Finding LauryAnn Elizabeth Williams Sellers, or the benefits of sharing your research.

Often people tell me that they are researching their family history so that they can pass it on to their children and share it with family members.  Fantastic! Admirable! But I always encourage them to go one step further. Share it with the world by donating a copy to the appropriate local historical or genealogical society, county and state libraries. Most people protest that they aren’t writing anything sophisticated enough for such publication or sharing.  I say, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated it is, just make sure you document your sources and share it. The rest of us will be forever grateful for the gift you don’t even realize you are sharing. For example, sharing helped me find what happened to LauryAnn Elizabeth Williams of Randolph County, North Carolina. Of course, she wasn’t lost as such, except to me.

LauryAnn Elizabeth Williams (Lorey Ann Williams) came to my attention while researching the family of Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather.  Miles’ son, Colier, was named in a bastardy bond posted in 1851, for the birth of a boy child in November 1850. Colier was accused by Lorey Ann Williams of being the father.  Colier did not marry her. The child could not be accounted for in Colier’s household in 1860, the first census in which the child would have appeared since November 1850 was after the 1850 census was completed. I wasn’t able to locate Lorey Ann either. She was living in the home of William Burney in 1850 near the Lassiter Mill community where Colier lived.  Where had she gone after? Being afflicted with the last name of Williams coupled with a not particularly singular first name, I had not been able to determine that any Lorey/Laury/Laura was this LauryAnn.

I had included all of this information in my first book, Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) an Early African American ‘Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme, 2011) and again in my second book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme, 2016).  There it stood. Nothing more. Until a few days ago.

I received a message through social media from a woman (Shannon) who told me that she had just finished the Miles Lassiter book, finding it both interesting and helpful because it mentioned her 3rd great grandmother, Laura Ann Williams (Sellers).  Sellers? Her married name no doubt. Because of what I had published, she explained, and the Certificate of Freedom she had located, she now knew more about her 3rd great grandmother’s background.  I commented how wonderful that she had the Certificate of Freedom. She noted that she had found both my book and the Certificate on-line, then through social media she contacted me.

Shannon explained that Laura had married Jacob Sellers in 1852, in neighboring Montgomery County (moral: search surrounding counties), but in 1860 they had obtained their Certificate of Freedom and left North Carolina, settling in Ohio.  How exciting I told her that now I knew what had become of Laura. I inquired about the boy, Colier’s son.  She said she knew nothing of the boy and that the earliest child recorded in Laura’s bible was a daughter, Sarah, born in October 1851. There didn’t seem to be a way to turn Sarah into a boy. I wondered if we could be sure that my Laura and Shannon’s Laura were one and the same.

As mentioned, Shannon explained that she had found the Certificate of Freedom (https://www.scribd.com/document/245394243/Sellers) on-line.  I decided to try to find it to see what information it contained.  I found the copy on a website called Scribd.  It was transcribed by someone at a Warren County library.  The information was confirmatory.  It explained that Jacob Sellers of Montgomery County was married to LauryAnn Elizabeth Williams who had completed her indenture with William Burney of Randolph County. That they were both free people. He was a “dark mulatto” while she was a “light mulatto.” They had four children, Sarah, William, John, and Martha, all free. The papers were issued on 11 Nov 1860, the day Lincoln was elected President.  Shannon explained that they left shortly thereafter for Ohio.

Searching a bit further, an obituary for Jacob Sellers was found, posted on Ancestry by another family researcher (here linked to Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/document/245394243/Sellers). It explained that he and his family were from North Carolina but with the election of Lincoln they felt the political atmosphere there was no longer encouraging.  The obituary went on to explain that they left North Carolina and that the trip to Ohio was long and difficult. They did not arrive in Warren County until some time in early 1861.

The Sellers would have eleven children, but only three would survive to 1900. Jacob was dead by then, as noted, having died in 1889, but Laura did not die until 1915 (http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=5763&h=4732520&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=330050262532&usePUB=true). A grandson would move to Michigan. Shannon is a descendant of his.

I now know what became of Laura because I shared my story. Shannon learned more about her roots as well, because I had shared my story. Neither of us might have learned about Laura, or at least not for a long, long time, if I had provided only my family with this story. Sharing my story publicly enriched both our stories.

