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52 Ancestors: Strieby Church, Randolph County, North Carolina, Family Reunion

Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheboro, North Carolina, has held Homecoming (Reunion)/Revival services on the fourth Sunday in August, for all of its 144 years so far as we have been able to ascertain. Over the past 10 years we, the descendants of the original community who grew up around the church, established in 1879, have made a concerted effort to preserve, share, and celebrate our history and heritage. Among our accomplishments have been the designation of our site, which originally included a school, as a county Cultural Heritage Site, and a Literary Landmark by United for Libraries (ALA) in honor of our founding minister, Islay Walden, a 19th century African American poet. Our site was also named to the Black Cemetery Network and the Reconstruction-Era National Historic Network.

Our State

Last year, in 2022, our history and Homecoming attracted the attention of North Carolina’s Our State Magazine and writer/editor Mark Kemp. The magazine which chooses a theme for each of its monthly issues, was planning a family reunion theme and wanted to include our story. The extensive story and beautiful pictures were featured in the August 2023 edition. I’ve included some of them here.

Patrice Lassiter Bryant greeting one of her cousins
Strieby Congregational Church, School, and Cemetery Cultural Heritage and Literary Landmark, Strieby Church Road, Asheboro, North Carolina
L-R: Rose Anderson Lassiter, Donnie Simmons Bennett, and Jackcine Simmons Laughlin
Margo Lee Williams holding the original school bell.
Jerry Laughlin receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from his daughter, Tasha Laughlin Hall


Kemp, M. Wolford, J. & Muthersbaugh, S., photographers. (2023 August). Peace in the Uwharries. Our State Magazine, pp. 116-127.

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#52 Ancestors – Voting: The 1870 Washington, D. C. Mayoral Election, and Islay Walden

In 1870, Washington, D. C. Mayor Sayles Jenks Bowen[1] was up for re-election. It was a contentious campaign. Bowen was a controversial figure. He was a staunch abolitionist pre-Civil War. He was also a founder of and activist for the Republican Party.

Bowen was elected Mayor of Washington, D. C. in 1868.This was the first time that African Americans could vote in Washington. Their overwhelming support helped Bowen win, despite his minimal support in the European American community. Bowen’s agenda focused on economic and educational opportunity and integration for the newly freed African Americans. Unfortunately, he was so focused on those things that he neglected the basic activities of governing a city. Bowen was so focused on his own agenda that he diverted funds from city services and programs to support job creation for freedmen and school creation for their children. He was impatient with those in the Republican party who would not fully support integrated schools and full employment for the freedmen. He was even willing to invest large sums of his own personal money to augment these efforts. Understandably, he was very popular in the African American community. However, as noted, he neglected other important issues and was draining the city’s financial assets. As the 1870 election approached, many in the Republican Party began to organize along with Democrats against his campaign for re-election.

National Republican, 7 February 1870. Islay Walden’s name highlighted.

On Monday, 7 February 1870, the National Republican reported that the previous Saturday there was a “large meeting at Union League Hall.” The meeting had been advertised in all the local newspapers. The turnout reflected “the large number of citizens favoring reform in the affairs of the Republican party of the city, and who are opposed to the present municipal administration…”[2] According to the article’s sub-titles, there were “Prominent Citizens Present,” and “Old Original Republicans in Council.”  Among those whose names were mentioned as being in attendance was Islay Walden.[3] Islay had only arrived in Washington around January 1868, based on Freedmen’s Bureau records.[4] Was he being considered a “Prominent Citizen?” Prominent enough to be named? Apparently so.

Islay Walden mentioned in a letter to “Mr. Beckley,” Freedmen’s Bureau Records, Washington, D. C., 28 January 1868

One speaker, William H. Brown, Jr., of the Seventh Ward, an area east of the Anacostia River, referred to as being part of “Anacostia,” said that “an effort must be made to induce legislation to protect men in their exercise of the franchise.”[5] He explained that “If a colored man attempts to vote a ticket other than that prepared for him by Corporation Attorney Cook and his satellites, he would be put to flight by a lawless mob.” It was reported that at this point, Islay Walden interrupted the speaker (Brown), asking if there was anyone assaulted other than those “colored men” who were voting for Democrats. Mr. Brown responded that Congress had granted “colored men” the right to vote and therefore their vote was their “with their conscience and their God, and it was not right that they should be disturbed in their rights by a lawless mob.”[6] It would seem from his comment that Islay was loyal to Mayor Bowen and his administration. So, why was he at this meeting? Good question.

Islay Responding to William H. Brown, Jr., National Republican, 7 February 1870

The meeting then went on to discuss and approve a constitution for the new reformed association now being called, “Independent Republican Reform Association.”[7] The meeting went on to discuss the problems that had resulted from Mayor Bowen’s administration. At the end of the evening, a Chaplain J. M. Green spoke. He spoke in support of a Collector Boswell in Mayor Bowen’s administration. The reporter for the National Republican noted that Chaplain Green was “interrupted frequently by Isley Walton [sic], a colored man, who was evidently in favor of Mr. Bowen.”[8] Apparently, Chaplain Green was not angered by the interruption but did grow frustrated as he “answered him good naturedly, finally giving way to allow Walton to deliver a harangue in favor of the present municipal administration.”[9] Chaplain Green may not have been distressed by Islay’s interruptions, but it appears that others had heard enough since the meeting adjourned after Islay finished speaking. Nevertheless, the meeting was “characterized with the best order, and the proceedings conducted in a deliberative and impressive manner.”[10]

Islay Walden speaking at Republican association meeting, National Republican, 7 February 1870

Mayor Sayles Jenks Bowen was defeated in 1870 by his Democratic opponent, Matthew Gault Emery.

