured she had been out with friends for lunch. Finally, after we had finished our dinner and it was time to leave I said we should stop by her lobby level apartment to see if she was home before heading to the meeting, and if necessary taking our daughter with us. We pulled up in the circular drive. I jumped out with my daughter and ran in turning the corner in the hallway to her door. I knew instantly something was dreadfully wrong. The newspapers were still in front. She had not left the apartment all day. I sent my daughter to the front desk to stay with the staff whom we knew well. I ran out to the van to my husband to tell him to park quickly and come in, I didn’t want to enter alone. We entered the apartment, still shrouded in closed curtains and shades from the night before. As we started down the hall we saw her, lying on the floor, barely conscious. I ran back to the front desk to tell them to call 911. I would learn that she had been on the floor from about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, through the day until we arrived. Her answering machine it turned out had not only my calls but those of another friend who was calling hoping to have lunch with her. This would start a three-year odyssey of hospital stays, bedside watches in ICU, 14 hours of infusions daily, and the final realization that she would never come home again. We tried every permutation we could devise. I tried to find an assisted living facility, but they wouldn’t take her because of the infusions, they said that she required skilled nursing assistance. I tried to acquire home visiting nurse care, but they said it was beyond their scope as well; she should be in a skilled care facility. I learned to do the infusions so that I could take care of her. However, she began to be angry about everything, making it impossible for me to control the situation. It was understandable. She had been the one in charge. She had been fiercely independent. She had taken care of all of us. She was finally realizing she would probably never be in charge of anything again, and she was stressed. We tried to make her room at the nursing facility comfortable. We took meals there with her when we could. She appreciated it, but she was angry. She blamed me for not getting her out of the nursing home, not taking her home, taking away her independence.
In late June of 2000, things began to unravel. She was admitted to Holy Cross Hospital, in Silver Spring, with what appeared to be an infection. My phone rang one afternoon, it was the doctor. He said there was nothing more he could do. She had an abdominal aneurysm that was most likely going to rupture in the next few days and she would die. I really don’t remember my response. I did manage to thank him for the call. When I visited her that day she was distant, uncommunicative, but not hostile. I wanted to tell her it was okay, but I really couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t even figure out how to start the conversation. I said I loved her and would see her the next day. I called my mother to come from New York, explaining that she needed to come as quickly as possible. I think she was having a hard time absorbing this news. She said she would be there on Sunday. I reiterated that she needed to come as quickly as possible.
My husband, daughter, and I spent all of Saturday with Vern. I think he and I took turns overnight, but I don’t really remember, oddly enough. I do know we all came to hospital early Sunday morning. I had contacted some of her close friends who began stopping in to spend a few minutes with her. Our priest stopped by after Sunday services were over. He said the prayers for the sick and dying. She nodded and thanked him. My mother and step-father finally made it. My mother was clearly in a kind of emotional denial. Here was her baby sister, dying. The nurses came in and out making sure she wasn’t in pain. At one point they tried to adjust her oxygen, but she told them to take it away. I said it would make breathing easier. She snapped that she knew that; she wasn’t an idiot. We let it go.
As the evening wore on, my mother, who was herself in her late 80s was tired and I felt it was time for our daughter to go home and get something to eat. It didn’t really look as though anything would happen that night. They could all come back in the morning. Her friends bid adieu, and my mother said she was going to get something to eat and get some rest after the road trip. She said she would be back. My daughter kissed her “Auntie” and said goodnight. My husband said a few words to her quietly. She seemed to be sleeping. Everyone left the room and I pulled my chair up to her bedside and took her hand. I said, “Well, it’s just you and me now.”
I’m certain the others had not reached the elevator when I realized her breathing suddenly changed. She never spoke again of course. I held her hand and told her I loved her as I realized her breaths were farther and farther apart. Then she didn’t take a breath. I kept telling her I loved her. I had seen people die before, but I was never holding their hand. I was stunned how quickly her skin cooled. I rang the nurse’s bell. When they responded I told them she had just died; I doubt the others had even made it to their cars. The nurses came and fixed her body, removing the IVs. I called the house and told my husband they needed to come back. To my surprise my mother did not come back, only my husband and daughter. The nurses called for the chaplain on duty to come and say prayers with us; she was a very sweet nun. We thanked her. The nurse then suggested that she would give us an envelope and we could clip a piece of her hair and her fingernails. My daughter liked that idea. We gathered what personal items were in the room along with our envelope of clippings. We kissed her one last time and walked out into the July evening air. Our hearts were broken. We didn’t like that she had suffered so much in the past years, but we were devastated to lose her. I doubt my daughter will ever get over losing her. Neither will I.
I didn’t know anything about the home property where my maternal ancestors lived in North Carolina until I started doing my genealogy research in 1976. Although my mother had spent her early years in North Carolina, it was not on those lands, nor had she ever seen them until we took a trip together to meet our newly discovered cousins in 1982. Neither had I nor my father ever visited the town where his family was from in Florida. “Home,” for most of my life meant the home where I grew up in Queens, New York, a neighborhood called East Elmhurst, now affectionately called the “Double-E” on one of our Facebook group pages. It is a neighborhood that has boasted many African American notables, including Malcom X, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Mays, and former Attorney General Eric “Ricky” Holder.
My parents had been living in the Bronx before buying the 1920 two-story, Dutch colonial on Ditmars Boulevard, overlooking Flushing Bay and LaGuardia Airport, in March of 1946. In those days it was a primarily German and Italian community. Those homes on Ditmars that faced the bay originally were actual bay-front homes, complete with the ability to bring small boats up to the backs of their homes to anchor them there. Some of those homes still had the mooring fixtures embedded in their back yards. The area in those days was known as North Beach, and included, besides an actual beach with beach house, a large and popular amusement park, called North Beach or Bowery Bay Gala Amusement Park.