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No Reason To Look There Either!

Several years ago, after the death of a cousin, who left no will, it was necessary to compile the family’s genealogy to determine who the surviving heirs were. It was a long and protracted process that ultimately hinged on identifying the heirs of her uncle (my great uncle/grand uncle) Percy Walter Phillips.  I have written about his WWI service previously.  This blog post will focus more on his personal life.

My mother, his niece, grew up with her grandmother, Louise (who was also Percy’s mother), primarily in Elizabeth, New Jersey, after her own mother (his sister, Elinora) died in the Flu epidemic of 1918. Percy lived most of those years in the house with them. Thus, my mother thought she knew him and his life pretty well.  Research indicates otherwise.

When research for this case began, two pieces of information indicated that Percy had been married and had a child, but after 1920 he was listed in records as single until he married again in 1943 in Greensboro, NC to Agnes Kepler Hunter, a widow. He was married to Agnes at the time of his death in 1949, at the VA hospital in Columbia, SC. Thus, it seemed fairly straight forward that he had no children that were descendants when he died. My mother knew of a child that she surmised was possibly the child referenced in his WWI draft record, but a child that to her knowledge did not live to become an adult. The court involved in New York requested additional research to assure them that there were no living descendants. With the help of another professional genealogist friend, we set about trying to confirm there were no heirs of Percy’s. This genealogist, Vern Skinner, decided that we should try to go back to square one to determine all information about his spouse and any possible children.

Because Percy and other members of our family, including his mother, Louise, his siblings (including my grandmother, Elinora), my mother and her sister were born in North Carolina, having lived for a long time in Greensboro, NC, Vern. decided to revisit the North Carolina marriage records by way of being thorough. I had not found anything in previous searches, but new records are released all the time and others are updated. So it was that in short order I got a phone call. Vern had found a marriage in Greensboro, NC, but not to the Mary who was listed as his wife in 1920 and assumed to be the person referenced on his WWI draft, which listed a wife and child but did not provide a name. No, the person Vern found was Florence Bright. Florence? Who was Florence? Never heard of her, and neither had my mother.  In fact, there was no reason to look there, because Mary had said in the 1920 census that she was from Pennsylvania! He hadn’t expected to find anything specific, he was just trying to be thorough and possibly find a lead to who knows what.

According to the record, Percy and Florence married in 1911. They were very young. In fact, they were children. Although Percy was a very seasoned 16, Florence was a mere 14. However, her grandfather, Rev. Robert Bright, who actually married them, falsified the information on the marriage license and said she was also 16 and confirmed that she had his permission to marry, claiming that he was her father, not her grandfather. It leads one to believe this was a shot gun wedding.

Having found the marriage to Florence we turned our attention to the census. Could she be found in the census? Would there be any children? We now looked for her in Greensboro in the 1920 census. There she was, with a daughter, Louise, in Robert Bright’s home.  Florence was not Mary simply using a possible middle name. No, Florence and her grandparents claimed they were all born in South Carolina, not even North Carolina, and definitely not Pennsylvania. It was looking like the wife and child referenced in the WWI draft record were Florence and Louise (probably named for Percy’s mother, Louise), not the Mary of the 1920 census. So, if Florence and Louise (whom my mother had described as having very red hair based on the one time she had seen her) were living in Greensboro with Florence’s grandparents in 1920, while Percy was living in Elizabeth, NJ with a wife, Mary, then clearly, Percy’s and Florence’s marriage was over. However, no divorce record has been identified.

Well, not so fast. In the summer of 1920, Percy’s grandmother, Ellen (Dunson) Mayo had a stroke in Asheboro, NC. With that, his mother Louise, my mother and her baby sister, Vern, and Percy went to Asheboro, North Carolina (their hometown) to help Ellen’s husband, Charles, care for her.  Shortly after arriving in Asheboro, Ellen died. Louise decided to stay in North Carolina to be supportive of Charles, but they didn’t really get along that well. Since Louise had a home in Asheboro that she had rented out previously, she decided to move back in there. It seems Percy also stayed in North Carolina, but if Mary went with him in the beginning, the relationship was soon over. By 1921, Percy had had some sort of reconciliation with Florence resulting in a son, James Edward Phillips.  Later documents claimed that James was born in Greensboro, but again, no birth record has been identified.

