#52Ancestors – (22) So Far Away

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

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

Figure 54-Milton Hill
Milton L Hill

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

Figure 107-Aveus Ave Lassiter
Aveus Lassiter Edmondson

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

Thomas Julius Hill
Thomas Julius Hill

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

Figure 83-Granny Kate Polk Lassiter
Katherine Polk Lassiter

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

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

Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Doc C-Randel Farnell DC
Death Certificate of Randel Farnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#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]

Endnotes

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Ancestry.com

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

[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: Fold3.com

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

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

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

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Fold3.com

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Ancestry.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Ancestry.com

[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: Findagrave.com

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

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

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

[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: Ancestry.com

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

 

#52Ancestors – (16) Storms: Ellen Dunson Smitherman vs. Adelaide Dunson Kearns

This week I had a wonderful surprise when I was contacted by a descendant of my 2nd great grandmother Ellen Dunson Smitherman’s sister, Adelaide Dunson Kearns. Adelaide’s descendant, Marva and I have each been researching the family’s history for years, but we did not know about each other. I knew about Marva’s ancestor Adelaide, her great grandmother.  My mother, Margaret (who was Ellen’s great granddaughter), had met her at least a couple of times when a child, but there was no sustained contact. What had really struck me as I did my research was that Adelaide was known to other cousins in our home community of Lassiter Mill, in Randolph County, North Carolina, but no one knew about my mother, even though she had lived nearby in Asheboro for a couple of years. Marva didn’t know about her either.

How did this separation occur? There are many storms in life. Some a result of weather events, such as hurricanes. We’ve seen a lot related to these this past year with Harvey and Maria and their aftermath. However, there are also the storms that blow through our lives leaving psychological scars, or economic damage. Those storms can also result in rifts in families leaving family members alienated, and their descendants unaware of each other’s existence. That seems to be what happened between Ellen and Adelaide.

Nancy Dunson Grave Marker
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Memorial Plaque, Asheboro Old City Cemetery, includes name of Nancy Dunson

In 1890, Nancy Phillips Lassiter Dunson died. There was no will for Nancy or for her husband, Calvin, who had died about ten years earlier.[1] The land on which Nancy lived and had inherited from her parents, Miles Lassiter and Healy Phillips Lassiter, should have been distributed to her children or, if deceased, to their heirs. Those heirs were: Ellen Dunson Smitherman (later Mayo), Adelaide Dunson Kearns, Harris Dunson, William Dunson, heir of Nancy’s daughter Sarah Rebecca Dunson, and Mamie Hill, heir of Nancy’s daughter Martha Ann Dunson Hill. [2] However, Ellen had purchased the share of their brother, Harris, giving her two shares in the land to inherit.[3] In 1892, Adelaide and her husband, Solomon Kearns, seem to have taken exception to that and proceeded to sue Ellen, her husband Anderson Smitherman, and the other siblings, asking the court to divide the land equally among all concerned, presumably negating the purchase by Ellen.[4] As part of that partition, a guardian was appointed for William Dunson (said to be about 16 years of age) and Mamie Hill, said to be a child about eight or nine years old. A family friend, J. W. Birkhead, was appointed.[5]

About this time another family death occurred, that of Nancy’s brother, Colier Phillips Lassiter, also without a will. Colier’s descendants lived on adjoining lands also inherited from their parents, Miles and Healy. Two additional siblings of Nancy and Colier, Abigail and Jane, also had interests in these lands. At least, that’s how the courts viewed things. Rather than simply deciding the distribution of the lands per the request of Adelaide and her husband, Solomon, the courts determined that the entire property needed to be distributed to all heirs involved.