By the time my parents bought all that had changed. The beach and amusement park had been turned into LaGuardia Airport. There was a waterfront park with tree lined walkway, benches for relaxing, and sand boxes for children to play. Further down going towards what is today Citi Field, was a marina popular with various celebrities. Between the airport, bay, park and Ditmars Boulevard, cutting off the former beachfront properties from the waterfront was Grand Central Parkway, dotted with overpass walkways so that neighborhood residents could access the bay front park. The beach house was eventually converted to a community center where many a late-night party was held. Although our house was on the opposite side of the street from the Bayfront, we still had beautiful views from the Master bedroom whose windows faced the Bayfront. Memories of what the area looked like then are readily accessible to me not only in family pictures, but in a scene in the original movie “Sabrina,” with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, which features a scene driving along Grand Central Parkway right through this community.
I wasn’t born yet. My parents had been married twelve years when they bought the house with no children in sight. They believed there would be no natural children and they had begun to grapple with whether to adopt or not. A year later I was born. I like to think the house had something to do with it. The house was on a 40X100 square foot lot. There was a large maple tree in front along the curb. The house had a nice grassy front with garden border. The driveway led to a two-car garage with an upper floor storage area. There was a good sized back yard with both patio area and grassy area, large enough for entertaining as well as the swing set with slide. I spent many hours playing on the swings, glider, slide, or hanging from the cross bars.
Inside was a six-room house with wrap around, enclosed porch, unfinished basement, and storage area in the attic. There were three bedrooms and one and half bathrooms. There was an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room and living room with bay window and a lovely stained-glass window high up on one wall. That house was my world.
I started my life in that house in the rear bedroom which was then called the nursery. It was a bright, west-facing room. It looked out over the back yard. By the time I was about three and half I was moved into the larger middle bedroom, with big-girl furniture. That room was on the side of the house and faced a balcony of the neighbors. It could be fun talking with various people over the years as they stood on the balcony and I leaned into the window, which was screened. I always speculated about being able to pull off such acrobatic feats as swinging from my window on something akin to a zip-line across to the balcony to save myself from some imaginary threat. I lived in the middle room even after college when I decided to stay in New York to attend graduate school. Regardless of where I lived it was always referred to as my room. Even in my absence most things in the room stayed as they were when I last lived there. It was the room where I would always stay when visiting, married or single. In later years, after my mother moved to assisted living and then died I came home for various occasions, some work-related, some not, but I almost always stayed in “my room.” It helped me feel anchored, rooted, in a good way, as if somehow, no matter what else was happening, all was right with the world.
My world in that house had been, for me, idyllic. Summers meant bike-riding, shooting the basketball at the hoop (I didn’t get it in often), playing on the swings or skating with the kind of skates that required keys and attached to your shoes. For a few years when I was very young there was also an inflatable pool my parents erected in the back yard. If the weather was not cooperative, there was always the porch which was large enough to at least skate on, and comfy enough for playing with dolls or reading books. We also walked across the street and across the overpass to the park along Flushing Bay to watch “warm=ups and take-offs” from LaGuardia Airport, skip stones across the water, or walk to the marina to see which celebrity yachts were tied up there.
Winter had just as many pleasures. When I was growing up, before the increased heat in the atmosphere from increased car usage, plane traffic, and homes and hotels built on previously open land, there was significant snowfall in the winter. Snows of five or six inches were not uncommon. Snowfalls would have to approach eight or ten inches or more before anyone thought to call a snow event a storm. For me, snow was a welcome sight. It rarely meant missing school, but what it did mean was the opportunity to build snowmen, snow forts or tunnels, and sledding! My father and I would go across the street to sled down the steep hill that led to the steps that climbed to the overpass to the bay front park. We would sled literally for hours, until neither of us could feel our hands, feet or lips. Finally, my mother would start yelling across the street that we had been out there long enough, and we were going to get sick, stating emphatically that we had no good sense. Probably not, but we sure did love every minute of it.
I also loved ice skating. Our home was near Flushing Park where the 1935 World’s Fair (and the 1965 Fair) took place. Some of the structures were still in use. One of those was the pavilion used for skating. One side of the building was for ice skating the other for roller skating. I took some lessons and frequently went on Saturday mornings with friends. I liked it enough that I was able to persuade my father to acquire a backyard skating rink that I used many afternoons after school, before dark, practicing what were called school figures.
I loved the outdoor life. I loved mowing the lawn, planting flowers, and having backyard barbeques. I liked sitting with the neighbors on summer nights watching the passing traffic, listening to stories, and catching lightening bugs/fireflies (we used both terms interchangeably). It is true that if playing with friends around the corner and it became dark enough for the street lights to turn on, it was time to go home. It wouldn’t be more than five or ten minutes before you would hear mothers begin yelling out windows or standing at backyard fences for us to come home. Needless to say, when we did get home we would be questioned about why we didn’t come promptly before being called. If we were too late, we knew we would be punished, grounded, for at least one or two nights.
Despite being a small family, I was an only child with only one cousin my age, our home was always filled with happy loving family friends. My mother loved entertaining. We had formal dinner parties, as well as more informal events. Almost every week various friends dropped in on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons to enjoy dessert and conversation. Holidays, however, were a different matter. They were occasions for grand dinners (no pot-lucks) of at least three and sometimes as many as five courses, accompanied by the appropriate wines. Since my birthday was during the Christmas holidays, my birthday parties took on a heightened sense of festivity that included my own formal luncheons when I was older.
My mother was a wonderful cook. She made everything “from scratch.” We had fresh vegetables homemade cakes, breads, pies, and cookies. She was an adventurous cook, willing to try foods that many others were too timid to cook. Christmas dinners were not limited to Turkey, ham, or roast beef. We had duck or goose as well. She made mincemeat pies and homemade fruitcake. Easter usually meant a leg of lamb. Her menus were varied and eclectic. She cooked tongue and kidneys along with the traditional meat loaf. We had dandelion and beet tops as well as turnip or mustard greens, kale and spinach. We not only ate watermelon and cantaloupe, we also ate cassava melon, ugly fruit, persimmons and pomegranate. Although our daily meals were eaten at our kitchen dining area, the meals were no less sumptuous. Sunday dinner was often in the dining room and usually marked by one of her scrumptious, homemade desserts.