James’ and Florence’s reconciliation was short-lived.  By 1923, Percy, his mother, Louise, my mother and her sister had all returned to New Jersey, having been encouraged to do so by some of Percy’s siblings who felt they could help Louise rear my mother and aunt. So it was until Louise died in 1936. By that time my mother had married and moved to Jersey City. Her sister, Vern, had gone to live with their aunt, Percy’s sister Maude, in Flushing, Queens, NY. Percy’s sister Moselle and her husband, Charles, were now living in their own home, leaving Percy with no home. So, Percy returned to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he met Agnes Kepler Hunter (although he may have known her since she was also originally from Asheboro) and in 1943 married her. Percy died on 29 December 1949 in VA hospital, Columbia, SC and was buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery in Asheboro, NC. That was it, the end of his story, or so we thought.

The other night I was looking for some information on another relative in New York.  Imagine my surprise when suddenly I found myself looking at a marriage record for none other than Percy and a woman named Pearl Timberlake! How did I know it was my Percy? The same way I confirmed it was my Percy when he married Florence, the names of his parents were listed. You see, Louise had a somewhat unusual maiden name, Smitherman, and it was listed on the marriage record. There was no reason to look there either (!) at least not for Percy, but there he was.

So, who was Pearl Timberlake? She was from Crozet, Albemarle County, Virginia according to the marriage record.  I managed to trace her back to her family in Albemarle, identifying a sister, Ella, who with her husband, Arthur Thomas, had moved to Elizabeth, NJ. Was that how Percy met Pearl? Hard to say, because so far, no other documents have been found that identify what happened to Pearl. A search of city directories did not indicate she was living in the household with Percy and his mother. In fact, in the 1930 census, just four years later, Percy said he was single! So, did his mother ever know that he had married Pearl? Did they ever meet, or was it like the Carrie Underwood song?

It started out “hey cutie, where you from?”Then it turned into “oh no! What have I done?”And I don’t even know [her] last name…

So did he wake up the next day and ask “What have I done?” Who knows?! My mother is dead now, but from anything she has ever said, I have no reason to believe she ever heard of Pearl Timberlake.

So, what was going on here? It’s hard to say without actually speaking with these individuals, but, of course, all of them are dead now. Are there any insights? Possibly. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that Percy suffered from what they called shell-shock and battle fatigue from his service in France in WWI, which we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The stress created by a traumatic event such as being in combat in a war is known to lead to difficult and/or unstable personal relationships. This instability is frequently marked by multiple short-lived and sometimes volatile relationships. Percy’s behavior seems to fit that criterion. Although my mother did not indicate that Percy was prone to violence, she did speak about his depression and job instability, both also symptoms of PTSD. Did he drink too much in an effort to self-medicate? She didn’t say. Was he trying to escape his disappointments and failures in those moments of exhilaration experienced at the beginning of a relationship, only to dive into depression once again as it fails to deliver its promise of everlasting joy? We’ll never know, but it does seem that his life held secrets. Secrets that hint of great sadness and disappointment.

Select Sources

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. James Edward Phillips. Birth date, 23 Mar 1921. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Kologe, L. & Williams, M. L. (2011, September/October) So you think you might have a claim for PTSD? The VVA Veteran (Digital Edition). Retrieved (8 June 2017) from: http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/display_article.php?id=835314

“New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2472-G8K : 20 March 2015), Percy Phillips and Pearl Timberlake, 01 Feb 1926; citing Marriage, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York City Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,643,643.

“North Carolina, County Marriages, 1762-1979 ,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F88G-91B : 22 December 2016), Percy Phillips and Florence Bright, 25 Dec 1911; citing Greensboro Gilmer, Guilford, North Carolina, United States, Office of Archives and History, Division of Archives and Records. State Archive of North Carolina and various county Register of Deeds; FHL microfilm 502,363.

“North Carolina, County Marriages, 1762-1979 ,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F88L-PCT : 22 December 2016), Percy Phillips and Agnes Hunter, 08 Nov 1943; citing Morehead, Guilford, North Carolina, United States, p. cn 21061, Office of Archives and History, Division of Archives and Records. State Archive of North Carolina and various county Register of Deeds; FHL microfilm 502,363.

