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#52Ancestors-Favorite Discovery: Mommy’s End Table

I think all my discoveries have been favorites in one way or another. However, thinking about Valentine’s Day, which occurred this past week and thinking about my parents and their close relationship, I remembered there was a discovery during my childhood that does make me smile. I was about ten years old. This discovery involved my parents’ love story. It was made when I went in my mother’s drawers in her bedroom. No, I wasn’t sneaking. I was looking for something or other that I can’t remember and stumbled on my discovery. No, I was not in any way forbidden to be in her drawers. Nevertheless, somehow, when she learned what I had found, she seemed surprised that it was there.

Mommy & me on Ditmars-Spring 1948-b
My mother, Margaret Lee Williams, holding me in front of our house in New York, 1948

As I said, the discovery was when I was about ten years old. As the title states, my discovery was in my mother’s end table. As I said, I have no recollection what I was really looking for, possibly some photos, because she kept lots of family pictures in her end table. That day, I noticed a blue box tied together by gold, gift-wrapping ribbon. I probably opened the box thinking it held more pictures. It did not. I took the box to my room to further examine the contents. Yes, now I was sneaking, because the box held love letters, love letters from my father to my mother.

Daddy on Ditmars-Spring 1948-c
My father, Herbert Randell Williams, in front of our house, 1948

I don’t know how many letters there were, at least thirty, but I no longer have access to the box, so I cannot check. I’ll get to that in a moment. I began reading the letters. The letters were all from my father to my mother. There were no letters from her to him. I was interested to learn that he called her “Peggy.” Her name was Margaret. I knew that some Margarets were called Peggy. She did have one friend (not a childhood friend), Ethel Valentine, who called her “Peg” occasionally. However, I had never in my whole life heard my father call her “Peggy.” Never, ever, ever.

Mommy-Aunt Ethel & Me on Ditmars Stpring 1948-a
L-R: Me (Margo Willimas), “Auntie” Ethel Rose Valentine, & my mother, Margaret Lee Williams, 1948

It seemed all the letters were written while my father was at work. Writing them in the evening before leaving for the day or at lunch. It made sense because he worked at the US Customs House in lower Manhattan where there was a post office in the building. My father was declaring his undying love as well as expressing how much he felt she showed him love. Apparently, they had taken a vacation together in Atlantic City. I was surprised. My parents had talked often about their vacations to Atlantic City. They usually spent two weeks. My mother packed a steamer trunk that I had seen in the basement. She used it for out of season clothes storage. She told me how hot the sand was, that it could be painful walking from one’s towel to the water’s edge on a truly hot day. She said unlike the sand on the beaches on Long Island that we frequented in my childhood, the sand in Atlantic City was not white, but dark. She described it as black. Having since visited black sand beaches in Hawaii as well as the beach in Atlantic City, I would say dark. I recognize that my mother did not have that frame of reference. As I said, those trips were made after they married. I was reading about their trip before they married. Yes, I was quite surprised, but that wasn’t my only surprise in the letters.

It seemed my father was in competition for my mother’s affections. It’s not that I thought she had never been interested in another man, I just didn’t realize she was dating someone else at the same time she was dating my father. In his letters, my father was begging and pleading for her to drop her other suitor—Willard. Willard? Who was that? No one had ever told me about a Willard. He was not one of our current family friends. On the other hand, I don’t think I had met many friends of either of my parents from their youth. There was a family we visited frequently who lived in Summit, New Jersey (we lived in New York City), named Marrow. I was also acquainted with a family who lived near us in New York, named Dietz. I did know that my mother lived with them before she married my father. She worked for the wife who had her own dressmaking business. The Dietzes were more than employers, however. My mother and their daughter, Dorothy, were close in age. They were friends, good friends. In fact, they called each other “sister.” I called the parents “Grandma” and “Grandpa” Dietz. They treated me like one of their grandchildren. That was it. Those were the few friends from before my parents’ marriage that I knew. Never, ever, had I heard of Willard. I was quite intrigued by the idea that my mother was dating someone else besides my father, someone he seemed to think was a threat. Here my dad was, begging her to marry him, not the mysterious Willard.

I went to a small private school growing up. There was a total of thirteen students in my class most years, five girls and eight boys. We were a close group. Those four other girls were my best friends. Oh, we had our squabbles, but we were like sisters. So, what did I do? I took the box of letters to school to show my “sisters!” Everyone was fascinated. They all read them. We all wondered about the mysterious Willard. We giggled over the fact that my father called my mother his little “Peggy.”

5 girls from Foxwood
L-R: Marel d’Orbessan, Maxine Wilchfort, Corlee Abbott, Me, & Betty Grigalauskas, ca 1958

I don’t remember exactly where I had hidden the box once back home from school. I had not returned it to its resting place in the end table. It might have been in one of the compartments of my bookcase headboard or maybe it was in my schoolbag, because she did realize I had it at school. Needless to say, my mother was not pleased. It’s funny because I don’t remember being punished. I do remember feeling bad that she was so upset. She put the box high on a shelf in a closet and admonished me to never touch it. It was her private business she told me and not to be shared with my friends. That was the end of that.

Bookcase Headboard (2)
My Bookcase Headboard in the house where I grew up in New York City

I was in my teens, maybe even college age before I brought it up one day at the kitchen table with my father present. My mother was not thrilled, but grudgingly joined the conversation. My father loved the idea that he got to tease her about Willard. According to him, he caught her one evening after taking her home, going back out to ostensibly meet with Willard. She swore that was not what happened. It was interesting watching them each try to advance their version of the past rivalry.

Years after that, I asked my mother to retrieve the box. I said it would be nice to read the letters together, assuring her that they represented a beautiful time when she did, in fact, choose my father. She went to the closet to retrieve the box, but there was no box. She swore she didn’t know what happened to the box. She seemed to look in several other places, but the box was nowhere to be found. We never did find the box. I think she threw it away. I used to think she put it where she couldn’t remember, but over the years, I have looked everywhere I could, especially after she died, and I was dismantling the house to sell it. The box never made an appearance again. I’m sad because I think it would have made a nice book to give my daughter about her grandparents, my parents, especially since my father died before she was born.

Although I no longer have the letters, what I do have is the memory of my parents’ marriage. Indeed, my father did win my mother’s heart, vanquishing the mysterious Willard. My parents had a long, loving, and sometimes boisterous, marriage, that lasted from 1935 to 1982, totaling 47 years and one day when my father died, leaving my mother brokenhearted.

me, Mommy & Daddy at Aunt Mellie's-1
L-R: Me, my mother (Margaret Lee Williams) & my father (Herbert Randell Williams), , ca 1950
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#52Ancestors – Fresh Start: How DNA rewrote my genealogy

#52Ancestors – Fresh Start: How DNA rewrote my genealogy

After many years of research on my mother’s family, I had a solidly documented family tree. In fact, I had published a book on that family. Now, the central ancestor of that story, Miles Lassiter, is still firmly in place on my tree. My direct line to him is firmly established. He was my fourth great grandfather, my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, father. It’s the spouses that were the problem. I couldn’t see it at first. After all, I had documented everything.

It all started when I became troubled over my efforts to confirm DNA documentation of my third great grandfather, Calvin Dunson, married to Miles Lassiter’s daughter, by his wife, Healy Phillips Lassiter, Nancy Phillips Lassiter. Miles was technically enslaved by the Widow Sarah Lassiter, but Healy, called Healy/Helia/Heley Phillips in most records, was a free woman of color. Thus, all her children with Miles were originally known in public records by the name “Phillips,” rather than Lassiter, since children followed the condition of their mothers, i. e., if enslaved they were enslaved, if free, then the children were free. After Miles was freed from the Widow Lassiter’s estate when purchased by his wife Healy, Nancy and her siblings began to be known by the Lassiter name, though not consistently.[1]

One of the difficulties in determining when Nancy and Calvin married was that no marriage bond has survived. In fact, there may never have been one because they were not a requirement for marriage. On the other hand, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have sought one since Nancy’s brother, Colier, had one when he married Katherine Polk, though there was none found for the marriage of her other brother, Wiley Lassiter and wife, Elizabeth Ridge. To estimate the date of marriage for Nancy and Calvin, I used the birth date of their oldest daughter, Ellen, my 2nd great grandmother. According to the 1860 census,[2] Ellen was born about 1851; however, her death certificate said 1854. Based on the census, it appeared that Nancy and Calvin had four other children: Rebecca, J. Richard, Martha Ann, and Mary Adelaide. I did find that J. Richard was the child of a possible rape. Nancy sued the perpetrator. I’ve never found any information on the named assailant. Additionally, it appeared that Richard died sometime after 1870. After that, he no longer appeared in the census or other records with the family and he was not named with the other siblings as an heir to the Lassiter estate. So, I determined that Nancy and Calvin married between 1851 and 1854.

