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#52Ancestors – A Strong Woman – Healy Phillips Lassiter

Deciding on which strong woman from my family to feature for this essay has left me in a quandary. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded my whole life by strong women who have been my role models. I have already written about a few of them. This week I wanted to focus on a woman from several generations back who really provided significantly to the many opportunities and privileges my maternal family enjoys today. She was Healy Phillips Lassiter, a free woman of color, and my 4th great grandmother. She was married to Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather. They lived in southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina. While many of life’s trials require extra strength, being a free woman of color, married to a slave in the first half of the 1800’s must have required extraordinary strength.

As best as I can determine, Healy was born around 1780.[1] I know it was somewhere in North Carolina, but I do not know if it was in the Piedmont where Randolph County is, or it was in eastern North Carolina. Although her last name is spelled Phelps in the earliest record I have found, I have not been able to confirm if she had a relationship with the Jonathan Phelps family, Quakers, who came to the Piedmont from eastern North Carolina sometime in the late colonial period, early US period, when she can be confirmed to be living there. I note also that the “Phillips” spelling is noted in later documents, perhaps indicating the influence of a Phillips family that also lived in the area, but with whom I have not found any relationship.

Doc 35-Healy Phillips 1840 census.jpg

The first time I found Healy in public records was in the 1840 census; she was listed as a head of household and since the enumeration only identifies people by age, gender, and free status, I thought “Heley” was the male head of household.[2] It would be many years later before I learned that it was a nickname for Mahalia. In any event, the 1840 census was the only place I had seen the name for quite a while. I should note that I had heard from a cousin that Miles’ wife was named something like “Hildy,” but I never put the two together, because the last name in the census was Phillips, not Lassiter.

My first break at truly identifying her came when a local librarian/historian from the county historical and genealogical society sent me information that there was an intestate probate for a “Healy Phillips or Lassiter.”[3] It did not name Miles, but it did name all their children: Emsley, Abigail, Colier, Susannah, Wiley, Nancy (my 3rd great grandmother), and Jane. What was notable beyond confirming her relationship to the children who could be found on censuses in connection with Miles and each other in subsequent years, was that she owned a significant amount of property, 400 acres in fact. I couldn’t find where she bought this land outright. There was a legend that the land had been given to the family. Had it been? There were no deeds to be found in Healy’s name. However, there was other information to be found about Healy.

Doc 1C-Heirs at law of Healy Phillips or Lassiter.jpg

The earliest record found for Healy was an 1818 bastardy bond, wherein she was called “Huldy Phelps.”[4] She did not name the man. Another record implied her presence but did not name her; it was the 1830 census. Miles Lassiter was listed as a free man of color, and his family was enumerated by gender and age. Presumably, Healy was the woman 36-54 years of age.[5] The roles switched in 1840 when Healy was listed as head of household.

1840 turned out to be an important year for Healy and her family. Sarah Lassiter, the widow of the man who had been her husband Miles’ owner died. Healy had an opportunity to buy Miles’ freedom, which she did for $0.05, most likely because he was described as an old crippled man.[6]

Doc 7-Account of Sale-Ezekiel Lassiter.jpg

I was also alerted in a letter from a Marian Miller to another transaction in August 1840, in which Miles and Healy were mentioned in a deed of trust between John Newsome and Ezekiel Lassiter (most likely the grandson of Ezekiel Sr. and Sarah Lassiter). The deed indicated that John Newsom owed “Helley Phillips and her heirs or children had by Miles Lassiter … due to bonds for $250.[7] The bond was posted for Newsom and it maintained that if he did not pay the money back, he would have to forfeit to her 150 acres on Hannah’s Creek, a tributary of the Uwharrie River, in the Lassiter’s Mill area of southwestern Randolph County. Healy would appear in only one other record, that was another deed of trust in 1842 wherein she was a trustee on behalf of Edward “Ned” Hill, a free man of color.[8] Although Healy would not appear again in records in her own right, she was still a factor in several records.

The first was Miles’ obituary, which appeared after his death in June 1850. It stated that,

he married a free woman early in life and brought of up a large family of children to more respectability than is common for free colored persons in their neighborhood. … His wife and children by their industry and his management accumulated a sufficiency to purchase a small farm upon which they lived comfortably a number of years. At length they were able to purchase another adjoining the farm of his mistress and removed to it…[9]

Doc 8-Miles Obituary Friends Review.jpg

In 1851, a letter by Jonathan Worth, then a lawyer in Asheboro (later a governor), retained after Miles had died, by Colier Phillips Lassiter, Miles and Healy’s son referenced Healy. Apparently, Healy had been married before Miles and had four other children. Colier needed to know if the estate had to be divided among them as well. Worth summarized the issue: “Colier Philips, of color, consults us on the following case – He states that he is the son of a free woman of color, named Helia – that she had four children by a first husband and seven by a second husband who was a slave, the said Collier [sic] being one of the seven – that his mother died some five years ago possessed of a considerable personal estate. …[10]  Her estate containing 400 acres of land was probated about 1854, as referenced above.

In 1856, Wiley Phillips Lassiter, another son, was involved in a lawsuit against a Michael Bingham for not paying him for carriages and horses on consignment with Bingham. In the petition Wiley stated that he had inherited two tracts of land from his mother, one 268 acres and the other 150 acres, about five or six years earlier actually referencing Miles’ death.[11]

From these few records a picture of Healy as a strong independent-minded woman emerged. I do not doubt that her strength of character and personality were reflected in daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters alike. I could see it in my mother, and recognize it in the stories of my grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great grandmother, especially. I’ve seen it in my cousins Kate, Vella, and Ave who each worked in their own way to further social justice, as well as others who have become teachers, nurses, veterinarians, and more. I hope I have been able to convey it to my daughter.


[1] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Heley Phillips of color, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 65; Image: 136; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from:

[2] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Heley Phillips of color, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 65; Image: 136; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from:

[3] Phillips Heirs. (Winter 1982). The Genealogical Journal of the Randolph County Genealogical Society, VI, 51-52. See also, North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Henly [sic] Phillips Estate. Retrieved from:

[4] Vidales, C. L. and Cates, L. (n.d.). Huldy Phelps, bastardy bond. Randolph County, NC Bastardy Bond Abstracts and Related Records, 1786-1918 (Arranged and Indexed by Pamela Winslow Donahue), p. 20.

