Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Many Rivers to Cross - MY Priscilla

     Ever since the first episode of the PBS series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which was created by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I’ve been pondering this blog post.  I’ve wanted to write, but each time I’ve tried, the words seemed stifled because of the lack of information I have about the subject of this essay.  You see, in Episode 1, Dr. Gates shared with viewers the story of Priscilla, a young girl who was purchased at a South Carolina slave auction by rice planter, Elias Ball.  In response to this episode, many in the blogging community have written beautiful, expressive posts about “their Priscilla”.  But, for me, doing so presented an awkward challenge.  Why, you might ask?  Well, because I have a real-life Priscilla, and she has been one of my most challenging ancestors to research.
    Prescilla Yarborough was my great-grandmother.  She was born in May of 1844, reportedly (by Census) in North Carolina (although one document, my grandfather's death certificate, says she was born in Virginia), and she died after 1900, but before NC began recording death certificates in 1913. She was a slave. She had at least two granddaughters who were named for her: Priscilla Yarborough (my father's half-sister), and Evelyn Precilla Yarborough (daughter of Calvin and Prescilla's youngest son, Eugene). That's all I know about MY Prescilla.
     I list Prescilla in my family tree as Prescilla SHAW, because that is how her name is given on the cohabitation record for her marriage to my great-grandfather, Calvin Yarborough.  However, I have also seen her maiden name given as Eaton, on one of her children’s death certificate, and White, on another.  All others either give her name as Shaw, or unknown.
My grandfather's death certificate, showing that my grandmother gave Prescilla's name as White, and said she was born in Virginia.  I have noticed, though, that these two items appear as though they were added by someone after the orginal was written.  I've pondered this with folks at the NC State Archives. So far, no one has any answers.
     On August 25, 1866, Prescilla and Calvin recorded their marriage date as December 27, 1860.  By that time, they’d had the first three of their 11 children together.
Cohabitation Record for my great-grandparents, Calvin and Prescilla Yarborough

Although I don’t know anything else about Prescilla, she is the ancestor whom I believed most purposefully, and pointedly left me a genealogical gift for my research.  This gift, I believe, was in the naming of her children.  You see, many of Calvin and Precilla’s offspring have middle names that are the surnames of local families in and around Franklin County, NC, where they lived.  I believe that Precilla was most likely separated from her family, and my sense is that she may have never seen them again, once that separation took place.  I also, believe that she, like Calvin, may have had a series of owners, and she wants me to know who they were, so that maybe I can find her (my) family. 
These are the (known) children of Calvin and Prescilla YARBOROUGH, with their middle names capitalized:
  •             Louis NEAL Yarborough (1862-1931) - Calvin was owned for most of his slave years by the Neals, and I believe that his father may have been, also, but I haven’t been able to prove that the Louis in the inventory was actually his dad. He became a Yarborough slave by marriage, just a few years before emancipation
  •      Samuel EATON Yarborough (1864-1922) – The EATON family was prominent in Franklin and surrounding counties.  I believe Precilla may have been owned by one of them, perhaps William Eaton, whom I’ve written about in earlier posts, re: Letters from Louisburg.
  •      Sarah H Yarborough (1866-1870) – Sarah was “burned” and died at age 4, according to the 1870 Mortality Record for Franklin County. I believe that Precilla may have been once owned by Sarah Helen Shaw, and that she may have named her first daughter after her.  However, I also often wonder if she may have been named Sarah after either Priscilla or Calvin’s mother.
  •      Thomas W Yarborough (1867 -?) – I’ve never seen what the W stands for in Thomas’ name, but I have to wonder if it might be, “White”, since one of the children gave that as Precilla’s maiden name
  •       Henry KING Yarborough (1872-1936)  – The King family was also prevalent in Franklin County.  Sarah Shaw, who I believe may have once owned Precilla, married Joel KING.
  •      Quinea A Yarborough (1874 -?) – I don’t know what the A stands for in this name.
  •        Caroline or Carolina B Yarborough (1876-1914) – Again, I don’t know what the middle initial stands for.
  •      Jose -phine S Yarborough (1878 -?) – I have no way of knowing, but could this be SHAW  
  •      Mattie Louise Yarborough (1879-1919
  •      Calvin Roy Yarborough (1882-1929) – This is my GRANDFATHER. There are ROYs in the area, but I’m not sure if there is any connection
  •      Eugene CARTER Yarborough (1864-1954) – This is the most vague (to me) of all the middle names.  The CARTER surname doesn’t appear in Franklin County until 1880, but because I don’t know where Precilla came from, originally, I won’t rule anything out.
*  I’ve noticed that (if my naming theory is correct), Prescilla seems to only use it with her sons, and not so much her daughters.  I wonder if the daughters were named for particular people?