Nancy Dunson 1860 census
Calvin and Nancy Dunson and children (Ellen, Sarah Rebecca, and Richard. Emsley was not one of their children), 1860 Census

Fast forward to my DNA testing.[3] I kept looking for Dunson/Dunston matches. I found one in AncestryDNA. I had hundreds of matches but only one person had a Dunson in her family. Even at that, it appeared that it was one of her other lines that was my connection to her. So, she probably wasn’t a Dunson match.

While at a genealogy conference, I mentioned my puzzlement to some of my genie friends and colleagues. One mentioned that she was a Dunson descendant. With that we began searching to see if we were a match or if I matched any of her other known Dunson cousins who had DNA tested. She checked especially on GEDmatch, a third-party site when individuals having tested their DNA on various sites can upload their results, thus expanding their chances of learning about more family members. We did not find a single match. Not one. I figured that my branch did not have descendants who had tested yet or uploaded to GEDmatch. This was several years ago when the databases did not have the numbers of individuals who have tested that they have today. Still, it bothered me. I had it documented in multiple places, Calvin Dunson was the spouse of Nancy Lassiter and the father of Ellen. I couldn’t explain the DNA; it was a conundrum.

One day I was talking to someone, G. C., who was commenting on the connections between his Cranford ancestors, especially Samuel “Sawney” Cranford, and Miles Lassiter. He noted that they were both Quakers, members of the same Meeting.  I commented that, apparently, we didn’t just have business and social dealings, but we were somehow related. I told him I had several Cranford DNA matches. I speculated that if he tested, we might be a DNA match as well. After we got off the phone, I was reflecting on our conversation, when I suddenly had a revelation. I realized that I needed to follow the DNA to find the answers. I needed to let the DNA tell me what the genealogy was, not just the paper trail.

It occurred to me that Sawney Cranford had played an important role in the lives of Miles and his brothers, Jack and Samuel, especially Samuel. When the Widow Lassiter died, a final stipulation of her husband Ezekiel’s will was enforced. According to the will, Miles, Samuel, and Jack were to be under the control of Ezekiel’s widow until she died. She died in 1840, at which time both estates reached final settlements.[4] As part of Ezekiel’s final accounting, the only property mentioned were the three men, old men at this point. They were offered for sale. Miles’ wife, Healy, purchased him from the estate. Miles’ son, Colier, purchased Jack. Both men were purchased for nominal amounts of money.  However, according to the estate information, Samuel had been a runaway, apprehended in Raleigh. There were associated expenses with his capture: newspaper ads, jail time, transport back to Randolph County. The fees, $262 worth, were paid by Sawney Cranford, thus purchasing Samuel. That’s the same Sawney Cranford who was G. C.’s ancestor. I realized that my DNA matches were also descendants of Sawney Cranford. A light bulb went off. I was descended from Sawney Cranford! If that was true, where was the connection? Sawney was a contemporary of Miles and Healy. So, his children were contemporaries of Miles’ children, well some of his children anyway. Sawney had children that spread over a wide time period. Based on the centimorgans (cMs), I shared a third great grandparent. Well, it wasn’t Nancy or Calvin was my first thought. That doesn’t make sense. I had the documentation, but the DNA seemed to be saying otherwise. Then I began to think back to some other documents I had.

Sale of Miles from Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter
From the Account of Sales of the Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter, 27 Feb & 1 Apr 1840,Three Negroes: Miles, Jack & Samuel.

After Miles died, it appears that there was a need to raise funds. Miles’ son, Colier, began purchasing interests in the family land from his siblings and then taking out a Deed of trust. As part of that process there seemed to be a hastily filed intestate probate for Miles’ wife, Healy, called “Healy Phillips or Lassiter.” Oddly the document had no date on them. However, they were filed in Will Book 10, which covered the years 1853-1856 with Healy’s papers mixed in with others from 1854 and 1855.[5] In them, all the children, heirs, were named, including Nancy. She, like her siblings, was called “Phillips or Lassiter.” There was no mention of her being married in any of the above-named documents.

Heirs at Law of Healy Phillips
Heirs at Law of Healy Phillips

One clue to these legal actions seemed to be found in a letter written in 1851, on behalf of Colier, by Jonathan Worth, a local attorney who later became governor of North Carolina. In the letter, Worth stated that Healy had four children from a previous marriage, with whom it would be necessary to share her estate along with the seven children with Miles. The other alternative was to buy out the four other children. I’m speculating that the other documents pointed to efforts to raise the monies to buy out the four half siblings. What I realized also was that not one of these documents referred to my 3rd great grandmother, Nancy, as Nancy Dunson, wife of Calvin Dunson. Not one.

Jonathan Worth Letter page 1
Jonathan Worth Letter (P. 1)
Jonathan Worth Letter Page 2
Jonathan Worth Letter (P. 2)

The first time Nancy is referenced as married in any public document located so far by me was in the lawsuit for the assault and subsequent bastardy bond in 1858.[6] By that time, not only was there the son, J. Richard, subject of the lawsuit, but another sister, Sarah Rebecca, born about 1857. Therefore, there is reasonably solid information that Ellen was born between 1851-1854. There was one more piece of information that helped determine her age, her marriage certificate. The record I had seen does not mention her age. That’s okay, because using her date of marriage was sufficient.[7]

Marriage record of Anderson and Ellen
Marriage Record of Ellen Dunson & Anderson Smitherman, 23 Sep 1865

Ellen Dunson married Anderson Smitherman on 23 Sep 1865, in Randolph County. I repeat, 1865. If Ellen was born as late as 1854, she would only have been 11 years old. I know that there were no regulations for minimum age in those days, but eleven is extremely young. I really can’t say that I can find another incidence of an eleven-year old marrying in my family. There may be some in other families, but not in mine. It is far more likely that Ellen was born in 1851 or 52. That would make her thirteen or fourteen when she married, still very young, but not unprecedented. With that reality, it was most likely that Ellen was not the biological child of Calvin Dunson, even though she carried the Dunson name, was named as one of his heirs,[8] and his name was listed as her father on her death certificate.[9] I realized Ellen was born five years before her next closest sibling, Sarah Rebecca, was born, or before any legal documents referred to Nancy as Nancy Dunson, wife of Calvin Dunson.[10] Putting it all together, it appeared that my 2nd great grandmother Ellen was most likely the Cranford descendant.

Nancy Dunson 1870 census
Calvin and Nancy Dunson Family, 1870 Census

Based on my DNA matches, it appeared that the most likely candidate was a son, Henry. My closest matches are with his direct descendants. Altogether I have identified 32 of my matches as Cranford descendants. At this time, I have no information that sheds any light on what led to Nancy having a child with Henry. They were not cited in the Bastardy Bonds of the time. I can’t really say I’m very concerned with that. What I do know is that I have since developed a very good relationship and communication with G. C. and other Cranford relatives. I also still have an interest in the Dunsons because Calvin and Nancy’s descendants are still my cousins. They do have a Dunson legacy.

DNA has expanded, broadened, my family connections and given me new perspectives on my relationship to my community, Randolph County. DNA has helped me break down brick walls and confirmed oral tradition and given me the surprise of rewriting my family story. Did I say “surprise,” singular? My mistake. Yup, I realized I had another ancestor who was well documented, but whom DNA said was not my ancestor, in the same family line! This time, it was my great grandfather, … but that’s a story for another day.


[1] Williams, M. L., (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. All the information for this essay on Nancy and the family is based on documentation provided in Miles Lassiter.

[2] 1860 US Federal Census, Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson, & Eallen [sic] Dunson, age 9; Sarah, age 3; Richard, age 1. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from:

[3] My DNA testing referenced in this article is specific to my matches at AncestryDNA.