Unfortunately, nothing ever stays the same. As the years passed, all was no longer right with the world. My aging mother began slipping deeper and deeper into a dementia that left her lucid but not always rational. Her own decline meant she was less and less able to cope with her second husband who had Alzheimer’s. Her once meticulous home began to show signs of decline as well. Simple repairs were ignored, real cleaning stopped, only her penchant for being tidy saved the day. She stopped paying bills or she payed them three times over. Most frustrating was her unwillingness to allow anyone, including myself, to help her. One saving grace was that we maintained a joint account set up after my father died in 1982. It made it possible for me to pay her bills without her even realizing it. In her mind, all was right with the world. I attempted to help her clean or cook on visits, but she was less and less tolerant of anyone touching her things. Eventually, I had to insist that she move to an assisted living facility. She was 96. She had been in our home nearly 65 years.
I continued to come home to visit and look after the home. I had the building painted outside, the roof replaced, the furnace replaced, the water leaks repaired, including replacing bathroom fixtures. I put up the small artificial Christmas tree at the appropriate time. It was a far cry from the large eight-foot, live Christmas trees we had traditionally, but it maintained the spirit. I arranged all the Christmas china and glass ware in the buffet, put the Christmas tablecloth on the Dining Room table, and red candles in the candlesticks. Even though I might not be there for Christmas Day, it made me feel good, still grounded. I still had my home. However, more changes would come.
In 2012, just short of her 98th birthday, my mother died. I continued coming to the house and paying to have the yard maintained. In July 2015, I gave my last party. It was a barbeque with my niece and her family, my daughter and some of her friends, and my boyfriend and me. I had wanted to have another Christmas celebration in the home, but the Flu put an end to those plans. By the summer of 2016, I began packing the contents and making some renovations with an eye to selling. There was no way I could continue maintaining the home and paying New York real estate taxes. My daughter wanted desperately for me to keep the house, as did I, but there really was no feasible way that I could do that.
I was determined to sell the house to a private family. I did not like what I saw happening when homes were sold to developers. They were destroying the community, destroying its history. I was lucky, I was able to hold out long enough for a wonderful family with two children to buy the house. They have continued to renovate the home (it needed a lot of work). They have family over and have barbeques in the backyard while children run and play. It was the best I could do to preserve the community I loved.
On the other hand, Although I own my own home in Maryland, I now feel homeless. I feel displaced. I’m not of course, but it’s how I feel. Since the home in North Carolina which my cousins call the “home place” is now rented out, I feel alienated from that land as well. I still enjoy visiting the community, but I feel like a visitor now.
I like living where I live in Maryland. I live near my only daughter. I’m active in the community and at church, but it’s not home. This is not my homestead. I’m an alien in a strange land. I’m still a New Yorker, but now I’m a homeless one. I haven’t been back since selling the house. Really, there’s nothing to go back to. Although I’m sure I will visit one day soon, it’s just not not home any longer.
Wiley Phillips Lassiter was born a free man since his mother, Healy Phillips, was a free woman of color even though his father, Miles Lassiter, was a slave. According to the 1850 census, Wiley was a painter, but later records indicate he was also a carriage maker. Despite being born free and having skills, Wiley’s life would be plagued by misfortune.
There is no information about his formative years. His name was not found among the apprenticeship records like so many other young free children of color. However, by 1850 he was living independently, married to Elizabeth (Ridge)and with two daughters, Abagail and Nancy. As mentioned above, he is recorded as a painter. He could be assumed to be reasonably successful since the 1850 census said he owned real estate worth $500.
In 1850 he applied for a land grant, acquiring 100 acres finally in 1851. By 1854, he had also received his share in the partition of his mother’s land, now that his father Miles had also died. In 1854, he applied for a second land grant, this one for 59 acres, which he received in 1856. In 1856, he used his property as collateral for securities and bonds posted in conjunction with a lawsuit he brought against Michael Bingham, a local white store owner. 
Bingham had sued Wiley for money owed amounting to $600. Wiley countersued, charging that he had put carriages and horses on sale at Bingham’s sore in exchange for goods, but Bingham never properly reconciled the accounts. As a result, Wiley now ‘owed his soul’ to the store, as the song goes. In addition, Bingham’s original suit against Wiley resulted in seven judgments against Wiley. Wiley was seeking redress from the courts. Judge John M. Dick felt the courts had done a “great injustice,” by allowing Bingham to recover the seven judgments. Dick ordered the judge in the original case to submit written documentation, including the judgments. He ordered Bingham to appear during the next court term to answer Wiley’s petition. Wiley was ordered to enter the bonds and securities. Wiley was able to acquire the money by taking a deed of trust with Robert G. Murdock on268 acres of land, including his inherited lands and the land grant. He took a second deed of trust, also with Murdock, on his personal property including his home.
In a cruel twist of fate, Bingham died before the next court session in the Spring of 1857. As a result, the court required Wiley to withdraw his petition, leaving in place the seven judgments against him. Penniless and essentially homeless, Wiley appears to have moved to Fayetteville where he is recorded in the 1860 census, most likely in hopes of having better business opportunities, and thus to be better able to care for his family. However, his misfortunes did not end there.
In May 1858, a notice appeared in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer. It was a notice for the upcoming sale of a free man back into slavery because of monies owed to an Emsley Lassiter. The free man in question was Wiley. The notice said that Emsley had loaned Wiley money and that he had tried to be very patient about its repayment, but despite his patience, the money was still owed. What was interesting was that Emsley was the grandson of Sarah Lassiter, Miles Lassiter’s owner. Based on all surviving information Sarah had been kind and even generous to Miles, making him her business manager and allowing him to live his life like a free man. She was legally constrained from freeing him in her lifetime, these practical freedoms were the best she could do. I find it interesting that Emsley was apparently helpful in loaning Wiley money, but ultimately held to the specifics of the business arrangement. Exactly what happened next is not clear, but all surviving evidence shows that Wiley was able to dodge that fate. A letter that has survived in the family indicates that some others may have come to his rescue, but ultimately leaving him in continued debt, not to Emsley any longer, but to another friend “Johnsey” Cranford, and his brother Colier.
