January 31, 2014

County Poor Farms: A Different Sort of Social Security in North Carolina

Durham County Poor House
Illness, injury, a downturn in economic conditions – we’ve all found ourselves feeling a financial pinch from time to time in our lives.  

Local and municipal government programs have long worked to provide assistance and relief to the sick and poor.  In the 18th and 19th centuries in the US, tax payer supported county poor farms, also known as poor houses or almshouses, existed to provide assistance to the unfortunate.  These “farms” provided housing and support for those in need and pre-dated the current Social Security system developed in the 1930s.

Poor farms are not an invention of US ingenuity. Poor houses date back to Victorian times as a government answer to poverty, often even used as a punishment for the downtrodden. Charles Dickens described poor houses as reformatories where inmates were subjected to hard labor.

Wake County’s first poorhouse was established by William Boylan.  (Patterson)  Boylan was a staunch Federalist who initially came to Raleigh to take over his uncle’s newspaper, the Raleigh Minerva.  An extremely civic minded public servant, Boylan worked tirelessly in service to Raleigh and to North Carolina. He was known to deliver firewood to the poor in the winters and to assist a former slave in his efforts to flee north.

Admission was both voluntary and involuntary, as was release. Entire families were often admitted together. Sometimes, children would reside at the farm but other times they would be given to local families for care, thereby separating families in this time of crisis.  Birth certificates of babies born at the farm often listed their birthplace as “poor farm”.

Able residents were required to work on the farm. Many poor farms had their own cemetery.

Poor farms were often located adjacent or within local prison farms. Families with children lived with and worked next to hardened criminals. Poor houses were also at times a convenient place to send those who were mentally ill or had an “unsound mind”.  You didn’t have to be “poor” to be involuntarily admitted to a poor house.

According to a 1904 government report summarizing North Carolina poor house laws, the board of commissioners for each county was authorized to “ Provide for the maintenance and well-ordering of the poor and to employ biennially sane competent  person as overseer of the poor”.  These persons must live at the “county home” or other place as designated by the board of commissioners.  The residents had to be cared for at the expense of the county, but were to be released as soon as practical.  

What can I find in a county poor farm record?

Most poor farms maintained a register of admissions and residents listing basic information such as name, age, and date of admission.  Some went a step further, much to the delight of family historians, and maintained information about the individual’s personal habits, visitors, and extended family, as well as information on who may have had them admitted.

Finding Poor House Records

Most poor house records were maintained by the county, as in North Carolina.  These records can be found at the North Carolina State Archives at the county level.
In some cases, there may be other records stemming from a stay at the poor house, such as guardianship, adoption records, or orphans court records.

Things to keep in mind when searching poor house records:

  1. These institutions were called by different names; poor house, poor farm, almshouse, county farm.
  2. Poorhouses were not located in each North Carolina county.
  3. Poorhouses opened in the various North Carolina locations at different times between 1811 and 1854.
  4. Many poor houses or farms had their own cemeteries.  These cemeteries are sometimes known as “pauper’s field” and contain no headstones or outward identification other than a rock. Other poor houses used nearby church cemeteries to bury the deceased.

Paupers tend to leave scarce documentation for genealogists to follow; they may not have owned land, accumulated large estates, or participated in other life transactions that would leave a paper trail. Poor house records can provide a true treasure of information on elusive family members who might not otherwise appear in the standard records family historians tend to turn to first. They also paint a realistic picture of life as a pauper adding another dimension to the stories of our ancestor’s life.  Remember that it’s not just the poor house record that can illuminate the story, but the corresponding records that are natural occurrences of a pauper’s difficult life.

(This is a draft of an article I wrote for the Wake County Genealogical Society journal several years ago.)

January 30, 2014

Will of Issac Johnson, ~1770-1822

Last Will and Testament

In the name of God, Amen. I Isaac Johnson of the County of Johnston and State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and memory do hereby make, publish, and declare this instrument of writing to be my last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, that is to say, first I give and devise to my son Stephen, all the land which I own on the north side of the north prong of the Beaver Dam branch, including the house and plantation whereon I now live to him and his heirs forever, reserving to my wife the use of the same during her natural life.