There have been other hints at Islay’s interest in the political landscape of his time. Not long after arriving in Washington, D. C., in 1868, he went to Philadelphia to attend the Republican Convention, where General Grant was nominated the Presidential candidate for that year. He talked about that trip in the introduction to, and in, his poem, “Ode to Mr. Dunlap and Family.”[11]

1870 would have additional significance for Islay. That was year the Fifteenth Amendment was passed. Celebrations were held in Washington and around the country on 2 April 1870. Islay didn’t write a specific poem about his attendance of those celebrations. Rather, he references his presence in poems that address events around those celebrations. One poem he dedicated to a young girl, Clara Saunders, who helped him cross the street.[12] The other referenced Charles Sumner’s speech at that celebration.[13]

After reading about Islay’s assertiveness at the Republican meeting above, one cannot be surprised that Islay managed to have a personal meeting with President Ulysses Grant. In a letter to his niece, Catherine Hill, Islay mentioned that he had met the President, who encouraged him to never give up trying to get the education he sought. Islay added that he gave the President one of his poems.[14] It would be wonderful if the poem was preserved somewhere among Grant’s papers in the Presidential Library on the campus of Mississippi State University.

Islay’s political boldness continued as years went by. By 1883, he had returned to his home community in Randolph County, North Carolina. There, he founded a church and school, then known as Promised Land Church and a school, called Promised Land Academy. Islay had long been an advocate for temperance and apparently was a strong advocate in his community, even doing so before the North Carolina General Assembly. In March 1883, Islay was able to convince the General Assembly to pass “an Act to prohibit the sale of spirituous liquors within one (1) mile of the Promised Land Academy in New Hope Township, …”[15]

It is apparent that Islay Walden, who was a talented missionary and poet, was also a gifted politician. Sadly, he died at age 40, in February 1884, only a year after his victory in the General Assembly. I can’t help but wonder what he would have accomplished had he not died so young.

Islay Walden Death Notice in Alamance Gleaner, 28 February 1884, “gleaned” from Ashboro Courier.

Although Promised Land Academy is long gone, after serving the community’s children for over forty years, including my maternal ancestors, the church has continued to serve those in the community and descendants of the founding families, for 142 years, this past October (2021). In 2014, the church site, now known as “Strieby Congregational UCC Church,” became a Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site, and in 2021, was named a United for Libraries Literary Landmark.

[1] Tindall, William, “A Sketch of Mayor Sayles J. Bowen,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 18 (1915), pp. 25-43 Retrieved from:

[2] “Reform: Large Meeting at Union League Hall,” National Republican, February 7, 1870, p. 4. Retrieved from:


[4] Islay Walden, in Letter to Mr. Beckley, January 20, 1868, Records of the Field Offices for the District of Columbia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; NARA M1902, Roll 19. Retrieved from:

[5]Op cit.



[8] Ibid.


[10] Ibid.

[11] Williams, Margo Lee, Born Missionary: The Islay Walden Story, (Silver Spring, MD: Margo Lee Williams, Personal Prologue), 2021, pp. 23-25.

[12]Ibid, p. 28.

[13]Ibid, pp. 29-31.

[14]Ibid, p. 26.

[1]Ibid, p. 77.

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#52 Ancestors – Preservation (2): The Miles Lassiter Collection at Guilford College and the Lela Virginia Farnell Williams Family Collection at Florida A & M University

The Miles Lassiter Collection

While I have focused heavily on the preservation of the history of Strieby Church and Islay Walden over the last nine years, the first story I worked to preserve was that of my maternal fourth great grandfather, Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker. Miles was accepted into the Uwharrie Preparatory Meeting of the Back Creek Monthly Meeting in Randolph County, in 1845. Sadly, he died merely five years later in June of 1850. At that time, he was the only African American Quaker in the state of North Carolina.

In the course of my research, my cousin, the late Harold Cleon Lassiter, shared with me several documents that had come down to him pertaining to Miles, his children, and the land the family owned. There was a handwritten letter from Miles’ son, Wiley, to his brother Colier, in 1858. There was a letter from then attorney Jonathan Worth (later Governor of North Carolina), naming Miles’ son Colier, Miles’ wife “Helia,” which outlined issues pertaining to the probate of Helia’s property. There was an invoice for medical treatment of my third great grandmother, Miles’ daughter, Nancy, and other documents which listed the names of all of Miles children and their birth dates, as well as land grants, plats, and deeds related to property owned by Miles and Helia (Healy).

After Harold’s death, I asked his daughter Patrice if she could locate the records and if she would give them to me. I said I wanted to find a way for them to be preserved safely. At that time, I had discussed with a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History whether he thought the North Carolina State Archives would be interested. He thought they might be. I contacted them, but shortly thereafter the Covid Pandemic forced the Archives to close, as did most archives. Thus, I did not hear back from the Archives.

Recently, I began to consider again what would be the best avenue for the preservation of these documents. I realized that I had worked with the Quaker Archives at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina when writing my book on my research into Miles’ life. It occurred to me that the Archives might be interested in acquiring the documents. Thus, I contacted Gwen Erickson, the Archivist and Librarian there. She said they would love to have the papers to enhance their ability to tell Miles’ story and to have primary documentation on an African American Quaker from the pre-Civil War time-period. With that, I forwarded the documents which will be known as The Miles Lassiter Collection.

