There are so many things I could talk about when discussing “branching out.” There’s the obvious branching out with research into collateral relatives and neighbors that has been very successful. I have over 33,000 people now in my on-line family tree, and yes, I’ve done some research on almost all of them. I don’t rely on other people’s research. Then, there’s the “branching out” in communications with others who are DNA matches or researching the same families. That’s always fascinating. I have met so many people that I would never have encountered without this research. However, sometimes, branching out means becoming involved in a project you would never have thought of until someone else began asking questions. Homesteading in Suwannee County is just such a project.
Those of you who have been following this site know that I have published three stories about Homesteading family members in Suwannee County, Florida: Randel Farnell, my great grandfather; Henry McGehee/McGhee, my great uncle’s father in-law, and Alexander Gainer, my 2nd great grandmother’s husband. All these stories have been submitted to the National Park Service for their Black Homesteaders project and were uploaded to their website. However, that wasn’t all.
Involvement with the National Park Service came about because of the volunteer service of genealogist and author, Bernice Bennett. Bernice realized through her own research into her great grandfather’s land that he was a Black Homesteader in the state of Louisiana. Bernice began talking to others and discovered that there were many Black Homesteaders in southern states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and my state, Florida. She began encouraging us to write up our stories and submit them to the National Park Service. In that process, another discovery was made.
Another Florida Homesteading descendant, Falan Goff, who was also researching her family and submitting family stories, discovered an additional 50+ names of Black Homesteaders in Florida, in Gadsden, Levy, and Columbia counties. I began to wonder about Suwannee County. How many Black Homesteaders could I find in Suwannee County?
Thanks to the Bureau of Land Management’s interactive website, it is possible to see the names of every homesteader in every county.  There is basic information on the site, the name and patent numbers, the location of the property as well. However, to acquire the complete file, one must request the file from the National Archives, or go to the Archives oneself to find and copy the records. One thing that does not appear anywhere in Homesteading records is the race of the applicant. The only way to determine the race of an applicant is to do good old fashioned genealogical research on the person. For this basic piece of information, census searches are the most accessible and easiest to use.
I decided that one way to quickly organize the information would be to create a family tree database in Ancestry that was devoted to these Homesteader families. So, I created a “Suwannee County FL Homestead Family Trees” tree. Then, I went one by one through the Suwannee County names in the General Land Office Records on-line database. In addition to creating trees for each name I identified, I also created a spreadsheet. I was surprised at how many Black Homesteaders I was able to identify just for Suwannee County. I found an additional 43 names. I’ve done some preliminary research on each of the families, but I’m not ready to write their stories until I am able to acquire the Homestead case files for each of them—a project I hadn’t planned on! Now, I’m also planning to write a book about these families and their stories.
Another project I hadn’t planned on, but am delighted to take part in, is an upcoming book on Black Homesteaders of the South (History Press, 2022), edited by Bernice Bennett, for which thirty-five stories have been contributed. My three stories were just a small part, but the book will present the story to the world, a world (even the professional historian world) that has been completely unaware of the extent to which Black Americans in the Reconstruction era and beyond acquired land and potential generational wealth, despite the forces that did their best to wrest that wealth from their hands.
One final way my story has branched out is through the National Society Descendants of American Farmers (NSDOAF). NSDOAF is a lineage society that honors farming ancestors, but also provides scholarship money to students studying agricultural sciences in colleges and universities. I first became a member in honor of my maternal 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter. Now, I have honored my paternal great grandfather, Randel Farnell. I submitted not only a copy of the 1880 census which noted that he was a farmer, but also his final Homestead application testimony (4 October 1884) which was submitted in proof that he was living on and cultivating the land for which he had applied. In answer to questions about how much land was cultivated and for how many seasons he had grown crops, etc., he stated that he had built a “log dwelling (good) shided [sic], smoke house, stable & crib, 35 acres fenced,” beginning on “September 12, 1877, and that he had cultivated the “35 acres” for “7 seasons.”
