Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Goldmine

Whew! Okay, this past week has been a bit of a whirlwind! I've had so much to blog about, but no time to do it, so of course now I've forgotten most of what I wanted to say. But one thing I want to share for sure is about how I've been gifted, once again, with blessings from my ancestors!
Last Tuesday, I took an impromptu trip down to the Franklin County Courthouse. After a few hours in the small, dusty records room there, I visited the County Library to take a look at a few local family histories that have been published and are held there. (Ulterior motive - to cool off and revive from being in the Courthouse!). Last on the list of this one-day whirlwind trip was a visit to my Aunt Sue, my 89-year old aunt who still lives in the family home that was built by my grandfather, Calvin, and in which my father and all of his siblings were born.

I'll have to share more about this house and its significance to me and to our history as time goes, but for now, just know that I see this place as the holder of much of my history. I spent much of my childhood here - most of my summers, and Sunday trips there at least once or twice per month for most of my youth. This was "Grandma's house" for me, and my Grandma, Annie/Anna Green Yarborough was my absolute most favorite person in the whole wide world! She loved me like no one else ever has, and I loved her right back! Sadly, my Grandma Yarborough went on to be with the angels when I was fifteen years old, but she has remained near and dear to my heart ever since, and I've always felt her spirit watching over me. :)

Anyway, whenever I visit my aunt, I have certain rituals I go through. After sitting down and engaging in a few moments of polite conversation, getting updated on her health and on the goings-on of the church (another subject I'll be sharing more about later), and sharing tidbits from whatever work I've just done on the research, I usually rise up and announce that I'm going to "make my rounds". My aunt is quite used to this now, and if I chat with her for an extra-long time before making this announcement (as I did on this trip), she will chuckle and say, " Well, I was wondering when you were going to get to that.", or something to that effect. But last Tuesday, was not a typical visit. When I'd arrived at the house just shortly after 7 p.m., I'd intended to just stop through for a minute to say hello and use the restroom, because I'd wanted to go up "on the hill" for a few minutes before it got dark. (The Hill is the local label for the Louisburg City Cemetery, formerly the Louisburg Colored Cemetery, where most of my ancestors are buried.) However, much to both of our surprise, my aunt and I sat and chatted for almost an hour, before I realized that it was about to get to dark for me to go to the cemetery. I had already decided that I was going to make the 2:45 drive back home that night, so I knew I needed to start getting ready to leave. Therefore, I made a monumental decision - I would not do my rounds!
Normally, I go through each room in the house, stopping in all the rooms downstairs to gaze at and reflect upon each of the decorative items that grace the mantles and the antique furnishings that line the hallway, or stand in the kitchen and bedrooms. I touch everything, and holler out questions and comments to my aunt, who usually remains seated in the front room while I do this, having long ago abandoned the idea of trying to follow me around the house. I go into the kitchen where my grandmother's old flour-mill (sifter) cabinet still stands, and always reflect on how I would get in trouble for turning the handle on it without permission when I was little. Then, I open the door to the now-covered back porch, which looms above the once rickety steps leading down to the basement door - or "under the house" as my grandma always called it. I close the door and turn the old key to lock it - yes, this is the original key on the original door - and then head upstairs for Part Two of my ritual.
(I hadn't planned to explain all of this in this post, I'm in it now, so let me tell you about upstairs right quick....lol.)

For the next part of my ritual, I climb the steps to the second floor, holding tight to the original dark-wood rail. At the top of the stairs, I always pause for a moment, as there is a large landing, cluttered with STUFF that dates back decades (and needs to be cleaned up). The old "candy cabinet", as my brother and I used to call it, stands abandoned in a corner and filled with books. There are two bedrooms upstairs, on opposite sides of the hallway. Each room holds antique trunks and furnishings, and one, which was my Uncle Calvin's room, still has all of his clothing and personal affects, just as he left them when he passed in 1997. I usually just spend a few minutes in each of these rooms, reflecting on the people who once occupied them, and sometimes picking around to see if I'll find any clues to further my research. Then, back down the steps I go, back to the living room and my patiently-waiting aunt. But my ritual is not finished yet.

The last thing I do is to check the contents of "my cabinet". This is a place where I keep all of the precious family heirlooms that I've found in the house over the past decade - since I became serious about this work. I do take some things with me (with my aunt's permission, of course), but there are just a few items which I can't bear to remove from the premises, the main one being the large, and very delicate Yarborough Family Bible. Sometimes, I pull the things out and go through them, and other times, I just check to make sure everything is still there.

