Friday, April 30, 2010

News on the Maternal Side - A Random Act of Genealogical Kindness

Recently, I've posted tributes to my two grandmothers, Anna Yarborough, and Mary Thomas.  In, "The Stuff I'm Made Of  and Grandma's Hands (for the CoAAG), I noted some of the hardships, sacrifices, and losses that each of my grandmothers had to overcome in order to successfully raise their families and maintain the homes which they were each left to manage alone.  I recognized, as I wrote, and then read over these posts, that the inner strength, tenacity, and perseverance which I possess are not traits that I developed on my own, but instead are deeply ingrained survival skills which have been passed on to me, not only from these two strong and resilient women, but, also from their mothers and grandmothers before them.

I return to this subject now, because yesterday, I was the recipient of a magnificent, and very surprising act of kindness on behalf of another researcher.  Hollis Gentry, a professional genealogist and DAR researcher, had been a part of a discussion which I was involved in on Afrigeneas a week or so ago, where the conversation was centered around the free preview that ProQuest was having for some of it's holdings - specifically a few African-American Newspapers.  As excited as I was, the one newspaper that I was interested in searching, the Norfolk, VA Journal and Guide, was not included in the free preview.  However, this researcher, who apparently had taken note of my disappointment, craftily visited my blog, pieced together what she could of my Norfolk ancestors' names and surprised me yesterday with an email which had attached to it NINE newspaper articles related to my maternal ancestors!  As it turned out, Hollis (whom I've never met and had never chatted with before) had made several attempts over a few days to get the articles to me, to no avail.  But her persistence paid off, and like magic - she gave me the most direct and personalized view that I've had, to date, of my mother's family.  I was, and still am, overwhelmed with gratitude towards Hollis for the the time and effort she has put towards finding and sharing these documents with me.  Not only that, but in subsequent emails, she has complimented me on my writing and my blog, and as a person with roots in Norfolk herself, has given me vital encouragement as to how to move forward in researching my maternal ancestors.  So, Hollis Gentry, I do hope you're reading this because I would like to publicly thank you for all you've done!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts in which I will share the articles that Hollis found for me.

Blessings, all!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wisdom Wednesday - Words to Live By

When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher assigned the following poem to our class to learn and to  recite from memory for a grade. We all moaned and groaned about it at the time, but I, being a budding poet, quickly became excited by the challenge. I did a great job of memorizing and reciting the poem, and received an A+ on the assignment, however, at that young age, the words of this insightful piece of writing were just that to me - words. It wasn't until later in life, as I began to truly develop into the person I am, that the full meaning of this poem was revealed to me. By that time, I'd developed as a Christian woman, and not only that, but my reputation as an honest, forthright, helpful, and kind person was acknowledged by all, even those who didn't particularly consider me their "cup of tea." When I really understood what Rudyard Kipling was getting at, I realized that, even though I didn't "get it" back in seventh grade, I've lived my life according to this mantra, and so I proudly share his words, with one slight revision, in the space below. Decades after being given the assignment, I can still recite this poem by heart, but now, not only do I understand what the words mean; I live them, everyday.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting, too.
If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting, 
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet, don't look too good, nor talk too wise.

If you dream, and not make dreams your master
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same,
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools,

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss,
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you,
Except the will which says to them, "Hold on!"

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth, and everything that's in it,
And which is more, this race of life, you will have WON.

 * The bold-italicized words were revised/added by me in 2006, when I prepared copies of this poem to give out to friends of mine at a private party.  I wanted people of both genders to be able to personally relate to the poem, and not to be thrown off by Mr. Kipling's original ending, which reads, "you'll be a man, my son."

My blog was created as a forum to record my family history and to interact with, and reach out to other researchers.  I will not use it as a platform for anything else. I am the person I've presented myself to be.  Those who know me can and will attest to my character. I have never wished or threatened harm against another human being in my life, and I won't start now.  Whatever you've known of me - whatever our interactions and communication have been to this point - it's been true, honest, and sincere.  Trust your own heart.

Blessings to all,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ancestor Approved Award!

