Thursday, March 11, 2010

Restore My Name - CoAAG (Updated 5/28/17)

For my first entry in the Carnival of African-American Genealogy, I'd like to respond to the prompt, "As a descendant of slaves, have you been able to work with or even meet other researchers who are descendants of slave owners?"

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a descendant of one of the slave-owning  YARBOROUGHs of Franklin County, NC, where my paternal ancestors are from.  As it happened, I was in the FC Courthouse doing some research one summer day, and in discussing my plight in trying to validate my theory on how my gg-grandfather, Calvin, came to be a Yarborough, a very helpful young lady shared with me that a semi-retired lawyer in town was a YARBOROUGH, and had an office in the very next block.  Several of the other courthouse workers chimed in, saying that this person was an avid family historian and that they believed him to have access to his ancestors' records.  Of course, I made my way over to the law office, only to find a note on the door saying that the person I sought was only in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This was not one of those days.

 This is Richard Fenner Yarborough, Sr., a son of one of the first "brothers of Yarboroughs" who came to Franklin County (then Bute), NC from Virginia.  (Photo taken by Renate Sanders of original picture (in frame) held by C.H. Yarborough, Jr.)

I took down the phone number for the law office and continued on to the next planned stop on my trip, which was a visit to the Oakwood Cemetery, where most of the slave-owning Yarboroughs are buried. This was more out of curiosity than anything else, but as always, the Ancestors were at work.  As I stood amid the immaculately kept graves in the YARBOROUGH CIRCLE (which was located right in the center of Oakwood), another vehicle pulled up.  A white-haired lady got out and headed directly towards me.  "Oh, no", I thought.  I guess she's wondering why I (a black woman) am out here in the middle of her family plot.  I put on my best smile and greeted her, excited on the inside thinking that I might be about to meet one of the descendants of my gg-grandfather's owners, but nervous about how I was about to be received.  The woman also smiled, perhaps a bit nervously too, but - she-smiled. :) We got all of the pleasantries out of the way and got to talking.  As it turned out, the woman, Nancy, was the widow of a deceased YARBOROUGH and was out to visit her husband's grave.  She knew and shared quite a bit of history with me, and we completed our visit to the cemetery together. She also knows and considers as a friend, my aunt, Sue, who still lives in Louisburg. Before we parted, Nancy, too, shared the name and the home phone number of her husband's nephew - the same lawyer whom I'd just attempted to visit.

Nancy Yarborough, widow of Edward Yarborough
(Photo property of Renate Y Sanders)

Long story short, I ended up contacting Charles Yarborough, who was quite gracious and receptive to meeting and talking with me about the possibility of our shared family history.  I met with him on my next trip to Louisburg, and we had a high time getting to know each other, and chatting about our families.  As it turned out, my own grandmother, Anna Green YARBOROUGH, actually worked for Charles' family when he was a boy.  And get this - she was his nanny!  Charles remembered my grandmother's sweetness, and he remembered being very sad when she had to stop working for his family, abruptly, due to the illness of a family member.  (I'll write about that in another post.)  He thought he might have a picture someplace of her holding him (oh - wouldn't that be a treasure for me!), but hasn't been able to find it to date.  Charles did find the photo a year or two after this post was written! Although it's blurry, that's definitely my grandma. This photo now serves as the youngest picture I've ever seen of her. 
My grandmother, Anna Green Yarborough, holding little Charles Hill Yarborough, Jr. (circa 1934)
I have one other photo to add to this post, but I'll have to get it the next time I visit Louisburg. It's a precious photo of little Charles, about 5 or 6 years old, tucked into the Yarborough Family Bible, along with other precious mementos.