“North Carolina Deaths, 1906-1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F3D2-X4Z : 8 December 2014), Ellen Mayo, 12 Jun 1920; citing Randolph Co., North Carolina, reference 404, State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh; FHL microfilm 1,892,710.

“South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FPMH-871 : 18 April 2016), Percy W. Phillips, 07 Dec 1949; citing, Phillips, Percy W., 1949, Department of Archives and History, State Records Center, Columbia; FHL microfilm 2,399,065.

Underwood, C. (2012). Last Name. Retrieved (8 June 2017) from: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/carrieunderwood/lastname.html

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MPGB-3TG : accessed 8 June 2017), Pearl Timberlake and Ella Timberlake in household of Wm Timberlake, White Hall, Albemarle, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 16, sheet 4A, family 56, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1620; FHL microfilm 1,375,633.

“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZVD-QBV : accessed 8 June 2017), Florence and Louise Phillips in household of Robert Bright, Greensboro Ward 6, Guilford, North Carolina, United States; citing ED 141, sheet 3A, line 37, family 49, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1302; FHL microfilm 1,821,302.

“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M4YL-7M3 : accessed 8 June 2017), Percy and Mary Phillips, Elizabeth City Ward 8, Union, New Jersey, United States; citing ED 88, sheet 10A, line 3, family 212, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1070; FHL microfilm 1,821,070.

“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X4ND-8B9 : accessed 8 June 2017), Ella Thomas in household of Arthur Thomas, Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 58, sheet 9B, line 69, family 209, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1385; FHL microfilm 2,341,120

“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZJ6-DQS : 12 December 2014), Percy Walter Phillips, 1917-1918; citing Elizabeth City no 3, New Jersey, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,712,099.

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Cedar Grove Township and Red House School

St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Mechanic Road, Asheboro, NC. Photo by “Genealogy Hound” at Findagrave.com.

Since completing From Hill Town to Strieby (Williams, 2016), I began to wonder about educational efforts elsewhere in southwestern Randolph County. I started by looking at Cedar Grove Township, just to the north and northeast of Union and New Hope Townships respectively.  Many of the families had kinship relationships with the families in both Union and New Hope.  Cedar Grove is also where the Red House School, one of the schools for children of color with which Strieby combined in the 1920s when small schools, especially one teacher schools, throughout the county consolidated. The third school was Salem School at Salem Congregational United Church of Christ, another church and school founded by the Rev. Islay Walden in 1880. Salem School was in Concord Township, just north of New Hope and just west of Cedar Grove. I’ll write more about that at another time.

Red House School was located near the current St Mark United Methodist Church property (Hammond, et al., 1981). St. Mark’s, founded by the Rev. Marcus Cicero Loflin/Laughlin, and the school are usually associated since both served the local community of color in Cedar Grove Township (Hammond, et al., 1981). However, Red House School was actually founded first by members of the Society of Friends. According to Emma King (1924, p. 405) a school was begun several years before groups of Friends (Quakers) from New York and Philadelphia came to teach in the area in the 1880s.  That earlier school, called Fairview, was supported by subscriptions from local Quakers. The building used was called Red House because, “the mud used in daubing was extremely red. The church and schoolhouse of the colored people bears the same name” (King, 1924, p. 405). It seems likely that the first meetings of the church in the 1890s were originally held in the school building.

Red House, as mentioned, became part of a combined “common school” in the 1920s under the Board of Education. Among its teachers were: Flossie Brewer, Hazel (Birkhead) Caviness, Hattie Crisp, Daisy Cross, Vella Lassiter, Sarah (Smitherman) Lassiter, Honora Spinks and Sherman Spinks (Hammond, et al., 1981). Vella Lassiter and Sarah (Smitherman) Lassiter were graduates of Strieby School (Williams, 2016). I wondered about the educational advancements in Cedar Grove. I wondered how they compared to the Strieby and Lassiter Mill communities served by Strieby School.