I am returning to revise this post because I have just discovered, by way of a Google Search, that I was actually one of the first bloggers to be acknowledged by Leslie Ann Ballou, the creator of the Ancestor Approved Award!  Somehow, I must've missed, forgotten, or overlooked the initial honor, so for that, Leslie, I do apologize.  Leslie is an outstanding blogger in her own right.  Please check out the original posting of the Ancestor Approved Award on her blog, Ancestors Live Here.
I am humbled and honored to have also been given the "Ancestor Approved" Award by not one, not two, but SEVERAL fellow bloggers, all of whom are very supportive readers of mine, and have outstanding sites of their own. Thanks so much to Dionne , Heather , and Betty for blessing me with this award. And, since my original post, I've also received this award from two more blog-friends,  Kathy and Mindy! Please click on their names to visit their wonderful blogs! 

The rules of this award are that if you receive it, you must list 10 things you have learned about your ancestors that have surprised, humbled or enlightened you, and then pass the award on to 10 other genealogy bloggers who you believe would make their ancestors proud.

1.  The biggest surprise for me about my ancestors has simply been that so many of them existed!  Before I started this venture many years ago, I only the names of about 20 - 30 relatives/ancestors, and now I have 1149 on my tree!

2. I was surprised to learn that a segment of my GREEN ancestors had moved away from their Franklin County, NC hometown and were "passing" as white in another state.

3. I was surprised to discover that my great-great grandfather, Nathaniel HAWKINS, was a "negro trader".

4. I was honored to find out that my great-great grandfather, Calvin R. YARBOROUGH, Sr., who was formerly enslaved, was a teacher in 1869-70.  He was also one of the first trustees of the "Colored Presbyterian Church" in Louisburg.

5. I was honored to discover that my great-grandfather, John GREEN's youngest brother, William, served in the Spanish-American War.

6. I am honored to have learned that my grandmother, Anna/Annie B. (GREEN) YARBOROUGH was one of a group of women who founded the Mount Hebron United Holiness Church in Louisburg, NC.

7.  I've been enlightened as I've learned about the hard times my YARBOROUGH ancestors faced as they struggled to overcome the destitution and poverty they inherited post-emancipation from their widowed, and indigent mistress/former owner.  (I just learned about this today at the National Archives!)

8. I've been enlightened to learn about my maternal ancestors, (DAVIS and BROWN) whom I've had no knowledge of before.  There's lots of family lore which needs to be sorted out and documented before I can start writing about it, so stay tuned!

9. It's been enlightening to have discovered, and then to have embraced the fact that I am a compilation of several opposing societal components from 19th Century America.  Through my veins runs the blood of people who were Free-Blacks, Slaves, Slave Owners, a Slave Trader, Mulattos, and possibly Native Americans (unconfirmed).  From this mixture of ancestors have risen educators, lawyers, judges, medical professionals, PhD's, and successful people from too many more walks of life for me to name!

10.  This last one is not about my ancestors, but I must add that it has been enlightening to have discovered such a supportive group of like-minded family-historians as we have here in the blogging community.  For so many years, I worked in solitude, as most of us used to do. Being a part of this community gives me comfort, and I know that the way we share our skills, talents, and respective knowledge bases with each other is a blessing that will help all of us in our research efforts!

Now to pass this award on to other deserving bloggers.  Many of the blogs I follow have already received the award, but here are my choices:

Mavis at Conversations With My Ancestors
Robyn at Reclaiming Kin
Cheri and Ruby at The You Go Genealogy Girls
Elyse at  Elyse's Genealogy Blog
George at Geder Genealogy
Mindy at Roots and Branches
Elizabeth at Little Bytes of Life

Please check out these wonderful blogs! :)

Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Tribute to my brother, Arthur

 Arthur Yarborough, Jr.

Twenty-six years ago today, I lost my brother, Arthur.  We were only 17 months apart.  The two of us grew up together, almost like fraternal twins.  We did everything together, shared the same experiences, good and bad.  When Arthur died, he took all of the secrets of my youth with him, because he was the only person who knew and (in many cases), shared them.
 My mother, Mary Yarborough, poses with her newborn son, Arthur, Jr.

