Monday, June 20, 2016

Finding Precilla - Uncovering the Life of my Formerly-Enslaved Great-Grandmother


I’ve been working to uncover the details of the life of my formerly-enslaved great-grandfather, Calvin YARBOROUGH, since I "officially" began my research, in 1997. It took some time, but after numerous visits to courthouses, libraries, and the NC State Archives, I was finally able to first determine his status as formerly enslaved, and then to piece together some of the data to create a timeline of his life. In the course doing this work, I’ve been on the lookout for any information about the origins of his wife, my great grandmother, Pricella SHAW, but it’s been tough to track her down, because I’ve never found any definitive records of her existence, before 1866.


Today, while doing some cleaning, I ran across an old legal pad filled with notes from a July 23, 2008 visit to the NC State Archives. It’s was fun to flip through the pages of the pad, reading my plan for the research trip, and recalling the celebratory moments when I was able to confirm, strike off, or add information to my growing body of research. (This was also when I found my great-grandfather’s last owner!)
Yep -- This is what my research used to look like!
Anyway, after I’d read all the way through the pages, I decided to go back and make some notations, just in case there was something I needed to review on my next visit to the Archives (which will be in three days!).  While reading this paragraph on the second page of the notepad, I had an “ah-ha” moment.


Several years ago, after I’d gathered a significant amount of information about Great-Grandpa Calvin’s former owners (and a little about whom I suspected Precilla’s to be), I noticed that perhaps my great-grandparents had purposefully left clues about their time of enslavement, in the names they chose for their children. (See notes about this on the timeline.) 
I’d long-since interpreted the middle name of their son, Henry King Yarborough, to be a clue that Priscilla was once owned by the prominent (wealthy) KING family of Franklin County, NC, but I hadn’t found any connection for his first name. (I did, however, note that there was a “Henry” in the lot of slaves that my grandfather was bestowed to his last owner with.) Well, today, I realized that in the paragraph, above, I’d noted that William Richmond KING owned a slave named “Priciller”, and I’d jotted this question to myself, back in 2008: “What year did W.R. King die? Realizing that I’d never answered my own question, I set out, today, to do so.

Upon searching for William Richmond King (on ancestry.com), I found my answer, right away. He died on March 6, 1888, well after the Civil War and the end of slavery. Knowing that, I can surmise that, unless there was a reason for him to have sold Precilla, it’s probable that she remained with the King family until emancipation.
I’d also posed another question in this section of my notes: “Did Joel King leave her (Pricilla) to Sarah?  I think what I meant to ask was if William, Jr. ended up leaving Priscilla to Sarah, but the point is, I was trying to figure out if my ancestor had eventually ended up belonging to Sarah.

But, who is Sarah, you might ask? Well, Sarah is Sarah Helen King, who married Robert John SHAW, thus making her Sarah Helen SHAW. And, why was I asking if perhaps Joel William had left (or given) my great-grandmother to this Sarah? Well, because if you take a look at what Priscilla named her first daughter – BOO-YAH! Sarah H. Yarborough. (I presume the H to be Helen.) Oh! And, what surname did Pricilla give to the clerk when she and Calvin went to register their cohabitation as man and wife? Precilla SHAW, that’s what!
Cohabitation Records, Franklin County, 1866: North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC
Sooooo…. long ago in the days before errr-thang was on the internet, I began to put these findings together, and I deduced that there was a high degree of likelihood that my great-grandmother, Precilla, had been owned by the KING family of Franklin County, and that perhaps she had somehow ended up with the daughter of that family, Sarah Helen King Shaw, at some point prior to emancipation. Even if Precilla was never actually owned by Mrs. Shaw, it’s possible to imagine that perhaps there was an admiration for this daughter of her owner, which led Precilla to want to honor her by naming her first daughter after her.
This very worn and scribbled upon page is from the front of the reunion booklet from the first-ever YARBOROUGH Family Reunion (descendants of Calvin and Precilla), held in 1993. This was where my interest in family history began. I do have a photo of an actual page in the family bible (shown) has all of these names written, but I can't find it at this time.