In 1880, Cedar Grove Township, which was physically closer to the town of Asheboro than either New Hope or Union Townships, had 193 people of color, in 42 households. Of those, 40 were in school (including some adults); 64 could not read; 103 could not write. The overall literacy was 66.84%; 33.16% unable to read; and 53.35% unable to write. For Strieby and Lassiter Mill overall literacy was 71.7% and 73.3% respectively. Thus, in 1880, Strieby and Lassiter Mill had slightly better literacy rates. However, since both Red House and Strieby Schools were new, it is hard to determine what influences these schools had.

In 1900, the community had shrunk slightly to 146 individuals in 38 households. Of these, 82 report they can read, 67 report they can write, resulting in an overall literacy of 68.49%.  Literacy for Strieby was 57.4% and Lassiter Mill, 48.9%. In Cedar Grove, 18 young people were reported attending school resulting in 12.33% in school. By contrast, 33 young people were school in Strieby or 32.7% and 8 in Lassiter Mill or 17.8%.  While it appears that Cedar Grove had better literacy rates overall, when comparing school attendance rates, Strieby and Lassiter Mill had greater school attendance.

In 1920, there were a total of 168 individuals in Cedar Grove, indicating a slight increase in population, for a total of 35 households, which by comparison with 1900 indicates there was actually demographic stability. Of these, 116 could read (69%), 105 could write (62.5%), for an overall literacy of 65.8%. Of the 62 school age children in the total population, 40 were in school resulting in 64.5% of children being in school. In Strieby, all 15 school age children were in school, or 100% of school age children. The same was found in Lassiter Mill, where all 15 school age children were in school or 100%. Again, it appears that the commitment to school attendance was greater in Strieby and Lassiter Mill.

By 1940, the Cedar Grove community had shrunk considerably. Now there were 81 individuals in 23 households. Previous members of the community followed the pattern of other neighboring communities by moving into Asheboro, or moving to other communities, often in neighboring counties, where factory work was plentiful, or, in some instances, leaving the area altogether for greater opportunities in places like New York and Massachusetts. Of those families still living in Cedar Grove, 10 children were attending school (12.35%). Of those who were not attending school any longer, the highest grade completed was 10th grade and that individual was herself now a teacher. Of those still in school, 5 were attending high school including a 4th year student. However, most adults did not report the level of school they had completed unlike those in Strieby and Lassiter Mill, making it impossible to truly compare the communities on this parameter.

In From Hill Town to Strieby, one concrete measure of literacy was the signatures on World War I (WWI) draft registrations of those who reported in 1900 that they could read and write. In Cedar Grove, using the same parameters, the following was found.  In 1900, there were a total of 27 young men of draft age. Of those, one young man’s last name was not recorded. He was simply listed as “Jim, a colored boy” which prevented locating him in draft records. Of the remaining young men, no draft record was identified for 13, two others died before the draft was instituted. Of the remaining 12 young men whose draft registrations could be identified, 11 signed (92%) their draft registrations and only one did not. By comparison, among those educated at Strieby School from both Union and New Hope Townships, there were 33 young men identified. Of these, nothing was found for 12 of the young men and two died. Of the remaining 20 young men, 18 (90%) signed their registrations, while two did not. Overall, based on draft signatures, these communities were comparable.

So, what might account for the slightly greater school attendance at Strieby School than Red House? It’s hard to say. Cedar Grove community was larger which could have affected community cohesiveness. In addition, Cedar Grove was closer to the town of Asheboro, with possible economic incentives that might have seemed more attractive in the short term than school. By contrast, Strieby and Lassiter Mill were more isolated, more families had immediate kinship ties, and by the turn of the century few immediate economic diversions. Income depended more heavily on farming. For other forms of economic opportunity one simply had to leave Strieby/Lassiter Mill. For Strieby/Lassiter Mill, academic achievement was itself an important community value, while in Cedar Grove, there were very likely competing values.

Sources

​Genealogy Hound. (2014, January 16). St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Find A Grave. Retrieved (12 May 2017) from: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2527007

Hammond, Leah, Cranford, Charles L. (compilers), & Denny, Zeb (editor). (1981). St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Farmer: Yesterday and Today. (Welcome, NC: Wooten Printing Co.) 47.