2d. All the rest of my land I give and devise to my son Frederick to him and his heirs forever. 

3d. I give and bequeath to my son Stephen, one sorrel filly, one feather bed and furniture, 1 shot gun, and one half of my plantation tools.

I give and bequeath to my said son Frederick one mare and colt, one feather bed and furniture, one half of my plantation tools, and all the hogs that are commonly called his.

I give and bequeath to my daughter Bethany on feather bed and furniture, one cow and two yearlings, one loom and gear, half a dozen pewter plates, half a dozen pewter basons, one iron pot, and one spider and bed and one clothes chest.  All the balance of my household and kitchen furniture, I give to my wife.

The residue of my property, I wish to be sold by my Executor hereinafter to be named, and the money arising therefrom, after paying all my just debts to be equally divided between my three daughters Sally, Betsy, and Bethany.

I do hereby nominate and appoint my son Barny Johnson Executor to this my last will and testament. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 24th day of December, 1822.

Isaac Johnson (seal)

Signed, sealed, and acknowledged in the presence of E. Smith and W. Senton

State of North Carolina, November term 1823, Johnston County
Herein as the executor of this will duly proven in open court by the oaths of Edwin Smith and W. Senton and as directed to be recorded.

R.M. Saunders, Clerk

Recorded in the clerks office of said County in Book No. 11 page 58.  R. M. Saunders, Clerk.

Ernest Foster Davis Obituary

News and Observer, Sept. 29, 1955- Obituary
Ernest F. Davis

Wake Forest. Ernest F. Davis, 65, of Route 3, Wake Forest, died Wednesday morning at his home. He was a farmer and life long resident of Granville County,, North Carolina. He was a deacon in the Good Hope Christian Church where funeral services will be held Friday at 3:00 pm. Officiating will be the Rev. E. M. Carter and the Rev. M. Hollifield. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Evie Davis; three sons, William of Route 1, Youngsville, Almus and Charlie Davis of the home; seven daughters, Mrs. Vera Davis of the home, Mts. Tom Gulley of Franklinton, Mts. Paul Allen of Wake Forest, Mts. L. F. Parrish of Richmond, Virginia, Mts. C. E. Parrish of Morrisville, Mts. J. W. Thompson of Charleston, W. Va., and Miss Ruth Davis of Richmond, Va; five sisters, Miss Meona Davis, Mrs. Mary Allen, Mrs. Atlas Allen, Mrs. Cora Perry, all of Raleigh, and Mrs. J. Q. Lowery of Youngsville; three brothers, Bruce Davis of Wake Forest, Roland Davis and Otis Davis of Youngsville, 12 grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.

January 29, 2014

Sister Mary Lourdes Johnson - Her memories, My memories

Sister Mary Lourdes JOHNSON was an unlikely family member, in many ways. We affectionately called her SML, for short. She was a very distant relation, but she was raised by my great grand father's brother, George Robert STANCIL and his wife Annie Valeria BROWNING. SML's birth mother was Annie's cousin. 

SML was a Catholic nun. Odd, for this very southern family who had been active in the Primitive Baptist Church for generations. SML converted to Catholicism in her 40s, after having run away from Johnston County, NC in her teens to become an entertainer in New York City.  Although when we asked her what sort of "entertaining" she did in NYC, she wouldn't answer. Hmmm. She did provide an answer when we asked her why she converted to Catholism and then became a nun. Her answer was "I was tired of running from the Lord." I'm sure it was all quite the topic of conversation within the family.

I met SML when she was in her 60s. We became virtual friends when we found one another on Ancestry.com researching the same family. We became real life friends when she traveled several times to NC to visit my family and I traveled to Connecticut to stay with her at the Sisters of Charity mother house in Baltic, Connecticut. We were a sight to see when we drove to Smithfield for BBQ one day. Many southerners have never seen a nun in full habit. She was a source of great comfort to me as I experienced the trials of raising a teenage son with an aversion to authority and then later when I divorced. 

She was a very kind woman. My family and I loved her very much. She wrote a very loving and touching essay of her life with the STANCILs, which follows. Anyone related to this family will enjoy reading her memories of life with the STANCIL family.