The Lela Virginia Farnell Williams Family Collection

The Autograph Book Belonging to My Grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

The donation of the Miles Lassiter papers was not the first time I chose to donate to a university archive. In 2014, I travelled to Tallahassee, Florida to donate documents from my paternal family. That time, I donated an autograph book and family photos to the Carrie Meek and James Eaton, Sr. Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum.

I chose this repository specifically because the autograph book belonged to my grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, who had been among the first students to attend the State Normal School for Colored Students, now Florida A & M University. The autograph book was signed by classmates and teachers, including Thomas DeSaille Tucker, the founding president. The Meek-Eaton Archives was particularly pleased to acquire the autograph book with President Tucker’s signature because they had had a fire a few years back which destroyed many original documents including those with President Tucker’s signature.

Another signature in the autograph book was that of teacher Ida Gibbs, wife of Vice President Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs. There is a fascinating irony to this connection. Vice President Gibbs had studied at Howard University at the same time as Islay Walden. Thus, Vice President Gibbs was an administrator and possible teacher to my paternal grandmother. Her son, my father, Herbert Randell Williams would marry my mother, Margaret Lilly Lee, whose grandmother, Mary Louise Smitherman, would have been a student at Strieby Church School when Islay Walden was the teacher.

It is repositories such as these university archives which can provide a place to consider donating any documents and pictures that may have an association with the university or archive. If no such relationship can be established, be sure to investigate whether other regional or historical societies may have an interest in documents and pictures whose long- term safety and preservation would be at risk. Future researchers will thank you.

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#52 Ancestors—Preservation: Strieby Congregational Church, School and Cemetery Cultural Heritage Site and the Islay Walden Literary Landmark Designation

Strieby is the name of an area and church in Union Township, in southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina.  It is part of the area and church where my mother’s maternal family has lived and worshiped for over two hundred years. Although I did not grow up visiting Strieby, after having learned about its rich history and my family’s roots there, I became concerned that the history was being lost, especially as older family/community members died. Thus, over the years I have made use of various avenues and vehicles for preserving and uplifting the history of Strieby, the church, and the families associated with it.

Literary Landmark

From Strieby Church Literary Marker Award Letter

Just this past August 2021, Strieby Church was awarded the designation as a Literary Landmark, by United for Libraries (a division of the American Library Association), in recognition of the Rev. Islay Walden, its founding minister, a noted nineteenth century poet, dubbed the “Blind Poet of North Carolina” by Arthur Schomburg. Born enslaved in Randolph County, North Carolina, Islay walked to Washington, D. C. in search of an education and help for his near-blindness, most likely congenital cataracts. He received a scholarship to attend Howard University, but he still needed money for his personal needs. In 1872 (with revisions in 1873), he published Miscellaneous Poems Which the Author Desires to Dedicate to the Cause of Education and Humanity. After graduating from Howard, he received another scholarship to attend New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Jersey. Again, he published a small volume of poems called, Walden’s Sacred Poems with a Sketch of His Life, in 1877. After graduation and ordination in 1879, he returned to Randolph County where he founded Promised Land Congregational Church and School, renamed Strieby Congregational Church and School, in 1883, after he successfully petitioned the government for a post office for the Strieby community. He died on 2 February 1884 and was buried in Strieby Church Cemetery. According to the United for Libraries website, this is only the second Literary Landmark awarded in North Carolina. The marker will be dedicated on 5 February 2022.

Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center Literary Marker

Where did I learn about Literary Landmarks? It is not a widely known national program. I learned about it when a library in the neighborhood where I grew up, dedicated to Langston Hughes and the home of the Black Heritage Reference Center of Queens County, was awarded its Literary Landmark status in 2013.  I hoped to do the same, but it was only this year that I was able to work with other family members, descendants of the church’s founding members, and two community partners, Magnolia 23 Restaurant and Strieby Wood, LLC to successfully apply for Literary Landmark status for Strieby Congregational Church, School and Cemetery Cultural Heritage Site in honor of Islay Walden.  However, this was not my first effort to preserve the history of this site.

Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site

Strieby Church, School & Cemetery Cultural Heritage Site Marker, Randolph County, NC

The first serious effort to preserve Strieby’s history was applying for Cultural Heritage Site status. Randolph County is unusual because it recognizes historical sites for their culturally significance regardless of whether any original, historical structures which had been associated with the site still exist or not. Thus, Strieby, whose original frame church building would have qualified for Historic Landmark designation, was demolished when it became unsafe in the early 1970s and was replaced by a new brick building, was able to qualify for Cultural Heritage Site designation. The site was awarded Cultural Heritage Site status in September 2014.

From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme Publishing)

The extensive research necessary to ensure a successful application for Cultural Heritage Site status, provided a strong basis for a book on the history of the community of Strieby that grew up around the church and school. The book focused on the educational achievements of the school during its forty years serving the community that grew up around Strieby Church. The book also included four generation summaries of the two principal founding families, the Hills and the Lassiters. In addition, it included the names and relationships of all those buried in the cemetery with grave markers as well as the names of about 35 individuals who were buried there with no grave markers, but whose internments were identified from death certificates. The book was published in 2016.

Born Missionary: The Islay Walden Story (Margo Lee Williams, Personal Prologue)

While researching Strieby’s history, for the book, From Hill Town to Strieby, I realized there was much more to Islay Walden’s background than is normally reported. It seemed a natural progression to go from writing about the history of the church and school, to writing about the story of Islay Walden, founding pastor and teacher. While I recognize his contribution as a nineteenth century, formerly enslaved, African American man to the field of poetry, I realized through my research that Islay Walden’s focus was education and spiritual development. Thus, the phrase used to describe him in an obituary, “Born Missionary,” became my title for the book that came out in April 2021.