King, Emma. (1924, October). Some aspects of the work of the Society of Friends for Negro education in North Carolina. The North Carolina Historical Review, 1(4), 403-411. Retrieved (12 May 2017) from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23514375?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

US Federal Census. 1880. Cedar Grove, Randolph, North Carolina. Enumeration District: 220. National Archives Administration (NARA) Roll: 978; Family History Library (FHL) microfilm: 1254978. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

US Federal Census. 1900. Cedar Grove, Randolph, North Carolina. Enumeration District: 0082. NARA Roll: 1212. FHL microfilm: 1241212. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

US Federal Census. 1920. Cedar Grove, Randolph, North Carolina; Enumeration District: 99. NARA Roll: T625_1318. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

US Federal Census. 1940. Cedar Grove, Randolph, North Carolina. Enumeration District: 76-8. NARA Roll: T627_2961. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com.

Williams, Margo. (2016). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina. Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing.

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From Hill Town to Strieby receives Finalist Medal from 2017 Indie Book Awards

Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina

From Hill Town to Strieby (Backintyme Publishing, 2016)

From Hill Town to Strieby has been named a Finalist in the African American category for the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (NGIBA). Notification was made today. I was very honored to find myself named along with LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson!

Information will be made available at http://www.IndieBookAwards.com along with that of the other Finalists and Winners. A Press Release announcing the Grand Prize Winners and saying where the media and others  can see the complete list of Winners and Finalists will also be published. From Hill Town to Strieby “will be listed as a Finalist in the 2017 NGIBA catalog and distributed at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York as a countertop handout at registration desks. The book will be promoted to book buyers, book lovers and library reps along with media and industry professionals.” All Finalists and Winners are invited to the awards reception at the Harvard Club in New York City, Wednesday, May 31st.

AFRICAN AMERICAN WINNER:

Moonlight Helmsman – Robert Smalls’ Amazing Escape, by Richard Maule (Amazon Books /Createspace)

FINALISTS:

A Guide to Researching African American Ancestors in Laurens County, South Carolina and Selected Finding Aids, by LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson (Xlibris)

Crimson Sweat: The Collector’s Edition, by John Drumgoole, Jr. (The Scroll Group)

Daddy’s Girl, by Ben Burgess Jr. (Legacy Books LLC)

From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina, by Margo Lee Williams (Backintyme Publishing)

Shards of the Past, by C.D. Blue (CreateSpace)

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Private Percy Walter Phillips, World War I Veteran

Currently, the North Carolina Museum of History is featuring an exhibit, “North Carolina and World War I (http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/exhibits/NC-World-War-One),” in honor of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of what was called, “the War to end all wars.” My grand uncle, Percy Walter Phillips fought in World War I, not with a North Carolina unit, the state of his birth, but with a unit from New Jersey where he was then living.

Percy Walter Phillips was my mother’s favorite uncle, my grand uncle. He was born 4 Nov 1895, in Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina, the son of Samuel D. Phillips and Mary Louise Smitherman, and he was a Miles Lassiter descendant.  Percy registered for the draft on 5 June 1917 in Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife, Florence (Bright), and daughter, Mary Louise, employed by Singer Manufacturing. He enlisted on 28 January 1918.

Percy served with the Battery F, 92nd Division. The 92nd became known as the Buffalo Soldiers, fighting in France. The 92nd was part of the “Negro Combat Division.” The 350th Field Artillery along with the 317th Trench Mortar Battery, were headquartered at Fort Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey. The Field Artillery units deployed in June 1918. Upon arrival in France they began another training period. Their serious training began in July in Montmorrillon, in the Department of Vienne. In August the 92nd would end its training and move to the town of St. Die not far from the Rhine and close to the foothills of the Alps. St. Die’s claim to fame was that the explorer Americus Vespucci had been a monk there and they had coined the term “America” to refer to the western continents. St. Die was across from Alsace, then in German possession.

From August to September 1918, the 92nd attacked German front lines, themselves coming under attack with one of the worst being on 31 August from German artillery, including mustard gas and “flame projectors” (Scott, 1919). The Germans were eventually pushed back, leaving the 92nd primarily monitoring and repairing trenches. Nevertheless, there would be other attacks including aerial attacks. Percy would suffer from the effects of these battles the rest of his life, suffering from “shell shock,” according to my mother, Margaret Lee Williams, his niece, and dying of lung cancer in 1949, an associated health risk of exposure to mustard gas (VBA, 2013). Today “shell shock” is recognized as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (NCPTSD, n.d.).