[5] 1830 US Federal Census; Regiment 1, Randolph, North Carolina; Smiles [sic] Lassator, head. NARA Roll M19-125; Page: 7; Family History Library Film: 0018091. Retrieved from:

[6] Estate of Sarah Lassiter and Ezekiel Lassiter, Will Book 7:332. Sale of Miles Lassiter to Healy Phillips. Family History Library Microfilm 0019643.

[7] John Newsome to Ezekiel Lassiter, Deed Book 22; proved in court, August term 1840, Randolph County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions.

[8] Edward Hill to Samuel Hill, Ezekiel Lassiter, et al. Deed Book 25:1. Family History Library Microfilm 0019639 or 0470232.

.[9] Miles Lassiter Obituary. (22 June 1850). Friends Review, III,700.

[10] Statement of J. Worth, 22 Jan 1851. Copy in possession of the author. See also: Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African-American Quaker from Lassiter Mil, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 65-66.

[11] The Willie Lassiter Petition. (Winter 1981). The Genealogical Journal by the Randolph County Genealogical Society, V, 38-42.


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#52Ancestors – Where there’s a will…

[O]r even where’s there is none, there is a lot of information to learn.  In African American research, finding enslaved ancestors before 1865, usually requires research into the potential slave owner’s records, of which the probate records are particularly useful.  Such was the case when I was attempting to determine the relationship between “Maria Green,” my great grandfather’s (Randel Farnell) mother, and her likely owners.

Randel Farnell
Randel Farnell

I had learned Maria’s name from my great grandfather’s death certificate;[1] I also had some oral family history. The oral history said that he had a half-brother, who was white, named “Gus Farnell.” It also mentioned another half-brother, this one a person of color, named Henry. Randel’s death certificate named “Jack Farnell,” as his father.[2] Finding documented relationships among all these individuals would hopefully lead to the name of Maria’s owner, as well as confirm family oral history.

Doc C-Randel Farnell DC
Randel Farnell Death Certificate

My great grandfather’s 1928 death certificate said he was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia. However, my great grandfather lived much of his life in Florida. From 1880 to 1920, he can be found listed in the census in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida.[3]  In 1870, he was living in Lake City, in neighboring Columbia County.[4] There were several white Farnell family groups in Columbia County at that time as well, but no “Gus.” In 1860, John, Daniel, and James Farnell, along with their probable families were living in Hamilton County, which is just north of Suwannee County.[5],[6] Georgia was the place of birth recorded.  In James Farnell’s household a Mary, and an Augustus were recorded. He was a potential candidate for the “Gus” in our family’s oral history. In 1850, only James Farnell and his family were found in Hamilton County.[7] The others were found in Dooly County, Georgia, a neighboring county to Pulaski.

When looking in the 1840 census for Pulaski County, Georgia, where Hawkinsville is the county seat, I found the James Farnell family.[8] There was an older enslaved woman and an enslaved child included in the enumeration. This would have been before my great grandfather was born. Farnell was a singular surname in Pulaski County. The only person identified as old enough to be James’ father in earlier censuses was Elisha Farnell. I surmised that somewhere in the records of either Elisha or James, or both, I would find information about Maria.

I had seen Elisha’s name in an on-line tax record dated 1818.[9] According to it he was a substantial landowner with 24 enslaved persons. The 1820 census recorded 26 enslaved persons.[10] He was not found in any census records after 1820. Turning to the minutes of the Court of the Ordinary, I was able to determine that Elisha died sometime before May 1823. Knowing that he had married a second wife, Priscilla Biggs, in February of 1823,[11] it could be determined that he had died sometime between February and May 1823. In May, a probate was opened, but there was no will. Elisha had died intestate. On 6 May, Letters of Administration were issued with the posting of a bond in the extraordinary sum of $30,000.[12]

005778373_00365 (2)
Elisha Farnell Letters of Administration

Regardless of the existence of a will, property and debts must be addressed. One of the first acts of the probate is to inventory the property. Included in Elisha’s inventory were the enslaved. On the inventory was an enslaved girl, “Mareah, $325.”[13] That confirmed that a Maria/Mareah was owned by Elisha.

005778373_00390 (2)
Elisha Farnell Inventory

Now I needed to link her to James, and thereby to Augustus “Gus.” To do that I looked for the final distribution of the estate. In the distribution, Elisha’s widow Priscilla, and his supposed children, Mary, William, Benjamin, Daniel, John and James, are mentioned. Each, as part of the distribution, received one or more enslaved persons. James received “Mareah.”[14] His brother John received another female enslaved person in the distribution, a girl named Fanny.[15] That was interesting because Randel’s reported other, half-brother, Henry Farnell’s mother was listed in the 1880 Suwannee County census as Fanny Fuller, “widow,” born in Georgia.[16] They were both persons of color.

Doc B3-Division of Elisha Farnell estate Mariah to James Image 377
Elisha Farnell Distribution of Estate: Maria & Fanny

With the advent of the Civil War, Gus would serve as a musician with the Confederate Army.[17] He was captured and held at the prison in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was released after taking an oath of allegiance 24 June 1865.[18]  His father James, would also see active duty, he died from gunshot wounds in a hospital in Winchester, Virginia.[19] What happened to James’ wife, Mary? It is assumed she died since she is not found in census or other records identified after the war was over. After the war Gus returned to Hamilton County, where he could be found marrying Mary Johns in 1867,[20] then again in 1870 to Georgia Vincent Goodbread, most likely in Columbia County where she lived.[21]  However, he was found living alone in Orange County in the 1870 census.[22] He would marry a third and final time in 1874 to Nancy Elizabeth “Nelly” Wheeler in Orange County.[23] He died in 1911, in Oviedo, Seminole County (formerly Orange County), Florida.[24]

Augustus P Farnell Confederate Jacket
Confederate Jacket of Augustus P. Farnell

What about Maria and Randel? Maria was found with her presumed husband, Frank Green, in the 1870 census in the Lake City area of Columbia County,[25] where Randel had also been found. Randel was listed with his wife, Sallie (Sallie Jacobs). There were four children named in the household, Anna, Richard, Maryland, and Joshua R.[26] My grandmother Lela wasn’t born yet; she wasn’t born until 1876.