North Carolina State Cemetery Survey

Strieby Church Cemetery

North Carolina has a state initiative through the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources aimed at identifying and surveying every cemetery in North Carolina, whether public, private, church owned, municipal, slave, Native American, or whatever. Surveys can be undertaken by local governments, private groups, or individuals. One can add information or pictures, or whatever, to the file that provides any important background information on the cemetery and the people buried there. I was able to complete and submit the survey for Strieby Church Cemetery this past summer, 2021.

North Carolina State Highway Marker

Sadly, not every effort to preserve the history of Strieby and Islay Walden has been successful. I applied to the State Highway Marker program in 2016 for a marker for Islay Walden. It was denied. I was able to gather additional information and reapplied in 2018. Unfortunately, it met the same fate. The committee reportedly denied the application because they felt that Islay Walden, though widely recognized for his poetry, had only regional, local significance. Since only two attempts are permitted, this avenue for preservation of Islay Walden’s story and that of Strieby is no longer viable. It was this dismissal that spurred me to seek more earnestly the Literary Landmark marker for Islay Walden.

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#52 Ancestors – Oops: That’s the Wrong Sam

My great grandfather was Samuel Dow Phillips, from Randolph County, North Carolina. He was the son of Lewis and Margaret (Peacock/Callicutt) Phillips. Sam was a barber. Eventually, he moved to Flushing (Queens), New York, where he had his own barber shop, on Prince Street. He was married to my great grandmother, Mary Louise “Louise” Smitherman and had five children: Maude, George, Elinora, (my grandmother) Percy, and Mozelle.

Certified Copy of Sam Phillips and Louisa Smitherman

In the mid-1890s, Sam moved to New York, hoping to find a more lucrative environment in the Big City. Louise and the children continued to live in Asheboro, Randolph County, anticipating they would move to join him when his finances became more stable.

There was just one problem. Louise’s sister, Roxanna, “Roxie,” who lived in Baltimore, somehow learned that Sam was involved with another woman in New York. It was rumored that he was living with this woman. According to my mother, Roxie reported what she knew to Louise. I don’t have the specifics, but Louise confronted Sam. It didn’t go well. Louise filed for divorce, in Asheboro. She accused Sam of abandonment and adultery. She named his New York paramour. She won in 1899. Sam would then marry Nannie Rush (not the named paramour), also from North Carolina. Sam and Nannie lived in Flushing until their deaths, in the 1940s and 1950s respectively. They are buried in Flushing Cemetery.

Copy of Final Divorce Decree between Louisa Phillips and Sam Phillips, 1899

Louise would also remarry, twice: first, to John Floyd in Greensboro, North Carolina; second, to John Ingram, moving then to Elizabeth, New Jersey. My mother (who was reared by Louise after her mother died in the flu pandemic) believed that John Floyd had died. Based on information I have learned I think it is more likely they simply separated. There is no divorce filed and no death record for him in that time period. In that same vein, there is no identifiable marriage record for Louise and John Ingram. No matter though, because after a few years, the city directory for Elizabeth, New Jersey recorded that she was widowed. However, John could be found alive and well, living in Philadelphia, with his son. Louise died in 1936. She is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, in Roselle, New Jersey.

Mary Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram’s Death Certificate

There’s just one problem with this story. Based on DNA, Sam is not my great grandfather. Well, not Sam Phillips anyway. DNA matches analyzed on multiple testing sites, including Ancestry, 23 and me, and My Heritage, show that my great grandfather was a different Sam: Samuel Montgomery Lewis, also from Asheboro, Randolph County.

When I first noticed this close DNA match in Ancestry, “JL,” I had no idea how he fit in my tree. I knew he was not a paternal relative. He didn’t match any of my paternal family members who had been tested. He did match my daughter, of course. He also matched some other maternal relatives, but I still couldn’t discern how. I was also perplexed by the fact that he was such a close relative. After my daughter and paternal nieces (descendants from my eldest half-brother, Robert), JL was (and continues to be) my closest DNA match in Ancestry (his sister and daughter are in 23 and me). The account was managed by a woman whose last name was Lewis. I’ll call her DL. The unattached tree she posted was associated with her family. Nothing told me what her husband’s first name was. Even more challenging, her family was from Louisiana. The only way I was going to figure out my relationship to him was to develop her family tree, hoping some record would lead me to learn the connection between JL and myself.

I researched DL’s family. Her father was in the military. I followed them through the records to various parts of the country, finally settling in Virginia. I saw his death certificate, but nothing was published that helped me learn the full name of JL.

Then I found the obituary for DL’s mother. It was a very extensive report of her life and activities in various church and military associated organizations. It also provided an extensive recitation of her family members, children, and grandchildren. There it was, DL married to JL. Now I knew their full names. With the correct names I was able to locate their marriage records in Virginia.  I was still a bit perplexed because JL was born in Virginia, not North Carolina. My family never lived in Virginia, so I needed to find a time when the two families were in the same place at the same time. 

Since JL was a Jr., I looked for JL Sr. JL Jr.’s marriage record named his parents. His mother’s death certificate said she was from North Carolina. His father’s death information only had an abstract available. However, I found his World War II draft record. It said he was from Asheboro, North Carolina. It named his mother, Mary Lewis.

