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#12Ancestors in 12 Months – (May) Social: The Black Homesteaders of Section 12 of Range 13E, Township 2S, Tallahassee Meridien, Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida

In truth, I don’t know a lot about the men in my great grandfather’s (Randel Farnell) community who filed applications for land in the 1870s and ‘80s, under the Homestead Act of 1862. Until recently, I did not realize how many of his neighbors and potential friends had filed for claims under the Homestead Act. I especially did not realize how many Black neighbors had filed claims. Neither the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) index nor the records themselves have any identifying information concerning race. Therefore, one must research each name (unless one is already familiar with a particular individual) in other records to determine their racial identity. I learned their identities, and the identities of others in other sections of Suwannee County by checking each name against the census. In Section 12, I found two other men of color, besides my great grandfather and one of his witnesses (Henry McGehee/McGhee/McGee) whose daughter would marry my great grandmother’s brother. Across the county I found over 40.

Indeed, Suwannee County was by no means unique in having claimants of color. There were Black claimants throughout Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  Stories about some of these settlers by their descendants (including three of mine) are told in the new book, Black Homesteaders of the South (History Press, 2022), to be released in October 2022.[1]

Black Homesteaders of the South Book Cover (The History Press, 2022)

Black Claimants and Witnesses in Section 12

As noted, initial information stemmed from my great grandfather, Randel Farnell, and his claim. From his paperwork, I realized one of his witnesses was Henry McGehee/McGhee/McGee, who was the father of Addie McGhee, who married my great grandmother Sallie Jacobs Farnell’s younger brother Joseph. I noticed from their applications, that their properties were adjacent to each other. Conversely, my great grandfather, Randel, had been a witness on Henry’s application. In fact, Henry’s application predated my great grandfather’s. I have already written about these two applications in previous posts, but what about the other Black Homesteaders in Section 12? Were they also possibly good friends? Certainly, they must have known each other.

Ned Wilson[2]

Edward “Ned” Wilson reported in 1880 that he was born in Georgia about 1840.[3] He appeared first in Suwannee County records when he registers to vote on 6 August 1867, as recorded in Voter Registration Book 1, p. 196.[4] He reported having been in the state for twelve months previously. There is no record found to date for his marriage to “Ida,” his wife on the 1880 census.[5] She apparently died before 1885, when Edward/Ned was listed as unmarried. At that time, Edward was living with my great grandfather, Randel Farnell (also a homesteader), and his family, and next door to Henry McGehee.[6] On 6 December 1903, there was a marriage record for an Edward Wilson and Mary Blalock.[7] There is no way to ascertain if this is the same Edward Wilson since no other evidence of his residence at that time in Live Oak has been identified. There is no known information about when or where he died.  

[1885 census with Randel next to Henry]

Ned Wilson in 1885 Florida State Census, Suwannee County, in the same household with my great grandfather, Randel Farnell

On 21 May 1869, Edward Wilson appeared before the Registrar, Charles Mundee, at the Land Office in Tallahassee, Florida. There he made application under the Homestead Act of 1862 for 39.89 acres in the SE ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 12 of Range 13E, Township 2S. He paid $7.00 for the application.

Seven years later, on 16 May 1879, William Forsyth Bynum and Isreal [sic] Samuel Whitehurst Sr. provided testimony for Edward’s final proof for his Homestead application. This record does not show whether the witness was William Forsyth Sr. or Jr. William Jr. was closer in age to Isreal Whitehurst, but William Sr. was closer in age to Edward. However, William Sr. was Deputy Clerk of the Circuit Court. He was also a witness along with my great grandfather, Randel Farnell, for homesteader and neighbor, Henry McGehee.

Final Proof with Testimony of William Forsyth Bynum and Isreal Whitehurst, 16 May 1876

William Forsyth Bynum Sr. was born in Virginia, but moved to Dooly County, Georgia, where he married his wife, Elsie Ann Posey.[8] They had three sons, William Jr., John, and Francis.[9] William, and family, moved to Florida. He was listed as a “druggist” and “farmer,” in the 1870[10] and 1880[11] censuses respectively. During the Civil War he served in the Confederate 4th Florida Infantry.[12] William died in 1904, in Live Oak, and is buried in Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery.[13] William’s son, John, filed for his own Homestead land in 1892, in the same quadrant as Randel Farnell, Henry McGee, and Edward Wilson.[14]