Arthur Yarborough, Jr. was born on August 23, 1960 in Bremerhaven, Germany, to parents Arthur, Sr. and Mary Yarborough.  He was said to have been a very good natured baby from the start, with an even temperament and a quick and easy smile.  I remember hearing stories about how Arthur, as a baby, would always stop whatever he was doing when television commercials came on, and would watch and listen intently.  Once the commercials ended, he would resume his activity.  This was an interesting bit of family lore, since Arthur grew up to be a Mass-Media enthusiast and majored in it in college.
  Above:  Arthur as a toddler (Presumably, before I was born)
Below:  My dad, Arthur, Sr. and my brother, Arthur, Jr. in Louisburg, NC
circa 1968
As a boy, Arthur was involved in many community activities.  He was a Cub Scout, played Little League Baseball, and enjoyed attending youth activities at our church.  In high school, Arthur was a triple-sport athlete, playing basketball, football, and baseball.  After two years at Bethel High School in our native Hampton, VA, he decided to go off to military school at Augusta Military Academy in Staunton, VA.  It was there that Arthur truly blossomed as an athlete, as well as as an ROTC officer.  He graduated from Augusta in 1978.
Arthur, the Little League's star pitcher

 Top left: Arthur's Junior picture @ AMA.  Right: QB Arthur (#10) and another player pose for their football picture at AMA.

Arthur returned home to Hampton to attend the alma mater of our mother, and our two oldest brothers, Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).  Known by the nickname, "Yang", he was very popular and well-loved by his fellow students.  Arthur grew deeply involved in his major, Mass Media Arts, and became best known for his smooth jazz radio show, "Inspirations", on Hampton's station, WHOV.  In addition, he wrote for the school's newspaper, and anchored a 15-minute nightly broadcast on Hampton's "Newswatch 10" a weekday cable news program.  He also joined several social fraternities, including the oldest on Hampton's campus, Omega Sigma Chi.  Arthur graduated from Hampton in May, 1982, two months after discovering that he had cancer.

 Hampton Institute president, William R. Harvey, congratulates Arthur and hands him his diploma on Mother's Day, 1982

Though the news of my brother's illness was discouraging, he never let it stop him from working towards his goals.  What began as a mystery-illness, with symptoms of abdominal pain and blackouts, was first diagnosed as a hernia.  Plans were made to surgically remove the hernia while Arthur was on Spring Break during his senior year at Hampton.  However, what we thought was going to be the solution to his problems turned out to be just the beginning.  Once the hernia was removed, surgeons discovered a tumor on my brother's liver.  Primary liver cancer of unknown origin.  The fight began...

 Here, Arthur, wearing his fraternity tee-shirt, snaps a picture of himself in the mirror.  I kind of like the "halo" effect. :)
 For the next two years, my brother, with the support of my then-divorced parents, did everything he could to beat the odds.  Liver cancer was one of the toughest to beat, especially as the primary site.  Arthur tried traditional and experimental treatments.  He tried dietary changes and supplements.  He had good days and bad days.  Good weeks and bad weeks.  He underwent chemotherapy and radiation and was in and out of the hospital.  During this time, we remained in close contact, via phone and letters, but I was away in college and unable to be by his side as often as I wanted to.  Then, in 1982, just before my third year of college, I gave birth to my first child, Natasha.  I named Arthur her god-father, and in the summer of 1983, decided we could stay away no longer.  I wanted my brother to know his niece, so I got a job as a teachers aide, and my daughter and I moved back to Hampton Roads, so that we could be near him and assist in his care. And, during that year, my brother got to know my daughter, and she, him. Though she was very young, the two of them developed a very close relationship, and she remembers him, to this day.  I praise God for my decision to move back home, because it was during that school year that my brother's health took a turn for the worse. 
My brother, Arthur, with my daughter, Natasha, sometime in 1983.
Although Arthur was sick, he was determined to continue his quest to find employment in the media field, which he loved so much.  He completed an internship at our local CBS affiliate television station, and was being considered for an anchor position at the time of his death.  Additionally, he worked as a sports writer for the Daily Press, our local newspaper; and as a newscaster for WNIS, news/talk radio station. I give thanks to all of these companies who recognized his talent, and were willing to give him opportunities to do what he loved, despite the fact that he sometimes was too ill to work.