Armed with that information, it was easy to identify the family in Randolph County. Now, I was able to develop JL’s tree going back to the late 18th century. I was also able to learn about my relationship to dozens of DNA matches from numerous founding families in Randolph County. So, you ask, what other documentation do I have of any relationship between Sam Lewis and Sam Phillips and Louise?

1880 Census, Randolph County, North Carolina: Sam M Lewis and Saml Phillips, Dwelling & Family 39

I had the information all along it turned out. It had no significance for me before. I had really forgotten about it. On the 1880 census, Sam Phillips was recorded in the household of William Robert Lewis, Sam Lewis’s father. Sam Lewis was also in the household. The two Sams didn’t just know each other from the community, they had lived in the same household. Can I say they were friends? I don’t know, but I can say they were more than acquaintances.

Louisa Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram and Elinora Phillips Lee, circa 1916

So, what about Sam Lewis and Louise? I have no idea how that relationship came about. I do know that my grandmother, Elinora, was born about 1895. This was about the time that Sam Phillips was beginning his quest for improved finances in New York. Sam Lewis was unmarried. He did not marry until 1907. Sam Phillips and Louise were having marital problems in that time-period, though they did not divorce until 1899. Did Louise find some solace with Sam Lewis from her troubles with Sam Phillips? On the other hand, did Sam Lewis try to take advantage of the fact that Sam Phillips was out of town and the marital strain with Louise? I have no idea. There is no evidence. In fact, if anyone in my family knew, they took it to the grave with them. I do not include my mother in that group. I am very confident she had no idea Sam Lewis was her grandfather, rather than Sam Phillips, but she is dead now, too.

Margaret Lilly Lee Williams & sister, Elverna Elizabeth Lee Means, circa 1920

Since discovering this information, I have found, on other sites, my DNA relationship to JL’s sister, daughter, and son, along with numerous cousins. However, I did not reach out to any of them. I really couldn’t find a delicate way to say that my grandmother was their father’s (or grandfather’s ) half-sister, “without benefit of clergy,” as a genie friend of mine says. As it happens, I didn’t have to reach out. JL’s daughter reached out to me. It was a gracious note. I responded. We quickly bonded and she was kind enough to share family pictures, including our mutual great grandfather, Sam Lewis. I shared pictures of my grandmother and her mother, Louise. I was also able to provide documentation about Sam’s life and family, information she did not have. And I had to smile when she said that (based on my picture) I look like her father’s family.

L-R Behind: Sarah Jane Lowe Lewis, Mary Lassiter Lewis, and Samuel Montgomery Lewis. L-R in Front: Thomas Norman Lewis, Margaret Lewis, and Imogene Lewis.
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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 (as well as myself); and my daughter Turquoise Williams (TW) 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 My Heritage 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, including a George Williams also in Virginia.[5] George was turned out to be our 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 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 – (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 –Week 5: Miles in the Census

One of my early surprise successes in genealogy was finding Miles Lassiter, my maternal 4th great grandfather. I had learned from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen) death certificate that my 3rd great grandmother’s maiden name was Nancy Lassiter, so I had gone looking for her in the census. I had worked my way backwards using her married name, Dunson, also learned from the same death certificate.[1]

Margaret Lee Williams - my mother
Margaret Lee Williams, my mother

I found her first as a widow in the 1880 census.[2] Ellen, or Grandma Ellen as my mother (Margaret) called her, was married and living elsewhere, but her sister Adelaide, whom my mother knew, was still in the household.  I moved back to the 1870 census. Both Nancy and her husband Calvin Dunson were living together with some of their children,[3] again, not including Grandma Ellen who was married and whom I had identified with her family living nearby in Randolph County.[4]

My mother knew almost nothing beyond Grandma Ellen. Grandma Ellen had died when my mother was about six years old, too young to really ask anything about her family history. For whatever reason nothing was passed down beyond that, so I had no real information about whether Nancy was free before 1865 or not. I figured I should see what I found, so I looked for her. There she was in 1860, with her husband Calvin, and this time with Grandma Ellen. The census said Ellen (EAllen) was about nine years old.[5] “Well,” I reasoned, “why don’t I keep looking? I wonder if she’s (Nancy) in the 1850 census?” So, I looked. Yes, there she was! She was living in the household with an older man, old enough to be her father, Miles Lassiter.[6] He was head of household. Also, in the household were some other young people who could very likely be her siblings: Abigail, Collier, Jane, and John. Another young person, Parthena, may have been a cousin, since she was listed in a different place in the order, but at this point I did not actually know the details. Also, in the household was another older man, Samuel, who could be Miles’ brother. One issue, of course, with the 1850 census is that relationships are not recorded. If you don’t already know the relationships, or cannot confirm them in the 1880 census, where they are for the first time recorded, you just can’t be sure.

I was feeling like I was on a roll, so I decided to see just how far back I could go. I looked at the 1840 census, but didn’t see anything. I’m not sure why I didn’t stop there, but I decided to see if there was anything in 1830. To my surprise, there he was, Miles Lassiter, free man of color.[7] I am still amused by noting that whoever did the indexing wrote it as Smiles, because the person recording his name on the census form seems to have written his first name over another name that started with “S,” but in doing so did not obliterate the “S,” leading the indexer to believe the “S” was part of his name.  Of course, the 1830 census is even more enigmatic than the 1850 census, because before 1850, only the head of household’s name is recorded. I could count tic marks, but it really wouldn’t mean anything without other information from other records. For that reason, Miles’ absence from the 1840 census, which also did not record names beyond head of household, didn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, he could have been living in someone else’s household, someone whose name I did not know and therefore, I had no way of confirming where he was. The only thing I could surmise at this point was that, he was a free man of color and, although he was not listed in the 1840 census, he was still alive in 1850, but not recorded in 1860, or beyond. Looking farther back was not possible because the 1820 census for Randolph County no longer exists and Miles was either too young or not financially independent enough to be head of his own household any farther back than that, or not even free any farther back. 1830 was as far back as I was able to go in the census.