I will tell you about my life with George Robert Stancil, b. 11/1/1878,
 d. 12/16/1966, son of William and Mary Stancil.   His wife, Annie Valeria Stancil, b. 3/6/1884, d. 5/4/1977, was the daughter of William and Nancy Browning. The Stancil’s lived in Smithfield, North Carolina.

I am Valeria Elizabeth Stancil-Johnson. I was born at the Stancil home in Smithfield on May 11, 1936. The Stancil’s had partially raised my Mother, Virginia Mae Pulley, and her brother, Debric Cade Pulley. So it was only natural that they would take me in also. My father, Derwood Belmont Johnson, died when I was 4 months old. My Mom had no money, no job and nowhere to live so she went back to the Stancils. There I was born at their home. Mom had 2 girls and one boy. The boy was placed in another home and my sister, Virginia Wynne, and I lived with the Stancils. Mom left and went into town to work. Shortly after, she went to Norfolk Va. to the shipyards as a secretary in the Navy leaving us to live with the Stancils.

I only knew George Robert Stancil as my real father until the age of 15 when I learned that I was not their child. (That broke my heart when I found out he was not my biological father).  I always called him daddy.

Daddy was my hero. He was such a kind man, gentle, soft spoken; he never spoke anything bad about another person. He never raised his voice in anger to either of us children or his wife. Daddy was a very religious man, being an Elder in the Smithfield Primitive Baptist Church. It was Daddy’s job to make the wine for Church and Mother made the bread. On our way to Church they placed these things in the back seat. I always ate the biscuits and Virginia drank the wine. We always had to go back home for more, but they never said anything to us about it. 

He was always praying. I was brought up on prayer and the Bible (where I know that I got my religious vocation from).

Daddy was tall, with reddish, light brown hair and blue eyes. He always wore kaki work pants and kaki long sleeve shirts, even in the summer. He also wore a Panama hat in the summer and felt hat in the winter. When he went to church, he wore suits with a vest. He drove a 1934 Ford until the early 50’s. He was a man of few words and lots of smiles. He was a farmer and a carpenter. He built tobacco barns for people and houses for us. He had a very large farm in Smithfield before WWII. **   He was drafted into the Army at the age of 50+ to build housing at Fort Bragg. He moved us into town while he was gone. They sold that farm to the Smithfield Country Club at Holt’s Lake and they built a golf course on the farmland. After the war, he bought another farm in Smithfield and built us a new house. We farmed while he built houses. **There are some very important memories of that farm in my mind. It was a very large farm with 3 or 4 tenant houses on it. There was one black family named Durgin. Uncle Durgin milked the cows every day and Virginia and I would go with him to milking. We had a lot of cats that also went. He would squirt milk into my mouth, into the mouth of my sister and to each cat and then into the milk bucket.  That was sheer joy to me!!  Aunt Julie, his wife, would take me when I was 3 years old and bathe me, change my clothes, and rock me in a hand-made cradle all the time singing gospel songs. There were 4 black women who lived on the farm who took care of us two girls and did the house work. They would sling me over their hip and continue their work with spontaneous prayer and singing gospels. (Is there any wonder why I became a nun, I was brought up on religion.)

Daddy plowed with a mule and I would go out with him every day for plowing. As he plowed and turned over the dirt I would eat handfuls of the fresh clean dirt (soil). It was better than dessert. I wanted to go with Daddy when he was working, he took time to show and explain everything he was doing on the farm. Every Sunday morning he went out and walked the perimeter of the farm and came back to tell us how everything was growing or what had to be replaced. He could tell you how many steps it was around the property.

He would put me on his big shoulders and we would go into the woods to pick huckleberries, or hickory nuts, and runnnnnn when a wild boar would chase us. I would put the nuts in his big hat. When we were sick with croup or bad colds, Daddy would go into the woods and bring back roots, bark and berries and cook it up and put in the vaporizer and we were well in no time. He knew the Indian medicines. Smartest man I ever knew.

On Christmas Eve, we would stay up until about 7pm, and then Daddy would go out to see if Santa was near. We would hear the footsteps on the porch and ringing the big bell and immediately we went to bed so Santa could leave our presents.