Wiley wrote to his brother Colier in August 1858, indicating that virtually the entire family had been ill. They may have had scarlet fever which had reached epidemic proportions in 1858. He indicated that his wife “Bettey” was very “lo,” [sic], unable to sit up or walk without assistance. He went on to explain that her illness stopped him from working putting him in debt from doctors’ bills. His said his sister Jane was staying with them trying to help out, but he was also paying her for her assistance, undoubtedly because it meant she could not work elsewhere as a result. He explained that he had to keep working there because of his many debts. He said this would negatively impact Colier. In addition, he said that he had heard that “Johnsey Cranford” was about to lose his property because Johnsey had apparently borrowed against his land in order to send Wiley money. He wanted Colier to ask Johnsey to find a way to extend the deadline on those debts in order to give Wiley more time to raise the money needed to pay back what he owed. However, Wiley reiterated that, at the moment, he was at home making no money while he cared for his sick family members. All family members, including his wife, seem to have recovered and were found still living in Fayetteville in 1860. That would be the last entry found for Wiley.
By 1870, Bettey and the children had returned to Randolph County, but there was no Wiley.  He could not be found either in Randolph County or Fayetteville. Had he died? It seems likely. There is no indication of what their financial circumstances were. Had Wiley been able to pay off the debt? Had he returned with his family between 1860 and 1870? There’s no evidence one way or the other. Were other family members helping to maintain Bettey and her youngest children? Again, there is no information. Bettey, herself, would disappear from the records at this point. She was not in the 1880 census. It is assumed she had died.
If it can be assumed Wiley died before 1870, his death seems premature. Assuming he had also been ill at some point in 1858 when his family also was ill, he may have been potentially ill with scarlet fever. In the days before antibiotics, those who survived scarlet fever were often left with debilitating conditions, such as Rheumatic Heart Disease or kidney failure. Perhaps it was one last unfortunate turn that resulted in this seemingly early death for Wiley.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.).
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.
There have been many lucky moments when it comes to my research into the life of my 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter of Randolph County, North Carolina. From my earliest research efforts, I’ve been lucky with this one. My first clues from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo) death certificate in 1920 led me almost straight to Miles. Having learned that the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother was Nancy Lassiter, and her married name was Nancy Dunson/Dunston, I quickly found her in the 1880 census and was able to trace her back to the 1850 census where she was living in the household with Miles Lassiter. They were free people of color. The relationship to Miles was confirmed in a deed from my 2nd great grandmother (Ellen) to apparent Lassiter cousins (Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter) which said the lands originated in the “Division of Lands of Miles Lassiter.” I had struck genealogy gold it seemed, compared to my research on my direct line Williams family wherein I had not struck gold, but rather the proverbial, but very real “brick wall.”
I was amazed to find that I would be able to mine a lot more information on Miles, with relatively little effort. First, I continued looking back in the census. Although I did not find Miles in the 1840 census, I did find him in the 1830 census as a free head of household. Since both the 1830 and 1840 censuses only name heads of household, not the individual household members, I would not be able to confirm other than by extrapolation, that Nancy was in the household. I knew also that in 1840 it was possible that Miles was living in someone else’s household whose name I did not know, but whose name appeared on the census while Miles’ name did not.
In the deeds, I learned that Miles bought 100 acres in 1815. He also sold it in 1826 with a co-signer, Sarah Lassiter, who did not appear on the 1815 deed of purchase and who was white. I assumed there was some relationship, but for the moment exact what relationship was not clear. I thought this was interesting. I thought he must have been fortunate to purchase such a substantial piece of land in 1815 but wondered what prompted its sale in 1826. I would learn later that political winds had shifted taking some of the freedoms and safety of free people of color with them. However, although I did not find another deed for any land purchases, by 1850, according to the census, Miles again owned property valued at $590. It seemed fair to say that fortune had continued to smile on him over the years.
In 1807, in the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Session minutes, I found Miles mentioned along with two other men named Jack Lassiter and Samuel Lassiter, assigned to road maintenance. I found something else in the court minutes, indications that his life had not been all good fortune. Perhaps more to the point, the information was somewhat confusing.
In February 1840, Letters of Administration were issued for the estate of Sarah Lassiter, including papers regarding the estate of Ezekiel Lassiter. Is this the same Sarah Lassiter from the 1826 deed? Based on everything else I found, it was, but who was Ezekiel? Sarah was known to have a grandson Ezekiel, but he was alive and well, in fact he was one of three who posted bond for the Letters of Administration. He did not die until 1865. These Letters were followed by the account of sale of the property of Sarah and Ezekiel. Sarah’s property was the usual, beds and tables and cows and horses, etc., but Ezekiel’s property sale was very interesting. His property was sold on the same day as Sarah’s. There were only three “Negro” men: Miles, Jack, and Samuel. Miles was bought by “Heley,” a free woman, for $0.05; Jack by “Colier,” a free man, for $12.50, but Samuel was sold to Sawney Cranford, a local Quaker. Seems Samuel had run away. He was captured in the Raleigh area. Expenses associated with his recapture needed to be recouped, thus he was sold for $263. Heley I would learn was his wife, and Colier his son. In fact, Colier was among his apparent children in his household in the 1850 census. This raised some questions. All other records in which Miles’ name had appeared indicated he was a free man, including the 1830 census. Suddenly in 1840, we have records in which he is referred to as a slave. He was free again in 1850, probably as a result of his purchase by “Heley,” whose name did not appear in the 1850 census, (even though it was her name I would find in the 1840 census) indicating she had likely died. Had something happened to make Miles lose his freedom? I had no idea.