I could assume that Miles had died sometime after 1850 and before 1860 by noting what because of those who were in the house with him in 1850. In 1860, as noted above, my 3rd great grandmother Nancy was living with her husband, Calvin, and their children. Collier, here called “Cal,” whom I believed to be her brother, was living nearby, apparently married and with two children; in his household, also, were two people who had been in Miles’ 1850 household, Samuel, who might be Miles’ brother and Abigail, who might be Collier and Nancy’s older sister.[8] Most of this information would be confirmed in later censuses, although Samuel would not live long enough to have his relationship recorded in the 1880 census. Abigail, about whom I wrote in a previous post, would live until sometime after 1910, and have her relationship as a sister confirmed in the census and other documents as well.

What the census could not tell me at that time was how long Miles had been free. Was he born free? If not, when was he freed? Who was his wife? Were these all his children? Who were his parents, and, of course, when did he actually die? Those questions would have to be answered another time, after a lot more research. Right then what was exciting was that I could tell my mother that she had free ancestors. Her response was priceless. “Yes,” she had heard that from her grandmother, Louise (who raised her and her sister), when she was a child. Of course, she had thought her grandmother was wrong and, well, crazy, because everyone knew that black people had been slaves! No teachers had ever said anything about free people of color. She really hadn’t learned anything more.

Mary Louse Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram circa 1915 (2)
Mary Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram

In fairness, my mother was raised primarily in Elizabeth, New Jersey, away from most of her relatives. In fact, until I started this research around 1976, she’d never even heard of, or met, most of the people we would come to meet and with whom we would spend time in the coming years. Her grandmother, Louise, died in 1936,[9] only a year after my mother married and when my mother was still very young (22). It hadn’t occurred to her to interview (“grill”) her grandmother about their family history. My mother thought whoever was back in North Carolina from her grandmother’s time was undoubtedly dead. Little did she know.

I followed the family forward in the census, particularly the family of Collier/Colier/Calier. At the time, only the 1900 census was available. I was able to determine that there were descendants still living in the same community that Nancy and Grandma Ellen had lived. By this time, Abigail was living in the home of Colier’s son, Ulysses Winston (called Winston). He was married and had several children, Mable, Vella, Will, and Calier.[10] It was possible that in the early 1980s when I was doing this part of the research, one of them might still be alive, or their children, I thought. All I had to do was find a way to meet them, but that’s a story for another day.

[1] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ellen Mayo, date of death: 12 June 1920; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Father: Calvin Dunston [sic]; Mother: Nancy Lassiter. Retrieved from:

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Nancy Dunson, “widow,” head. NARA Roll T9_978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page 1A. Retrieved from:

[3] 1870; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head. Roll: M593_1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from:

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Ellen Smitherman. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from:

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; EAllen Dunson. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from:

[6] 1850 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter, head; Nancy Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A & B; Image: 278 & 279. Retrieved from:

[7] 1830 US Federal Census; Census Place: Regiment 1, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles (“Smiles”) Lassator, head. NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 125; Page: 7; Family History Film: 0018091. Retrieved from:

[8] 1860 US Federal Census; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Cal Lassiter, head. Samuel Lassiter; Abigail Lassiter. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from:

[9] State of New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate and Record of Death. Louise Ingram, Date of Death: 11 April 1936; Certificate Registered #436C. Copy in the possession of the author.

[10] 1900 US Federal Census; Population Schedule. Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Winson [sic] Lassiter, head; Mabel Lassiter, daughter; Vella Lassiter, daughter; Will Lassiter, son; Calier C. Lassiter, son; Abbigail Lassiter, aunt. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1241213. Retrieved from:


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#52Ancestors – Longevity: Abigail Phillips Lassiter, circa 1812-1920

Abigail Phillips Lassiter Ceramic Pot
Ceramic Pot Belonging to Abigail Phillips Lassiter

I have many examples of longevity in my mother’s family, who come from Randolph County, North Carolina. My mother, herself, lived to be just one month short of her 98th birthday, but there were several cousins who lived as long or longer. In recent years, there were five: Vella Lassiter (99), Will Lassiter (98), Clark Lassiter (97), Kate Lassiter Jones (100), and Aveus Lassiter Edmondson (101), all siblings. However, the person in our family who lived the longest of anyone as determined so far, was Abigail Phillips Lassiter, who lived to be between 104-110 years of age, based on public and private records.