[4] Obituary of Miles Lassiter. (1850, June 22).  Friends Review iii,700.

[5] Estate of Healy Phillips or Lassiter. (1854-1855). Randolph County, Randolph County, North Carolina Will Book 10:190-192. FHLM #0019645. See also North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998. [Database and Images on-line] Henly Phillips. Digital Images: 1225-1229.  Retrieved from:

[6] Nancy Dunson v. John Hinshaw, 2 November 1858, Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, FHLM #0470212 or #0019653.

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database  and Images on-line]. Anderson Smitherman and Ellen Dunson, 23 Sep 1865. Retrieved from:

[8] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database and Images on-line]. William Dunston, 1892. Digital Images 1393-1398. Retrieved from:

[9] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database and Images online]. Ellen Mayo, died: 12 Jun 1920. Retrieved from:

[10] 1870 US Federal Census: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; S. A. R. (Sarah Rebecca); J. A. [sic] (J. Richard); M. A. (Mary Adelaide); and M. Ann (Martha Ann). NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from:

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#52Ancestors: Tricky — Same names, different couples: Differentiating between the two Elizabeth and Andrew Leaks.

In a previous post, I wrote about Mary Polk/Pope and her children, Harriett, Katherine, Sarah, Lunda, and Malcom. At that time, I was not certain what had happened to Elizabeth, “Lissie.” Looking back through the records I had about the other siblings, I realized that she was living next door to Malcom, her brother Malcom Pope/Polk, and his wife, Nancy (Smitherman) in 1880 in Richmond County adjacent to Montgomery County, which is adjacent to Randolph County.[1]

Andrew and Lissie Leak 1880
Andrew and Elizabeth “Lissie” (Pope) Leak, 1880 Census, Richmond County, NC

Elizabeth and her husband Andrew Leak, along with their children had not shown up in the census until 1880. At that time, they could be found living in Steeles Township, in Richmond County, North Carolina. Richmond County abuts Montgomery County where her mother and brother could be found living previously.[2] In the home, are their children: Archie, Sarah, Lissie A(nn), Martha A., James, and (Le)Nora. Having found them in 1880, I tried to find them in 1870. That was not quite as easy.

Andrew and Lissie Marr Cert
Marriage Certificate for Andrew Leak and Elizabeth Pope, 13 April 1875, Montgomery County, NC

One curious discovery was that Andrew and “Lissie” didn’t marry until 13 April 1875, in Montgomery County.[3] Thus, of the children named in 1880, only Martha, James and Nora were born after their reported marriage. So, what about Archie, Sarah, and Lissie? They could be found in 1870  in Steeles Township, Richmond County, living with Rachel Little. So where were Andrew and Lissie? Good question.

Archie and Sarah Leak 1870
Mary C., Archie, Sarah, and Ann E. Leak, 1870 Census,  Steeles Township, Richmond County, NC

In 1866, an Andrew Leak and Eliza Hunsacker married in Richmond County.[4] In 1870, their household, in the Mineral Springs Township of Richmond County, included Andrew, Eliza, and three children, Thomas, Annie, and Mary.[5] Were these Andrew and Eliza the same as Andrew and Elizabeth Pope/Polk? If so, why were they living in Mineral Springs Township, while Mary, Archie, Sarah, and Ann E. (Lissie) were living in the Steeles community with Rachel Little?

Andrew and Eliza 1870
Andrew Leak and Eliza (Hunsacker) Leak, 1870 Census, Richmond County, NC

In 1880, Andrew and Eliza were in Williamson Township in Richmond County. They were living there with their children: Anna, Charlie, Jessie, Winston, Della, and Thomas.[6] Meanwhile, Andrew and Elizabeth Polk/Pope were living in  Steeles Township of Richmond County with their children: Archie, Sarah, Lissie, Martha, James, and (Le)Nora.[7] These clearly were not the same couple.  In addition, Andrew, who lived in Steeles, was born about 1827, while Andrew living in Rockingham was born about 1846. These were not the same Andrew. Despite these differences, some have become confused by the similarity of names and location in the same county, not noticing that they were of different ages, in different communities with different children. Thus examining the records showed that Andrew and Eliza Hunsacker were not our Andrew and Lissie. So, what happened to our Andrew and Lissie?

Sometime after 1886 when their youngest child Dovie was born, Lissie moved to Arkansas.[8] She probably traveled with her children. There in 1888, daughter Sarah married her cousin, Milton Hill who was born in Strieby, Randolph County, North Carolina.[9] Milton was the son of Nathan and Sarah Polk/Pope Hill.[10]  Sarah was Elizabeth’s older sister. There’s no evidence for whether Andrew, made the trip to Arkansas. According to the 1900 census, Lissie was widowed.[11] Thus, there is no additional information about Andrew. Lissie would continue to live amongst her family members, including her children and grandchildren, until her death sometime after 1920, when she appeared in the census for the last time.[12]

Lissie Leak in 1920
Elizabeth “Lissie” (Pope) Leak, 1920 Census, Jefferson County, Arkansas.

Over time, Lissie’s descendants and Milton’s family in North Carolina lost touch with one another. Lissie’s descendants knew they were from Randolph County, but didn’t know many details. Sadly, the family left in North Carolina had no idea about Milton and Sarah’s family in Arkansas. It was their DNA matches that helped reunite the two branches of the family. In 2018, they were able to reunite at a family reunion in North Carolina, during which Milton and Sarah’s descendants were able to visit Strieby Church and Cemetery Cultural Heritage Site, where Milton’s ancestors are buried.[13]

Figure 129-Strieby Cultural Heritage Sign
Strieby Church, School & Cemetery Cultural Heritage Site Marker, Randolph County, NC



[1] 1880 US Federal Census: Steeles, Richmond County, North Carolina; Andrew Leak, head; Dwelling/Family #125; Macam Pope, head; Dwelling/Family #126. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 231D; Enumeration District: 165; Image: 0755. Retrieved from:

[2] 1850 US Federal Census (Free population): Montgomery County, North Carolina; John McLeod, head; Mary Pope, age 40; Malcom Pope, age 4. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 127B; Image: 264. Retrieved from:

[3] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Andrew Leak and Elizabeth Pope, 13 April 1865, Montgomery County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

[4] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Andrew Leak and Eliza Hunsacker, 5 Aug 1866, Richmond County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

[5] 1870 US Federal Census: Mineral Springs, Richmond County, North Carolina; Andrew Leak, head. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 568A; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from:

[6] 1880 US Federal Census: Williamson, Richmond County, North Carolina; Andrew Leak, head; Eliza Leak, wife. NARA Roll: 979; Page: 349C; Enumeration District: 171. Retrieved from:

[7] 1880 US Federal Census: Steeles, Richmond County, North Carolina; Andrew Leak, head; Dwelling/Family #125. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 231D; Enumeration District: 165; Image: 0755. Retrieved from:

[8] 1900 US Federal Census: Jefferson, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0087;  James Leak, head; Dovie Leak, Sister; Born Feb 1886; born North Carolina; Lissie Leak, Mother. FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from

[9] Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957 [Database on-line]. Milton Hill and Sarah Ann Leek, married 26 May 1888, Jefferson County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

[10]  1880 US Federal Census: Union, Randolph County, North Carolina; Nathan Hill, head; Sarah Hill, wife; Milton Hill, son. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 196C; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0683. Retrieved from:

[11] 1900 US Federal Census: Jefferson, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0087; James Leak, head; Lissie Leak, “widowed.” FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from

[12] 1920 US Federal Census: Pastoria, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Leroy Hampton, head; Elizabeth Leek, grandmother. NARA Roll: T625-67; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 124; Image: 421. Retrieved from:

[13] Williams, M. L. (2016). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina. Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.