I had one other piece of information about his life. In 1845 Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy indicated that Miles had requested membership in Back Creek Monthly Meeting. However, there was no indication of the results. Miles’ name did not appear in any censuses after 1850, indicating he had died. Various land transactions and lawsuits involving Colier and the other children over the next several years supported that conclusion. Thus, I had a fairly good picture of Miles’ life, I thought. I had searched many different record types. I figured that whatever else there was to learn would have to fall into my lap. Famous last words.
One night in the early 1990s, I was at a party. Google was just becoming a popular search engine. A friend was talking about putting one’s own name into Google and being surprised by what came up. “Try it,” she admonished, “you’ll be shocked at what information about you is on there.” So, one night I was sitting at the computer idly. I thought, “Why not?” So, I put my name in the search line. The information that came up was somewhat predictable. There appeared the titles of several articles I had written over the years. One of those was about Miles. “Why not put Miles’ name in?” I thought. I was stunned. I stared at the screen. Up had come an article in the Journal of Negro History, written in 1936, about African American members of the Society of Friends. Miles was one of those being featured.  It explained that he had been a slave until the 1840 estate sale. It mentioned that he had become a Quaker in 1845. The only other member in North Carolina had been Isaac Linegar, in 1801. It had taken him four years to be admitted. The article went on to say that he was the only African American Quaker in the state of North Carolina when he died in 1850. It also mentioned there was an obituary that had been published in Friends Review.  I quickly obtained a copy. It explained that he had been born a slave, that his owner had died leaving him to the widow as long as she lived, that he was the business manager for his mistress, that he was married to a free woman and together they had acquired a large property adjacent to his mistress, that once his mistress had died he was sold to his wife. It went on to say that he had indeed been accepted into the Society of Friends, and in 1850 when he died, he was the only African American Quaker in the state of North Carolina.
By any measure Miles had been lucky overall. He had been given opportunities and he had taken advantage of them. He had been fortunate enough to not only enjoy many benefits of freedom while still a slave, but ultimately to be a free man at a time when so many others were not. I was lucky because I had been able to uncover so much about his life. I am even luckier because he was my 4th great grandfather, and I know my good fortune rests very much on his shoulders.
 Hinshaw, William Wade, et al., compilers. (Reprint, 1991–1994). Miles Lassiter. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy: North Carolina (1936–1950, 6 volumes), I, 723. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co.
Deciding on which strong woman from my family to feature for this essay has left me in a quandary. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded my whole life by strong women who have been my role models. I have already written about a few of them. This week I wanted to focus on a woman from several generations back who really provided significantly to the many opportunities and privileges my maternal family enjoys today. She was Healy Phillips Lassiter, a free woman of color, and my 4th great grandmother. She was married to Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather. They lived in southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina. While many of life’s trials require extra strength, being a free woman of color, married to a slave in the first half of the 1800’s must have required extraordinary strength.
As best as I can determine, Healy was born around 1780. I know it was somewhere in North Carolina, but I do not know if it was in the Piedmont where Randolph County is, or it was in eastern North Carolina. Although her last name is spelled Phelps in the earliest record I have found, I have not been able to confirm if she had a relationship with the Jonathan Phelps family, Quakers, who came to the Piedmont from eastern North Carolina sometime in the late colonial period, early US period, when she can be confirmed to be living there. I note also that the “Phillips” spelling is noted in later documents, perhaps indicating the influence of a Phillips family that also lived in the area, but with whom I have not found any relationship.
The first time I found Healy in public records was in the 1840 census; she was listed as a head of household and since the enumeration only identifies people by age, gender, and free status, I thought “Heley” was the male head of household. It would be many years later before I learned that it was a nickname for Mahalia. In any event, the 1840 census was the only place I had seen the name for quite a while. I should note that I had heard from a cousin that Miles’ wife was named something like “Hildy,” but I never put the two together, because the last name in the census was Phillips, not Lassiter.
My first break at truly identifying her came when a local librarian/historian from the county historical and genealogical society sent me information that there was an intestate probate for a “Healy Phillips or Lassiter.” It did not name Miles, but it did name all their children: Emsley, Abigail, Colier, Susannah, Wiley, Nancy (my 3rd great grandmother), and Jane. What was notable beyond confirming her relationship to the children who could be found on censuses in connection with Miles and each other in subsequent years, was that she owned a significant amount of property, 400 acres in fact. I couldn’t find where she bought this land outright. There was a legend that the land had been given to the family. Had it been? There were no deeds to be found in Healy’s name. However, there was other information to be found about Healy.
The earliest record found for Healy was an 1818 bastardy bond, wherein she was called “Huldy Phelps.” She did not name the man. Another record implied her presence but did not name her; it was the 1830 census. Miles Lassiter was listed as a free man of color, and his family was enumerated by gender and age. Presumably, Healy was the woman 36-54 years of age. The roles switched in 1840 when Healy was listed as head of household.
1840 turned out to be an important year for Healy and her family. Sarah Lassiter, the widow of the man who had been her husband Miles’ owner died. Healy had an opportunity to buy Miles’ freedom, which she did for $0.05, most likely because he was described as an old crippled man.
I was also alerted in a letter from a Marian Miller to another transaction in August 1840, in which Miles and Healy were mentioned in a deed of trust between John Newsome and Ezekiel Lassiter (most likely the grandson of Ezekiel Sr. and Sarah Lassiter). The deed indicated that John Newsom owed “Helley Phillips and her heirs or children had by Miles Lassiter … due to bonds for $250. The bond was posted for Newsom and it maintained that if he did not pay the money back, he would have to forfeit to her 150 acres on Hannah’s Creek, a tributary of the Uwharrie River, in the Lassiter’s Mill area of southwestern Randolph County. Healy would appear in only one other record, that was another deed of trust in 1842 wherein she was a trustee on behalf of Edward “Ned” Hill, a free man of color. Although Healy would not appear again in records in her own right, she was still a factor in several records.