     Nothing remains of my great-grandmother, Prescilla, except for my belief that she left me these clues in the naming of her children.  There are no family stories about her, nor heirlooms which belonged to her. Nothing.

     Thank you, Great-Grandma Precilla, for giving your children these names.  I promise not to ever give up trying to follow the trail you’ve left for me to explore.


Yarborough Family bible, owned by Susie Yarborough Hawkins, Louisburg, NC
Cohabitation Records, Franklin County, 1866: North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC
Franklin County Death Certificates: Franklin County Register of Deeds, Louisburg, NC

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sentimental Sunday - In Honor of "Aunt" Doris

I grew up in a great neighborhood, called Granger Court (East).  It was an all-Black, middle class subdivision, in historical Aberdeen Gardens, in Hampton, Virginia.  Our neighborhood was filled with children, most of whom had at least one active-duty, or retired military parent. But the story of my neighborhood is for another day.

This Sentimental Sunday post is in memory of one of the many mothers of Granger Court; a woman whom I admired greatly, and who welcomed me into her home, and treated me (for the most part) like one of her kids, even though she already had five of her own.  I never took Mrs. Graves' welcoming outreach for granted, for I was consciously aware that, at least during the years that I was hanging out with her daughters (my "cousins" Tonya and Tasha), that not a lot of extra children from the neighborhood were allowed to visit inside their home.  (Even for me, there were those "wait on the porch" times, but that didn't happen very often.) 
The Graves Family, except for "Daddy"
Front (l to r): Dorey, Lazarus, Doris
Back (l to r): Tasha, Junior, Tonya
More often than not, when I would get invited in to the Graves' home, I would be offered a seat in the front room, which was the formal living room, and Mrs. Graves would sit down to chat with me, while I had to wait for (usually) Tonya to complete some unfinished chore, before she could come outside or have company.  During these moments, Mrs. Graves, or "Aunt Doris", as I sometimes began to call her, would inquire about my family, my grades, my job and/or my extracurricular activities.  She always would compliment me on something, which I always bashfully appreciated, because I had very low self-esteem, and didn't get compliments, often. She would even often tell me how glad she was that her daughters and I were friends, and that she thought I was a very nice young lady. Her regular show of appreciation for the person I was meant more to me than I've ever let anyone know.  
Mama Graves - just as I remember her
In later years, when I would return to the Graves' Pamela Drive home with my oldest daughter in tow, both Mr. and Mrs. Graves continued the habit of building me up.  They adored my daughter, Natasha, and always commented on how smart and well-mannered she was.  They sang my praises for how well I was raising her (alone), and always encouraged me to continue doing the best I could.  I loved how they both called my daughter, "Tasha" (rhymes with ash), the same as they did their own daughter, Natasha.  This just made me feel even more like a true part of their close-knit, loving family.
Doris Reid Graves
April 5, 1931 - November 5, 1998

November 5th marked 15 years since my "Aunt Doris" transitioned, and on that day, her fourth child, Kenyatta Dorey Graves ("Dorey", to most), who is a phenomenal writer, posted this tribute to his mother on Facebook:

Fifteen years ago today Mommy crossed a river of light and joined the ancestors. The Earth surged forward but, for a while, nothing moved in me. Now, here, I am differently aware of what it means to be my mother's child. Language leaves my mouth and as words make naked the presence of older values, a sense more country than I've ever been appears; I could almost mistake the masculine bass tones I hear for her voice. Her wit is my wisdom. The days of company I crave are inherited. Being real and genuine, genetic. Fifteen years can go where years go without slow-counting, without noticing the day your dreams no longer visualize a chance to say goodbye, embrace, and wish her peace on the next phase of her journey. The Earth surges. And I'm doing what I can with a life that resembles nothing I expected. Ear to the ancestors, eyes on my dreams, breath by breath, to be a man a mother might think on with pride.

Immediately upon reading this, I commented, asking Dorey if I could please post this to my blog.  He granted me permission, so now, here it is.  As you can see by this short example, Doris Graves' fourth child is a gifted writer! His way with words ranks right up there with those we most celebrate, always touching me deeply, in a place where only the written word can. 
The writer, Kenyatta "Dorey" Graves, just as I knew him :)

I wanted to post this because I loved Dorey's mother, and because I miss her, too.  Many thanks to her children, Natasha, Tonya, Jesse Jr., Kenyatta, and Lazarus for sharing her light with me; and an extra special thanks to Dorey (who I've never called Kenyatta a day in my life...lol) for allowing me to share his writing, and his pictures on my blog.