In March, 1984, Arthur took ill and was admitted to Riverside Hospital (now Riverside Regional Medical Center).  The doctors were pessimistic about his prognosis, and pretty much let my parents know that this was it.  But still, my brother stayed positive and hopeful.  He was in a coma for the first week or so, but once he became alert, he started talking about coming home and about wanting to get back out onto the golf course with my dad.  We were taking turns sitting with him - my mother, father, and I - and on my shifts we enjoyed reminiscing about when we were little, and he played with Natasha, if she was with me.  A few times, when he was sleeping, he would seem to choke and stop breathing, but I would shake him and say, "Breathe, Arthur, breathe!", and he did.  At first, my parents and I were just quiet about the idea of him coming home, but he was so insistent, and he seemed to be doing so well, that finally the doctors agreed to let him go.  I believe the plan was for some level of in-home hospice care, although I didn't really understand what that meant at the time.  (I was only 22 years old, and I think the hospice concept was fairly new.)   My mother was so excited, and she worked hard to get his old room clean and ready for him, with a hospital bed on order, and plans to have nurses checking in.  Unfortunately, early on the morning of April 6th, the day before he was scheduled to come home, and with our father by his side, my brother, Arthur took his last breath. 
Today marks the 26th year since the day my brother died.  Words can't explain how deeply the loss of my brother has affected me, and changed the course of my life.  Although I do have two other brothers, they are so much older than me, that they were both gone from home by the time I was seven years old.  So, it was just my parents, Arthur, and me for most of my life.  Arthur and I fought like any other siblings, but our love for each other was undeniable, and our paths (I'd thought), inseparable.  When he was in the hospital, I prayed and prayed, always asking God to help me to accept His Will, whatever that turned out to be.  My brother's death was, and has continued to be a lesson in FAITH for me.  I miss him so much, but I know that he is in a much better place, and that he is rejoicing now in heaven with our father, grandparents, and all of the ancestors that I'm working to learn about now.

  This is my absolute most-favorite picture of my brother and me.  I think it says so much about us, without having to say anything at all! 

In closing, I'd like to share a poem that I wrote three years ago, on the anniversary of Arthur's death.  At that point, he'd been in heaven for as long as he was here on earth, and these are the words that came to my heart:

To Arthur
For twenty-three years you were here on this earth,
Now for twenty-three years you’ve been gone.
And I know in my heart that you’re better off now,
As you rest in God’s heavenly home.
I’ll always remember the things that we shared,
The good, as well as the bad.
The ups and the downs, the smiles and the frowns,
And all of the secrets we had.
Without you, my brother,  life’s not been the same
But I’ll try not to dwell on the past.
God knew what was best when he took you with Him
To anchor on Heaven’s broadcast.
For twenty-three years you were here on this earth,
Now for twenty-three years you’ve been gone.
I’ll see you one day, when God chooses me
To rest in His heavenly home.  
                                                                            With love, from Renate
                                                            April, 2007

 One of those Easter Sundays.  I miss you, Arthur.

Thank you for reading.

The content and pictures included in this post are the property of Renate Y Sanders, and should not but used, copied, or embedded without the express permission of the owner.  Please contact me via email at yarsan@aol.com.  Thank you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

CoAAG - Grandma's Hands: Grandmothers and Their Influence On The Family

The second installation of the Carnival of African-American Genealogy, "Grandma's Hands", is, in the words of its host, Sandra Taliaferro, "all about Grandmas".  Since I recently posted tributes to both of my grandmothers on a Sentimental Sunday, I'm going to simply repeat that post here, with just a few revisions (and a couple of new pictures)!