In talking about this story with my daughter, she was curious about how this property had provided generational wealth. “Do we still own the land?” she asked. “No,” I told her. It was sold after my great grandfather’s widow, Priscilla (his second wife, not my great grandmother), died in the 1960s. “Why?” she asked. She went on to say it was folly, that we had sold away our wealth potential. I explained to her that it had done its job. None of the grandchildren lived in Live Oak, in Suwannee County any longer. No one wanted to go back to Live Oak, so the grandchildren, including my father, decided to sell the land and take their share of the profits. That way they could decide what investments, if any, they preferred. What had my father done with his share, she asked. Well, I answered, by that time our house was paid for, but I still had college bills. I said I didn’t know for sure, but felt it was likely that he had used the money towards my tuition. I explained that when I graduated, I had no student debt, adding how sad I was that I had not been able to do the same for her. I explained that the money from the sale of the property acquired through the Homestead Act of 1862, had provided generational wealth and opportunity by contributing to my education and probably similarly for the other family members. This was no small feat considering my father’s mother died when he was 10, and his father was largely absent, so he was raised by his 20-year-old sister who worked full time in service to a wealthy family. Nevertheless, he had a tradition of a landowning, educated family behind him that inspired him to be ambitious. Ultimately, my father worked for over 40 years in the U. S. Customs Service, rising to be the second in command of the Import Division in New York City, before the jurisdiction was reorganized making Newark, New Jersey the main office for the Port of New York, and he was a homeowner. I told her that I, and she by extension, had indeed benefitted from the generational wealth generated by (branched out, if you will) the Homestead property acquired by our ancestor, Randel Farnell, for which we can be justifiably proud.
 Williams, Margo Lee, Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL/Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc., 2013). See: https://margoleewilliamsbooks.com/miles-lassiter/
 Bureau of Land Management, Randel Farnell Homestead Application #5637: “Homestead Proof-Testimony of Claimant (4 October 1884),” U. S. General Land Office Records, NARA Accession FL0750__489. Copy in the possession of the author.
Over the years since embarking on genealogy research into my family roots, I’ve been able to visit several cemeteries where my family members, ancestors and collateral relatives, have been buried. In North Carolina, where my maternal roots are, I have even been able to get the cemetery and church where my family worshiped, Strieby Congregational Church, declared a cultural heritage site. On the other hand, I had never made a pilgrimage to Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida before 2014 to see where my paternal family had lived. One of the places that was important for me to visit was the cemetery that my aunt and cousin had talked about and described, where our ancestors were buried. I knew it as the “Black City Cemetery,” from the death certificate of my great grandfather, Randel Farnell.
I was able to arrange to meet my cousin, Clark “Randy” Randolph, in Live Oak. He had spent his early years until he was about 15 living in Live Oak. He agreed to show me around. Randy and I both descend from Randel Farnell, he from Randel’s son, William, I from Randel’s daughter, Lela.
Like me, Randy was born after both our great grandfather, Randel Farnell (d. 1928) and our great grandmother Sallie Jacobs Farnell (d. circa 1905) had died. However, he did know other family members, such as Randel’s widow, Priscilla, his second wife, our step-great grandmother. She was much younger than Randel and lived until 1967.
I told Randy that I particularly wanted to see the cemetery where the family was buried. I assumed that virtually all my Farnell relatives and Williams relatives who had died in Live Oak were buried in Eastside, because it was the principal cemetery (maybe even the only cemetery) for African Americans.
Randy and I started our tour around Live Oak at the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society library. Jinny Hancock, the president, explained that there were two sections to the cemetery. The section currently being used was well cared for by the city of Live Oak. The older section of the cemetery was privately owned. She said that section was not maintained and badly overgrown. She told us that the city had tried to buy the property so that it could maintain both sections, or even just manage it so that it could be cleaned up. The owner was not forthcoming. Jinny felt we would not be able to get into that section of the cemetery.
After leaving the library, Randy and I toured around Live Oak, looking at property sites where family homes had stood or still stood. Randy pointed out the house where he had lived. He said that when there was a storm and the street flooded he would dive off the front yard into the flood waters. I thought it amazing that he never was seriously hurt doing that, but I also couldn’t help but reflect on all the water moccasins he said would come swimming along in the flood waters. I was feeling glad I had grown up in New York City. Eventually we made our way to the cemetery.