Percy returned home to New Jersey and was honorably discharged on 19 March 1919. Things would change. By 1920, his wife and daughter had returned to Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina to live with family. Percy eventually moved with his mother, Mary Louise “Louisa,” in Elizabeth. He would live with her until she died in 1936.

In the summer of 1920, Percy’s grandmother, Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo, Louisa’s mother, had a stroke.  Percy accompanied Louisa and his nieces, Margaret and Verna, daughters of his deceased sister, Elinora (Phillips) Lee, to Asheboro, to help care for Ellen. Ellen died in August, but the family decided to stay in Asheboro. Percy and Florence had a brief reconciliation resulting in the birth of their son, James Edward Phillips, in 1921. However, by 1923, Louisa, the children, and Percy returned to Elizabeth, New Jersey while Florence and the children, Mary Louise “Louise” and James Edward, moved to Stanly County, south of Asheboro.  .

By 1930, Percy was living with a “Mary,” identified as his wife in the census, although there is no other supporting documentation. However, the relationship had to be brief since his niece, my mother, Margaret did not remember her even though they all lived in the same house. In 1936, his mother, Louisa, died. About this time he returned to Greensboro, eventually marrying Agnes Kepler Hunter, a widow who also had family roots in Asheboro.

By 1949, Percy’s exposure to Mustard Gas had caught up with him. He had lung cancer. Percy entered the VA hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Percy died there on 7 December 1949. According to the request for a headstone from the VA made by his widow, Agnes, he was being buried in Asheboro City Cemetery. However, he was actually interred in the Oddfellow-McAlister Cemetery, in Asheboro (Barnes, 2014).

References

Barnes, T. (2014, Dec 3). Percy W. Phillips. Find A Grave. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=139542587

National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD). (n.d.). What is PTSD? PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/basics/what-is-ptsd.asp

Scott, E. J. (1919). The Negro Combat Division. The American Negro in World War I (Chapter XI).  Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: https://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/scott/SCh11.htm

Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). (2013, October 22). Exposure to mustard gas or Lewisite. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved (April 12, 2017) from: http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-postservice-exposures-mustard.asp

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How DNA helped reunite family members

Almost a year ago I was contacted by a woman, Jennifer Jackson,  who noted in AncestryDNA that she was a match for someone whose account I was administering, Aveus Lassiter Edmondson, my second cousin 3x removed. In looking at all shared matches, I noted that Jennifer was a match for Hill family members whose ancestors had moved from Randolph County, NC, to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That intrigued me because I couldn’t place her from my research within those related families that I knew. When looking at her associated public tree (thank goodness she had one!) I could instantly see the relationships.

For me personally, it was her relationship to Aveus that excited me first.  She traced her ancestry to Nathan and Sarah (Polk) Hill. Nathan was Ned and Priscilla Hill’s oldest son. Aveus’ grandfather, Colier Lassiter was married to Katherine “Kate” Polk. Colier was bondsman for the marriage of Nathan and Sarah. It had always seemed to me that Sarah and Kate had to be sisters. Now I had evidence. If Jennifer was a descendant of Sarah’s and a DNA match to Aveus, it could only be because Sarah and Kate were related, most likely sisters, because Aveus was not a descendant of Ned and Priscilla’s. What also struck me was that in 1850, before either Sarah or Kate married, they were living in the home of Jack and Charity Lassiter. Jack was the brother of Miles Lassiter. Charity was likely a grandmother. After Kate married Colier, an elderly Mary Polk/Pope moved in with them and presumably lived out her days there. She was the age to be Sarah and Kate’s mother, although she dies before the census begins recording family relationships. Kate and Sarah both married using the name Polk and were not likely children of Jack Lassiter, but rather related to Charity. Charity seems too old to be their mother, but could easily be their grandmother and potentially Mary Polk’s mother. Unfortunately, there is little concrete evidence to confirm that. Nevertheless, that is the scenario I use on my Ancestry family tree unless and until information to the contrary is revealed.