Sallie Jacobs
Sallie Jacobs Farnell

About 1877, Randel and his family moved to Suwannee County, where his wife Sallie’s parents and siblings were living, coincidentally next to my paternal Williams great grandparents and grandfather in 1870.[27] Randel and family, including my grandmother Lela,[28] along with Henry and his mother could be found on the 1880 census living there.[29] Randel would apply for and acquire property in Live Oak, the county seat, through the Homestead Act.[30]

Randel Farnell Homestead Certificate

He would raise his family in Live Oak, including my grandmother Lela, eventually dying there in 1928.[31]

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

Thus, the probate of Elisha Farnell has established that a girl Mareaha (Maria) was listed among his enslaved property on his death. Additionally, there was a girl named Fannie on the inventory. Mareaha was distributed to James and Fannie to John. They were Elisha’s presumed children, based on the distribution, even though not explicitly so designated. James had a son Augustus, presumably the same “Gus,” that Randel’s family said was his half-brother. Fannie was presumed to be the same Fannie, who was mother of Henry, another half-brother, but more likely his cousin. Thus, even without a will, I was able to establish a relationship between my great grandfather, his mother Maria, his half-brother Gus, Gus’s father James, and finally to James’ father, Elisha Farnell.

[1] Florida Death Index, 1877-1998 [Database on-line]. Randel Farnell, 1928. Retrieved from:

[2] Florida State Certificate of Death, Live Oak Suwannee County. Certificate No. 16372. Randel Farnell, 27 Oct 1928. Certified original in possession of the author.

[3] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida. Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 282A; Enumeration District: 145; See also: 1900 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 177; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0109; FHL microfilm: 1240177. See also: 1910 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randell Farnell, head; NARA Roll: T624-168; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 0148; FHL microfilm: 1374181. See also: 1920 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: T625-231; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 149; Image: 783.

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; NARA Roll: M593_128; Page: 396A; Image: 799; Family History Library Film: 545627. Randel Farnell, head (barely legible). Retrieved from:

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M653-107; Page: 623; Image: 63; Family History Library Film: 803107. John Farnell, head; Daniel Farnell, head. Retrieved from:

[6] 1860 US Federal Census; Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M653_107; Page: 580; Image: 20; Family History Library Film: 803107. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from:

[7] 1850 Us Federal Census; District 1, Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M432-58; Page: 226B; Image: 445. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from:


[8] 1840 US Federal Census; Captain Baldwind’s District, Pulaski, Georgia; Roll: 49; Page: 172; Family History Library Film: 0007046. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from:

[9] Some early tax digests of Georgia, Pulaski County, 1818 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell. Retrieved from: Retrieved from:

[10] 1820 US Federal Census; Pulaski, Georgia; Page: 67; NARA Roll: M33-9; Image: 107. Elisha Farnell, head. Retrieved from:

[11] Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell and Priscilla Biggs, 6 Feb 1823. Retrieved from:

[12] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell, Letters of Administration, 6 May 1823. Retrieved from:

[13] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell, Inventory, 22 Dec 1823. Retrieved from:

[14] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from:

[15] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from:

[16] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida; NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 287A; Enumeration District: 145; Image: 0340. Henry Farnell, birthplace, Florida; Frances fuller, mother, birthplace, Georgia. Retrieved from:

[17] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Augustus Farnell, Musician (Fifth Infantry), Enlisted 14 Mar 1862, Jasper (Hamilton County), Florida. Retrieved from:

[18] U.S., Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. A. P. Farnell, Confederate, 5th Infantry. Retrieved from:

[19] U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. James Farnell, Confederate, Private, F Company, 5th Infantry; Survived the war: no; Mustered out 15 Oct 1862, Winchester, VA. Retrieved from:; See also: Compiled Service Records, Confederate States Army, [Public Photo on-line]. James Farnell, 16 Oct 1862, “Died from a Winchester gun wound.” Retrieved from:

[20] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Augustus P. Farnell and Mary I. T. Johns, 1867. Retrieved from:

[21] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Augustus P Farnell and Georgia Vincent [sic], 1870. Retrieved from:

[22] 1870 US Federal Census; Division 17, Orange, Florida; A. P. Farnell, head. NARA Roll: M593-33; Page: 438A; Image: 11; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from:

[23] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Augustus P Farnell and Nancy Elizabeth Wheeler, 1879. Retrieved from:

[24] Find A Grave [Database on-line]. Augustus P. Farnell, 5 Mar 1911, Oviedo Cemetery, Memorial 31836248. Retrieved from:

[25] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; Frank Green head; Maria Green, age 40. NARA Roll: M593-128; Page: 383A; Image: 773; Family History Library Film: 545627. Retrieved from:

[26] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; NARA Roll: M593_128; Page: 396A; Image: 799; Family History Library Film: 545627. Randel Farnell, head (barely legible). Retrieved from:

[27] 1870 US Federal Census; Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; William Jacobs, head. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 686A; Image: 507; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from:

[28] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida. Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 282A; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from:

[29] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida; Henry Farnell, birthplace, Florida; Frances fuller, mother, birthplace, Georgia. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 287A; Enumeration District: 145; Image: 0340. Retrieved from:

[30] Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes, Randel Farnell, Gainesville Land Office, Documents 4776 & 5637, Suwannee County, Florida, Issue Date 10 Feb 1885. Retrieved from:

[31] Florida State Certificate of Death, Live Oak Suwannee County. Certificate No. 16372. Randel Farnell, 27 Oct 1928. Certified original in possession of the author.