An additional finding which strengthens my hunch that Precilla must’ve been close to (or owned by) Sarah King is this: Sarah’s first child – a daughter- is named Josephine. Little Josephine and my great-grandmother, Precilla, were born within a year of each other (1838-1839), which makes me suspect that they must’ve grown up, adoring playmates, which would make total sense of the fact that my great-grandmother named her fourth daughter, Josephine

This brings me back to today…
Since I know that Sarah Shaw’s daughter, Josephine, and my great-grandmother, Precilla, were close in age, and may have grown up together, I needed to see if the two girls lived in close enough proximity for that to be true. Well, I struck gold, again, as hit after hit continued to support my theories about Precilla’s pre-emancipation background.
As it turns out, Robert John Shaw (Sarah’s husband) died in June, 1847, leaving her a widow, with six children. Three years later, in the 1850 Census, we find Sarah and her children enumerated in the household just after her father's, with her five children, including Josephine (who is recorded as being 14, but according to all other records found, she should have been 11). And, right next door (most likely on the same property), is her father, Dr. William R. King, who is shown on the 1850 Slave Census as being the owner of a 12 year old girl, who is (quite likely) Precilla. (Sarah, herself, owns 13 and 9 year old girls. This group of girls probably all worked and played together.)
This 1850 Census shows Sarah living next door to what looks like her brother, William, age 35. However, in the image, below, it appears to be her father, William, Sr. (age 65) in the same location.  Either way, Sarah is back home on her family's property, with her children.

Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.



If my thinking is on track (and I believe it is), this research gives a LOT of support to my theory that the Pricilla who was willed to William Richmond King, by his father, Joel King, in 1853 is my great-grandmother, Precilla Shaw Yarborough. What remains to be determined is how she ended up giving the SHAW surname on her cohabitation record, in 1866. However, since we know that the formerly-enslaved were allowed to use any surname they chose, my guess is that even if she was never owned by Sarah Shaw, my great-grandmother had a certain affection and respect for her, and because of that, she chose to give SHAW as her surname. This would, perhaps, further support what I was told by a descendant of the SHAW family, many years ago, when I first began to formulate these ideas. I’d reached out to this fellow researcher to see if he had anything that might lead me to my Precilla. He didn’t, but he did tell me that it was passed down in their family lore that Sarah Shaw felt a lot of affection for her slaves, and they for her.”  At that time, I wasn’t really trying to hear that, but now, it kind of makes sense that it may have been true, since it seems that my great-grandmother thought enough of her and her daughter to name her own children after them.

Whew! I'm going to pause here, but I will be back with a Part II. My next steps will be to see if I can put Precilla and Calvin in proximity to one another in 1860 and/or the period just before that. I already have some documentation, showing a "Sylla" belonging to Calvin's last owner, but I'll need to find proof of some kind of transaction before and can know for sure that she's the right one.

So, for now.... That's all folks! 

Thanks for reading, and please share, widely, so that perhaps some of the Shaw and/or King descendants might see this, and come forth with more info!  Thanks!

Renate

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Merry Christmas in Heaven, Mom

Two years ago, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, my mom left this Earth to be with Jesus. I miss her so much!
My daughters and I paid a visit to her grave on Christmas Eve, and adorned it in holiday style.


Merry Christmas in heaven, Mom!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