In 1893, the court issued a final decree, dividing the properties where all parties lived as one inheritance. The court awarded the lands where Colier’s heirs lived to them as an entity, calling it the Colier Lassiter Tract. Shares were awarded to Abigail and Jane each. Nancy Dunson’s tract was then divided. Unfortunately for Adelaide and Solomon, not as they hoped. The purchase of Harris Dunson’s share by Ellen was upheld. The courts therefore awarded Ellen two shares, but only one share to Adelaide.[6]

A couple of years later, Ellen and Anderson separated. It could have had something to do with this lawsuit; family in-fighting can be stressful. On the other hand, it may have been related to the fact that Anderson had fathered a child by another woman in 1875, years after he and Ellen had married[7] and already had two children,[8] undoubtedly creating another storm.[9]  Hard to say for sure, however.  Regardless the reason, Ellen would remarry by 1900, to Charlie Mayo.[10] Anderson would remarry as well, to Victoria Bell, in 1901.[11]

Ellen Mayo deed to Will Lassiter
Deed from Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo to William Lassiter and Colon Lassiter from the “Division of Lands of Miles Lassiter,” representing her inherited shares of land.

Ellen and Charlie[12] as well as Anderson and Victoria[13] would end up living in Asheboro, leaving behind Lassiter Mill and the land they had won in court; leaving Adelaide and Solomon behind as well. Ellen eventually sold the land she was awarded to descendants of Colier Lassiter,[14] not to her sister Adelaide and her husband, Solomon. I can’t help but think this was a deliberate snub. After all, Adelaide and Solomon were still living in the area.[15] Adelaide had very likely sued so that she could have an opportunity to make her own offer to her brother Harris for his share, a plan that didn’t work out. My mother, Ellen’s great granddaughter, said no one ever took her to the Lassiter Mill area when she was living in Asheboro, although she visited her great grandmother Ellen’s house often. In addition, once my mother and her grandmother, (Mary) Louise, moved to New Jersey, after Ellen’s death, she never returned to North Carolina at all until I took her in 1982.[16] It’s hard not to conclude that the fight over the land didn’t create at least some bad blood between Ellen and Adelaide.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. Through our respective genealogy research efforts resulting in our public family trees on Ancestry and the ability to send messages to tree owners, Marva and I have the opportunity to bring about healing and the reunification of our respective personal branches grown from our shared family roots.

Sula Kearns Eller 2
Nancy Ursula “Sula” Kearns Eller, daughter of Adelaide and Solomon Kearns, and Marva’s grandmother.

Endnotes

[1] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] J. H. and Phoebe A. Dunson to Ellen Smitherman. Randolph County Deed Book 144:216. F(amily) H(istory) L(ibrary) (Microfilm)#0470278.

[4] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Anderson Smitherman, et al. v. Solomon Kearns, et Ux. Final Decree. Randolph County Superior Court Orders and Decrees, Volume 2:308-309, FHL #0475265. See also: Randolph County Deed Book 248: 156. FHL #0470851.

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

[8] 1870 US Federal Census, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Mary L., daughter, born about 1867. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; FHL #552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

See also: 1880 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Ande Smither (sic – says Smitherman on the original), head; Mary L., daughter, born about 1867; and Emory W., son, born about 1873. NARA Roll: 978; Page: 185C; Enumeration District: 223. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Annie Steele; Father: Anderson Smitherman. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] No record identified to date. See: 1910 US Federal Census; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Charles Mayho, head; Ellen, wife. NARA Roll: T624-1128; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 0076; FHL #1375141. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] North Carolina, Marriage Collection, 1741-2004 [Database on-line]. Victoria Bell and Anderson Smitherman, 16 Apr 1901, Asheboro, Randolph County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] 1910 US Federal Census; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Charles Mayho, head; Ellen, wife. NARA Roll: T624-1128; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 0076; FHL #1375141. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[13] Death Notice Anderson Smitherman, 8 Jul 1909. The Randolph Bulletin, p. 5. Retrieved from: Newspapers.com

[14] Estate of Miles Lassiter/Charles and Ellen Mayo to Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter, Randolph County Deed Book 166:91, FHL #0470286.

[15] 1900 US Federal Census; New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Solomon Kearns, head; Adilade Kearns, wife. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL #1241213. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[16] Williams, M. (2011). Grandma Ellen. 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.).