Every time Daddy went to town he would bring back the 3 colors of coconut candy. He liked hoar-hound candy. It was even used for medicine for us. He would also bring back a coca cola for each of us.

We raised chickens, and Daddy would buy chicken feed in 100% cotton bags, so we got new dresses. They were beautiful calico print, plaid or paisley prints. We were the best-dressed kids in Smithfield. We always had new pretty clothes and a smoke house full of meat.

At hog killing time, Daddy would ask us what part of the pig we wanted. I always chose a Tom Thumb and the liver. Everything else was put in the smoke house. We had access to it at any time. Daddy would take all of us fishing. We caught lots of fish, maybe small but Mother cooked them anyway. We used to get the worms off the tobacco plants and go fishing in the Neuse River.

One year Daddy planted a big plot of popcorn corn. Virginia and I were experimenting with smoking tobacco and caught the field of corn on fire. We had a popping good time until we got in the house and then bedlam broke out. We lied about how the fire started. They were mad because it also destroyed the watermelon patch. Daddy didn’t say anything but Mother sure did.     

We used to go with Daddy to the field and he would drop coins in the path. We would find them and scream with joy that we had found money. He never told us he dropped it for us.

One day Mother was very angry with me and was spanking me very badly. Daddy didn’t like that and he told her to “leave those young’uns alone.” He loved us very much. I think Mother was jealous of him. Every time he sat down on the couch, Virginia and I would sit with him and not with her.
Mother and Daddy lived as brother and sister. There was no sex in their life.  All four of us slept in the same room. Mother and Daddy both had large double beds. Virginia slept with Daddy and I slept with Mother until we became teens and then we had to have our own room.

Daddy was a very healthy man. Once he got ptomaine poisoning from eating brains and eggs. And then he had a heart attack later in life. He never stayed home from work being sick. He worked a lot outside the house maybe that is what kept him healthy, being outside. He never lost his memory or became senile. He knew everything going on around him all the time. Even at death, he knew what to expect.

As I remember Daddy, he must have been a little wealthy. Maybe his parents were also. We never lacked for anything. He owned lots of land and properties and houses. They saved their money. They had the work ethic, that, “the harder you work, the more money you had, you were blessed by the Lord.”  And, the Lord in many ways blessed them.

Daddy liked coconut cake, chocolate cake and homemade peach ice cream, which we made every Sunday in the summer.

We all took a siesta everyday between 1-2p.m. Every day after dinner (lunch) we slept on the floor on a homemade quilt. Then when we got up we would continue our work until about 7p.m.

We would help Daddy, and the farm hands, wash turkey feet. I thought that was funny but their feet would cake up with mud and they couldn’t walk unless they were washed in limewater.

Daddy would help my sister and I look for wild turkey eggs and geese eggs. We would watch to see where they went and later we would find the eggs and put them in Daddy’s hat.

Daddy sat at the end of the table on a stool that he made. We all sat on stools. He always drank his coffee out of the saucer never out of a cup. He liked Kush, molasses with biscuits, yams and salt mullet for breakfast. We also ate large birds, fried chicken and corn for breakfast. But most of the time throughout the winter it was dried fish and yams. He enjoyed sweet potato custard, egg custard and coconut custard, but his most favorite food was fried oysters.  At wheat harvest time he would take us with him to the miller. While they were milling the flour we would ride in a rowboat on the water.

Some other things Daddy did were chop wood and put on our arms and we carried it into the house since we had a wood cook stove. He sharpened saws not only his own but everybody else’s also. We would be happy when he would bring home a new bunch of biddies (baby chicks). That meant we could sleep in the hen house with the babies. If we got chilly that meant the baby chicks were cold and we turned up the lights on the brooder to keep them warm and us too.

We sometimes used the cotton fields as a bathroom at night because we were afraid of the outhouse. During the summer, we would place a washtub filled with water out in the sun to get hot. After dark we would bathe in that tub of water outside.

--Sister Mary Lourdes JOHNSON

January 28, 2014

Love Letters

My father, Carl Donald STANCIL, was absolutely the sweetest most loving man I've ever known. He was kind, affectionate, and loved me to the ends of the earth. The love was mutual.