John Wesley Green

I was looking something up about my great-grandfather, John Wesley Green, and I realized that today marks exactly 88 years since his death on December 6, 1927 so I decided to do a post about him. I wish so much that I had a picture to share, but I've never seen his likeness. I'm still hoping and praying that perhaps someone will discover a (verified) picture of him, and share it with me. :)
Here's a little about John Wesley Green. 
John Wesley GREEN was born in July 1864 , to Nathaniel Hawkins (white) and Anna Green (mulatto). He married Susan Georgiana DUNSTON on January 23, 1886, Franklin County (Louisburg), NC. John and Susan lived Franklin and Wake Counties, and had six children over 18 years. He was a barber, who owned his own business (possibly with a partner). He died on December 6, 1927, in Louisburg, at the age of 63, and was buried there in the Louisburg City Cemetery, or what we know today as "The Cemetery on the Hill".
I'm including a few of the documents I've have uncovered over the years, which have helped me to learn more about my great-grandfather, and to further my research. The first is from a 1925 publication, put out by the Masons, called, "Proceedings of the Fifty Fifth Communication of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge F.A.A.M". It shows John as a dues-paid member of the lodge. (This document was an enlightening find for me, because it also shows my grandfather, Calvin R. Yarborough, and his brother, Eugene, as members of the lodge. It allowed me to see that there was a relationship between my grandmother's father, and her husband, Calvin. I wondered if maybe Grandpa John introduced the two of them, since my grandfather had been widowed, and was raising three children alone. It's just a hunch, but it does seem likely, since they were "brothers" and my grandmother was already 28 years old when they married, indicating that perhaps her father was afraid she was going to become an "old maid".)

The next document is the marriage application and license for John Green and Susan Dunston. The application was made on January 23, 1886, and they were married two days later, on the 25th. As is typical of these documents, there are errors in spelling, etc., but it is rich in genealogical information, and helped to confirm parentage and ages for both of my great-grandparents, early in my research. (The NB Hawkins is an error: It should be NM Hawkins.)

The third document is from the 1899-1900 Raleigh City Directory. It shows John W Green (colored) of "Green & Matthews" living at 9 McKee Dr. I haven't yet confirmed that this is my ancestor, but I believe it to be. I just haven't ever heard the Matthews name, in connection with him, nor did I know of him having a partner. I'll be doing more work on this. :)


The last document I'll attach here is Grandpa John's 1927 Death Certificate, showing that he died at home (my grandmother's house in Louisburg) of "cerebritis", which is an infection of the brain that leads to deadly inflammation. Thanks to the letters from John's son, WL to his wife, Georgia (which were shared with me by my cousin, Kelly), we know that Grandpa John was losing his ability to care for himself in the period before his death, and that he may have been having trouble recognizing his family members. When I was reading the letters, I thought it sounded like Alzheimer's; but this document gives a more direct diagnosis,although it probably wasn't clinically determined, since the doctor states that he'd only attended to John Green on the day of his death. Also, although we can't always read too much into these documents (because there is almost always human error), it struck me that William didn't know, or maybe wasn't able to recall the name of John's father, Nathaniel Hawkins, who would have been his own grandfather. This let me see that (sadly) the trend of not sharing family history/stories started from the beginning in our family.

I will close with this picture of the only three children of John and Susan's children who lived to adulthood. I've been told that John Green was a stocky man with white hair and blue eyes, and that he looked like a white man; however, until we see pictures of him, or of Susan, we can only try to imagine what they may have looked like, as we gaze at the faces of these three, Anna (my grandmother), William, and Mabel.


Thanks for reading!  As always, I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and ideas. Please do share this post with your networks. Perhaps someone will read it who knows something about my people! :)

Renate

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

Wow! I cannot believe it's been almost 8 months since my last post! I have GOT to do better!

I know what the problem is, though -- it's FACEBOOK. See, once upon a time, I used to share my research discoveries, and other genealogy-related musings, here, or on my less personal, "Genea-Related" blog. For years, I felt a sense of kinship and belonging within a large, supportive group of genealogy bloggers. But, then, two things kinda happened at about the same time, and those concurrent events seemed to work together to lure me (and perhaps my others) from posting (regularly) to our blogs.