#52Ancestors – (#19-Mother’s Day) I remember Mama: Mary Louisa Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram

“I remember Mama” or simply, “Mama,” was the name of a weekly TV show that ran from 1949-1957, when I was very young.[1] Since there was only one TV set in the house, typical for the times, we watched the show as a family. Mama, who I’m sure had some other name that I don’t remember, was the center of the family – warm, steady, understanding, loving, and supportive. She was the person family members of all ages turned to for advice and comfort; AND she was a great cook. An old family friend, after seeing my post of my mother’s picture in honor of Mother’s Day on Facebook, remarked,

“She set standards for herself and her family, in honor, respect, societal conformity, personal deportment, family relationships, upward mobility, community building, wifely and parental responsibilities. On the stage of human life, she performed exceptionally and deserves life’s golden globe award.” Felix McLymont, M.D., 14 May 2018

Mom and Uncle Sonny April 2004-2
Felix McLymont, M.D. and Margaret Lee Williams, April 2004, celebrating Margaret’s 90th Birthday.

That was my Mama. However, I called her “Mommy,” with an occasional “MAAA!!!” Mommy was a strong-willed woman who outlived two husbands and stayed in her home, alone, until she was 96. True to her maternal lineage, she was a force of nature. From the things she told me, she acquired her great qualities from the woman who reared her, the woman she called “Mama.”

My mother’s mother, Elinora Phillips Lee, died on Armistice Day, 1918, from complications due to the Flu,[2] when my mother was just four years old[3] and her baby sister, Vern, was just eight months old.[4] Twice a year my mother was likely to speak about her mother: 11 November, now called Veteran’s Day, and Mother’s Day. On those days especially, she would recount her memories of her mother and reflect how much she continued to miss her. Perhaps just as important as her reflections on her mother were her reflections on her grandmother, Louise (Mary Louisa Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram), originally called “Big Mama” by my mother, but now known simply as “Mama.” It was she who would take charge of my mother and her baby sister, Vern, after Elinora’s death.

Louse Smitherman Phillips and Elinora Phillips Lee circa 1915
Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram & Elinora Phillips Lee, circa 1916.

Exactly what happened to their father, Pinkney L. Lee, is not clear. He was apparently not a likable person. He reportedly drank and could be verbally abusive. Louise was adamant that he would not have custody of the children. A 1918 Greensboro, North Carolina City Directory entry was the last where he was noted living with the family.[5] Sometime after Elinora died he reportedly went to Baltimore. I have never found a record of him there, nor has any other researcher I’ve asked to help search for information on him. According to my mother, sometime after she, her sister and grandmother had moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, circa 1920, they were summoned to Baltimore because he had died in an explosion and fire at the dry cleaner’s where he worked. Louise was being asked to identify his body. Louise took the children to Baltimore, where her sister Roxanne lived with her family.[6] According to my mother when Louise got to the morgue to identify Pinkney’s body and theoretically take possession to bury it, she took one look and decided he had caused too much trouble for her daughter Elinora and the children. She refused to take custody and left him to the city of Baltimore to bury. I have never found a single record to corroborate this story, nor, as I said before, has any other researcher. I can only assume the city buried him as a John Doe in the Potter’s Field.

According to my mother, Louise was a stern but loving mother to her and her sister. She was a somewhat young grandmother at 36. Since my mother didn’t become a mother until she was 33, 36 must have seemed very young. My mother described Louise as a strong, independent woman, reportedly married three times. Her first husband, Samuel D. Phillips,[7] was the father of her five children (although I have reason to believe that may not be completely accurate).

Both Louise[8] and Sam[9] were from the Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina area. Sometime in the mid-1890s, Sam went to New York, supposedly to seek better employment opportunities promising to bring Louise and their children when he got established. My mother said that someone told Louise that Sam was not only busy establishing himself financially, he had also become established with another woman. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with Louise. Uncharacteristic for the times, Louise sued for divorce from Sam, accusing him of abandonment and adultery. [10] Quite surprisingly, given the times, she prevailed, the divorce was granted in 1899. [11]  Supposedly Louise was met on the courthouse steps after being granted the divorce by someone who told her she would burn in hell for her sin (the divorce). She was not dismayed.