The new section of the cemetery was very familiar to Randy. Many of his paternal relatives, the Randolphs, are buried there. We walked around looking at the various headstones. The cemetery reminded me of pictures I had seen of those in Louisiana, with large concrete slabs over the various plots, names inscribed on the slab tops. However, none of our Farnell ancestors were buried in that section. They were buried in the forest of trees on the far side of the cemetery. There was an old access road that led alongside the woods. We walked down the road but realized we couldn’t tell where anything was in the woods. We decided that it didn’t make sense to continue walking on the road when we couldn’t tell where we were. Besides, I was concerned about snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers. Only a few months earlier my legs had been devoured by chiggers while walking in the Strieby cemetery in North Carolina, landing me in the doctor’s office. I was not anxious to repeat that experience. Randy, however, was not going to be deterred.
Randy was undaunted because Randy was a former Green Beret in Vietnam. He was used to the jungle. He had walked out of Vietnam at the end of the war, through the jungle and the mountains. Though retired from his life of military undercover work, he took that same approach to the cemetery. Before I could say anything, he had run into the old cemetery, through the weeds, through the trees. All I could do was yell out, “Be careful!” He said he had found a few headstones. He began reading off the names. I was shocked. He had found the headstone of Charlie and Mamie Manker. Charlie was the son of George and Carrie (Harvey) Manker. Carrie was the sister of Ellen (Wilson) Williams, my great grandmother. He was able to see a couple more markers. Eventually the forest won. It was too difficult even for Randy to tackle. Besides, that part of the cemetery was technically private land. I wasn’t anxious for either of us to have an encounter with the local constabulary for trespassing. We hadn’t seen any police, but I did not wish to tempt fate. Yes, I’m a coward.
Needless to say, I had mixed feelings about how this cemetery visit turned out. On the one hand, I had seen in the flesh where my family members were buried. Based on information I already had that my (maternal-paternal) great grandfather Randel Farnell was buried in this cemetery in a family mausoleum and finding the Manker headstones (Mankers being on my paternal-paternal side), I feel certain that most of my Farnell-Williams ancestors are buried in Eastview Cemetery. This would be before my immediate family, my grandfather, William Gainer Williams, his wife, Lela Farnell Williams, and their children, moved to New York and then New Jersey. I only wish this cemetery was as accessible as Strieby, St. Mark’s, or Salem Cemeteries in Randolph County, North Carolina or Beech Cemetery, in Rush County, Indiana, all cemeteries wherein lie my maternal-maternal family ancestors. I hope one day this cemetery will also be easily accessible and I will be able to visit the actual gravesites of my Farnell and Williams ancestors.
Tax lists can help fill in information between census years. It can provide information on land ownership, a reference point for life events, how many of the household members are taxable, and what other personal property may exist because it was taxable. Tax lists have helped me clarify information on various ancestors.
Miles Lassiter bought land in 1815 and subsequently sold it in 1826. That information seemed to indicate that he was aa free man of color. I had other information that corroborated that. One place I looked for confirmation was in the Randolph County tax lists. I looked for him in tax records and was disappointed at first. It did not seem that he was represented in the tax records. I thought that odd since, as I said, he had bought property in 1815. In looking at the 1820 tax list, I didn’t see it right away. It required learning additional information before recognizing his presence in the tax list. He was actually a slave married to a free woman of color, Healy Phillips. When looking through the list I realized he was not listed as Miles Lassiter. He was listed as Miles Phillip, a free man of color. The tax registrar had used Healy’s surname. This was a singular name. There was no other Miles Phillip(s) in the county at that time, either white or of color.
Properties belonging to Miles and Healy have come down to descendants to the present day. Information in the various deeds and court cases which I discovered while researching my first book about my discovery of Miles Lassiter as my ancestor have provided valuable information to help sort out proper land boundaries.