Abigail was the daughter of Miles Lassiter and his wife Healy Phillips Lassiter.[1] Their marriage was what we would consider common-law because Miles was technically a slave, although he lived most of his life as if a free man. His wife, Healy Phillips, was a free woman of color.[2] Thus, Abigail was born free, per the laws that said that a child followed the legal status of the mother. Based on a private document in the possession of her grandnephew, the late Harold Cleon Lassiter, she was born in February 1812. Census records show birth years anywhere between 1810 and 1816.[3] She was last recorded in the 1910 census.[4] Family members, specifically those listed above (especially Kate) reported that she died in 1920, obviously before the 1920 census was taken. She was buried in Strieby Church Cemetery according to Kate, who was able to show me the depression in the earth over the site where she said Abigail was buried. There is no tombstone, or other marker.[5]

Abigail never married. Thus, she can be found under her name, Abigail Lassiter, in every census from 1850-1910. Since she was not married she always lived with family members. In 1850, she was living with her father, Miles, by then widowed.[6] After that, she lived in the home of her brother Colier and his family until he died circa 1893.[7] After he died, she lived with her nephew, Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his family, including his above-named children Vella, Kate, Will, Clark, Aveus, and Harold.[8] In her later years, Kate reported that she was blind. There is no way to find out if she was blind due to Glaucoma or Macular Degeneration, which I would like to know since I have Glaucoma. Kate said that she was responsible for helping “Aunt Abbie” get around. Unfortunately, Kate was of an age where she balked at this responsibility. Combined with a rebellious personality, she was not always a genuine help to Aunt Abbie; sometimes she was negligent, resulting in some minor injuries to Aunt Abbie. Of course, in later years, reflecting on that inappropriate behavior, for which she was punished, Kate had to admit that her behavior fell far short of exemplary.

Aunt Abbie’s name does come up in a few other documents, mostly land records. She is recorded in in several deeds over the years, reflecting the inheritance of property from her mother and father.[9] After her brother, Colier dies, she gives her portion of the inherited property to her nephews, Ulysses Winston and Amos Barzilla, in exchange for her care, indicating she could no longer perform farm or household chores, undoubtedly a result of her blindness as well as advanced age.[10] She did not leave a will.

Interestingly, although the state of North Carolina began officially recording births and deaths about 1913, there is no death certificate or indexed recording of Aunt Abbie’s death. There are two possibilities for this. First, the year of death, as remembered by Kate, when she herself was of an advanced age, was incorrect. I did not begin talking with Kate about our family history until the 1980s, when Kate was in her 80s. Trying to remember exactly how old she was when Aunt Abbie died could very likely be inaccurate. The second reason is simply that the death may not have been reported. The family lived in the country, about 13 miles from Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph County, and the nearest town. They might not have realized that they were supposed to report the death, or they did not think it important. Either explanation is plausible. Both could have contributed.

Sadly, there are no pictures that have survived of Aunt Abbie, despite her long life. Perhaps even sadder, is the realization that there are no stories that have been passed down that would tell us about her personality, her sense of humor, her interests or talents. The only tangible object from her life is a ceramic pot (pictured above) that has survived and is still in the family’s possession. Additional information about her family can be found in my books on her father, Miles Lassiter  and on the church where she is buried Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ.

[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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 106-107.

[2] 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 76.

[3] 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641. 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978. 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[4] 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[5] 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 107, #17n.

[6] 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641.

[7] 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978.

[8] 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[9] Estate of Healy Phillips or Lassiter, Will Book 10:190-192. F(amily) H(istory) L(ibrary) #0019645.

[10] Abigail Lassiter to Winston Lassiter and Amos Barzilla Lassiter, Deed Book 90: 268. FHL #047255.

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#52Ancestors – Photo: Kate Lassiter Jones, 1906-2006

Kate Lassiter Jones Aug 2006 celebration
Kate Lassiter Jones, 26 August 2006, A Celebration of her 100th Year

I chose this photo not so much because it is a favorite, although I do like it, but because it portrays the strong, determined, woman that I loved (and love) and admired, whose drive for justice led to her being dubbed the “Rosa Parks of Randolph County.” Kate was not one of my ancestors. She was my 2nd cousin three times removed on my mother’s side. She was my friend, my mentor, my genealogy/local history buddy, and Kate, well, Kate was a force of nature. On this Martin Luther King Holiday and Day of Service, I wanted to reflect on Kate and her commitment to social justice and civic responsibility.

Kate was born Katherine Martitia Lilly Lassiter on 23 November 1906, in the Lassiter Mill area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, one of 12 children of Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his wife Ora Priscilla Kearns Lassiter.[1] They were a close-knit family that valued God, family, education, and community. Kate was educated first at her church run school in nearby Strieby. She learned early the lessons of sacrifice when it came time for her to attend secondary school. There was no local secondary school for African American children. If she and her siblings were going to continue their education, they would have to leave their family and community. Kate, like others of her siblings and friends before her, did just that. She attended Columbian Heights High School in Winston-Salem.[2] She told me she missed her family terribly, but understood the great sacrifice they were making to see to it that she got an education, so she was determined not to disappoint them.

After finishing high school, she attended Bricks Junior College, in Enfield, North Carolina, now the Franklinton Conference Center of the United Church of Christ.[3]  During summers she earned money for tuition by going on church sponsored missions to Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana. She earned degree in Social Work from Schauffler College (loosely affiliated with the Congregational Church and now part of Oberlin University) in Cleveland, Ohio, and another Bachelor’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching as well as an MA in Rehabilitation Counseling from Columbia University in New York.[4]

Kate’s career was illustrious. serving as an elementary school teacher in Roxboro, NC; Director of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City; the Director of the YMC in Montclair, NJ; Dean of Women at North Carolina A & T University; Director of Special Services for the Third Army at Fort Benning, Georgia; and an Extension Social Worker for the US Army Southeast Region, to name a few.[5]

Kate was a tireless church worker all her life. She was proud and active member of the United Church of Christ. She was the member of numerous committees, went on endless mission trips, was active with every congregation she ever belonged to, as she moved around the country. She was a moderator, trustee, and historian of her home congregation, Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, in the greater Asheboro area of Randolph County. She also helped organize the fundraising program for the new church building when the historic building was condemned, saying “How can I turn my back on such a towering symbol in my life and see it sag and decay and cease to be?”[6] Her commitment and dedication would lead to her being ordained a Deaconess in the 1980s. I remember being disappointed that I could not make the trip from Maryland to North Carolina for this wonderful occasion.