When I first began my research 13 years ago, I did so in an attempt to discover who I am.  I didn't know anything at all about my ancestors, beyond my maternal and paternal grandmothers, both of whom I personally knew.  I didn't grow up hearing family stories.  As a matter of fact, I really didn't have any sense of there being a "history" of my family.  My maternal grandmother, Mary (Davis) Thomas, lived just 30 minutes away from us, in Norfolk, VA, but it was my paternal grandmother in Louisburg, NC, Anna (Green) Yarborough, with whom I was closest.  Both of these women were constants in my life, and my grandma Thomas even ended up living with us during  my last couple of years of high school.  Therefore, despite the fact that I knew little to nothing of my grandmothers' past, or of the ancestors who preceded them, each of these ladies were threads the fabric of my life.

These women who raised my mother and father each had a significant impact on my development into the person I am today.  And not only that, but when I look in the mirror, I see them both in my reflection - the body of one, and the face of the other.  As I've learned more about their lives, and the hardships they each faced, I beam with pride as I recognize what it had to take for each of them to have managed and sustained their households in the loss of their husbands and in the face of repeated financial blows and/or significant family stressors that would have brought many others down.  But, both of my grandmothers stood tall in the face of adversity and beat the odds of their time.  As single parents, they raised successful children and both managed to keep their homes, which are still in our family today.  Through hard work and faith in God, Mary Thomas and Anna Yarborough lived well, and left a legacy of self-sufficiency, perserverance, and good will towards others.  Many times I've been complimented on the way I've raised my children and managed to rise above the many hard times I've been faced with in my adult life, and I'm often asked the question, "How do you do it?"  Well, now I know, and I have the perfect answer:  "It's the 'stuff' I'm made of!"

Anna Beatrice Green Yarborough

Anna Green Yarborough

Anna Beatrice Green was born on January 18, 1891 to parents John Wesley and Susan Dunstan Green.  She was the daughter of Nathaniel Hawkins and Anna B. Green (who she was named for). Anna was born in Rolesville (Wake County), NC. The family soon moved a few miles north to Louisburg, in Franklin County, but returned to Wake County when Anna was in her teens.  She had two sisters, Mabel and Blonnie, and three brothers, "Little Johnny", Joseph, and William; however only Mabel, William, and Anna lived to adulthood.  I know very little about Anna's early life, but in 1919, she married my grandfather, Calvin R. Yarborough, Jr., a widower with three children.  Anna moved to into the Franklin County home that was built by her new husband and his brother, and became step-mother to Vida, Priscilla, and Frederick Yarborough.  Over the next five years, she gave birth to her own three children, Susie, Calvin III, and Arthur (my father).  Unfortunately, Calvin began to suffer with the symptoms of tuberculosis, the cause of his first wife's death.  He fell ill, and passed away in 1929, leaving Anna to raise six children alone.  Anna, who was, at the time, involved in the creation of a new church in Louisburg (Mt. Hebron United Holy Church) relied on her faith and worked hard keep the taxes paid on the house that her husband had built, and to keep her children fed, clothed, and educated.  She worked as a laundress, as well as for private families as a housekeeper and nanny.  She also took in sewing, all the while maintaining a leadership role in the church she'd helped to create. She had a sweet disposition and was known throughout the little town of Louisburg as, "Miss Anna".  Anna walked several miles each day to and from her jobs on the "white side" of town.  She never did learn to drive.
As Anna grew older, her three biological children helped to support her so that she no longer had to work.  (The older three died of various causes in their 30's and 40's.)  Her greatest joy was in spending time with her four grandchildren, all the children of her youngest son, Arthur.  She was an excellent cook, and was known for the wonderful cakes she baked.  She took pride in her house and her yard, and gave special care and attention to her "award-winning" rose bushes in her front yard.  She loved to sit out on her in her porch in her brown, wooden rocking chair and wave at all of the passers by, many of whom would stop for a chat.  Some of my fondest memories are of warm summer evenings spent sitting on that porch with my grandma, and yes, I remember her hands - soft and wrinkled, I loved so much to trace the bluish-green veins that showed so clearly through her pale, almost-white skin.  I remember my grandma's hands.

In February, 1977, when I was 15 years old, my grandmother, Anna Yarborough, died of complications from colon cancer.  She is buried in the family plot on "the hill", which is the Louisburg City Cemetery (formerly, "Louisburg, for the Colored").