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams
My grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, wrote in her autograph book, bible, and the inside flap of a book on the life of Queen Victoria, that she was born 28 September 1876, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. I had found her in the 1880 census with her parents, Randel and Sallie (Jacobs) Farnell. I tried to confirm that she was born in Live Oak by locating her father in the tax records. However, there was no evidence of her father in Suwannee County in 1876. The earliest that he could be found was 1877. I began to believe that she was possibly born in 1877 rather than 1876. I had found Randel in neighboring Columbia County in the 1870 census. I turned to the tax records for Columbia County. They revealed that Randel had not left Columbia County when the 1876 tax list was compiled. Once leaving Columbia County for Suwannee County, where his wife’s (Sallie) parents lived, there is no evidence that the family ever returned to Columbia County. Assuming the 1876 date was accurate for Lela’s birth, she was born in Columbia County, but since she lived in Live Oak her entire childhood, from infancy, she may not have known that she was actually born in Lake City.
Joshua W. Williams
When “Aunt Lutie” was passing on stories of our Williams family, she stated that Josh owned a lot of property in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. I set about locating information that would corroborate that story. I looked in the deeds but only found one deed for property to be used for a school. That agreed with information that he had been a teacher. I looked in the tax records but only found one entry in 1877. However, that entry indicated that it was really his wife Ellen’s (Wilson) property. Upon further research, I was able to determine that the land to which my aunt was referring was land belonging to Joshua’s wife’s family, including her mother and step-father, Frances and Alex Gainer.
Thus, taxes can be a very useful tool in resolving our genealogical questions.
 Randolph County Genealogical Society. 1820 Tax List. Randolph County, North Carolina: Miles Phillip. Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Genealogical society.
 See, Williams, M. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My research journey to home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.)
 Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 17, Number 1.
 Williams, M. L. (1990). Lela Virginia Farnell Williams (1876-1914), An Early Student at the State Normal College for Colored Students, Tallahassee, Florida. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 11, Number 4.
 Williams, M. (2006). The Herbert Randell Williams Family. Available from the Author.
[O]r even where’s there is none, there is a lot of information to learn. In African American research, finding enslaved ancestors before 1865, usually requires research into the potential slave owner’s records, of which the probate records are particularly useful. Such was the case when I was attempting to determine the relationship between “Maria Green,” my great grandfather’s (Randel Farnell) mother, and her likely owners.
I had learned Maria’s name from my great grandfather’s death certificate; I also had some oral family history. The oral history said that he had a half-brother, who was white, named “Gus Farnell.” It also mentioned another half-brother, this one a person of color, named Henry. Randel’s death certificate named “Jack Farnell,” as his father. Finding documented relationships among all these individuals would hopefully lead to the name of Maria’s owner, as well as confirm family oral history.
My great grandfather’s 1928 death certificate said he was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia. However, my great grandfather lived much of his life in Florida. From 1880 to 1920, he can be found listed in the census in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. In 1870, he was living in Lake City, in neighboring Columbia County. There were several white Farnell family groups in Columbia County at that time as well, but no “Gus.” In 1860, John, Daniel, and James Farnell, along with their probable families were living in Hamilton County, which is just north of Suwannee County., Georgia was the place of birth recorded. In James Farnell’s household a Mary, and an Augustus were recorded. He was a potential candidate for the “Gus” in our family’s oral history. In 1850, only James Farnell and his family were found in Hamilton County. The others were found in Dooly County, Georgia, a neighboring county to Pulaski.
When looking in the 1840 census for Pulaski County, Georgia, where Hawkinsville is the county seat, I found the James Farnell family. There was an older enslaved woman and an enslaved child included in the enumeration. This would have been before my great grandfather was born. Farnell was a singular surname in Pulaski County. The only person identified as old enough to be James’ father in earlier censuses was Elisha Farnell. I surmised that somewhere in the records of either Elisha or James, or both, I would find information about Maria.