Kate’s dedication was not limited to her vocation as social worker or even her commitment to church and God. Kate was a political animal. It’s odd that I don’t remember what she told me she was doing specifically during the Civil Rights years, but what I do know is that all the years I knew her, she was politically active and committed to the betterment of her community and state. Throughout her 80s and up to her early nineties, Kate would criss-cross not only the county, but also the state participating in voter registration drives. She would hold fund-raising parties on behalf of candidates she believed in, especially African American candidates. She was a delegate or alternate on several occasions to the Democratic National Convention. Even when she was not a delegate she was keenly interested. During the various campaigns, whether congressional or presidential, after some announcement was made or update given on the late-night news, I would call, and we would talk for hours about a candidate’s prospects, worry over the state of affairs of a campaign, or rejoice over hard won victories.  Her dedication led, in the 1990s, to being given the Kate Hammer Award as State Democratic Woman of the Year. She was thrilled. Thus, years later, I remember being sad and even frustrated that I could not talk with her when then Sen. Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President, and again when he won the Presidency. Oh, how I wished she had lived to see that day!

Kate was involved in many other community affairs. She was a President of the Randolph Black Leadership Conference; a member of Leadership Action of the Randolph County Social Services Department; a Vice President of the Eastside Improvement Association; Treasurer of the George Washington Carver School Project; and a member of the Executive Committee of the State Democratic Party. Over the years she was give the Randolph County Social Service Award, the Randolph County Mental Health Association Award, the Randolph County Commissioners’ Award, and the Randolph County NAACP Service Award. True to her interest in local African American History, she was also a Committee member for the Heritage of Randolph County (Volumes 1 & 2), making sure that the stories of local African American families were included.[7]

There are two stories that I remember that exemplify Kate’s spirit. The first I was reminded of earlier this year when Hurricanes Harvey and Maria hit. When Hurricane Hugo hit the coast of South Carolina in 1989, Kate watched the updates on the news like the rest of us, but her response was pure Kate.

In those years, Kate and her sister Ave were constant companions.  However, while Kate was fully retired, her sister, a nurse, had taken a job in a nearby nursing home.  Kate was watching the news the night after Hugo hit and learning about the devastation to Charleston. I don’t remember if we talked that night, but Kate called me the next night telling me she had just returned from Charleston. “Just returned?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded. She explained that when Ave came in that night she told her she thought they should go to Charleston to see for themselves and to see what they could do to help, which is just what they did. Now back she told me she was starting to organize trucks of food, furniture, clothing and other items that people would need to pick up their lives and start over. Kate was a doer, not just a talker. I have no doubt that if she was alive, she would have traveled to Texas or Florida and spear-headed a fundraising drive in support of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I was reminded of the second story this week when listening to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Chavis.[8] He was talking about how he became involved in the Million Man March. Like Dr. Chavis and others of us, Kate heard Minister Farrakhan speak about having a Million Man March as a call to action to African American men. Kate was impressed. Kate was persuaded. Kate went into action.

Kate was not a man, but Kate believed in the message and she wanted to make sure that African American men from Randolph County understood how important the message was and the importance of participation in the March. Kate began calling men in the community she believed could and should help organize a contingent to join the March. Her enthusiasm was not met initially with equal support. She had to convince those she called that this was not about the Nation of Islam, or even about Farrakhan, it was about supporting fellow African American brothers in their efforts to commit to be the best men, fathers, husbands, community members they could be. It worked, and Randolph County was represented by 2 buses of men traveling to Washington, D. C. to participate.

Advancing years finally took their toll on Kate. Cancer, heart valve replacement, arthritis, a car accident, and dementia marred her nineties and slowed her activism though not her fervor.  At her 99th birthday celebration and again at her 100th, she challenged younger family members to make a difference, to find ways to give back, to be an example to younger generations, to be the change. It was very moving. Those who were there still talk about it.

Kate was blessed to see her 100th year. Since her birthday was in November, I pushed to have her birthday celebration in August during the Strieby Church Homecoming weekend, because so many family members would be able to take vacation and come to join us, and they did. Family and community gathered to celebrate her life and recount the many contributions she had made. She received numerous greetings and proclamations in her honor.[9] As another cousin said later, she was so glad I pushed for the summer celebration rather than her actual birth date which was on Thanksgiving Day that year, because on Thanksgiving Eve, just three hours before midnight and her actual 100th birthday, Kate went home. A week later, family and community gathered one more time at Strieby Church for her funeral, after which she was laid to rest next to her husband (George Jones), parents, siblings, cousins and ancestors in Strieby Church Cemetery.[10]

This Monday, as I attend events in honor of Martin Luther King, I will be thinking about, and be missing, Kate.

[1] 1910 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Winston Lassiter, head; Kate Lassiter, age 3. Roll: T624_1128; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0087; FHL microfilm: 1375141.

[2] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[3] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[4] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[5] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[6] Williams, M. (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), 375.

[7] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[8] Dr. Benjamin Chavis on The Rock Newman Show. (21 December 2017). PBS (WHUT – Channel 32). Retrieved from:

[9] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones (Program Booklet).

[10]Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (1 December 2006 Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).