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#52Ancestors (Cousins) – Found! How cousin DNA matches helped me break through my most persistent brick wall

I’ve written about and lamented what seemed like an unsolvable ancestry brick wall, the identity of my great grandfather Joshua W. Williams’s paternal line. I had researched his life from the first time he showed up in public records on marrying my great grandmother, Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson in 1868.[1] I’d been told some information by my aunt, Lute Williams Mann, his granddaughter, however, he died in 1893,[2] a year before she was born, thus she never knew him personally. I was able to confirm most of what my aunt told me through research and learn even more. However, with a name like Williams, I could never determine which, if any, of the many other Williamses living in Live Oak, Florida, were related to my great grandfather, especially since his widow and children (including my grandfather, William Gainer Williams) left Florida for the New York/New Jersey area about 1899. [3] With no information about extended Williams family members, I turned to DNA.

photo (6)
William Gainer Williams, my grandfather

Because I was looking for a paternal line, I knew Y-DNA would be very important to helping me solve the puzzle, along with autosomal DNA. However, I’m a female. I don’t have Y-DNA. Unfortunately, my father and grandfather are both dead. My paternal uncles are both dead. My male paternal cousin is dead. Alas, both my half-brothers (my father’s sons from his first marriage) are also dead. Fortunately, I still had two options, my nephews Keith Williams (KW) and Christopher Williams (CW). I asked KW if he would take the Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) Y-DNA test. It showed that he had a European haplotype, R-M269, and one that is common in the United Kingdom. That was not a surprise, the family had always said Joshua’s father was of European descent.

The results didn’t seem to yield anything useful. His close matches had a variety of surnames, not just Williams. There was Jackson, Scott, and Hope. I tried to figure out their ancestral information, but in the absence of family trees, it wasn’t going anywhere. I was eventually contacted by two of the closest matches at the 67-marker level, one a Williams, the other a Hope. They were the two closest matches. The Hope contact was from the Clan Hope of Craighall Society. They invited us to join and offered help with the genealogy. Unfortunately, they were unable to make any more progress than I had.

The Williams contact was also a close match at the 111-marker level. The account manager, the niece of the match, provided family tree information. That family had roots in Arkansas and had also moved to Florida. Tracing the family back led to Tennessee and a Jeremiah Williams, but then the trail ran cold. Although my great grandfather had lived out his life from 1868 until his death in Florida, he and our family had maintained that his roots were in South Carolina – York, South Carolina, specifically. He had never lived in Tennessee as far as anyone knew or I could find through research. I figured that our connection went back additional generations, either to South Carolina or perhaps further to somewhere like Virginia or even the UK itself. However, we couldn’t figure it out. We just couldn’t find a link.

I followed another Y-DNA match from a lower marker match back through his line. It led from Arkansas to Tennessee to Virginia. There was no evidence that the family had a South Carolina connection. I concluded that we might be related back in Virginia, but clearly our closer ancestors had taken different paths. I needed to find a Williams family that went to South Carolina – York, South Carolina. It was time to turn back to my autosomal results.

York County, South Carolina
York County, South Carolina [Red inset]. Retrieved from
I have tried to maximize my autosomal information by testing multiple family members. I have personally tested at AncestryDNA, 23 and also got Family Finder results for my nephew KW. I tested other family members, including CW at 23 (and me); my daughter Turquoise Williams  and my niece, Melody

(MWM) at AncestryDNA. I uploaded my daughter’s and my niece’s results to Family Finder and Gedmatch. I uploaded KW’s results to MyHeritage and Gedmatch. I knew that our mutual matches should help identify our Williams family line. There was also a grandniece, Monica (MTM), who had tested with AncestryDNA. That meant there were four of us in AncestryDNA from the Williams line, two of us in 23 and me, three of us in Family Finder, and two of us in My Heritage. There were also three of us in Gedmatch. I was fortunate enough to know also that there were other family members who had tested and that their tests could help me further narrow my results.

Keith in uniform
Keith V. Williams, Sr., my nephew

The most helpful person who had tested in Family Finder was a half first cousin, once removed, NT. She was the granddaughter of my father’s half-brother, Willard Leroy Williams (WLW). Since WLW had a different mother than my father, any matches with his daughter had to be Williams-line matches. That could help separate those who might match us because of my father’s mother’s family.

Willard Leroy Williams, my father’s half-brother

[My father’s mother’s surname was Farnell. Several of those cousins have also tested with AncestryDNA, 23 and me, and Family Finder. Some of them have also uploaded to Gedmatch. Thus, I had a way to separate matches that are my Williams line from my father’s Farnell line. Sounds like it should have been easy to figure out, right? No, not at all.

I was able to sort my matches on AncestryDNA using the “Shared Matches” feature. As anyone knows who uses this database, many people do not have family trees linked to their results, or their trees are private, or the few people on their trees are living and therefore marked private. In other words, there was little to help figure out how these matches were related to my Williams family.

As it happens, most of my close cousin matches are from my mother’s family. I could quickly mark off my second cousin match and most of my third cousins, including those related to my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family (Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson). I found a few fourth cousin matches that were shared among our family test group, but none of the trees seemed to be helpful. I went back to look at the Y-DNA matches. I decided to drop back to look at the 12 marker matches. I found a couple of matches who hadn’t tested at higher markers but who listed a George Williams as their farthest back ancestor with dates of birth and death. This George was born in Wales and died in Virginia.[4] I followed his family forward, but it didn’t lead to South Carolina.

At the same time, I decided to look more closely at my Ancestry matches. I found a 4th-6th cousin match who had a tree with Williams names in it. In fact, this match had two different Williams lines. I needed to determine to which Williams line I was most likely related. To a George Williams also in Virginia.[5] George was a common ancestor, but every indication was that we had a closer common ancestor. It appeared to be George’s son Fowler. George had lived in Virginia, but Fowler lived in South Carolina. However, he didn’t live in York County, but in neighboring Lancaster County.[6]

I had seven matches to descendants of Fowler that I had followed; four to his son Dr. James Jonathan Williams.[7] Thus, I thought it possible that I was descended from him. I attached him to my great grandfather to see how it might work out. However, I was still suspicious that I had the wrong son. My great grandfather, Joshua, had ended up in Florida. I noticed that none of Dr. Williams’s descendants went to Florida. Interestingly, the one whose tree I was following lived not far from me in Maryland. I decided I needed to look at my matches more carefully and the descendants of Fowler to see what else seemed plausible.

I had a third cousin match who didn’t have any tree. She was my closest shared match with my Williams test group and the other descendants of Fowler I was following. If I could figure out how she was related to the family, I might find the correct son who was my great-great grandfather. This effort was helped by the using Ancestry’s Thru-Lines. Thru-Lines uses your matches’ family trees to suggest (it’s only a suggestion) how you are related to each other. This was going to be challenging, however, because my third cousin match, MH, had no family tree information listed, not even an unlinked tree.

While working through the descendants of one of Fowler’s other sons, George Washington Williams, brother of Dr. James Jonathan, I noted that many of George’s descendants had moved to Florida sometime around the end of the Civil War. They were not living in the same county as my great grandfather, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. I’m sure everyone was in search of opportunity wherever it led them. Perhaps more importantly, George, unlike his siblings, had moved to York County![8]

In following the descendants down to my match, EW, I noticed something else important, her mother’s first name was M; her married name was H! She was almost certainly my third cousin match, MH. To try to verify this information, I ran a background report on the website, “Been Verified.” What I find helpful about this site is that it gives you not only most recent contact information, but also address histories, relatives and associates. In looking up both MH and EW, it showed them as relatives of each other. I felt certain I had the right brother this time.

I tried to find probate information, hoping that an inventory would list those enslaved as well as having information about descendants. Unfortunately, George died in 1868, after the Civil War was ended. I decided to look at the 1850 slave schedule for York County. George was listed. He only had 8 enslaved people. All were marked “B” for Black, except one: a male infant marked “M” for Mulatto.[9] Could this be my great grandfather. Joshua? He was reportedly born in 1850. He was the only infant listed. It certainly seems likely.

1850 slave schedule George W Williams
1850 Slave Schedule, York County, SC, George W. Williams, owner

I’m still hoping to find a document associated with George that names Joshua, my great grandfather, Joshua. It would be the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, based on the many matches whom I have been able to add to my tree by researching the suggested links from Thru-lines, and even going back to my match list and picking out individuals whose trees provide a basis for further research, I can confidently say that I am a descendant of Fowler Williams’s son, George Washington Williams of York County, South Carolina. At long last, a 43-year quest for the answer to the question of who my great-great grandfather was, the father of Joshua W. Williams, my great grandfather, has come to an end.


