Thursday, March 11, 2010

Restore My Name - CoAAG

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 Thurdays.  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.  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 and Hill 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 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". 

PS...  This post, as well as the pictures included were shared with the permission and well wishes of my almost cousin, Charles "Hill" Yarborough. :)  Thanks, Hill!   Renate