This is me with my Grandma Yarborough, probably around 1968 or 1969.

 In addition to the Sentimental Sunday post, mentioned above, you can read more about my Grandma Yarborough here and here


Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas

Mary Davis Thomas

My maternal grandmother, Mary Davis was born December 26, 1897 in Littleton (Halifax County), NC to parents Walter and Minerva Brown Davis.  According to the 1900 Census, Mary had a brother, one year older, named Samuel, and in 1910, the Census states that her mother had actually born three children, but only one (Mary) was living.  It is likely that Mary never knew or remembered her two siblings, because she never mentioned them to my mother, or to either of her other two children.  Mary's maternal ancestors were her grandparents, Asa and Luvenia Ross Brown, and great-grandparents, Everett and Minerva Ross.  Her paternal grandparents were Lewis and Dollie Davis.  Mary's large extended family all lived in the Littleton and Roanoke Rapids areas of North Carolina.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, several members of the Davis family migrated to Norfolk, Virginia, seemingly to work as longshoremen.  Walter, Minerva and Mary were part of this migration.  By 1910, they, as well as several of their family members are living in the Lambert's Point section of Norfolk.  In 1915, a young Mary was wed to her first love, Allen Walker, at the St. Marks AZUA Church in Norfolk.  Allen worked as a brakeman on the Virginia Railroad.  He and Mary were quite in love and lived happily, sharing a home with her parents until his untimely death, which occured sometime early in their marriage. 
Mary, though heartbroken, had to go on with her life.  At some point, she began doing hair in the porch room of the home that she'd shared with Allen, and she petitioned the owner for it's purchase.  In 1924, the house in Lambert's Point was hers, and it is still in our family today.  Sometime later, Mary met Daniel Webster Hill, and they were married in 1929 in Philadelphia, PA, and in 1930, Daniel, had joined Mary and her parents in the home.  Mary began her family with Daniel; first giving birth to a son, Howell, and then, in 1934, to a daughter (my mother), Mary Anne.  In 1936, Mary's father, Walter, died, but she still had her mother, Minerva there to help her with the house and the chldren. Unfortunately, sometime around 1938, Daniel Hill abandoned his family for reasons unknown, and was never heard from again.
Once again, Mary was left on her own, but this time, with two children. Mary was able to carry on with her very successful hair-care business. True love struck again, and she married Charlie Thomas, a railroad worker with whom she fell deeply in love.  Mary gave birth to her youngest daughter, Jane, in 1940.  Charlie was a loving and caring provider to his wife, daughter, and step-children.  It seemed that the family had finally found joy, but tragedy struck again, as Charlie was killed in a railroad accident, leaving Mary a widow, once again. 
Understandably, Mary lived the rest of her life without a spouse.  She continued to do hair, and also worked as a secretary and receptionist at the local YWCA.  Her mother, Minerva, who was her partner in raising the children, died in 1960, after they were all grown and gone.  Mary carried on, living alone in the home that she'd purchased in 1924.  At some point, she joined, and became a faithful and comitted member of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Norfolk. In the mid-70's, when Mary's health began to fail, she moved in with her daughter Mary's family in Hampton, VA, and later into a nursing home in Chesapeake, close to where her son lived.  Mary Davis Walker Hill Thomas, who'd lived to see three generations of her descendants, died in June, 1986, at the age of 89.  She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Norfolk, VA in a plot with several family members, including her parents, and her beloved last husband, Charlie.

 I've wanted to use this picture on my blog for so long; I think now is the perfect time!  I find this photo so intriguing, because it show my grandmother in a light that I would have never imagined.  Here Mary Thomas poses on an unknown beach - date also unknown.

Both of my grandmothers, Anna Yarborough and Mary Thomas, had a "hand" in shaping me, as well as the rest of their descendants.  They've each left a legacy of strength, determination, hard work, and perseverance; character traits which have been passed down and have led generations of our family to stand tall in the face of loss and struggle, and to each become successful citizens in our own right.  May they rest in peace.