[1] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Marriage of Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 5 Nov 1868. Retrieved from:

[2] Florida, Wills and Probate Records, 1810-1974 [database on-line]. Probate of Joshua W. Williams, 26 Jun 1893, Live Oak, Florida. Retrieved from:

[3] 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; William Williams, head; Ellen Williams, mother. NARA Roll: 1108; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0616; FHL microfilm: 1241108. Retrieved from:

[4] George Williams Find A Grave Memorial, born circa 1727, Wales; died 5 April 1794, Fairfax County, Virginia. Retrieved from:

[5] North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. George Williams, 1732-1777, Virginia. Retrieved from:

[6] North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. Fowler Williams, born 1778, Virginia; died 1841, Lancaster District, South Carolina. Retrieved from:

[7] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [Database on-line]. Dr. James Jonathan Williams, born 21 Aug 1821, Lancaster District, South Carolina; died 15 Aug 1873, Union County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

[8] 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina; George Washington Williams, head. NARA Roll: M432-860; Page: 267B; Image: 309. Retrieved from:

[9] 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina, Slave Schedule; George W Williams, owner: Male, Mulatto, age: 3/12 yrs. (3 months). Retrieved from:


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#52Ancestors – At worship: The Rev. Islay Walden and the founding of Strieby Congregational Church

One hundred fifty years ago, on 2 July, Islay Walden, after graduating from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was ordained in the Second Reformed Church of New Brunswick (Reformed Church of America). By the end of the week he had left New Brunswick and was on his way back to North Carolina as a Congregational minister under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA).[1]  By November 1879, he was back in Randolph County, North Carolina, where he had grown, having moved in with his sister, Sarah, and her family.[2] The area where they lived was known as Hill Town, because so many Hill family members lived in the small community in the Uwharrie Mountain area of southwestern Randolph County.[3]

Islay Walden Oval

When Islay Walden returned to the Lassiter’s Mill postal area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, he established a Congregational church and “common school,” as AMA one or two teacher schools were called, in an area in the Uwharrie Mountains called “Hill Town.” It is likely that he ultimately decided to take this post because it was in the same community where his sister, Sarah (Callicutt/Walden) Hill, wife of Emsley Hill, lived.

The church reportedly was called first, “Promised Land Church.” According to Aveus “Ave” Lassiter Edmondson, in an article that appeared in Asheboro Magazine in 2011, Priscilla Hill (affectionately known as “Granny Prissy”), Emsley Hill’s mother, helped build the brush arbor that was used as this early meeting place.[4] Walden’s job as AMA missionary, however, was to plant a permanent Congregational church for the community. This church was called the First Congregational Church of Randolph County.[5] DeBoer (2015) noted that “If a church in the South is named First Congregational and was founded during Reconstruction, it is generally a predominantly black church started by the AMA.”[6]   Walden’s church would eventually be named Strieby Congregational Church and School, after the Rev. Dr. Strieby, the same prominent Congregational minister and Corresponding Secretary of the AMA who had attended his ordination.[7] Kate Lassiter Jones believed that it was Rev. Strieby who helped Walden found the church, but in fact it was the Rev. Joseph Roy, the Field Superintendent, who assisted.

In November 1879, Rev. Joseph Roy reported in The American Missionary, the magazine of the AMA, on Islay’s early efforts:

“The Field Superintendent assisted [Rev. Islay Walden] in organizing a Congregational Church of thirty members.”  Roy stated that a man in Hill Town offered “three acres of land and timber in the tree for all the lumber needed for a church school-house, and that man was an ex-slave.”[8]

It is not clear to whom he was referring since the Hill, Lassiter, Andy other families living in the area were primarily free families dating back before 1850.

In May 1880, Walden, as agent for the AMA, purchased a six-acre plot of land from a neighboring white family, Addison and Cornelia Lassiter, on which the church was built.[9] According to Kate Lassiter Jones, who grew up worshiping at Strieby:

“Men and women gathered from every direction to plan for the building. A two-wheeled ox cart hauled six huge rocks for the foundation. Logs, lumber and service were given. The weather boarding for the 60’x30’ building was finished by hand, mostly by our late Uncle Julius Hill.”[10]

Strieby Church original deed
Deed for Original First Congregational Church of Randolph County, North Carolina Property

Dr. Roy noted that he met with three committees, one from Hill Town, one from what would become Salem Church, in Concord Township about eight miles away, and one from Troy, in neighboring Montgomery County, where the AMA was in the process of establishing Peabody Academy. At this point the AMA did not have an ordained preacher for each location so it was decided there would be a circuit.

“So we organized a circuit for Brother Walden, one Sabbath at Troy and the other at Salem Church and Hill Town, with one sermon at each place. The Quakers promise a school at Salem. A public school will serve Hill Town for the present, and a competent teacher must be secured for the Academy.”[11]

Strieby Church tax plat
Strieby Church Tax Plat – Parcel 295967

The Church members at Hill Town quickly became involved in the wider life of the Congregational Church and the American Missionary Association. A report of the 1880 Conference held at Dudley, N.C., noted that representatives traveled 130 miles to attend. In describing the progress of the church at Hill Town, it said, “A gracious revival and a meeting-house under way are the fruits of the first six months of the life of this church.”[12]

old strieby church w people
Original Strieby Church Building, Randolph County, North Carolina

The following year, in 1881, the report again mentioned Islay and others from the congregation:[13]

“Rev. Islay Walden and his delegate, Deacon Potter, together with three others, came fifty miles in a one-horse wagon to attend the Conference. One of the party, Mrs. Hill, now a widow, has had twelve children, forty grand-children and twelve great-grand-children. She had never seen the (train) cars nor heard a railroad whistle till she came to the Conference. …The sermon Friday night was by Rev. Islay Walden; text, the first Psalm.”

The “Mrs. Hill,” referenced here was most likely “Granny Prissy,” Priscilla (Mahockly) Hill, the matriarch of the Hill family of Hill Town in southwestern Randolph County. “Deacon Potter” could have been Thomas Potter, her son-in-law, married to her daughter Mary Jane Hill, or Thomas’ brother, Ira Potter, married to daughter Charity Hill.

Priscilla Mahockley Hill
Priscilla Mahockley Hill, 1792-1911

Just three years later, on 2 February 1884, at the young age of 40, The American Missionary reported Islay’s death and eulogized him:[14]

“… He rallied the people, developed a village with school-house and church, secured a post-office and became postmaster. Here he labored four years, blessed with revivals, and was honored by the people, black and white. His wife an educated and judicious missionary teacher was of great assistance to him in all his work …”

Islay was buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery.

Islay Walden gravestone
Gravestone of the Rev. Islay Walden, 2 February 1884, Strieby Church Cemetery

For the next 120 years, Strieby Church has served as the spiritual and cultural center for the Hill families and other families of color living in southwestern Randolph County. As time went on and the older community members died, many descendants of those families, moved away from the Strieby community, whether to other parts of Randolph County, other parts of North Carolina, or other parts of the country. However, many also return to Randolph County on the fourth Sunday of August for the annual Homecoming Service. In addition, many descendants continue to bury their loved ones in the church cemetery next to their ancestors whose lives were shaped and nourished by their worship at Strieby.[15]

Strieby Church with sign and bell tower 07-05-2014
Current Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, Randolph County, North Carolina


[1] This account is based on the chapter, “Return to Hill Town,” in my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, 2016), pp. 81-92.

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 196C; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0683. Emsley Hill, head; Islay Walden, boarder. Retrieved from:

[3] Williams, M. L. (2016). Return to Hill Town. In, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), pp. 81-92.

[4] Grant, M. (2011). Strieby? Never Heard of It. Asheboro Magazine, 1(11), 56-58. Retrieved from: Asheboro Magazine On-line

[5] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[6] DeBoer, C. M. (2015). Blacks and the American Missionary Association. Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ (Volume I). Retrieved from:

[7] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[8] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[9] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, Islay Walden, Agent. (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[10] Jones, K. L. (1972). History of the Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ. Souvenir Journal for the Dedication of the New Church Building: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ (Strieby, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ), p. 2.

[11] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[12] American Missionary Association. (1880). Conferences: North Carolina Conference. Annual Report of the American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 34(3), 72. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[13] American Missionary Association. (1881). Anniversary Reports. The American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 35(7), 211. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[14] American Missionary Association. (1884). Items from the Field. The American Missionary, Volume 38:51. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[15] Williams, M. L. (2016). Part V: Strieby Today. From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), 373-390.