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#52Ancestors – Heirloom: The Autograph Book

Autograph Book Cover
The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell

On several occasions  people have said to me that no one really pushed them to go to college, then suggested that this had been my experience as well. My response was always the same.  As long as I could remember, my father and his sister, Aunt Lutie, would bring out a small autograph book and tell me that this was from their mother’s, my grandmother’s (born Lela Virginia Farnell) time in college, and I would be going to college just like her. When I was old enough to ask what school, I was told it was a “big school in Florida,” but neither my father nor his sister could remember what school. All Aunt Lutie knew was that it was in Tallahassee, and that it used to be called Tallahassee Normal. I lived in New York; I had never been to Florida; my father had never seen Florida; we had no idea what school it might be. Somehow, we didn’t really talk about the world of HBCUs. Certainly, we knew about Howard University, Fisk University, Lincoln University, Hampton University (then, Hampton Institute), and Tuskegee, but there were many others we did not know. I imagine if my parents heard their names they would have recognized them, but I don’t think they thought of them as a collection of schools under the specific umbrella that we do now, the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)”. Even though Aunt Lutie did go to visit family in Florida, her thoughts were primarily on family business and activities. She apparently wasn’t focused on college names.

FAMU was founded in 1887, in Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. “Tallahassee Normal,” as my family called it, was one of two schools (one for whites, one for blacks) established that year by the Florida State Legislature for the education of teachers, and the first state supported college for African Americans in Florida.  My grandmother attended between 1889-1892.

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell, 1876-1914

My grandmother’s autograph book was signed not only by fellow students, and teacher, “H. A. Miller,” from Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, but also by: the founding President, Thomas DeSaille Tucker (“T. DeS. Tucker”); his wife Charity Bishop Tucker (“Mrs. C. B. Tucker”); English teacher and second assistant, Mrs. Ida V. Gibbs (“Mrs. Ida A. Gibbs,”), who was the wife of Thomas Van Rensalaer Gibbs, the first assistant. It Thomas Gibbs’ initial efforts in the Florida state legislature that ultimately led to the founding of the school.

Being too young for the Normal Course (a student had to be at least 16 years of age in order to enter the Normal Course) my grandmother was most likely in either the Academic Course or the Preparatory Course which preceded the Normal Course. Since records from that time were only kept on graduates, and my grandmother did not stay long enough to graduate, no record exists to support the family tradition that she “attended college” except her autograph book.

Despite the lack of other corroborating evidence, entries in the autograph book, Norris dated 3 June 1892, and Professor and Mrs. Tucker, each dated 25 June 1892 indicate that my grandmother, Lela, was probably a student participant in the three-day commencement activities of the historic first graduating class, then called officially, “The State Normal and Industrial College,” from 7-9 June 1892, with the graduation itself being held on 9 June, at the Munro Opera House. Whether or not my grandmother returned to classes in Tallahassee in the Fall of 1892 is not known, but on 12 February 1893, she married my grandfather, William Gainer Williams, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, where both the Farnell and Williams families lived.  With that, her college career was definitively over.

My college career would begin almost 100 years later, in 1964. I am absolutely certain that my grandmother’s autograph book was part of why I never considered anything other than going to college. In honor of the influence that little book had on me, in the Fall of 2014, I traveled to Tallahassee and donated the original autograph book and other family photographs to the Meek Eaton Black Archives at Florida A & M University.

Meek Eaton Black Archives at FAMU

Excerpted from: Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, vol 17(1). 

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#52Ancestors – Week 6: Favorite Name – Vella Lassiter, Civil Rights Champion

Novella Anna Lassiter
Novella Anna “Vella” Lassiter, 1894-1994

I have chosen Vella Lassiter, whose full name was Novella Anna Lassiter, not because the name itself is my favorite over others, but because of who she was and what her name represents to me. I have written about her before. Unfortunately, through some unforeseen circumstances, that post is not currently accessible. However, this time I am pleased to be able to post this information because it is Black History Month and this year she is being honored in her home town for her courage in standing up against injustice. This post is excerpted primarily from my book on her family’s community, From Hill Town to Strieby.

Born 4 September 1894, Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina.[1] She was the granddaughter of Colier and Kate (Polk) Lassiter, and great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker, about whom I have also written. Vella was my 2nd cousin three times removed.

Vella attended Strieby Church School, about two miles from her home in Strieby, in neighboring Union Township. Strieby was founded by the Rev. Islay Walden under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.[1] From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in the next county, Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Masters’ degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.[2]) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, then at Central School, a Rosenwald school in the county seat of Asheboro, and finally at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years.  However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit, so it was in 1937.


Vella Lassiter Bennett College Diploma
Vella Lassiter’s Bennett College Diploma, 1913

Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person. The bus was crowded and there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.[3] 

Bus Case Hotly contested image (2)
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939, p. 3

Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her.[4] To everyone’s surprise she won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.[5]

Bus Company Will Appeal (2)
The Courier, 28 July 1939

Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn.[6] Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 12 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that: Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.[7]

Wins Important Case image -clipped
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939

Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit before hers that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.[8]

Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill Road - 1982.jpg
Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 1982.

After more than 40 years of teaching, Vella retired to the family home in Lassiter Mill, where she lived until her death in January 1994, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery. [9]

Figure 50-Strieby Church Sign in memory of Vella Lassiter
Strieby Congregational C.hurch sign, in memory of Novella A. Lassiter, Strieby, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2014



[1] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Retrieved from:

[2] Williams, M. L. (2016).  A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter. In From Hill Town to Strieby (Crofton KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 155-159.

[3] UDC’s History. University of the District of Columbia-1851. Retrieved from:

[4] Jones, K. L. (1993). Novella Anna Lassiter (361). The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina, pp. 343-344.

[5] Bus Case Hotly Contested in Randolph County. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 3. Retrieved from:

[6] Bus Company Will Appeal Verdict. (28 July 1939). The Courier. Courtesy of Randolph Room, Randolph County Public Library.

[7] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from:

[8] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from:

[9] Gershenhorn, J. (2010) A Courageous Voice for Black Freedom: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times in Depression-Era North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, 87(1):85; and Williams, M. L. (2013). Vella Lassiter, 1937 Bus Suit. The Miles Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

[10] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. 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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#52 Ancestors – Week 4: Invitation to Dinner

I have struggled with this week’s prompt. Seems simple enough, but there is probably not a single ancestor that I would not like the opportunity to sit and talk with, over food or not over food. So, should I choose one person and have an intimate dinner for two, or should I have a classic dinner party, based on the size of my dining room table? Would I learn more in the relentless grilling possible and opportunity to reveal intimate secrets with only one person, or would the lively conversation and potentially conflicting views of multiple voices elicit surprising revelations? The truth is probably either and/or both. Each has its strengths, and each has its weaknesses.