The first was Miles’ obituary, which appeared after his death in June 1850. It stated that,
he married a free woman early in life and brought of up a large family of children to more respectability than is common for free colored persons in their neighborhood. … His wife and children by their industry and his management accumulated a sufficiency to purchase a small farm upon which they lived comfortably a number of years. At length they were able to purchase another adjoining the farm of his mistress and removed to it…
In 1851, a letter by Jonathan Worth, then a lawyer in Asheboro (later a governor), retained after Miles had died, by Colier Phillips Lassiter, Miles and Healy’s son referenced Healy. Apparently, Healy had been married before Miles and had four other children. Colier needed to know if the estate had to be divided among them as well. Worth summarized the issue: “Colier Philips, of color, consults us on the following case – He states that he is the son of a free woman of color, named Helia – that she had four children by a first husband and seven by a second husband who was a slave, the said Collier [sic] being one of the seven – that his mother died some five years ago possessed of a considerable personal estate. …” Her estate containing 400 acres of land was probated about 1854, as referenced above.
In 1856, Wiley Phillips Lassiter, another son, was involved in a lawsuit against a Michael Bingham for not paying him for carriages and horses on consignment with Bingham. In the petition Wiley stated that he had inherited two tracts of land from his mother, one 268 acres and the other 150 acres, about five or six years earlier actually referencing Miles’ death.
From these few records a picture of Healy as a strong independent-minded woman emerged. I do not doubt that her strength of character and personality were reflected in daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters alike. I could see it in my mother, and recognize it in the stories of my grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great grandmother, especially. I’ve seen it in my cousins Kate, Vella, and Ave who each worked in their own way to further social justice, as well as others who have become teachers, nurses, veterinarians, and more. I hope I have been able to convey it to my daughter.
 Vidales, C. L. and Cates, L. (n.d.). Huldy Phelps, bastardy bond. Randolph County, NC Bastardy Bond Abstracts and Related Records, 1786-1918 (Arranged and Indexed by Pamela Winslow Donahue), p. 20.
 Estate of Sarah Lassiter and Ezekiel Lassiter, Will Book 7:332. Sale of Miles Lassiter to Healy Phillips. Family History Library Microfilm 0019643.
 John Newsome to Ezekiel Lassiter, Deed Book 22; proved in court, August term 1840, Randolph County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions.
 Edward Hill to Samuel Hill, Ezekiel Lassiter, et al. Deed Book 25:1. Family History Library Microfilm 0019639 or 0470232.
. Miles Lassiter Obituary. (22 June 1850). Friends Review, III,700.
 Statement of J. Worth, 22 Jan 1851. Copy in possession of the author. See also: Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African-American Quaker from Lassiter Mil, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 65-66.
 The Willie Lassiter Petition. (Winter 1981). The Genealogical Journal by the Randolph County Genealogical Society, V, 38-42.
[O]r even where’s there is none, there is a lot of information to learn. In African American research, finding enslaved ancestors before 1865, usually requires research into the potential slave owner’s records, of which the probate records are particularly useful. Such was the case when I was attempting to determine the relationship between “Maria Green,” my great grandfather’s (Randel Farnell) mother, and her likely owners.
I had learned Maria’s name from my great grandfather’s death certificate; I also had some oral family history. The oral history said that he had a half-brother, who was white, named “Gus Farnell.” It also mentioned another half-brother, this one a person of color, named Henry. Randel’s death certificate named “Jack Farnell,” as his father. Finding documented relationships among all these individuals would hopefully lead to the name of Maria’s owner, as well as confirm family oral history.
My great grandfather’s 1928 death certificate said he was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia. However, my great grandfather lived much of his life in Florida. From 1880 to 1920, he can be found listed in the census in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. In 1870, he was living in Lake City, in neighboring Columbia County. There were several white Farnell family groups in Columbia County at that time as well, but no “Gus.” In 1860, John, Daniel, and James Farnell, along with their probable families were living in Hamilton County, which is just north of Suwannee County., Georgia was the place of birth recorded. In James Farnell’s household a Mary, and an Augustus were recorded. He was a potential candidate for the “Gus” in our family’s oral history. In 1850, only James Farnell and his family were found in Hamilton County. The others were found in Dooly County, Georgia, a neighboring county to Pulaski.
When looking in the 1840 census for Pulaski County, Georgia, where Hawkinsville is the county seat, I found the James Farnell family. There was an older enslaved woman and an enslaved child included in the enumeration. This would have been before my great grandfather was born. Farnell was a singular surname in Pulaski County. The only person identified as old enough to be James’ father in earlier censuses was Elisha Farnell. I surmised that somewhere in the records of either Elisha or James, or both, I would find information about Maria.
I had seen Elisha’s name in an on-line tax record dated 1818. According to it he was a substantial landowner with 24 enslaved persons. The 1820 census recorded 26 enslaved persons. He was not found in any census records after 1820. Turning to the minutes of the Court of the Ordinary, I was able to determine that Elisha died sometime before May 1823. Knowing that he had married a second wife, Priscilla Biggs, in February of 1823, it could be determined that he had died sometime between February and May 1823. In May, a probate was opened, but there was no will. Elisha had died intestate. On 6 May, Letters of Administration were issued with the posting of a bond in the extraordinary sum of $30,000.
Regardless of the existence of a will, property and debts must be addressed. One of the first acts of the probate is to inventory the property. Included in Elisha’s inventory were the enslaved. On the inventory was an enslaved girl, “Mareah, $325.” That confirmed that a Maria/Mareah was owned by Elisha.
Now I needed to link her to James, and thereby to Augustus “Gus.” To do that I looked for the final distribution of the estate. In the distribution, Elisha’s widow Priscilla, and his supposed children, Mary, William, Benjamin, Daniel, John and James, are mentioned. Each, as part of the distribution, received one or more enslaved persons. James received “Mareah.” His brother John received another female enslaved person in the distribution, a girl named Fanny. That was interesting because Randel’s reported other, half-brother, Henry Farnell’s mother was listed in the 1880 Suwannee County census as Fanny Fuller, “widow,” born in Georgia. They were both persons of color.