Isreal Samuel Whitehurst Sr. was born reportedly in Florida.[15] He was married to Chloe Eliza McKinney.[16] They had fourteen children. Isreal, Edward, and my great grandfather, Randel Farnell, were friends. At least two of Isreal’s daughters, Rebecca and Senter, attended the Florida Normal and Industrial College in Tallahassee (now, Florida A & M University) with my grandmother, Randel’s daughter, Lela, as evidenced by their entries in my grandmother’s autograph book.[17]

Cover of Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell (married name, Williams)

Isreal died in 1921 and was buried in Eastside Memorial Cemetery, in Live Oak.[18]

William Bynum and Isreal Whitehurst stated in their testimony that Edward was the head of a family that included a wife and child (no child was listed in the 1880 census), and that he settled on his land on 21 May 1869. They said he cleared and fenced “16 or 18” acres. They went on to state that he had planted 300 fruit trees and cultivated the land yearly. They went on to state that Edward began living on the land permanently around “August or September” 1869. For the home portion of the land, they said he had fenced and cultivated 4-18 acres of land on which he had, “built a house with two rooms, corn crib, chicken house, planted and cultivated almost 300 fruit trees, and now in good repair and in cultivation.” They said they were swearing to this at the local circuit courthouse because of the distance to the land office now located in Gainesville. The final receipt of payment of $2.00, for the recording of the patent was noted as received “by RR” by the land office in Gainesville, on 19 May 1876. A final Certificate #1058 was issued on 19 March 1877. The Patent was sent to the Recorder on 22 May 1877. It was recorded on 15 June 1877, in Book 2, page 395, of the federal land records. The Patent was forwarded to the Live Oak Registrar of Deeds on 7 October 1880, however, there is no record of its recordation in the Suwannee County Deed Index, nor of its sale at any future date.

Edward “Ned” Wilson’s Homestead Patent

As mentioned above, where or when Edward Wilson died is unknown.

Shadrack Taylor[19]

Shadrack Taylor and his wife, Jane, were both reportedly born in Georgia about 1827 and 1828, respectively.[20] Shadrack states in the 1880 census that his father was from the District of Columbia, but his mother was from Spain. Exactly how and when Shadrack and Jane came to Florida is not known. However, he was in Suwannee County by 12 October 1866, when he filed Application 209 with the land office in Tallahassee, for the North half of the Southeast Quarter of Section 12, Township 2S, of Range 13, equaling 39.89.  acres of land.

Shadrack Taylor Homestead Application #209

Shadrack and his wife appeared in the 1880 census, [21] living next door to my great grandfather, Randel Farnell, also a Black Florida Homesteader.[22] However, he does not appear in the federal census again, not even in the 1885 state census was he found. What happened to him? Where was Jane? The Homestead file gave some answers.

1880 US Census, Suwannee County, Florida, with Shadrack and Jane Taylor living next door to my great grandfather, Randel Farnell

According to an affidavit on 22 July 1884, made by Jane Taylor, Shadrack’s wife, he died in October 1883. She stated that they had been living on the land when he filed for the application in 1866. She stated that they had built a house, fenced the land, cleared, and cultivated it, living continuously on the land until Shadrack’s death. She went on to state that she had continued to live on the land after his death until the present. However, she states that due to his “illiteracy” and his “ignorance of the law,” he had failed to “prove up” and make “final proof,” of his “continuous occupation and cultivation of his said homestead within the “statutory period.” Therefore, the claim had been cancelled on 13 March 1876.

First Page of Jane Taylor’s testimony regarding the death of her husband, Shadrack Taylor

Subsequently, Jane went on to attest that on 22 April 1879, “May Rigon” made Application 7148, on the same land as Shadrack Taylor’s. Jane stated that May Rigon had not lived one single day on the property and that she had, in fact, left the state of Florida shortly after filing and resided in Georgia ever since. Jane said, on the other hand, that she has continuously resided on the land that noted in her husband’s Application 209. Therefore, she was requesting that May Rigon’s application be set aside in favor of Shadrack’s, and that she, Jane, as his widow, be allowed to make final proof, thereby completing the application. She was represented by John Bynum, son of William Forsyth Bynum,[23] Deputy Clerk of the Court and a witness for Black Homesteader Henry McGehee. On the same day, that Jane Taylor testified, Elijah Smith (a Black Homesteader in Section 2, not 12)[24] and Edward “Ned” Wilson (another Black Homesteader in Section 12[25]) gave testimony on Jane’s behalf. They testified that everything she had said was true.