I had seen Elisha’s name in an on-line tax record dated 1818. According to it he was a substantial landowner with 24 enslaved persons. The 1820 census recorded 26 enslaved persons. He was not found in any census records after 1820. Turning to the minutes of the Court of the Ordinary, I was able to determine that Elisha died sometime before May 1823. Knowing that he had married a second wife, Priscilla Biggs, in February of 1823, it could be determined that he had died sometime between February and May 1823. In May, a probate was opened, but there was no will. Elisha had died intestate. On 6 May, Letters of Administration were issued with the posting of a bond in the extraordinary sum of $30,000.
Regardless of the existence of a will, property and debts must be addressed. One of the first acts of the probate is to inventory the property. Included in Elisha’s inventory were the enslaved. On the inventory was an enslaved girl, “Mareah, $325.” That confirmed that a Maria/Mareah was owned by Elisha.
Now I needed to link her to James, and thereby to Augustus “Gus.” To do that I looked for the final distribution of the estate. In the distribution, Elisha’s widow Priscilla, and his supposed children, Mary, William, Benjamin, Daniel, John and James, are mentioned. Each, as part of the distribution, received one or more enslaved persons. James received “Mareah.” His brother John received another female enslaved person in the distribution, a girl named Fanny. That was interesting because Randel’s reported other, half-brother, Henry Farnell’s mother was listed in the 1880 Suwannee County census as Fanny Fuller, “widow,” born in Georgia. They were both persons of color.
With the advent of the Civil War, Gus would serve as a musician with the Confederate Army. He was captured and held at the prison in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was released after taking an oath of allegiance 24 June 1865. His father James, would also see active duty, he died from gunshot wounds in a hospital in Winchester, Virginia. What happened to James’ wife, Mary? It is assumed she died since she is not found in census or other records identified after the war was over. After the war Gus returned to Hamilton County, where he could be found marrying Mary Johns in 1867, then again in 1870 to Georgia Vincent Goodbread, most likely in Columbia County where she lived. However, he was found living alone in Orange County in the 1870 census. He would marry a third and final time in 1874 to Nancy Elizabeth “Nelly” Wheeler in Orange County. He died in 1911, in Oviedo, Seminole County (formerly Orange County), Florida.
What about Maria and Randel? Maria was found with her presumed husband, Frank Green, in the 1870 census in the Lake City area of Columbia County, where Randel had also been found. Randel was listed with his wife, Sallie (Sallie Jacobs). There were four children named in the household, Anna, Richard, Maryland, and Joshua R. My grandmother Lela wasn’t born yet; she wasn’t born until 1876.
About 1877, Randel and his family moved to Suwannee County, where his wife Sallie’s parents and siblings were living, coincidentally next to my paternal Williams great grandparents and grandfather in 1870. Randel and family, including my grandmother Lela, along with Henry and his mother could be found on the 1880 census living there. Randel would apply for and acquire property in Live Oak, the county seat, through the Homestead Act.
He would raise his family in Live Oak, including my grandmother Lela, eventually dying there in 1928.
Thus, the probate of Elisha Farnell has established that a girl Mareaha (Maria) was listed among his enslaved property on his death. Additionally, there was a girl named Fannie on the inventory. Mareaha was distributed to James and Fannie to John. They were Elisha’s presumed children, based on the distribution, even though not explicitly so designated. James had a son Augustus, presumably the same “Gus,” that Randel’s family said was his half-brother. Fannie was presumed to be the same Fannie, who was mother of Henry, another half-brother, but more likely his cousin. Thus, even without a will, I was able to establish a relationship between my great grandfather, his mother Maria, his half-brother Gus, Gus’s father James, and finally to James’ father, Elisha Farnell.
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. 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. 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, and the original home of the AME Church sponsored school that would become Edward Waters College, now in Jacksonville.
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. 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. I’ve not been able to find him beyond that. “Moore” was probably Walter Moore, the husband of Ellin’s niece, Christina Manker.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Their father, William, attended Edward Waters College, associated with the AME Church. 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. Lutie remembered that her mother was in excruciating pain before her death. Lela was buried in New York Bay Cemetery, in Jersey City. 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. 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. 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, and Herbie died in 1982. 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. 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.
 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.