With the advent of the Civil War, Gus would serve as a musician with the Confederate Army. He was captured and held at the prison in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was released after taking an oath of allegiance 24 June 1865. His father James, would also see active duty, he died from gunshot wounds in a hospital in Winchester, Virginia. What happened to James’ wife, Mary? It is assumed she died since she is not found in census or other records identified after the war was over. After the war Gus returned to Hamilton County, where he could be found marrying Mary Johns in 1867, then again in 1870 to Georgia Vincent Goodbread, most likely in Columbia County where she lived. However, he was found living alone in Orange County in the 1870 census. He would marry a third and final time in 1874 to Nancy Elizabeth “Nelly” Wheeler in Orange County. He died in 1911, in Oviedo, Seminole County (formerly Orange County), Florida.
What about Maria and Randel? Maria was found with her presumed husband, Frank Green, in the 1870 census in the Lake City area of Columbia County, where Randel had also been found. Randel was listed with his wife, Sallie (Sallie Jacobs). There were four children named in the household, Anna, Richard, Maryland, and Joshua R. My grandmother Lela wasn’t born yet; she wasn’t born until 1876.
About 1877, Randel and his family moved to Suwannee County, where his wife Sallie’s parents and siblings were living, coincidentally next to my paternal Williams great grandparents and grandfather in 1870. Randel and family, including my grandmother Lela, along with Henry and his mother could be found on the 1880 census living there. Randel would apply for and acquire property in Live Oak, the county seat, through the Homestead Act.
He would raise his family in Live Oak, including my grandmother Lela, eventually dying there in 1928.
Thus, the probate of Elisha Farnell has established that a girl Mareaha (Maria) was listed among his enslaved property on his death. Additionally, there was a girl named Fannie on the inventory. Mareaha was distributed to James and Fannie to John. They were Elisha’s presumed children, based on the distribution, even though not explicitly so designated. James had a son Augustus, presumably the same “Gus,” that Randel’s family said was his half-brother. Fannie was presumed to be the same Fannie, who was mother of Henry, another half-brother, but more likely his cousin. Thus, even without a will, I was able to establish a relationship between my great grandfather, his mother Maria, his half-brother Gus, Gus’s father James, and finally to James’ father, Elisha Farnell.
On several occasions people have said to me that no one really pushed them to go to college, then suggested that this had been my experience as well. My response was always the same. As long as I could remember, my father and his sister, Aunt Lutie, would bring out a small autograph book and tell me that this was from their mother’s, my grandmother’s (born Lela Virginia Farnell) time in college, and I would be going to college just like her. When I was old enough to ask what school, I was told it was a “big school in Florida,” but neither my father nor his sister could remember what school. All Aunt Lutie knew was that it was in Tallahassee, and that it used to be called Tallahassee Normal. I lived in New York; I had never been to Florida; my father had never seen Florida; we had no idea what school it might be. Somehow, we didn’t really talk about the world of HBCUs. Certainly, we knew about Howard University, Fisk University, Lincoln University, Hampton University (then, Hampton Institute), and Tuskegee, but there were many others we did not know. I imagine if my parents heard their names they would have recognized them, but I don’t think they thought of them as a collection of schools under the specific umbrella that we do now, the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)”. Even though Aunt Lutie did go to visit family in Florida, her thoughts were primarily on family business and activities. She apparently wasn’t focused on college names.
FAMU was founded in 1887, in Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. “Tallahassee Normal,” as my family called it, was one of two schools (one for whites, one for blacks) established that year by the Florida State Legislature for the education of teachers, and the first state supported college for African Americans in Florida. My grandmother attended between 1889-1892.
My grandmother’s autograph book was signed not only by fellow students, and teacher, “H. A. Miller,” from Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, but also by: the founding President, Thomas DeSaille Tucker (“T. DeS. Tucker”); his wife Charity Bishop Tucker (“Mrs. C. B. Tucker”); English teacher and second assistant, Mrs. Ida V. Gibbs (“Mrs. Ida A. Gibbs,”), who was the wife of Thomas Van Rensalaer Gibbs, the first assistant. It Thomas Gibbs’ initial efforts in the Florida state legislature that ultimately led to the founding of the school.
Being too young for the Normal Course (a student had to be at least 16 years of age in order to enter the Normal Course) my grandmother was most likely in either the Academic Course or the Preparatory Course which preceded the Normal Course. Since records from that time were only kept on graduates, and my grandmother did not stay long enough to graduate, no record exists to support the family tradition that she “attended college” except her autograph book.
Despite the lack of other corroborating evidence, entries in the autograph book, Norris dated 3 June 1892, and Professor and Mrs. Tucker, each dated 25 June 1892 indicate that my grandmother, Lela, was probably a student participant in the three-day commencement activities of the historic first graduating class, then called officially, “The State Normal and Industrial College,” from 7-9 June 1892, with the graduation itself being held on 9 June, at the Munro Opera House. Whether or not my grandmother returned to classes in Tallahassee in the Fall of 1892 is not known, but on 12 February 1893, she married my grandfather, William Gainer Williams, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, where both the Farnell and Williams families lived. With that, her college career was definitively over.
My college career would begin almost 100 years later, in 1964. I am absolutely certain that my grandmother’s autograph book was part of why I never considered anything other than going to college. In honor of the influence that little book had on me, in the Fall of 2014, I traveled to Tallahassee and donated the original autograph book and other family photographs to the Meek Eaton Black Archives at Florida A & M University.
Excerpted from: Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, vol 17(1).
I have chosen Vella Lassiter, whose full name was Novella Anna Lassiter, not because the name itself is my favorite over others, but because of who she was and what her name represents to me. I have written about her before. Unfortunately, through some unforeseen circumstances, that post is not currently accessible. However, this time I am pleased to be able to post this information because it is Black History Month and this year she is being honored in her home town for her courage in standing up against injustice. This post is excerpted primarily from my book on her family’s community, From Hill Town to Strieby.