However, there are other parts to this decision. Do I want to talk with those about whom I already know a fair amount, but would love to know more intimate details about their perspective on their own lives, or do I want to talk to those about whom I have only learned a limited amount of information, and who seem to present a conundrum? Among these would certainly be several maternal ancestors. So often the women if mentioned at all are enigmatic figures. Of course, there are still a couple of male ancestors who are also enigmatic. Okay, so I must make a decision.

My decision combines a little of each of these quandaries. Unless I know that there will be many successive dinners, I must take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a few of these ancestors. So, I’m inviting Healy Phillips Lassiter, my 4th great grandmother and wife of Miles Lassiter, the Quaker. I’m also inviting Ellin Wilson Williams, my paternal great grandmother, as well as her mother, Frances “Fannie” (Smiley?) Gainer. I would also like to have my other paternal great grandmother, Sallie Jacobs Farnell, and her parents, William and Charlotte Jacobs. I would have to add here, Randel Farnell, my paternal great grandfather. Of course, I could not have such a dinner without the person I think I have found the most enigmatic, Joshua W. Williams, my other paternal great grandfather. It seems I am closer to that large dinner party than not. There could be others, but I think this time I shall limit it to these. After all, with nine for dinner, including me, we already need both leaves for the table.

  1. Healy “Phillips or Lassiter”, as she was known, was a free woman of color, and the wife of my maternal 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter. I have no idea who her parents were, or if she had siblings, much less who they were. She was born about 1782 most likely in North Carolina, but she didn’t live long enough to appear on census reports that recorded such information. She died about 1845. I don’t even know if Phillips was her maiden name. According to a letter written after her death and that of Miles, she had children from a previous marriage. It seems from everything else I know, she was most likely married to Nathan Phillips previously, the only other free Phillips of color in that time period, who also happened to live near where she lived. So, her maiden name could have been anything. Was Nathan in  fact her first husband? I would love to know what led to the end of her first marriage, since Nathan was still living near her in Randolph County when she was married to Miles. How did she and Miles become involved? In addition, I would like to know if she was born free, or if she was freed at an early age. What about her other children, presumably by Nathan?
  2. Ellin WilsonEllin Wilson Williams was my paternal great grandmother and wife of Joshua W. Williams, one of my other guests, as well as daughter of Frances “Fannie” (Smiley?) Gainer, whom I would also invite. I am fortunate enough to have a picture of Ellin, so it will be easy to recognize her when she arrives. Ellin was born about 1852 either in South Carolina or Georgia according to various census reports and her death certificate. Thus, my first question would be, “Which is it?” I had heard that she was an indentured servant and not a slave. If so, to whom was she indentured? Who was the “Millie” she reportedly had to care for? Did she know who was her father? I’ve seen the name on the death certificate, George Johnson. Is that accurate? If so, where did she get the name Wilson, which she used when she married Joshua? I don’t pick up information on her until she married my great grandfather in Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida. How and when did she get to Florida? How did she meet my great grandfather, Joshua? What is the real story behind the family’s move to New York City? What was life like for her there? Did she ever return to Florida to visit her sister Carrie?
  3. Frances “Fannie” Gainer was Ellin’s mother. Her information in the census says that she was from South Carolina around 1832. Where in South Carolina? Ellin told her granddaughter, Lute Williams Mann, that you went to Florida in search of your daughter Carrie, who was enslaved or indentured to a family in Columbia County, Florida. I know that Carrie married George Manker, who was also living in Columbia County, and then they moved next door to you in Suwannee County, where George was a teacher in the Freedmen’s school. In 1870, I noticed a Caroline Smiley living in Carrie’s home next door to Fannie. She was old enough to be her mother. Was she? Is Carrie named after her? She said she was born in Georgia, where? Who was her father?
  4. Sallie JacobsSallie Jacobs Farnell was my other paternal great grandmother. She was born in Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama around 1843. She was born a slave. She was a seamstress. Her beautiful handwork can be seen in the dress she is wearing in the photo I am lucky enough to have. I would like to know what each of us wants to know, what was life like for her in slavery? How did she come to give birth to two children with her master, as the story has come down to me from her granddaughter, Lute Williams Mann? Was it the tragic story we have come to know of a master taking advantage of her because he had the power to do so, or is there more to the story? One never wants to hear the worst, but the truth is important. I note that those two children did not continue to use the Jacobs name, but used the Farnell name of their step-father. How did she come to be in Florida, in Columbia County, where I assume she married my great grandfather, Randel Farnell? How did she meet him?
  5. William Jacobs was reportedly Sallie’s father, but was he? According to the census, he was born in Virginia around 1811. How did he come to be in Alabama? How is it that after slavery the entire family was able to be together in Florida? How and why did he come there? Who were his parents? Did they come to Alabama, or were they left in Virginia? Were there siblings left behind in Virginia when he came to Alabama? Were there siblings left in Alabama when he came to Florida? Were there any children left behind in Alabama? Were his parents born in Virginia, If not, where were they born?
  6. Charlotte Jacobs was William’s wife and Sallie’s mother. She also said that she was born Virginia around 1818. So, I have the same questions for her as I do for William.
  7. Randel FarnellRandel Farnell was my great grandfather, husband of Sallie Jacobs Farnell. I know a lot about his slave owner family, but almost nothing about his enslaved mother, Maria. I have seen her name in the Farnell family records, but I don’t actually know anything about her. Who were her parents? Who were her siblings? Who were her other children? Did any of them come to Florida when the Farnells left Georgia and moved to Florida? When did she die? What about Randel’s relationship with descendants of his former owners? I’ve heard he had very cordial relationships with them, is that true?
  8. Joshua W. Williams was my paternal great grandfather, married to Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams. In many ways he is my most enigmatic ancestor, even though I probably know more about him than the William and Charlotte Jacobs. It always seems to me I know so much about him, but somehow know so little. He was reportedly born in York, South Carolina. He was reportedly a free man of color. However, I don’t know anything about his family and have never found any evidence of him in South Carolina. Granted, I have not gone to York and poured over county records, but I really haven’t figured out where to begin, and fear I must just sit there day after day for at least a week or two going through everything hoping for a crumb of evidence to his identity. Like Ellin, he seems to drop out of the sky, landing in Suwannee County Florida in 1868 when they marry, then appearing in the 1870 census with their toddler son, William, my grandfather. They
    photo (6)
    William Gainer Williams