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#52Ancestors – (35) Back to School: Uharie Freedmen’s School

Uharie District Payment - Freedmen's Bureau
Freedmen’s Bureau record of payment for a school.

Not too long ago, a friend and supporter, Marvin T. Jones (Chowan Discovery Group, Inc.), was researching Freedmen’s Education records in an effort to identify the involvement of members of his community of Winton Triangle in Hertford County, North Carolina. He was reviewing receipts for monies received for rent or other supplies that were signed by Winton Triangle residents when he began to notice receipts referencing both Asheboro and “Uharie.” He downloaded copies and forwarded them to me. I noticed that receipts referencing “Uharie,” were signed by “A. O. Hill.”  I was not surprised to learn there was a school in Asheboro, but the school in Uharie (as it was spelled on the receipts) I did not know about. That school was of great interest to me.

Uharie School Receipt
Uharie District School Receipt signed by A. O. Hill


While researching reports of the American Missionary Association (AMA) for my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Associaion in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme Publishing, Inc., 2016), I came across a reference to a school already existing in the Uwharrie area when the Rev. Islay Walden returned to the area after graduation from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. I knew from my research that the nearby Quaker community had run a school in the area. I thought the reference in the American Missionary was to that school, but that school was further up the road, closer to the old Uwharrie Friends Meeting House. On the other hand, this Freedmen’s school seems to have been in the Uwharrie, possibly in the area called Hill Town. It may have been the basis of a public school referenced in the article.[1]

Priscilla Mahockley Hill
Priscilla Mahockley Hill, 1792-1911

Hill Town was said to be called such because of the large number of Hill family members that lived there. Most people have believed that it referred to the descendants of Ned Hill and his wife, Priscilla Mahockley Hill. However, there were also white Hills who lived in the area and A. O. Hill was one of them. Was there a connection between A. O. Hill and those people of color who lived in the Hill Town area of the Uwharrie that would have predisposed him to take responsibility for the school?

Uharie School receipt 2
Receipt signed by A. O. Hill for Uharie School District

“A. O. Hill” was Aaron Orlando Hill, born about 1840, son of Aaron Orlando Hill, Sr. and Miriam Thornburg, Aaron Sr.’s second wife. Aaron Sr. can be found on the 1840,[2] 1850,[3] and 1860[4] censuses. He died in 1863. Ned Hill was a free person of color also known to be living in the area. However, he could not be found any further back than 1850. Since the 1840 census only lists heads of families and enumerates others in the household, including any free people of color and slaves, it was very likely that Ned and his family were living in someone else’s household. The most likely places to look were the homes of any Hill families living in the area. They could have been living in some other family’s home, but the logical place to start was with Hill family members. After researching each of the families, it turned out that the only Hill family with free people of color living with them was Aaron Orlando Hill Sr.[5]

Uharie School receipt 3
Uharie District School Receipt signed by A. O. Hill

The Aaron Hill family were Quakers. It seems reasonable that he would have free people of color living with him. Ned’s family originally may have been slaves of Aaron’s parents, before Quakers condemned slavery and began freeing their slaves as well as helping slaves of non-Quakers to gain their freedom.  There were six free people of color living in Aaron’s household. Ned and Priscilla had four known children living at the time of the 1840 census (Nathan, Charity, Calvin, and Emsley),[6] which would equal six individuals. As stated above, Aaron’s was the only Hill household with any free people of color. While currently not proven beyond any doubt, the evidence supports the probability that these six people were Ned and his family. Certainly, such a close relationship and his Quaker background could have predisposed the younger Aaron to be willing to take responsibility for the Freedmen’s school that served the Uwharrie community.

Uharie School receipt 4
Signed Receipt by A. O. Hill for Uharie School District

By the time the Rev. Islay Walden had returned to the community in 1880, to begin his missionary work and start a school under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA), Hill Town and the neighboring Lassiter Mill community were already primed to want a school and the educational opportunities it would bring. It was a logical next step to build their own school with the help of the AMA. Thus, Hill Town, which would later become Strieby, apparently already had a strong tradition of education by the time Walden returned, making them eager to have a school over which they could exercise leadership and direction for the first time. The Uwharrie Friends School and the Freedmen’s School had prepared them for this.

Aaron O Hill Tombstone-2
Aaron Orlando Hill Tombstone Retrieved from Find a Grave.

Aaron Hill did not remain in Randolph County. By the time Islay Walden was actively building the church and school in Hill Town, Aaron had moved to Carthage, in Rush County, Indiana, where many other Quakers, including several of his old neighbors from Randolph County, had moved. He died there in 1926.[7]


[1] Roy, J. E. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary, 33(11), 334-335. Retrieved from: Project Gutenberg

[2] 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097.  Retrieved from:

[3] 1850 US Federal Census, Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head, Dwelling 895, Family 814. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 135A; Line 19; Image: 276. Retrieved from:

[4] 1860 US Federal Census; Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. Dwelling, 1230; Family 1214. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 221; Line 11; Image: 446; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from:

[5] 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097.  Retrieved from:

[6] Williams, M. L. (2016). Descendants of Edward and Priscilla Hill: Generation 1 (pp. 163-172). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing Inc.).

[7] Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [Database on-line], Aaron Orlando Hill, died: 27 Mar 1926, as cited in Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1926 – 1927; Roll: 05. Retrieved from:


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#52Ancestors – (30) The very colorful Harvey

Harvey Scott Williams
Harvey Scott Williams (1927-1987), Courtesy of Keith Williams

Harvey was an artist, and colorful. He loved to have a good time. “Party Hardy” could easily have been his personal motto. He was also my brother. We were half siblings. He was the younger of two sons of our father from his first marriage, I was the only child of our father’s second marriage. Thus, there was a twenty-year difference between Harvey and me.

L-R_ Robert Arthur Williams, Harvey Scott Williams (2)

Harvey was born in September 1927, in New Jersey, to Herbert Randell Williams and Emma (Scott) Williams. He was their second son. An older child, Robert Arthur Williams was born to them in 1925.[1] By the time he was ready to go to High School, his parents were divorced, and our father had remarried.[2] All lived in New York City.

Harvey showed early interest and talent in art.  Harvey’s talents were sufficient for him to be accepted at New York’s High School of Music and Art. Unfortunately, graduation did not see him launched into a career in art. By that time, the United States was involved in World War II. He and his brother both joined the military; Harvey joined the army.[3]

Towards the end of the war, Harvey married a young woman, Elizabeth “Betty” Butler, whose father ran a successful funeral home business in Harlem.[4] By 1946, they welcomed their only son together, Keith Van Williams.[5] However, the marriage didn’t last long.

Keith Williams, Renee Williams, Margo Williams
Keith Williams, the late Renee Williams (daughter of Robert), & Margo Williams

By 1951, Harvey began taking classes at the Art Students League in New York. Since he had to work a regular job and he was now a single parent, he took classes on Saturdays. It appears from his records that his formal classes focused on painting the human figure.  I remember him taking me (sometimes along with our father) to visit his classes. Both he and our brother loved to see if they could elicit some level of shock; they especially liked to upset my mother (she was an easy mark). In this case, he took a certain pleasure in taking us to see his classes devoted to the human figure by drawing and painting nudes. Of course, once you visited a classroom of nudes, it was done. I’m sure I was fascinated the first time, after all, there was an entire room of nude individuals, but after that, it was not new and no longer novel. It was just a room full of nude individuals who all had to sit still so that the students could create their paintings. I suspect my mother wasn’t thrilled that he took me there, but my father was there, which I’m sure ultimately was the key. Although I’m sure there were interesting discussions behind closed doors. What I do remember about visiting the classroom on several occasions is that some of the students weren’t very good.

Harvey felt that mastering the human figure, especially hands, was important to overall perfection of technique as an artist regardless of chosen artistic style of preference.  I remember from conversations we had when he visited that he made a point of learning about the anatomy of the human body, particularly the musculo-skeletal details. Although portrait painting was not his preference, he understood that it could bring income, and I note that his subjects always seemed to be painted with depth, color, and dimension that remind me of Renaissance painters, but they are not in true Renaissance style .

Keith Williams by Harvey 1957
Keith Williams by Harvey, 1957

Two portraits that would have special meaning for our family were painted in 1957 and 1958. In 1957, he painted a portrait of his son, dressed in Native American regalia (not authentic) designed from his imagination (and created by his then wife), on an imaginary background.