Daddy was an avid letter writer. I have hundreds of letters he wrote to his mom, siblings, and my mother during his 20 years of service in the United States Marine Corps.

In the letter I share here, he is professing his love to my mother about 6 weeks after they married. He is stationed at Camp Lejeune,
NC and she is back home in Raleigh waiting for him. 

I have to warn this letter is a tad steamy. It reminds me that our parents are more than just parents; they were one another's best friend and lover. Just as it should be. 


June 26, 1952

My Darling Wife,

Yes, darling it is Thursday night and just one more day before I can come home to hold you close to me, yes my darling so close that our hearts will be beating together in rhythm as of one.  We didn’t have that 25 mile hike tonight. It was postponed until next week. We made our final run on the demolition range today and one guy was wounded in the left arm by a piece of shrapnel. He was standing right next to me when the explosion went off. I was darn lucky stuff flew all around me but not even a scratch. We won’t have to mess with those demolitions for a while. I sure hope not anyway.

I love you my angel more and more with each passing day. These guys asked me why do I write to you every night and I tell them that they have never been in love or at least they have never shared the true and tender love for you darling. I love you my darling and I want the world to know that. I have true love for you and you alone. I love you my angel and I’ll love you always. Well sweet darling I guess I had better close for tonight and take a cold shower and hit the sack, remember my sweet darling that your little Sgt. Will love you for always and always and always.

All my love,

Your husband, Carl

January 27, 2014

Miss Meona Davis, 1888 - 1964

Ms. Meona DAVIS was born in the Brassfield area of Granville County, NC April 24, 1888 to parents Sidney and Cordelia DAVIS. She never married but she was an integral part of the family and was always spoken of with love. In fact, her gravestone reads "A true friend to everyone".

She was my maternal grandmother's beloved sister, making her my grand aunt. I recall my mother always speaking of her with great respect. 

Meona worked at Dorthea Dix mental hospital in Raleigh, NC for many years and eventually retired from the State of NC. I've heard stories about her walking many miles to and from work along railroad tracks. She worked for years in the Dix laundry and then as a worker on a ward.

For a single woman from a poor family, it is surprising that she dabbled in Granville County real estate. She purchased 26.75 acres of farm land to re-sell to her brother Earnest DAVIS and his wife Evie ALLEN, because she felt they were the only family members who would work hard enough to farm the land. 

She died from thyriod cancer at age 75 on April 15, 1964. She was a life long member of Good Hope Christian Church which is where she was buried. 

Her obituary from Raleigh's News and Observer:
Miss Meona Davis
Wake Forest. Miss Meona Davis, 76, of Franklinton, Rt. 1 died Wednesday. She was a native of Granville County, North Carolina and was a retired State employee. She was a member of Good Hope Christian Church. Funeral services  will be held Friday at 3:00 pm at Good Hope Christian Church. The Rev. T. N. Daughtery, pastor, will officiate, assisted by the Rev. E. M. Carter of Youngsville. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Surviving are four sisters, Mrs. Mary Allen, Mrs. Cora Finch, Mrs. Ethel Allen, and Ovie Lowery, all of Raleigh; two brothers, Bruce Davis of Wake Forest Rt. 3 and Otis Davis of Youngsville, Route 1.

Good Hope Baptist Church, Youngsville, NC

January 26, 2014

Allen Funeral Cards

I've always been interested in traditions surrounding southern funerals. While I still find it odd that we like to photograph the deceased, or family members at a funeral, I'm intrigued with the old tradition of funeral cards and mourning jewelry. I've a friend who collects mourning jewelry and each piece is both haunting and beautiful.

Here are the funeral cards for my maternal grandparents, Ethel DAVIS ALLEN and Vada Atlas ALLEN. They died within a year of one another and these plastic laminated cards were provided to the family by the funeral home.

My mother kept them in my father's Bible, almost like bookmarks. I don't know if one was provided to each family member, but that would have been a lovely idea. These seem much more celebratory of a life than a picture of the deceased lying in their coffin. 

Vada Atlas Allen

January 25, 2014

Stancil Visit in Smithfield Herald, September 7, 1923

Smithfield Herald, September 7, 1921

Johnston School News

Mrs. Jesse Stancil and son, Roland, spent Saturday night in Smithfield with Mrs. Stancil's brother, Mr. Elmond Johnson.