Jennifer was not just a DNA match to Aveus. She was a match to several people who descended from the same Hill family line who had also taken the AncestryDNA test. Jennifer descended from Clarkson Hill and his first wife, Ellen Davis. They had three daughters and Sarah, their youngest, was Jennifer’s ancestor. Sarah was grown and living in someone else’s home in 1900, combined with the lack of any current Strieby community stories that included her, it was easy to overlook her and not include her in any recitation of the descendants of Clarkson. There was no readily available information about her. In addition, Sarah married Rogers Skeens of Randolph County and moved away to Washington DC.  It was Jennifer’s discovery of her death certificate that listed “Clark Hill” and “Ella Davis” that helped confirm the relationship using standard documentation. As noted, Jennifer matched Hill family members from branches of the family that had migrated to Arkansas. Three of Clarkson’s brothers (Milton, Dempsey, and Thomas Julius) left Randolph County and moved to Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas.  Jennifer matches descendants from two brothers, Milton and Thomas Julius, who have tested with AncestryDNA.

Having put all those pieces together from both DNA and documentation, Jennifer was reunited with her Hill and Lassiter family members from Randolph County, North Carolina. On Saturday, 25 March, I was finally able to meet Jennifer in person when we both attended the meeting of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), in Rockville, MD.  I was able to provide her a copy of From Hill Town to Strieby (Backintyme, 2016), so that she could read more about her family’s roots in Randolph County, North Carolina.

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Miles Lassiter Book Featured on Book Daily

Today the Miles Lassiter Book was featured on the Emerging Authors’ page in Book Daily!

http://www.bookdaily.com/book/3078611/miles-lassiter

 

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YouTube Presentation in Asheboro, NC

This video is from my presentation in Asheboro on 18 February 2017

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A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter (Excerpted from: From Hill Town to Strieby)

 

In Honor of International Women’s Day, I am posting this chapter on Vella Lassiter as published in From Hill Town to Strieby (Backintyme Publishing, 2016, available in paperback and kindle from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hill-Town-Strieby-Missionary-Association/dp/0939479095).

Vella Lassiter was one example of both the legacy of educational excellence encouraged by schools in the American Missionary Association tradition, as well as their stance against injustice. Born Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Vella attended Strieby Church School. From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in neighboring Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Master’s degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, and eventually at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years.  However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit.

So it was in 1937. Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person; the bus was crowded; there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.[1]

Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her. To everyone’s surprise they won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court. Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn.[2] Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 18 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that:

Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.[3]

Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit like it that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won before hers, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.[4]

[1] Jones, K. L. (1993). Novella Anna Lassiter (361). The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina, (Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Heritage Book Committee). 343-344.

[2] The Carolina Times. (18 August 1939). Bus Case Hotly Contested in Randolph Court. (Raleigh, North Carolina.), 6. Retrieved from: http://library.digitalNorth Carolina.org/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/newspapers&CISOPTR=16757&CISOMODE=print

[3]  The Carolina Times. (18 August 1939). Wins Important Case. (Raleigh, North Carolina), 3. Retrieved from: http://library.digitalNorth Carolina.org/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/newspapers&CISOPTR=16757&CISOMODE=print

[4] Gershenhorn, J. (2010) A Courageous Voice for Black Freedom: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times in Depression-Era North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 87 (1):85. See also, ; Williams,  M. L. (2013). Vella Lassiter, 1937 Bus Suit. The Miles Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: http://mileslassiter.tribalpages.com/tribe/browse?userid=mileslassiter&view=78&ver=352&storyid=49456.

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Uwharrie Friends Meeting

On Saturday, 18 February 2017, Daniel Thornburg, of Asheboro, Randolph County, NC, brought the photo of the Uwharrie Friends Meeting that was once located along what is now Lassiter Mill Road, just south of the present-day Science Hill Friends Meeting. I had obtained the pen and ink drawing of the Meeting house on a previous visit to the Randolph County Library. It was a great surprise when Daniel presented me with the picture that he remembered he had promised to bring me when I was doing the book signing in December 2011, for Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker in Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme, 2011). This was the Meeting that Miles Lassiter attended. It is easy to see that the pen and ink drawing may very likely have been drawn from the photo. The drawing appears currently in my recently published book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme, 2016). The picture very likely will be used in any future updated editions of either book.

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