In 1958, he painted a portrait of me, seated on the piano bench in front of my piano, in our living room. It was intended as a birthday gift for our father and was arranged between Harvey and my mother. Since I got out of school at noon on Fridays, he came Friday afternoons for about seven or eight weeks to work on the painting. I have no recollection what he did with the wet canvas each week while it dried. It obviously couldn’t stay at our house lest our father see it. The portrait was unveiled at a family birthday celebration. I don’t think it was the same day, but shortly thereafter that he brought the portrait of his son, Keith, and gave it to our father. They  hung in our living room until I sold our home after my mother’s death. What I remember most about these and most of his paintings were the rich, vivid colors that he chose. However, it was not those paintings or that style of art that would bring him fame.

Margo Williams painted by Harvey 1958.JPG
Margo Williams by Harvey, 1958

Although his student records show that Harvey focused on the human figure,  His principal instructor was an artist who had other interests and undoubtedly had a strong influence on Harvey’s favorite style of painting, surrealism. His instructor was the internationally known Ernest Feine (1894-1965). Feine was considered a graphic artist primarily, producing prints and lithographs. As far as I know, Harvey produced exclusively oil paintings. Feine’s style of art was decidedly modern and at least one biography states that “Ernest Feine’s artwork often focused on bringing out the humanity of a space while simultaneously deconstructing it into abstract shapes.”[6] Harvey relied more on the symbolism of shapes. It seems to me that he pointed his viewer in a direction, but the sparseness of his symbols invited the viewer to ultimately make the journey his/her own. Thus, I see Feine’s influence, but ultimately, they were very different artists.

Harvey student records Art Students League
Harvey’s student records at Art Students League, 1951-1963, courtesy of Robert Rogers, Baylor University

Around 1961, Harvey began a relationship with someone who would help bring him fame. Although the economy was different then, it cannot be said that Harvey received any truly significant remuneration for his work. He would receive $25 per painting to create works that could be produced as record album covers, specifically, gospel record album covers. The company that contracted with him was Savoy Records (and affiliates), headed by Herman Lubinsky, whose grandson, T. J. Lubinsky, is well known for his “My Music” shows on public television, featuring virtually every era of music.

Elete Jubilee Singers - Regent 6107 - eBay
Gospel Album Cover by Harvey, as seen on Ebay. Courtesy of John Glassburner.

Harvey’s cover art was so successful and, I know now, so different from anything that had been seen on gospel album covers previously that his covers became important components of the albums.[7] Notably, these covers in his surrealist style, used vivid colors and sparse but strong religious symbolism. I once asked his son whether Harvey was a gospel music fan, because I did not remember him being particularly religious. Keith said, no, he was a classical music fan, and no, he was not religious. I find it interesting that someone who never discussed religion and wasn’t a fan of gospel music could produce such spiritually evocative artwork. Clearly, there was a side of Harvey we saw but didn’t recognize.

Harvey would occasionally drop by on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to show us the latest cover. What I don’t think any of us realized was that Harvey had produced over two hundred covers, including some for jazz artists such as Coltrane. Harvey would produce album covers for Savoy until about 1969.[8] I don’t know what ended the relationship. What I do know is that the original canvases were not kept.

Icarus by Harvey.JPG
Icarus by Harvey, owned by Margo Williams

Harvey had other art success during those years. He was a regular exhibitor at the Greenwich Village Art Festival. My family and I would usually try to go to see his work. Most of his canvases were surrealist, but he also had some landscapes. I don’t remember any nudes.  He always sold out. I also remember that he had a one man show at a Madison Avenue art gallery. It was upstairs over another shop. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of that gallery. However, in 1959, he received a Ceceile Award and his works were on exhibit at the Ceceile Gallery on West 56th St., in New York. [9]


Harvey & father with painting - George Korval (2)
As seen in Pittsburgh Courier, July 1959, courtesy of George Korval and John Glassburner. Proper name of painting is Gift of the Magi.

Harvey would also begin teaching classes on Saturdays at the Art Students League. Once again, I would visit the school and meet some of his students. By this time, I was in high school and Harvey was willing to take me along on some informal social gatherings at a popular restaurant called The West End on occasion. He would also pick me up sometimes to go see his son Keith in school football games. Unfortunately, a disagreement with my mother put an end to those activities. I learned later that Harvey was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis and would be forced to give up his art. He could no longer hold his brushes.

By 1964, I was off to college in the Midwest. I did not have any ongoing interactions again until the late 1970s when our father was ill. I know my father saw him regularly, usually meeting up with him for lunch where he worked, and he may have dropped by the house briefly to say hello, but I didn’t see him.

I would see Harvey for the last time at our father’s funeral in 1982. Although he sat with the rest of the family in the church, he did not go with us to the cemetery. I never spoke with him that day. My mother and I arrived at the church and we were immediately gathered for the procession into the church. Upon leaving, my mother and I went straight to the limousine, but Harvey, Keith, and Keith’s wife, Lucille left. I never spoke to him again, although I believe my mother did hear from him occasionally. One afternoon in 1987, my mother called me in Maryland where I was living to tell me that Harvey had died. I wish we had had another opportunity to interact, to find a new, more forgiving relationship. Such is life. Harvey is buried at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island (New York).[10]

Fortunately, after several years, Keith, his family, and I rekindled our relationship. We noted that we did not know what had become of Harvey’s canvases, meaning his oil paintings. We each searched on-line for any hints, but nothing seemed to show up. Then one evening, Keith called to say his daughter, Kahlil, had found something about Harvey. He said he would send me the link right then. It was the link to Harvey, at[11] What a shock! Harvey was a cult figure! It said his album covers were coveted around the world.  It also said no one knew who Harvey was. It was even speculated that Harvey was a pseudonym, possibly even for Lubinsky himself! Both Keith and I quickly wrote corrections in the comments. He commented that Harvey was his father; I commented that I was Harvey’s sister. With that, we began an email relationship with the website’s owner, John Glassburner, leading to others who have expressed new, renewed, or increased interest in his album covers, as well as his canvases. In fact, we’ve been able to be in contact with several individuals who had purchased his oil paintings in the past. I’m thrilled to know that his work will not end in oblivion.


[1] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Emma Williams, head; Robert Williams, son, age 14; Harvey Williams, son, age 12. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02671; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 31-1947B. Retrieved from:

[2] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, Bronx, New York; Herbert Williams, head; Margaret Williams, wife. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02467; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 3-272B. Retrieved from:

[3] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from:

[4] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Leroy Butler, head, funeral home owner; Betty, daughter, age 11. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02664; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 31-1701. Retrieved from:

[5] New York, New York, Birth Index, 1910-1965 [database on-line]. Keith Williams, 15 Oct 1946. Retrieved from:

[6] Brand-Fisher, S. (n.d.). Ernest Feine (1894-1965): Biography. The Caldwell Gallery. Retrieved from: http://

[7] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from:

[8] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from:

[9] Prize Winner. (July [illegible] 1959). Pittsburgh Courier. Retrieved from:

[10] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from:

[11] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from:


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#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.


[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:; 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:; 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:

[2] 1900 US Federal Census, Old River, Jefferson County, Arkansas; Roll: 63; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from:

[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:

[4] Aveus Lassiter Edmondson. (October 23, 2014). Courier-Tribune. (Asheboro, North Carolina). Retrieved from:

[5] 1880; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 195B; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0682. Retrieved from:

[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:

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Calier Lassiter and Catherine Polk, Bond, 26 Sep 1854. Retrieved from:

[8] North Carolina, Index to Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868 [database on-line]. Nathan Case [sic] and Sarey Poke, Bond, 15 Sep 1853. Retrieved from:


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#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.


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#52Ancestors – (21) Military: Percy Walter Phillips, World War I Veteran

In honor of Memorial Day and the 100th anniversary of the US involvement in World War I, I am writing about my great uncle, Percy Walter Phillips who fought in World War I, in what was called, “the War to end all wars.” Although his headstone lists him as having served from North Carolina, in fact, he served not with a North Carolina unit, the state of his birth, but with a unit from New Jersey where he was then living.