Born 4 September 1894,Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina. She was the granddaughter of Colier and Kate (Polk) Lassiter, and great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker, about whom I have also written. Vella was my 2nd cousin three times removed.
Vella attended Strieby Church School, about two miles from her home in Strieby, in neighboring Union Township. Strieby was founded by the Rev. Islay Walden under the auspices of the American Missionary Association. From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in the next county, Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Masters’ degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, then at Central School, a Rosenwald school in the county seat of Asheboro, and finally at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years. However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit, so it was in 1937.
Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person. The bus was crowded and there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.
Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her. To everyone’s surprise she won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.
Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn. Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 12 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that: Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.
Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit before hers that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.
After more than 40 years of teaching, Vella retired to the family home in Lassiter Mill, where she lived until her death in January 1994, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery. 
One of my early surprise successes in genealogy was finding Miles Lassiter, my maternal 4th great grandfather. I had learned from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen) death certificate that my 3rd great grandmother’s maiden name was Nancy Lassiter, so I had gone looking for her in the census. I had worked my way backwards using her married name, Dunson, also learned from the same death certificate.
I found her first as a widow in the 1880 census. Ellen, or Grandma Ellen as my mother (Margaret) called her, was married and living elsewhere, but her sister Adelaide, whom my mother knew, was still in the household. I moved back to the 1870 census. Both Nancy and her husband Calvin Dunson were living together with some of their children, again, not including Grandma Ellen who was married and whom I had identified with her family living nearby in Randolph County.
My mother knew almost nothing beyond Grandma Ellen. Grandma Ellen had died when my mother was about six years old, too young to really ask anything about her family history. For whatever reason nothing was passed down beyond that, so I had no real information about whether Nancy was free before 1865 or not. I figured I should see what I found, so I looked for her. There she was in 1860, with her husband Calvin, and this time with Grandma Ellen. The census said Ellen (EAllen) was about nine years old. “Well,” I reasoned, “why don’t I keep looking? I wonder if she’s (Nancy) in the 1850 census?” So, I looked. Yes, there she was! She was living in the household with an older man, old enough to be her father, Miles Lassiter. He was head of household. Also, in the household were some other young people who could very likely be her siblings: Abigail, Collier, Jane, and John. Another young person, Parthena, may have been a cousin, since she was listed in a different place in the order, but at this point I did not actually know the details. Also, in the household was another older man, Samuel, who could be Miles’ brother. One issue, of course, with the 1850 census is that relationships are not recorded. If you don’t already know the relationships, or cannot confirm them in the 1880 census, where they are for the first time recorded, you just can’t be sure.
I was feeling like I was on a roll, so I decided to see just how far back I could go. I looked at the 1840 census, but didn’t see anything. I’m not sure why I didn’t stop there, but I decided to see if there was anything in 1830. To my surprise, there he was, Miles Lassiter, free man of color. I am still amused by noting that whoever did the indexing wrote it as Smiles, because the person recording his name on the census form seems to have written his first name over another name that started with “S,” but in doing so did not obliterate the “S,” leading the indexer to believe the “S” was part of his name. Of course, the 1830 census is even more enigmatic than the 1850 census, because before 1850, only the head of household’s name is recorded. I could count tic marks, but it really wouldn’t mean anything without other information from other records. For that reason, Miles’ absence from the 1840 census, which also did not record names beyond head of household, didn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, he could have been living in someone else’s household, someone whose name I did not know and therefore, I had no way of confirming where he was. The only thing I could surmise at this point was that, he was a free man of color and, although he was not listed in the 1840 census, he was still alive in 1850, but not recorded in 1860, or beyond. Looking farther back was not possible because the 1820 census for Randolph County no longer exists and Miles was either too young or not financially independent enough to be head of his own household any farther back than that, or not even free any farther back. 1830 was as far back as I was able to go in the census.
I could assume that Miles had died sometime after 1850 and before 1860 by noting what because of those who were in the house with him in 1850. In 1860, as noted above, my 3rd great grandmother Nancy was living with her husband, Calvin, and their children. Collier, here called “Cal,” whom I believed to be her brother, was living nearby, apparently married and with two children; in his household, also, were two people who had been in Miles’ 1850 household, Samuel, who might be Miles’ brother and Abigail, who might be Collier and Nancy’s older sister. Most of this information would be confirmed in later censuses, although Samuel would not live long enough to have his relationship recorded in the 1880 census. Abigail, about whom I wrote in a previous post, would live until sometime after 1910, and have her relationship as a sister confirmed in the census and other documents as well.
What the census could not tell me at that time was how long Miles had been free. Was he born free? If not, when was he freed? Who was his wife? Were these all his children? Who were his parents, and, of course, when did he actually die? Those questions would have to be answered another time, after a lot more research. Right then what was exciting was that I could tell my mother that she had free ancestors. Her response was priceless. “Yes,” she had heard that from her grandmother, Louise (who raised her and her sister), when she was a child. Of course, she had thought her grandmother was wrong and, well, crazy, because everyone knew that black people had been slaves! No teachers had ever said anything about free people of color. She really hadn’t learned anything more.
In fairness, my mother was raised primarily in Elizabeth, New Jersey, away from most of her relatives. In fact, until I started this research around 1976, she’d never even heard of, or met, most of the people we would come to meet and with whom we would spend time in the coming years. Her grandmother, Louise, died in 1936, only a year after my mother married and when my mother was still very young (22). It hadn’t occurred to her to interview (“grill”) her grandmother about their family history. My mother thought whoever was back in North Carolina from her grandmother’s time was undoubtedly dead. Little did she know.
I followed the family forward in the census, particularly the family of Collier/Colier/Calier. At the time, only the 1900 census was available. I was able to determine that there were descendants still living in the same community that Nancy and Grandma Ellen had lived. By this time, Abigail was living in the home of Colier’s son, Ulysses Winston (called Winston). He was married and had several children, Mable, Vella, Will, and Calier. It was possible that in the early 1980s when I was doing this part of the research, one of them might still be alive, or their children, I thought. All I had to do was find a way to meet them, but that’s a story for another day.