Testimony of Elijah Smith and Ned Wilson on behalf of Jane Taylor

Alas, Jane would not live much longer on the property. By October 1884, she too had died. The probate Judge, R. W. Phillips, certified on 8 February 1886, that Adelice Goldwire was one of the heirs of Shadrack Taylor. However, that same day, Adelice testified that she was unable to produce the Receiver’s receipt for Shadrack’s Application 209. Nothing more is known about Adelice.  

Probate Order for Adelice Goldwire

On 17 February 1886, a receipt for $97.73 was issued to the “Heirs of Shadrack Taylor,” who lived in Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, for Application 11102, for 79.73 acres described as the North ½ of the SE ¼ of Section 12. It is notable that this is the same description for Shadrack’s parcel, but his application said the property was 39 acres, while this application said it was 79 acres. A patent was finally issued on 26 June 1889. However, the patent was not registered with the Suwannee County Registrar of Deeds until 29 June 1909.[26]

Homestead Application 11102, Heirs of Shadrack Taylor, deceased

It is not known where either Shadrack or Jane Taylor were buried.

The FAN Club

We talk a lot about the “FAN Club” in genealogy. It is a term coined by the renowned genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills. It refers to “Friends, Associates, and Neighbors,” in other words, our social circle. We readily look for them in census records, but we don’t often look in other records. We do recognize that witnesses on our family deeds and wills are frequently family members, friends, and neighbors, but we don’t look often enough to see if our ancestors were witnesses for their neighbors. Even so, the most information we usually glean is that our ancestor signed the specific document. Here we have not only signatures but testimonies about the claimants, and some information about how long the claimants and witnesses have known each other. These documents helped paint a picture of at least a part of my great grandfather Randel Farnell’s social circle, his FAN club, to wit:

Randel and William Bynum were witnesses for Henry McGehee, whose daughter married my great grandfather’s brother in-law. Henry McGehee was witness for my great grandfather. Isreal Whitehurst, a friend of my great grandfather’s, whose daughters went to school with my grandmother, was witness for Ned Wilson, who lived with my great grandfather in 1885. Ned Wilson was a witness on behalf of Jane, the widow of Shadrack Taylor, who lived next door to my great grandfather and Henry McGehee in 1880.

In addition, in the case of Shadrack, we also have information about his death, his heirs, and where the heirs lived. These records really are a treasure trove of information. Thus, by studying the documents of our ancestors’ witnesses, we get a glimpse into their world, not just their lives.


References

[1] Bennett, B. A., Black Homesteaders of the South (Cheltenham, UK: The History Press); to be released 24 October 2022 (available for pre-order).

[2] Publication of this essay by the National Park Service on its Black Homesteading website is pending. See also: Edward Wilson, Accession #FL0680__.395, General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved from: BLM General Land Office Records.

[3] 1880 US Federal Census, Precinct 1, Suwannee County, Florida; Head: Ned Wilson, NARA Roll: 132; Page: 281A; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.

[4]  Voter Registration Rolls, 1867-68. Tallahassee, Florida, USA: Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Florida. Floridamemory.com

[5] Supra 3, Ida Wilson, wife.

[6] Florida, U.S., State Census, 1885 [database on-line], Head: Ned Wilson. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[7] Florida, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line] Edward Wilson and Mary Blalock, 26 December 1903. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[8] Georgia, U.S., Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [database on-line], William F. Bynum and Ann Posey. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[9]  1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee County, Florida; Head: William F. Bynum, NARA Roll: M593_133; Page: 693A. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[10] 1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee County, Florida; Head: William F. Bynum, NARA Roll: M593_133; Page: 693A. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[11] 1880 US Federal Census: Precinct 1, Suwannee County, Florida; Head: William F. Bynum, NARA Roll: 132; Page: 293A; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[12] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line], William F. Bynum. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[13] Find a Grave, database and images, memorial page for Dr William Forsyth Bynum (29 Feb 1832–9 May 1904), Find a Grave Memorial ID 57928601, citing Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery, Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida, USA ; Maintained by KChaffeeB (contributor 46506715) . Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[14] Bureau of Land Management. Florida, U.S., Homestead and Cash Entry Patents, [database on-line], John H. Bynum, Application 16601, Patent 9442. Retrieved from: BLM General Land Office Records.

[15] 1880 US Federal Census: Precinct 1, Suwannee County, Florida; Isreal Whitehurst, Head. NARA Roll: T9-132; Page: 285A; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[16] 1900 US Federal Census: Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida; Isrial Whites [sic], head; Chloey, wife; married 35 years (circa 1885). NARA Roll: T623-177; Page: 18; Enumeration District: 0109; FHL microfilm: 1240177. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[17] Williams, M. A., “Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell,” Journal of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society, Volume 16, Number 2 (1997). Original in the Farnell-Williams Collection at the Meeks-Eaton Black Archives, Florida A & M University.

[18]  U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Isreal S. Whitehurst, Eastside Memorial Cemetery, Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida; Memorial #187212592; Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[19] This essay is pending publication on the National Park Service’s Black Homesteading website. See also: Shadrack Taylor, Accession #FL0630__.293, General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved from: BLM General Land Office Records.

[20] 1880 US Federal Census: Precinct 1, Suwannee County, Florida, Shadrick Taylor, head; Jane Taylor, wife. NARA Roll: 132; Page: 282C; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ancestry.com. U.S., General Land Office Records, 1776-2015 [database on-line], Randel Farnell. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.

[23] 1860 US Federal Census, Township 5, Lafayette County, Florida, Wm F. Bynum, head; John Bynum, age 3; NARA Roll: M653_107; Page: 965; Family History Library Film: 803107. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.

[24] Bureau of Land Management. Florida Pre-1908 Homestead & Cash Entry Patents, Elijah Smith, Accession Number FLO760_.460. General Land Office Automated Records Project, 1993. Retrieved from: BLM General Land Office Records.

[25] Grantee Index to Deeds, Suwannee County Florida, Heirs of Shadrack Taylor from United States of America, Homestead Certificate, (29 July 1909, Deed Book GG, p. 380) p. 104, Image 661. Retrieved from: FamilySearch.org.

[26] Bureau of Land Management. Florida, U.S., Homestead and Cash Entry Patents, Pre-1908 [database on-line], Edward Wilson. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1997. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

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#12 Ancestors – February: Branching Out – Homesteading in Suwannee County, Florida

Randel Farnell (1844-1928), my great grandfather

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.[1] 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. [2] 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[3] 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.[4] Now, I have honored my paternal great grandfather, Randel Farnell. I submitted not only a copy of the 1880 census[5] 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.”[6]

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.[7]

References

[1]Homestead National Historic Park, “Black Homesteaders,” U. S. National Park Service. Retrieved from: https://www.nps.gov/home/black-homesteading-in-america.htm

[2] Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, U. S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved from: https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/tractbook/default.aspx?volumeID=582&imageID=0089&sid=ygza4ay0.nuu#tractBookDetailsTabIndex=2

[3] National Society Descendants of American Farmer, “Membership.” See: https://www.nsdoaf.com/membership

[4] 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/

[5] U. S. Federal Census 1880; Population Schedule, Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida; Randel Farnell, head; Occupation: “Farmer.” NARA Roll: 132; Page: 282C; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/38857191:6742?ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36156388330

[6] 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.

[7] Homestead National Historic Park, “Cultivating Connections: Black Homesteading in America,” U. S. National Park Service. Retrieved from: https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/cultivating-connections-black-homesteading-in-america.htm





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

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

Doc C-Randel Farnell DC
Death Certificate of Randel Farnell

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

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

Will Farnell
William F. Farnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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#52Ancestors – Taxes:

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

The old barn, Lassiter Family Farm, Lassiter Mill Road
Land owned by Miles Lassiter  inherited by his descendants

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.[1] 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.[2]

Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, 1876-1914

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.[3] 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.[4] 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

Ellin Wilson
Ellin Wilson Williams, 1854-1920

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.[5]

Thus, taxes can be a very useful tool in resolving our genealogical questions.

References

[1] Randolph County Genealogical Society. 1820 Tax List. Randolph County, North Carolina: Miles Phillip. Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Genealogical society.

[2] 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.)

[3] Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 17, Number 1.

[4] 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.

[5] Williams, M. (2006). The Herbert Randell Williams Family. Available from the Author.