    are living in the home of a railroad agent named Henderson. Joshua seems to be fairly well educated and is reportedly a teacher in the 1880 census. According to the same census, and his granddaughter Lute Williams Mann’s information, he worked in a barber shop owned by his father-in-law Alexander Gainer, husband of Ellin’s mother, Frances. Based on a lawsuit that arose from polling irregularities, he was a Republican poll watcher in the election of 1880. He was one of many who testified in the congressional inquiry and lawsuit emanating from that complaint. I would love to know more about that. He was also the postmaster for Live Oak, the county seat, before dying in 1893, most likely from a stroke based on information, again, from Lute Williams Mann. So, who were his parents and siblings? What does the “W” stand for? When did he come to Florida? Where had he lived in South Carolina? Was it York as the family said? Was he in fact free?

That’s the line-up. I am not listing what will be on the menu because I would like to encourage at least the grandmothers to cook their favorite foods, because I didn’t grow up hearing about family specialties. They were all dead before I was born, and nothing seems to have been passed down from their generations. So, I would love to know what they would have served for a big dinner in their homes. I’d contribute to the meal certainly, but what a treat to see what they would bring. Naturally, we will have to take a group picture as well as individual pictures. I’m sure we would eat and talk into the wee hours of the morning about these and many, many topics, if only, as the song says, “heaven wasn’t so far away.”

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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).

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#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Start: Lute Odette Williams Mann, 1894-1985

Lute Williams
Lute Odette Williams Mann, 1894-1985

Aunt Lutie, as we called her, was my father’s sister.  She was ten years older than he.  I adored her. It really made her happy that I was interested in the family history.  She said she was just like me, asking her (paternal) grandmother questions all the time. When I was still very young, maybe nine or ten years old, she wrote out much of the family history, complete with biblical “begats.” Much of what she told me I have been able to verify. It’s safe to say that I got the genealogy bug from her.

Aunt Lutie, herself, was born on 25 August 1894, in Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida.[1] She was the first-born child of William Gainer Williams and his wife Lela Virginia Farnell Williams. They had married on 12 February 1893, in Live Oak.[2]  Live Oak is the county seat of Suwannee County and in the early 1900s was being considered for the state capital. Although in the northern part of the state, it is halfway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, but more importantly, it was a railroad hub with rail lines from throughout the state all converging there, in Live Oak.  Live Oak was also on the Suwannee river, with so many sulfur springs nearby that tourists flocked to the many hotels and resorts erected specifically to accommodate them. Alas, political machinations outmaneuvered those in support of Live Oak, thus making Tallahassee the final choice. Live Oak was also the original home of a state legislated normal school for students of color, that later moved to Miami and is now Florida Memorial University,[3] and the original home of the AME Church sponsored school that would become Edward Waters College, now in Jacksonville.[4]

Live Oak would become notorious for two dark events. One was the trial of Ruby McCollum for the murder of a white doctor. Her trial was covered by Zora Neale Hurston for the Pittsburgh Courier, a nationally distributed and heralded African American newspaper. Her story has been the subject of boks and documentaries, including a PBS special. The second event had a more immediate family impact.  In 1944, a 15-year-old, African American boy, Willie James Howard was lynched for sending a Christmas card to a white girl.[5] That event spurred our cousin and her husband, LouDavis Farnell Randolph and James Randolph to send their teenage son Clark away for his safety.

Aunt Lutie was surrounded by family in her early years. She lived near both her maternal and paternal grandparents. Her mother was the daughter of Randel Farnell and Sallie Jacobs Farnell. They had four children together: Maryland, William, Jack and Lela. Sallie had also had two other children: Anna (“Sis”) and Richard (“Dick”). Thus, there were aunts and uncles and cousins living nearby. Although a few had moved to Jacksonville, they came home often to visit. Lutie did not know her paternal grandfather, Joshua W. Williams. He had died 31 May 1893, a year before she was born, but her paternal grandmother, Ellin Wilson (aka Gainer) Williams, along with her father’s siblings all lived nearby. In addition, Ellin’s sister, Carry Manker and her family also lived close by. However, when Lutie was about 5 years old, family life changed.

She was never quite sure of the details, but apparently her father, my grandfather, William, got into some sort of altercation (possibly related to a woman, wouldn’t you know) and the entire family, Ellin, Williams, and all the siblings moved to New York City. They never returned to Florida to live, although Lutie at least, returned to visit her maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Once in New York, they settled into life in walk-up apartments instead of the single-family homes they had known in Florida. Still, they were near each other.  Lutie said that they lived in a small apartment, along with some cousins, “Tunk” and “Moore,” and as she put it, “they even had the nerve to have a boarder.” “Tunk” was possibly the “T. Davis,” nephew, living with Carry Manker, Ellin Williams’ sister on the 1885 Florida State census.[6] I’ve not been able to find him beyond that.  “Moore” was probably Walter Moore, the husband of Ellin’s niece, Christina Manker.[7]

In 1900, according to the census, William, Lela, Lutie, and younger brothers Charleton (“Jimmy”), and William Jr. lived on West 134th St., in New York City.[8] My father wasn’t born yet. However, a Joshua Jackson, “cousin,” was living in the home. According to the census he was born in Arkansas, but his parents were born in “SC” as were William’s. I remember telling Aunt Lutie about this and asking her about him. She said she had no idea because, in fact, he was not living there. I tried to insist, but she said the apartment was tiny and cramped and she knew perfectly well who was, and who was not, living there, and he was not living there. She was adamant, and I did not pursue it further. I did ask if she remembered him at all, but she said no. I would find information after many years searching that potentially identified him, but his exact relationship to the family is still unclear.