Anyway, I've had the opportunity since then to meet Charles' son, Hill, who is just as gracious, accepting, and generous as his father.  Together, the three of us have visited, "The Hill", which is the burial ground for most of my African-American YARBOROUGH ancestors, including many who were formerly enslaved.  In particular, Charles wanted to pay his respects to his "Nanny", which he was able to do on that day. Charles recalled, with obvious fondness, how much he loved my grandmother, and how "sweet" she was to him. He told me about how, one day, his mother told him that "Nanny" (as he called her) couldn't come back anymore. He was very young, so of course, he didn't know the details, but he remembered that he "just cried and cried". Some 70 years later, I was able to fill in the void of him not knowing why she "left" him. My Aunt Sue, who was about 17, had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, the horrible disease that had taken the life of my grandfather (her father) some years earlier. Apparently, my grandmother had been tested and found to be a carrier, therefore, the Health Department prohibited her from working in private homes, any longer. Because of this, she had to abruptly leave her job with "Lawyer Yarborough", and resorted to at-home work to support her family, such as taking in laundry and sewing for others. However, I've found letters and documents that show that Mr. Yarborough (Charles' dad) provided legal support and wrote letters on my grandmother's behalf, in later years.

Charles and Hill Yarborough have continued to open their hearts to me in my quest to find any documentation that further supports my finding that my gg-grandfather was owned by their ancestor's cousin, James H. YARBOROUGH.  We know that we are not blood relatives, thanks to DNA testing, but I never thought we were since my gg-grandfather, Calvin, was acquired by James H. via his marriage to Elizabeth T. Neal, who owned him first.

This is me with Charles on "The Hill".  Here we stand touching the headstone of my grandmother (his "Nanny") and grandfather.

Soon, I'll be heading back to Louisburg, where Hill (pictured left) and I together will search through some of the boxes and boxes of family documents which he now has in his care.  Charles, Nancy, and Hill Yarborough have indeed proven themselves not only to be wonderful "friends of friends", but as we like to call ourselves, "almost-cousins", or "cousins-anyway". 
Hill and I did, indeed, have our day of searching. We started out, together, but then he left me to go through the boxes and files on my own. (Such trust!) I learned a lot about the Yarboroughs that day but did not find documents specifically related to my ancestors although there were a few things that referenced my great-grandfather's last owner, James H. Yarborough. Still, just having the opportunity to sift through and read so many original historic records of a private collection was an honor and a privilege that I'll always cherish.

Today, I'm revisiting and updating this post, due to the loss of my dear "cousin-anyway", Charles Hill Yarborough, Jr. He left this earth on Friday, May 26, 2017. Sadly, I hadn't visited with Charles in the last few years, due to his move to Raleigh and declining health. Hill and I talked several times about trying to arrange for me to see him on one of my trips to the area, but we never made it happen and I truly regret that. 
Charles Hill Yarborough, Jr. was a great man, who lived a full life. I proud to say I knew him. We considered one another family, and I will always remember him with fondness. May he rest in peace.


  1. Isn't it funny how the events in our lives take us where we need to be?
    Great story. You are nothing if not determined.

  2. "Cousins anyway", I like that! I know friends just like that. Your story is so good.

  3. Thanks Lori, Betty, and Mindy. I consider my relationship with my "cousins anyway" to be blessing!

    Thanks so much for your comments!


  4. Renate, that was such an inspiring story and I enjoyed reading it. I wish you continued luck on your journey into the YARBOROUGHs...!

  5. What a great story, Renate. I love the term, cousins anyway. I think I have one of those now too. Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story!

  6. Robyn and Dionne, thanks for reading and for leaving your kind comments. :)


  7. Beautiful, moving story!
    ~ Regina

  8. Renate, I agree with everyone else, this is one fab story and that "cousins anyway" is a such a heartwarming phrase.

  9. How did I miss this post. Love it. Either you are lucky, or my ancestor's spirits are lazy. They need to get to work! LOL.

  10. Hello,
    My maiden name is Kathleen Jones Bass. I’m a descendant of Cyrus Jones who had twin boys by Alberta Yarborough of Bunn, NC. I was doing a search as I know none of my father’s mother’s family and doing a search. Perhaps these too are you relatives. If not I’m sincerely apologetic for the trouble.

    My personal email address is firstladykb@yahoo.com

  11. Hi Kathleen,
    I don't know of an Alberta in my line, but I'll keep my eyes open, in case I run across either her, or Cyrus. Thanks for stopping by my blog!