In my opinion, the BIG thing that happened was that more and more genealogy group began to pop up on Facebook. These groups started off with broad-topic ranges, but over time, the groups became more and more specific in scope - categorized in a variety of ways, by ethnicity, location, social/civic involvement, military service, and/or DNA-focused interests. As these groups grew larger in membership, I noticed a decline in the number of comments on, and visits to my blogs. Instead, people drifted over to the instantaneous feedback that Facebook allows, along with its ability for users to engage in "conversation" with each other about, and directly under each post. At first, I was reluctant to join in. After all, I'd been on Facebook since 2007, when I'd joined during my youngest's first year of college, just so I could see some pictures shed wanted to show me. At that time, very few "people my age" we're even on FB, but over the next couple of years, my "real" friends began to join, and the site began to serve as a place for sharing pictures and daily happenings with my family and friends.
As time went on, I began to miss the feedback I'd been used to getting when I would post to my blogs. Comments became sparse, to none, and I guess I started feeling like no one was reading. (I know that the purpose isn't supposed to be to entertain others, but we all need a little support, and the feedback was invaluable.) Anyway, I eventually began to poke around in some of the Facebook
groups, and soon, the old,"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" adage won out. So, I dove in, joining
groups for the NC counties from which my ancestors hailed, groups for African ancestry, for genealogical societies to which I belonged, and MORE! I began to notice that those people who were still posting on blogs, would then publish the links to those posts on Facebook, and all of the commenting was being done there, instead of on the blogs. I became so active, so fast, that genea-matters began to totally consume my feed, and I was hardly ever seeing posts from my original friends. Not only that, I became a bit self-conscious about my hundreds of new "friends" being privy to my personal life, etc., so I decided it best to create a separate FB profile, just for genealogy. And, that was all she wrote! :)

The second factor which led to a slowdown in blog-posting, and surely contributed to the decrease in number of readers and commentary, was the demise of the very popular, Google Reader. The majority of us in the blogosphere seemed to have used this platform to organize and deliver the posts of the weblogs we each followed. When Google announced that its Reader was being discontinued, several options were given for new readers to which users could transfer. I chose Feedly; but it just hasn't been the same, and the transfer did not work, 100%. My guess is that this is true for many, and that's probably why we've all lost readers. Also, the interface is quite different, and in order to comment, one must click out of the program, to go,directly to the blog site, and then come back. I also find it frustrating that only small sections of posts open at one time.

So, why am I writing about all of this? Well, honestly, I hadn't planned to. I came here to write a post
about finding my dad's Marine Corps dog tags, but when I saw how long it had been since I'd posted,
I decided to "say something", and it turned into this post.  I'm still going to write that one; and I will share it (and this one) on Facebook (lol), but I'd like to ask just ONE favor of everyone who's actually ready this. Please ma'am, please sir: Just leave me one tiny comment here on the blog. I'd really like to get an idea of who is still even reading, so that I can make some decisions about how I'd like to go forth with my writing. Oh, I am going to renew my commitment to writing, the only question is, "What will my platform be?

Thanks for reading!
Renate

Monday, January 5, 2015

Not So Mysterious Monday - William A Green

1/5/2015 - UPDATE!!!!!
I've learned a lot more about the illusive William Green since writing about him in 2009, but today has been a banner day because I've positively identified a PICTURE of William!  Here he is!
Sargent William Adam Green
(October 1874 - February 21, 1940)
 I've actually had a picture of this picture for a few years, and I've long suspected that it could have been William. However, the first time I saw it, and took a shot of it, the military insignia wasn't as clear.  As a matter of fact, the "3" above the crossed rifles, didn't show up on that first picture, at all. So, for a few years, I've had that picture but didn't realize that there was such a clear identifier on it!

Yesterday, I returned to the home of my cousin, H, in Louisburg, NC, where this picture, along with several others of the white-looking ancestral members of my family, hangs in a private room, which few people even know about.  I convinced my aged and ailing cousin to allow me to go back into the room (escorted by his wife) to compare a picture of another mystery ancestor, to a baby picture that I remembered being in there.  He obliged my request, and so, while in there, I quickly took new photos of each of the pictures in the little room. All of the pictures are framed, and most are hanging on the wall.  The ones that aren't are sitting atop an antique piano, which belonged to the home's original owner.

When I returned home from my trip, and looked over my pictures, I immediately noticed that the military-looking insignia was much clearer than it had been in the first shot, and that the was a unmistakable number "3" above the crossing of the two rifles.  I began to get excited, because I knew that I'd found William Green, some years ago, in the THIRD NC Volunteer Battalion, during the Spanish-American War! Could this be him?  But, what was on the little medal under the guns?  I studied it and studied it, trying to determine if it had the letter H on it, since that was William's company.  But, all the blowing up and starting at it couldn't clarify that part of the picture. So, what did I do?  I turned to the genealogy community on Facebook! :)  Posting the picture and query instigated lots of discussion.  In the end, although no one could  make out what was under the rifles, everyone agreed that the rest of the insignia definitely represented the Third NC Battalion.  Because there was no one else in my ancestral family who served in the SAW, and no one else who would have have been age-eligible and who would fit the physical description of the young man in the picture, I knew I had William!
Close-up of insignia

So, there you have it! I am now able to look into the eyes of the youngest son of my great-great grandparents, Nathaniel Hawkins and Anna Green, whom I've never seen photos of.  Looking at William allows me to look at the two of them - or at least to imagine what they may have looked like. I see William, and I think about what it must have been like for him to have served in this particular military unit - an all black battalion, which was subjected to the worst kind of racism, in and around their camps. I imagine for William, looking WHITE in this segregated regiment must have presented a multitude of additional challenges, both from within, and from outside of the "protective" walls of his encampments. I wonder, for William, what it was like to (presumably) for the first time in his life be immersed in an all-black world, especially since even the officers in this regiment were black?  I wonder if he got bullied? I wonder if he got called, "white-boy" - if he was beat up, or teased for his appearance?  I wonder if he was the only one in his company who was like this? I do know that he mustered in as a Sargent, and that was probably due to the color of his skin. But, why wasn't he one of the "officers"?

In William's eyes, I imagine I see the painfully-gained, growing wisdom of a young man, who has had his first venture into a harsh world, away from his family. I feel as though I see the contemplative wheels a-turning, and he considers his next move(s), knowing that he will never see himself the same way he may have before he enlisted, and understanding in even greater depth than before, the juxtaposition he would face as a white-looking black man in the Jim Crow south.  And, for the first time since I learned of William Adam Green, who moved to New York, not too long after this picture was made, and lived out his life "passing" as white - I understood, and I forgave him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
August 9, 2009 (Updated on 1/5/2015)
Last week's mystery was about my gg grandmother, Anna Green. Today I'll introduce her son, William. William Green was born in 1873 1874 in Franklin County, NC. He was the fourth of Anna's mulatto children, whose father was Nathaniel M. Hawkins. (See last week's Mysterious Monday for the back story) I know very little about William, except that he looked white, and that he left NC at an early age and moved to New York, where he lived as a White man. According to my 90 (now 95) year-old cousin, Florine, he married a white woman, who she thinks may have been Jewish. It is unclear as to whether or not this woman ever knew William's ethnicity before his death, but Florine recalls that she actually came to Louisburg at some point afterward, said some choice words and dumped off a bunch of pictures and such - which have since disappeared. William's wife was actually Irish. I don't know anymore about the whole "coming to Louisburg thing, but something seems to have happened once either she (Margaret), or someone else in her family discovered William's ethnicity, because apparently they "outted" other family members who were also passing in NY, causing them to lose their jobs, and more.

Florine tells a story of going with her aunt, William's sister, to New York for his funeral, but not being able to attend because she was "too brown" and would have given away the "secret". (Interesting, because Florine is very light, but not light enough to pass.) So, she stayed at the house - which I'm assuming was her Aunt Betty's (Elizabeth GREEN Miller's) house. Betty was also living in New York and passed for White. This was sometime in the 1930's. (She, along with her sister, Ruby, were the two, mentioned above.)

What I know for sure:... (Not much!)
1. William's middle name was Adam. Now, this is complicated, but I have a Family Group Record from familysearch.org that shows William's 1904 marriage in Manhattan. This marriage was to Sally Lou Johnson, who was also from Louisburg. (Florine says this is not the white woman, but a first wife, and I'm guessing she was Black.) On this document, William lists his parents as Anna Perkins and Nathaniel Green. If this is my William, which I believe it is, this document corroborates the oral history that Anna was originally a Perkins before she came to Louisburg. Nathaniel also matches the first name of the person I was told was Wm's white father, but I have a different surname. I'm assuming that William may have been guessing at this, because his father died when he was six and he was just probably assuming that his mother got her last name (Green) from him, but she didn't. They were never married. The other thing about this document is that I can no longer find it or pull it up on Family Search! Thank goodness I printed it out when I originally saw it, but it's a mystery as to why it no longer seems to be there. The middle name, Adam, was also confirmed on William's WWI Draft Registration (see below), and on his service record from the Spanish-American War.
William's WWI Draft Registration

2. William died in New YorkWilliam died on February 21, 1940, in the Bronx, NY. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, New York.  His niece, Ruby Green, was the informant on his death certificate.  William's wife, Margaret Boyle, had long predeceased him, having passed in 1929.  I have not found evidence of them having any children, but I'm told that they may have had a son.  

3. William's sister, Betty, also lived in New York and was passing for White. She was a "hairdresser to the rich folk", according to Cousin Florine, until William's wife found out that they were Black and went and told everyone. Then she lost all her clients. Florine says she lived in the Riverdale section of NY. Bettie married Roy Miller, a postal worker. According to Florine, my cousin H, and my cousin Virginia, Betty was also Doris Duke's personal stylist, and "traveled with her everywhere she went".  I do have a picture of Betty relaxing on a ship deck, and others of her wearing furs, so perhaps this is true. I tried to verify this a few years ago, but I'd gotten the name wrong, and ended up writing to Doris DAY's people, instead of Doris DUKE's. A followup is on my to-do list. :)

Conflicts:
William names his father as Nathaniel Green on the fs.org document. Our oral history gives the name Hawkins. (What the heck - that's the name. Nathaniel HAWKINS.) Well, this goes to show what a short time it's been since I discovered and uncovered my Hawkins ancestry!  There's no further conflict on this.  William's father was Nathaniel Hawkins.
Questions:

1. Did William ever have any children, either by Sally Lou, or by his white wife? If so, what happened to them, and how can I find them? The whole Sally Lou thing is still a mystery, although I have a few suspicions. However, I don't find her anywhere else, in Louisburg, where it says she was from, or in NY. Florine insists that William had a child, but I'm thinking that if that child was in Louisburg, we'd know about him/her, so I don't know.

2. What was William's wife's name? (the white one) William married Margaret Boyle before 1918, in NY.  I had a source for this, but can't find it, right now.  Margaret was born in Ireland, in 1876, to parents John Boyle and Bridget Nolan.  She immigrated (with her parents) to the United States in 1907.

3. Where is William buried?  William is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Westchester, NY

4. Did William maintain any type of communication with his mother, Anna? (Was she even still living, when he left NC?)

5. Did Anna ever visit William in New York? Could she have gone to live with him? (Perhaps as a servant? Remember, Anna disappears from my census findings after 1880.)


Today's mystery question: How can I find out more about William Green? The work continues...

Renate

*The picture of William A Green is the explicit property of this writer, and should not be copied without my permission.  You may, though, feel free to share this post, in its entirety. :)

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Historic Louisburg - An Article

Wow. I just finished reading this lengthy, well-written essay on the history of Louisburg, the town of my ancestors; and I must say, it's left me feeling "some kind of way".  When I first began reading the article, I was grateful to be learning more about the houses and properties on the "other side of the bridge", as I'd grown up knowing the "historic" part of Louisburg to be. As a child, visiting my grandmother on South Main Street, I was forbidden to ever travel across that bridge in my wanderings.  The one time I did, I got my behind tore up when I got back to the house, since Ms. Wilhelmina, and some of the other townsfolk, had already notified my grandmother, aunt, and uncle that they'd seen me coming back across the bridge. (I even got the privilege of picking the switch off the tree!) I didn't understand then, what I know now, about why they didn't want me to cross the bridge. They were trying to protect me, and to keep me safe and innocent. But, I didn't know that....