Now, on this particular visit, everything was different. After the long chat with my aunt, I got up to start my ritual, but I made it no further than that large bookcase in the front hallway, just adjacent to the front room. I usually thumb through the old books, picking up a few and flipping through them to see if any pictures, or scraps of paper might fall out. I did this, but then paused when I got to the obituary of my great-uncle, William Lawrence Greene, who died in 1961. For some reason, his large funeral program has always been right there on the shelf with the books, but because I already have the copy that belonged to my father, I never paid much attention to it. I was aware that there were other funeral programs down on the bottom shelf where I could see a small stack peeking out, so, on this particular visit, I decided to ask my aunt about them. Here was my question: "Aunt Sue, exactly HOW MANY funeral programs do you think you have over here?" This got her out of her seat, as she protectively announced that she didn't know how many there were, but that some of them were her mother's - my grandmother's - and that "Ma told me no matter what I do I'd better not ever throw them away!"
Okay, so every genealogist out there has to know that my ears perked up and my heart started beating a little faster...lol. You mean to tell me that there are funeral programs down there from when my grandmother was alive???? And all this time I didn't know that? My grandmother lived from 1891 to 1977. I had no idea she collected funeral programs! Carefully, I asked my aunt if I could take them, explaining what gems these might hold for me. I promised that I would bring them back to her, if she'd just allow me to take them home with me until my next visit. It was dark outside now, and I really needed to get on the road, having never stayed in town this late before, and knowing I'd have to negotiate the long, dark country highways to get out of there. I was getting a little antsy.

My aunt agreed to let me take the obituary-filled programs home with me. The 3-inch stack was sitting atop a small box, so I took a quick look inside. The box was FILLED with more programs! I was in shock - I couldn't believe all of this had been here all these years and I didn't know it! As it turned out, there were also two more huge stacks of funeral programs under some other stuff on another shelf, and my aunt allowed me to bring all of them home! After making two trips out to the car with my "loot", I made the long drive home, and yes, I stayed up until almost 3 in the morning going the first few hundred of what I've estimated to be about 1000 funeral programs, a few of which date back to 1950. Believe it or not, I left two large stacks behind, feeling overwhelmed by the amount that I had already, so I'll be going back for those soon. So far this week, I've sorted the programs into two groups - those that that are of or mention our family surnames, and those that don't. I have about 40-50 that are people on my family tree, and already I've been able to add and/or correct the names of parents, siblings, and other family members, as well as get new clues about locations of extended family, etc. So, for me, this was another goldmine! My plan is to organize and index all of the programs and eventually post/publish the list as a resource for other researchers who might have ancestors in and around Franklin County, NC. In addition to the obituaries, there were also a few programs from other historical events, such as church anniversaries. (One of those, from Mt. Hebron Holy Church in Louisburg, stated that my own grandmother was one of the church' s founders - a fact that I never knew before!) With my aunt's permission, the whole lot of extras (including those I left behind) will eventually be donated to one of the libraries for safe-keeping and preservation.

So, all of this was to say that once again, I've been blessed by an ancestor, this time, my grandmother, Anna Beatrice Green Yarborough, who still holds the title of My Favorite Person in the Whole Wide World! Thanks, Grandma!


  1. Wow! That is an awesome find! Your grandmother sounds like my grandmother...collecting funeral programs...my maternal grandmother seems to have obits from every single person she knew who died, relative or not. Funny how you also do your rounds. My paternal grandmother has 3 boxes up in her spare bedroom closet with letters, funeral programs, high school autograph books, ledgers, etc. Like you, I check on them occasionally just to make sure nothing has gone missing and that I haven't missed something! My favorite item is the high school autograph book of my great-grandfather from 1928. He was obviously the class clown and quite the ladies man.

  2. Nadasue,
    You are creating a wonderful record of your genealogical journey for your own descendants. Great find! Next time take your camera so we can see the house.

  3. Thanks. :) Kathryn, I already have plenty of pictures of the house. I was choosing between posting one of those versus the picture of my grandmother and me, and decided on the latter. I'm sure the house will make it on here soon enough, but the exterior was changed to siding a few decades ago, so it's not just as it was when my grandfather built it.

  4. Blessed by your Ancestors indeed! Maybe Grandma Annie felt it was time to get them in your hand!:-)

    As a researcher I've slept on the importance of a funeral program but not anymore... I'm collecting now myself.

    I'll be waiting to see what comes from this Genealogical Goldmine.

    If they are in your hands now, after all this time, there is a reason.


  5. That is absolutely amazing! what a treasure you have.

  6. How awesome!!! I am so happy for you!! Don't you love it when our ancestors leave presents for us?

  7. Amazing. My mother is the funeral program collector although she doesn't have a ton but the one's she has has helped me out with various branches of the tree.