In the 1905 New Jersey state census, Lutie is found living with her grandmother, Ellin, and aunts and uncles: Calvin, Joshua, Edward, Jessie (called “Missy”), and May (Iva Mae, or “Babe”), and a boarder, Thomas Manns, on Woodward Street. in Jersey City.[9] Noticeable was the absence of her mother, father, brother Charleton (“Jimmy”), and baby brother, Herbert (“Herbie”), my father. Her brother William Jr. had died in 1902, while still a baby. So where might they have been?

My grandfather, William, was a waiter on the railroad, primarily the New York Central and New Haven lines.[10] His absence does not seem unusual. He could easily have been “on the road” when the census taker came around, but where were the others? It seemed logical that wherever Lela was, “Jimmy” and “Herbie” were because they were still young. Jimmy would have been eight years old, but Herbie would have been a baby, only about a year old.   Why was Lutie left behind? No idea. She was school age, maybe Lela felt she needed to stay and attend school. Then why wasn’t Jimmy left behind to attend school? Again, no idea. In fact, I have yet to locate them in a document, but I do have an idea where they may have been.

Aunt Lutie told me that her maternal grandmother, Sallie Jacobs Farnell, died from tuberculosis when my father, Herbie, was still in arms, in other words, less than two years old. I also knew that her maternal grandfather, Sallie’s husband, Randel Farnell, remarried 26 December1907 (Priscilla Vickers). Thus, I believe that Lela, Jimmy, and Herbie had gone to Florida because Lela’s mother was dying or had died. For whatever reason, Lutie was left behind with her paternal grandmother, aunts and uncles.

Lutie and her brother Jimmy would be sent to attend Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal School, a two-year college run by the American Missionary Association in Enfield, North Carolina. Today it is known as the Franklinton Center.[11] Lela was a strong proponent of education. She had attended Florida Normal and Industrial School, in Tallahassee, Florida, today known as Florida A&M University.[12] Their father, William, attended Edward Waters College, associated with the AME Church.[13] Lutie was not happy. She said she couldn’t relate to southern culture and did not get along with her classmates who were from the South primarily. On the other hand, her brother, Jimmy, was comfortable and stayed longer, although I have not determined whether he graduated. Back home in New Jersey, Lutie worked in her mother’s dressmaking business, but decided what she really wanted was to become a nurse. She was planning to attend the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing when, sadly, her mother, Lela died on Palm Sunday, 28 March 1914. According to Lela’s death certificate she had polycystic kidneys.[14] Lutie remembered that her mother was in excruciating pain before her death. Lela was buried in New York Bay Cemetery, in Jersey City.[15] Lutie’s nursing school plans were finished. She was now the de facto head of the family.  Her father moved to Manhattan where he pursued his own interests.

Lutie went to work as a waitress to help support her younger brothers.  Soon Jimmy joined his father in the railroad dining cars, leaving just Lutie and Herbie. Herbie remembered her being a tough taskmaster, using a souvenir circus whip to “spank” him when he was defiant. He said that one day when he had had enough, so while she was at work, he took the whip and buried it where she was not likely to find it. As she recounted to me that she had on one occasion reached for the whip in its usual place to discipline my father, but found it missing, my father suddenly began chuckling. Then, he said, “I buried it.” She was shocked. Then laughing she said she always wondered what happened to it. He retorted that he was sick of her hitting him, so he buried it. She just shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

Aunt Lutie would say that she had to be tough since she grew up with two brothers and their friends. She loved playing baseball with them, hiking up her long skirts so that she could run the bases efficiently. My father admitted also that she was the one person he had never been able to beat in a fight. Even as an older woman, getting off the bus wearing her high heels, she was not afraid to face down anyone who attempted to accost her. In fact, she kept a small knife in a special pocket she had sewn into the lining of each of her coats. She was in her eighties the last time someone attempted to take her purse as she got off the bus. “Come on,” she taunted. “Come on, I got something for ya,” she said as she planted her feet in a wide, but clearly solid stance.  Apparently, her would-be assailant was stunned by her brazen confrontation and he took off. Disaster averted. She was just as prepared for intruders at home as assailants on the street. She slept with a machete, given to her by a friend who brought it back from the Philippines. When reflecting on the law that said one couldn’t kill a potential intruder unless they were inside your home and posing an imminent threat, she announced, “Don’t worry, he’ll be inside the house by the time the police get here,” … and “if anyone tries to come through my (bedroom) window, I’ve got something for him,” referring to the machete.

After the death of their mother, Lutie and her brothers had continued to live in the home at 246 Van Horne St. However, she couldn’t keep up the expenses of home ownership alone, on a waitress’ salary. Lutie said that the family that bought the home soon left themselves. She said that the new owners complained that there was a woman who appeared on the stairs and kept reaching for their (the new owners’) son. Lutie surmised that it was Lela, trying to reach for Herbie, her favorite and youngest child. The owners decided they could not stay and thus sold the house, moving elsewhere, away from the ghostly woman.

Lutie was invited to work at a clothing Factory, in New York. However, she did not like the working conditions and she refused to return. Instead, she worked in restaurants and finally landed a very good job working for a private family. Eventually, she would become the head housekeeper and companion to a “spinster lady,” Helen Graff. Miss Graff, or “Miss Helen” as we called her, was independently wealthy. Typical of many wealthy women of her time, she had no career, but spent her time involved with volunteer work or traveling. Aunt Lutie ran the household that included about three in regular staff, including a chauffeur, but also hired additional personnel when needed. She had her own bedroom there, which she used primarily for her scheduled afternoon naps (I suspect those didn’t come about until later years), but stayed over if holiday or other entertaining lasted too late in the evening to travel across town to her own home. As her companion, she traveled with “Miss Helen” on her many motor trips in the US and Canada. On the other hand, Aunt Lutie didn’t like boats, so no cruises, nor would she fly, so no trips to Europe.  If Miss Helen took any of those trips, Aunt Lutie stayed behind taking this vacation time to travel to Florida to visit family. Miss Helen was kind to me as well. She often invited my parents and me to special events, and even to come visit when there were no events. I liked her. She and Aunt Lutie remained together until Miss Helen died in August of 1969.[16] At that time, Aunt Lutie retired to baseball games and cooking the fresh fish caught by her friend Bill on his fishing trips.

Lutie married Guy Mann on 22 Oct 1919, in New York.[17] They were compatible in the beginning, or so she thought, but slowly there was a wedge between them. Guy became controlling and jealous. He insisted all her money should be turned over to him. She disagreed. Ever resourceful, she had hidden some of her earnings in a separate bank account – and a gun under the stairway runner.  So, when he became abusive and threatening, she reached for that gun and dared him to stop her. She told him she had had enough, and he needed to go. This time, he did. She never married again. I knew she had a long-time companion, Jimmy Tate. Jimmy wanted to marry her, and he maintained hope right to his death, but she never relented. I believe he died in the 60s or possibly 70s, but I haven’t been able to identify with certainty his date of death.   I asked her one time why she never married Jimmy. She said that she prayed to God to rescue her from her marriage to Guy Mann, promising that if he did, she would never marry again. She said she planned to keep that vow. She did. Some years after Jimmy was dead, her friend Bill found himself without family or assistance as he recovered from a hospitalization.  She offered for him to come stay at her house where she could help him with some every day tasks and home health aides and visiting nurses would help with his medical needs. They were good friends and even after he regained his health, she allowed him to stay on, giving each of them the gift of companionship so many elders miss.

Aunt Lutie outlived both of her brothers. Jimmy died in 1977,[18] and Herbie died in 1982.[19] In late 1984, early 1985, now 90 years of age, Aunt Lutie began to have increased problems with her health. By mid-May she was hospitalized. The doctors determined that she had major vascular blockages in one of her legs and recommended amputation. True to her spunky style she began talking about learning to walk again with a prosthesis with enthusiasm. Then the doctors decided that the other leg was also a problem. Perhaps they would need to amputate that one as well. She was less enthusiastic about that prospect, but still optimistic. However, by early June, the doctors came back to say they would not be amputating the other leg because her overall cardiovascular health was so bad they did not feel there was anything they really could do to help her. This was a terrible blow. I made my regular bi-weekly visit, but did not find her to be despondent. I believe she may have had more candid conversations with my mother on her private visits. Still, I believe we both knew my visit around 8th or 9th of June would be our last.  I wanted to hold on to a slim hope that I would see her again, but on the morning of the 14th, my mother called me at my home in Maryland to tell me Aunt Lutie was gone and that I should come home immediately. My mother told me that a neighbor and good friend had been with her all day the day before (the 13th) and that Aunt Lutie seemed to be praying earnestly for God to take her home. Sometime in the early to mid-evening he did just that. A few days later we had a simple funeral, presided over by the minister at Salem Baptist Church, the church her mother had considered her home congregation. She was buried with her parents, William G. William and Lela V. Farnell Williams in New York Bay Cemetery, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, in Jersey City.[20] Bill continued to live in the home until he died two years later. He was buried in New York Bay Cemetery as well.

There has not been a day that I have not missed Aunt Lutie. Her spunk and independence provided great examples for me. She was my buddy. She was window into the past. I miss her. I wish she was here to share my genealogy discoveries and to hear her insights. I know she is looking down, but I surely would love to talk with her.


[1] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current [Database on-line]. Lute Mann, Born 25 Aug 1895, Died Jun 1985. Last Residence, Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey. Retrieved from:

[2] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Willie Williams and Lela V Farnell. Marriage Date: 12 Feb 1893, Suwannee County, Florida. Retrieved from:

[3] Live Oak, Florida: History. (10 December 2017). Wikipedia. Retrieved from:,_Florida

[4] The History of Edward Waters College. EWC: Preserving History, Promising Futures. Retrieved from:

[5] Live Oak, Florida: History. (10 December 2017). Wikipedia. Retrieved from:,_Florida

[6] Florida, State Census, 1867-1945 [Database on-line]. Dwelling #343, Family #352, Carry Manker, head; T. Davis, nephew. Retrieved from:

[7] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Walter Moore and Christina Manker, 19 April 1904. Retrieved from:

[8] 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; NARA Roll: 1108; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0616; FHL microfilm: 1241108. William Williams, head; Lute Williams, age 5. Retrieved from:

[9] New Jersey, State Census, 1905 [Database on-line]. Ellen Williams, head; Lute Williams, age 11. Retrieved from:

[10] 1910; Census Place: Jersey City Ward 6, Hudson, New Jersey. William G. Williams, head. NARA Roll: T624_890; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1374903.

[11] Cross, J. (1979). Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal School (Brick School): 1895-1933. NCpedia. Retrieved from:

[12] Williams, M. (1990). Lela Virginia Farnell Williams (1876-1914): An Early Student at the State Normal College for Colored Students, Tallahassee, Florida, Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, volume 11, number 4.

[13] The History of Edward Waters College. EWC: Preserving History, Promising Futures. Retrieved from:

[14] New Jersey Death Certificate of Lela Williams, 28 March 1914. Copy in possession of the author.

[15] New Jersey Death Certificate of Lela Williams, 28 March 1914. Copy in possession of the author.

[16] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Helen Graff, Died: Aug 1969. Retrieved from

[17] New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995 [Database on-line]. Guy Mann and Lute O. Williams, 22 October 1919. Retrieved from:

[18] Death of Charleton Joshua “Jimmy” Williams, April 1977. Personal Knowledge.

[19] New York City Death Certificate. Herbert Randell Williams, 2 April 1982. Copy in the possession of the author.

[20] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [Database on-line]. Lute Mann, Died: June 1985. Retrieved from:



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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks!

Ellin Wilson

Ellin Wilson Williams, 1854-1920

That’s the challenge, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks!  Amy Johnson Crow has been suggesting a challenge for a few years to genealogical researchers that they post something each week for each week of the year, 52 weeks in total, on a different ancestor each week.  It doesn’t have to be your immediate ancestor, although that’s a good way to extend your family tree. No, she says it can be a collateral relative or someone who is not a relative.  She also says there is no specific amount of information that has to be posted, but the idea is to do some research. For those who don’t wish to write a book about their ancestors or family members, this is a way of sharing individual stories. For those who think they would like to write a book, this could help them organize the research for that book.

Right now I plan to use it to research and write about those whose stories I may not have included in my books so far as well as those I am still researching. With a week dedicated to a particular ancestor/family member who knows what could be learned! It may even lead to another book! So, stay tuned!