Percy Phillips Headstone 2
Private Percy Walter Phillips’ headstone, McAllister-Oddfellows Cemetery, Asheboro, North Carolina

Percy Walter Phillips was my mother’s favorite uncle, my grand uncle. He was born 4 Nov 1895, in Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Samuel D. Phillips and Mary Louise Smitherman, and he was a Miles Lassiter descendant.  Percy registered for the draft on 5 June 1917 in Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife, Florence (Bright), and daughter, Mary Louise, employed by Singer Manufacturing.[1] He enlisted on 28 January 1918.[2]

Percy served with the Battery F, 92nd Division. The 92nd became known as the Buffalo Soldiers, fighting in France. The 92nd was part of the “Negro Combat Division.” The 350th Field Artillery along with the 317th Trench Mortar Battery, were headquartered at Fort Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey. The Field Artillery units left in June 1918.[3] The passenger list for the USS President Grant showed that he sailed for France from Hoboken, New Jersey on 30 June 1918. He listed his mother, “Mrs. Louisa Floyd” (Mary Louisa Smitherman Phillips Floyd), living in Greensboro, North Carolina, as his emergency contact.[4]

USS President Grant Passenger list Fold3_Page_661 (2)
Percy Walter Phillips departure for France, on USS President Grant, 30 June 1918

Upon arrival in France the 92nd began another training period. Their training in earnest began in July in Montmorrillon, in the Department of Vienne. In August, the 92nd would end its training and move to the town of St. Die not far from the Rhine and close to the foothills of the Alps. St. Die’s originated with the explorer, Americus Vespucci who had been a monk there and for whom the term “America” had been coined referring to the western continents. St. Die was across from Alsace, then in German possession.[5]

From August to September 1918, the 92nd attacked German front lines, while coming under attack themselves, with one of the worst attacks being on 31 August from German artillery, including mustard gas and “flame projectors.”[6] The Germans were eventually pushed back, leaving the 92nd primarily monitoring and repairing trenches. Nevertheless, there would be other attacks including aerial attacks.[7] Percy would suffer from the effects of these battles the rest of his life, suffering from “shell shock,” according to my mother, Margaret Lee Williams, his niece.  Today “shell shock” is recognized as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[8] Percy would die from lung cancer in 1949 in the VA Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.[9] Lung cancer was an associated health risk of exposure to mustard gas.[10]

USS Maui Passenger List Fold3_Page_566 (2)
Percy Walter Phillips departure for Hoboken, NJ, from France, on the USS Maui, 31 March 1919

Percy returned home to New Jersey, arriving on the USS Maui.[11] He was honorably discharged on 19 March 1919.[12] Things would change from before the war. By 1920, his wife and daughter had returned to Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina to live with her family.[13] Percy was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey with a woman named “Mary,” said to be his wife, although I have never found any official document for that relationship.[14] Eventually, he moved with his mother, “Louisa,” in Elizabeth, New Jersey.[15] He would live with her until she died in 1936.[16]

In the summer of 1920, Percy’s grandmother, Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo, Louisa’s mother, had a stroke.  Percy accompanied Louisa and his nieces, Margaret and Verna, daughters of his deceased sister, Elinora,[17] to Asheboro, North Carolina, to help care for Ellen. Ellen died in August, but the family decided to stay in Asheboro.[18] Percy and his first wife, Florence had a brief reconciliation resulting in the birth of their son, James Edward Phillips, in 1921.[19] However, by 1925, Louisa, the girls, Margaret and Verna, and Percy returned to Elizabeth, New Jersey,[20] while Florence and her children, Mary Louise “Louise” and James Edward, moved to Stanly County, south of Asheboro.[21]

In 1926, Percy was living with his mother in New Jersey, but he also married Pearl Timberlake in New York.[22] However, the relationship had to be brief since his niece, my mother, Margaret never mentioned her, even though Percy continued to live in the same house with her and his mother.[23] In 1936, his mother, Louisa, died.[24] About this time he returned to Greensboro, North Carolina, eventually marrying Agnes Kepler Hunter,[25] a widow who also had family roots in Asheboro.[26]

Percy Phillips Headstone application
Percy Walter Phillips Headstone Application, by his wife, Agnes Kepler Hunter Phillips, 29 December 1949

By 1949, Percy’s exposure to Mustard Gas had caught up with him. He had lung cancer. Percy entered the VA hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Percy died there on 7 December 1949.[27] According to the request for a headstone from the VA made by his widow, Agnes, he was being buried in Asheboro City Cemetery.[28] However, he was actually interred in the Oddfellow-McAllister Cemetery, in Asheboro (Barnes, 2014).[29]


[1] U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips. Registration State: New Jersey; Registration County: Union; Roll: 1712099; Draft Board: 3. Retrieved from:

[2] U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips, Enlistment 28 January 1918, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Retrieved from:

[3] Scott, E. J. (1919). The Negro Combat Division. The American Negro in World War I (Chapter XI).  Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from:

[4] US Army WWI Transport Service, Passenger Lists 1918 Jun 30 – 1918 Sep 23 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips, USS President Grant, 30 June 1918. Fold3. Retrieved from:

[5] Scott, E. J. (1919). The Negro Combat Division. The American Negro in World War I (Chapter XI).  Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from:

[6] Scott, E. J. (1919). The Negro Combat Division. The American Negro in World War I (Chapter XI).  Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from:

[7] Scott, E. J. (1919). The Negro Combat Division. The American Negro in World War I (Chapter XI).  Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from:

[8] National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD). (n.d.). What is PTSD? PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: National Center for PTSD

[9] South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1960 [Database on-line]. Percy W Phillips, 7 Dec 1949. Retrieved from:

[10] Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). (2013, October 22). Exposure to Mustard Gas or Lewisite. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: US Department of Veterans Affairs

[11] US Army WWI Transport Service, Passenger Lists [Database on-line]. Percy W Phillips, USS Maui, 18 March 1919. Fold3. Retrieved from:

[12] U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips, Enlistment 28 January 1918, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Retrieved from:

[13] 1920 US Federal Census, Greensboro Ward 6, Guilford, North Carolina. Robert Bright, head; Florence Phillips, granddaughter. NARA Roll: T625-1302; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 141; Image: 930. Retrieved from:

[14] 1920 US Federal Census, Elizabeth City Ward 8, Union, New Jersey. Percy Phillips, head. NARA Roll: T625-1070; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 88; Image: 609. Retrieved from:

[15] 1930 US Federal Census, Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey. Louise Ingram, head; Persie Ingram, son. NARA Roll: 1387; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0073; Image: 289.0; FHL microfilm: 2341122. Retrieved from:

[16] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Louise Ingram, Apr 1936. Retrieved from:

[17] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Elnora Lee, 11 Nov 1918. Retrieved from:

[18] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ellen Mayo, 12 Jun 1920. Retrieved from:

[19] U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [Database on-line]. James Edward Phillips, 23 Mar 1921. Retrieved from:

[20] U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [Database on-line]. Mrs. Louise Ingram, 1925, 1079 William St., Elizabeth, NJ. P. 291. Retrieved from:

And U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [Database on-line]. Percival [sic] Phillips, 1925, 1079 William St., Elizabeth, NJ. p. 415. Retrieved from:

[21] 1930 US Federal Census, Harris, Stanly County, North Carolina. Florence Phillips, head; Louise Phillips, daughter; James Phillips, son. NARA Roll: 1721; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0014; Image: 683.0; FHL microfilm: 2341455. Retrieved from:

[22] New York City Municipal Archives; New York, New York; Borough: Manhattan. [Database on-line]. Percy Phillips and Pearl Timberlake, 1 Feb 1926. Indexed Number: M-26. Retrieved from:

[23] Personal Contact, Margaret Lee Williams to the author.

[24] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Louise Ingram, Apr 1936. Retrieved from:

[25] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Percy Phillips and Agnes Hunter, 3 Nov 1943. Retrieved from:

[26] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Percy Phillips and Agnes Hunter, 3 Nov 1943. Retrieved from:

[27] South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1960 [Database on-line]. Percy W Phillips, 7 Dec 1949. Retrieved from:

[28] U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [Database on-line]. Percy Walter Phillips, Enlistment 28 January 1918, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Retrieved from:

[29] Barnes, T. (2014, Dec 3). Percy W. Phillips. Find A Grave. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: