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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

 

#52Ancestors –Week 5: Miles in the Census

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Ellen Mayo, date of death: 12 June 1920; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Father: Calvin Dunston [sic]; Mother: Nancy Lassiter. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1121/S123_110-2318/842351?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221711655280/edit/record

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Nancy Dunson, “widow,” head. NARA Roll T9_978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page 1A. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00659/19787325?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705046/edit/record

[3] 1870; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head. Roll: M593_1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00250/22963668?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705187/edit/record

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Ellen Smitherman. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00465/22966086?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707299/edit/record

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; EAllen Dunson. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955713?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707272/edit/record

[6] 1850 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter, head; Nancy Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A & B; Image: 278 & 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00278/12941844?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221436746765/edit/record#?imageId=4204420_00278

[7] 1830 US Federal Census; Census Place: Regiment 1, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles (“Smiles”) Lassator, head. NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 125; Page: 7; Family History Film: 0018091. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410684_00017/242848?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221710701113/edit/record

[8] 1860 US Federal Census; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Cal Lassiter, head. Samuel Lassiter; Abigail Lassiter. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955682?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657676/facts/citation/221782038907/edit/record

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

[10] 1900 US Federal Census; Population Schedule. Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Winson [sic] Lassiter, head; Mabel Lassiter, daughter; Vella Lassiter, daughter; Will Lassiter, son; Calier C. Lassiter, son; Abbigail Lassiter, aunt. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1241213. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4117841_00117/50368995?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231719026/facts/citation/221780081585/edit/record