Anyway, I still find myself curious about the other side of the bridge when I come to town.  Yes, the historic district holds the Franklin County Courthouse, as well as the Register of Deeds - both crucial to the work I've done in my genealogy research.  But, the homes on the north side of the bridge incite in me a special intrigue, and not only because of my love and fascination for old and unusual architecture, but also because it was in some of these homes that my sweet grandmother, Annie YARBOROUGH, labored and, dare I say loved, as "the help". Not only that, but thanks to my years of research, I must also acknowledge that others of my ancestors were amongst those considered to be the town's "most prominent citizens", thus making them, and their peers the owners of many of the very properties mentioned in this article.

As I began to read the essay, I was frst filled with excitement. After all, when I drive through the neighborhoods mentioned - Noble St., Church St., N. Main Street, etc., I never dare to stop and ask anyone any questions about the homes, even though I always wonder, "Could this one be where my gg-grandfather, Nathaniel Hawkins lived?" "Is this the block that was owned by my 3rd great-grandmother, Jacobina Sherrod Hawkins?"  "I wonder exactly where my great-grandfather, Calvin's, last owner, James H. Yarborough lived with his wife, Arete?"  The questions in my mind are never-ending.  It seemed that, armed with a print-out of this article, I'd be able to ride through the neighborhoods and identify many of the very homes I've been wondering about, and more.  However, about halfway through the piece, I began to get irritated.  This article was walking me step-by-step through the building and development of the town of Louisburg, and there had not been one single mention of African-Americans, although people of color had, during the time of the county's development, outnumbered the population of whites.  As the article mentioned over and over again how these prominent folks "built" these beautiful properties, not one word was lent to acknowledge the enslaved laborers, who most certainly did much, if not all of the work, since all of the property owners were slaveholders.  There was no menton, even, of James Boon, a free person of color, who not only owned and operated his own carpentry business, but was a Louisburg property owner, too. Not a word about John H. Williamson, a freedman who represented Franklin County in the NC Legislature for six terms (and who was a friend and contemporary of my great-grandfather's). As a matter of fact, there was only one mention in the entire 5,671 word article of any persons of color, and that didn't occur until after the 4700th word, when the author stated this:   "There were other contractors active in Louisburg but unfortunately records of their work are scarce. The 1900 Census lists Houck as the only house contractor and nine carpenters six of whom were black. These carpenters, such as Perry Williams who helped construct the Alston House (107 South Elm Street, 1902-1905), worked under the supervision of builders such as Houck."  I won't go into the fact that James Boon's papers are housed at the NC State Archives, but by "scarce" records, I assume that means no one looked for them.

Anyway, I realize that I'm kind of on a rant here, but reading this article has just brought to the surface much of the frustration I've felt as a researcher with roots in Louisburg. The truth is, this city was a Confederate stronghold, as alluded to by one of it's citizens at the end of the Civil War, when she wrote in her diary of a group of Union soldiers, "but here they are still...encamped in our beautiful college groves, which have always been the pride of the Village, and consecrated to learning-now polluted by the tread of our vindictive foe."

Although I've met and befriended many of Louisburg's wonderful current-day citizens, I definitely have felt constrained in my efforts to uncover truths about my ancestors of color, and their lives in this sweet little town. I don't hold anyone living today accountable for the choices and/or actions of their (our) ancestors, but I do ask that we honor them all, by doing the work it takes to tell the whole stories of their lives, and of the building of the town that we all hold so dear.

My grandma, Anna Green Yarborough, on "the bridge".