Doc 25A-Louise & Samuel Phillips Divorce-1a
Final Judgment, Divorce, Louise Phillips and Samuel Phillips, March 1899, Randolph County, NC

It was this strength of conviction and independence of spirit that Louise instilled in my mother and her sister. She taught them to believe “I am somebody,” long before the Rev. Jesse Jackson turned those words into a slogan for a movement. She instilled self-respect and self-esteem long before the feminist revolution. She was a stay-at-home mom with my mother and aunt only because she ran a boarding house. That was how she supported the family. There was never a hint that a woman could not be in charge of her own destiny. Louise believed in education, homeschooling my mother in her earliest years, after having sent her own daughters to obtain secondary education, again, not typical for the times. Both my mother and her sister would say she had standards and instilled values in them. She expected excellence, but not perfectionism.

I adored my mother, my Mommy. However, it was the spirit of Mama, and her lessons that I would learn from my mother and her sister. It was Mama’s guidance and wisdom that they would recount whenever they got together. Mama died in 1936,[12] long before I was born, but in many ways, through my mother and my aunt, I remember Mama.

Margaret & Verna Lee circa Xmas 1968
Margaret Lee Williams & Elverna “Vern” Lee Means, Christmas circa 1968, East Elmhurst, NY.

Endnotes

[1] Gabrielson, F., et al. Writers; Nelson, R. & Irwin, C. Producers (CBS Network). (1949-1957). “Mama,” (“I Remember Mama”), adapted from, Kathryn Forbes, Mama’s Bank Account. Retrieved from: Wikipedia

[2] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Elnora Lee, 11 November 1918. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Margaret Lee Williams, Certificate of Death #156-12-009318, 6 March 2012. Date of Birth: 20 April 1914, Lynchburg, Virginia. Original in the possession of the author.

[4] North Carolina, Birth Indexes, 1800-2000 [Database on-line]. Baby Girl Lee. 9 March 1918, Guilford County; father, Pinkney Lee. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989. [Database on-line]. Pinkney Lee, 1918, 152 Dudley St., Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] 1920 US Federal Census, Baltimore Ward 7, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland. William Wilber, head; Roxanne Wilber, wife. NARA Roll: T625-661; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 83; Image: 102. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011. [Database on-line]. Samuel Phillips and Louisa Smitherman, 23 July 1885, Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1880 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Mon Ande Smither [sic– original says Ande Smitherman], head; Mary L. Smither [sic], daughter, age 13. NARA Roll: 978; Page: 185C; Enumeration District: 223. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1880 US Federal Census, Cedar Grove Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Lewis Phillips, head; Samuel D. Phillips, son, age 16. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 155C; Enumeration District: 220; Image: 0602. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] Randolph County North Carolina Superior Court. Louisa Phillips vs. Samuel Phillips, Judgement [sic]. March Term 1899. Copy in the possession of the author.

[11] Randolph County North Carolina Superior Court. Louisa Phillips vs. Samuel Phillips, Judgement [sic]. March Term 1899. Copy in the possession of the author.

[12] New Jersey State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. Louisa Ingram Certificate of Death #436, 11 April 1936, Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. Copy in the possession of the author.

My blog page

This website and blog will continue with posts and other information about my genealogy research and writing.

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I am a family historian writing about my genealogy research and  communities of color primarily in the Southeast, especially North Carolina, as those of you who followed my previous blog on backintyme.biz (Margo Lee Williams’s Blog – currently not available for viewing) or  read my books (Miles Lassiter and From Hill Town to Strieby) know. I will be continuing to do the same here. In addition, I will post information about DNA and its place in genealogical research as well as other topics of historical and genealogical interest. So stay tuned! More to come!