 

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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]

RHUSA2007B_FL0750-00489
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]. Ancestry.com. Randel Farnell, 1928. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7338/VRDUSAFL1877_0802-0043?pid=5021868&backurl=https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv%3D1%26dbid%3D7338%26h%3D5021868%26ssrc%3Dpt%26tid%3D66453873%26pid%3D36156388330%26usePUB%3Dtrue&ssrc=pt&treeid=66453873&personid=36156388330&hintid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00799/2270561?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388330/facts/citation/221436181427/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4211366_00063/10590249?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265394957/facts/citation/221964730387/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4211366_00020/10587170?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/221528135693/edit/record

[7] 1850 Us Federal Census; District 1, Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M432-58; Page: 226B; Image: 445. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4193083-00445/18449607?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/222369565079/edit/record

 

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8057/4185983_00353/1832324?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/960340791792/edit/record

[9] Some early tax digests of Georgia, Pulaski County, 1818 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell. Retrieved from: Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/25650/dvm_LocHist010509-00060-1/78?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/222332731361/edit/record

[10] 1820 US Federal Census; Pulaski, Georgia; Page: 67; NARA Roll: M33-9; Image: 107. Elisha Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7734/4433224_00107/1480873?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/221436747163/edit/record

[11] Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell and Priscilla Biggs, 6 Feb 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/4766/40660_307945-00020/926612?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/221962935325/edit/record

[12] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Letters of Administration, 6 May 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00365

[13] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Inventory, 22 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00390

[14] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00377

[15] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00377

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00340/5113466?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/330004895943/facts/citation/960023926435/edit/record

[17] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus Farnell, Musician (Fifth Infantry), Enlisted 14 Mar 1862, Jasper (Hamilton County), Florida. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2322&h=119118767&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[18] U.S., Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. A. P. Farnell, Confederate, 5th Infantry. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1124/M598_107-0072/644879?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265288846/facts/citation/960026071717/edit/record

[19] U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. James Farnell, Confederate, Private, F Company, 5th Infantry; Survived the war: no; Mustered out 15 Oct 1862, Winchester, VA. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1555&h=425480&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36156400968&usePUB=true; See also: Compiled Service Records, Confederate States Army, [Public Photo on-line]. Ancestry.com. James Farnell, 16 Oct 1862, “Died from a Winchester gun wound.” Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/media/acd3f9c2-24c6-48d5-9083-02693855c18b?usePUBJs=true

[20] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P. Farnell and Mary I. T. Johns, 1867. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398880&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[21] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P Farnell and Georgia Vincent [sic], 1870. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398881&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263359_00011/3446040?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265288846/facts/citation/223425741958/edit/record

[23] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P Farnell and Nancy Elizabeth Wheeler, 1879. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398882&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

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

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00773/13827089?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156401066/facts/citation/221868130047/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00799/2270561?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388330/facts/citation/221436181427/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263359_00507/448439?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400719/facts/citation/221857436539/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00330/3564452?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388413/facts/citation/221436181735/edit/record#?imageId=4240124-00330

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00340/5113466?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/330004895943/facts/citation/960023926435/edit/record

[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: https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=FL0750__.489&docClass=STA&sid=x3bedxve.zyx

[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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#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.

Endnotes

[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:  https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36245888562/facts

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/61369/TH-1961-33750-2996-56/1334168?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156387155/facts/citation/960388118406/edit/record

[3] Live Oak, Florida: History. (10 December 2017). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Oak,_Florida

[4] The History of Edward Waters College. EWC: Preserving History, Promising Futures. Retrieved from: http://www.ewc.edu/about/our-history/

[5] Live Oak, Florida: History. (10 December 2017). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Oak,_Florida

[6] Florida, State Census, 1867-1945 [Database on-line]. Dwelling #343, Family #352, Carry Manker, head; T. Davis, nephew. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1506/FLM845_12-0448/75650?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36252694382/facts/citation/221890883362/edit/record

[7] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Walter Moore and Christina Manker, 19 April 1904. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/61369/TH-1942-33744-17976-45/901610335?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36252699085/facts/citation/960369277168/edit/record

[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: https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36245888562/facts

[9] New Jersey, State Census, 1905 [Database on-line]. Ellen Williams, head; Lute Williams, age 11. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/61557/48181_548696-00696/1210430?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36245888562/facts/citation/960387245438/edit/record

[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. https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4330912-00927/16404384?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156387155/facts/citation/221436632424/edit/record

[11] Cross, J. (1979). Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal School (Brick School): 1895-1933. NCpedia. Retrieved from: https://www.ncpedia.org/brick-school

[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: http://www.ewc.edu/about/our-history/

[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  https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=3693&h=23264556&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=mVb2035&_phstart=successSource

[17] New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995 [Database on-line]. Guy Mann and Lute O. Williams, 22 October 1919. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/61406/47512_546399-01934/8581990?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36245888562/facts/citation/960387246431/edit/record

[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: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=3693&h=38748092&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36245888562&usePUB=true