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - I'm Sorry, Grandma

I know that the title I've chosen for this post is a strange one, especially given that I don't bear any responsibility for what happened to my grandma. But, having lived a life that hasn't been particularly easy, and because I'm realizing more and more how much I seem to have inherited that stroke of fate from the (strong) female ancestors who preceded me, I can't help but to empathize with my Grandma Anna (Annie?) Yarborough for having to endure what seems like it was probably an exasperating ordeal to prove her date of birth.
So, what's this all about?  (I'm glad you asked!)
Some of my readers may recall that I recently lost an aunt.  She was last of my Yarborough grandparents' children, and she still lived in the family home, which was built by my grandfather (her father) and his brother(s), over 100 years ago.  I am the heir to this property, and I've been trying, a little at a time, to carefully go through all of the mounds and piles of STUFF that's built up and been left behind there.  My aunt, who lost both of her brothers (my dad and my uncle) just a month apart in 1997, reacted, in part, by becoming somewhat of a hoarder - in particular, a paper hoarder.  I am sure (with no exaggeration) that she had not discarded a single piece of paper since that fateful year, but the problem was seemingly beginning to develop, even before that.  So, yep - that leaves Renate, the genealogist, who wouldn't dream of just going in and trashing it all, to go painstakingly through every piece of mail, every manila envelope, every greeting card, etc., to look for possible clues to and/or evidence of my family history. But, I'll write more about that in another post.  Now, for the point of this one.
Yesterday, on one of my trips to the house, I was going through a dresser drawer that was stocked full of what appeared to only be old bank statements.  (These were from the 70's.)  As much as I wanted to just shred and chuck them, I knew better, because I've learned that anything can be anywhere in that house! (Don't get me started about the letter from my grandfather to my grandmother, written in NINETEEN TWENTY-ONE, which I found on my very first venture.  It was on the shelf of my aunt's headboard, mixed between some bills from 2012! But, I digress...)
Anyway, I stuck to it, and lo and behold, about 3/4 of the way through the bank statements, I noticed three neatly folder sheets of slightly yellowed paper.  Wondering what they might be (and getting excited), I opened the first one.  Here it is.

 Wow!  I've read posts from others about how their ancestors had to try to prove their birth dates, but I'd never seen any documentation from any of mine.  Even though I've worked with the Delayed Birth Records in Franklin County many times, those were just the actual records, but not the correspondence which led up to them.
The next paper I opened was this one.  I'm assuming my grandma had sent them a letter stating that she had contacted the Census Bureau, and her insurance company.  (I didn't find that letter.)

 The biggest surprise was third of the three documents, a hand-written letter from my grandmother to the SSA.  I was quite baffled at first, because I knew this wasn't my grandmother's handwriting, nor did she "talk" like this.  But, then I figured it out.  My Aunt Sue (who was a secretary at the time) had penned this letter for my grandmother.  Although I know she wasn't illiterate, I'm beginning to gather that, perhaps, writing wasn't her strong-suit, so she probably asked my aunt to write this for her.

The letter reads as follows:
                                        927 So. Main St.
                                        Louisburg, NC
                                        June 8, 1957

Mr. John H Ingle, Manager
District Office
Social Security Administration
Raleigh, N.C
Dear Mr. Ingle:
     I am enclosing a copy of the Census Bureau 
record to try to establish proof of my age.  
     You will note that there is a difference in
the spelling of the irst name.  I was always told
that my first name was Annie, but I've been called
Anna, and have always used Annie for official business
of any kind.  Is this acceptable or will I have to try
to do something about this?
     I will appreciate any help you can give me.
I am,
                                    Sincerely Yours,
                                   Annie G. Yarborough
                                   (SSN cut off for privacy.)

Needless to say, there had to have been correspondence before and after this.  I just feel so bad to learn of all the back-and-forth that my grandmother apparently had to go through, just to prove her birth.  She was a such a hard working woman, widowed after just a few years of marriage, and having raised 3 children, 3 step-children, and helped to raise the children of other relatives, all while working as a domestic and doing the best she could for everyone.  Given the year that this was, I can't help but wonder if maybe she was trying to go over to Japan, where my father was stationed, to help him with his newly-adopted son, my brother, Henry. I'll bet anything that's what it was.  I also wonder how it is that she already had a SSN, if she didn't have a birth certificate?  And, since she did, couldn't they have used whatever documentation she'd provided for that? Why couldn't this just have been a bit simpler for her?
I guess I know the answer to that.  As I just shared with a friend a few days ago, nothing ever just goes smoothly for me, and I've always been told, "You're just like your grandma." So, there ya go!  (And, I wouldn't have it any other way!) :)

Renate

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