(This article refers to my grandmother and uncle visiting her brother in Smithfield, NC.)

January 21, 2014

Will of Bethany Johnson Johnson, ~1770-1824

Will Abstracts of Johnston County, 1746 - 1825. Vol. 1:

Thenny Johnson - died May 1, 1824. Probate Court May 1824. 

Son John:  1 skillet
Son Jacob: 1 bed cover
Son Frederick - 1 bed, 1 dutch oven
Daughter Thanny - remaining clothing
Son Stephenson - remaining property - pay just debts
Son Barney - 1 wheel
Daughter Sarah - 1 clock, clothing
Daughter Elizabeth: Household items
Exec: Stephenson Johnson
Witness:  Barnaby Jonson, David Parish

(My 4th great grandmother)

January 19, 2014

William Stancil Obituary

From the Smithfield Herald, October 27, 1916

Mr. William Stancil Dead

Mr. William Stancil, after an illness of several months, died at his home in Wilders township Tuesday afternoon about two o'clock. At the time of his death, he was 68 years old, and for the past year has been an invalid, and while death was not unexpected it came as a sad shock to his family and a large host of friends throughout this section. The deceased was a member of the Primitive Baptist Church, and was a man of Christian character and gentlemanly behavior, being universally liked by those who knew him.

He is survived by three sons and one daughter:  Mr. George Stancil, of Wendell; Mr. Joe Stancil, of Wilders township, and Miss Sallie Stancil, who was living with him at the time of his death.

The funeral services were conducted from the home Wednesday afternoon, interment being made at the Salem church burying ground. The News extends its deepest sympathy to the sorrowing relatives. - Clayton News

(Smithfield, North Carolina)

January 12, 2014

Family Churches

I've always had a special affinity for churches. Particularly old country churches. I attended college in a very rural mountain area. One of my favorite past-times was to drive around and photograph old churches. Of course, I didn't have the foresight at the time to actually write down where these churches were exactly or their names, so I'm left with a pile of pictures of beautiful churches I can't identify. Live and learn. 

Nowadays, I focus on churches affiliated with my family. I've started to build a page on this blog about my family churches. I plan to add to it as I learn more about these churches.

I am also touched by churches not related to my family. Naturally, we are all in awe of the large cathedrals and fancy well-off churches, but I'm drawn to smaller churches. Those with small but devoted congregations who really don't care that they didn't grow up to be a big red-brick church with a huge parking lot and impressive silver alter ornaments. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit I regularly attend a mega-church in Raleigh, NC with an annual budget equal to that of small countries. I love it but it doesn't touch me like a small country church with a budget of about $17 a week might.

The Mystery of Faith
Ben Long, 1977
St. Mary's Church, West Jefferson, NC
Speaking of being touched, are you familiar with the Ben Long Fresco Trail in western NC? As smitten as I am with my small family churches, I can imagine the devotion and love it took Ben Long to paint magnificent frescos (painting on wet plaster so the art becomes part of the wall). I've spent long periods of time in these churches soaking up the spirit and significance of this beautiful art form. 

With or without beautiful art, churches play a significant role in my family's history...and in my own history. Another story for another day.

January 9, 2014

Ethel DAVIS ALLEN, 1906 - 1965

My maternal grandmother, Ethel DAVIS ALLEN, was quite the pickle I'm told. A scrappy little woman, she had no filter, and would tell you just how it was going to be. No matter who you were. 

She was the 9th of 12 children born to Sidney and Cordelia DAVIS. She was very close to her family and her sisters were her best friends. However, I hear she was tough, tough, tough on her children and expected them to tow the line. Of course, that could have something to do with my very headstrong mother. I'm sure she was the teenager from hell. Just like me, I'll admit.

Ethel Davis Allen and husband
Vada Atlas Allen

Ethel and her husband, Vada Atlas ALLEN, had three daughters; Ann Gladys, Grace Elizabeth, and Mary Joyce. I've heard they had a set of twins who died at birth before my mother was born in 1929. However, I can't find any documentation of that. But then, they lived far out in the country and things were sometimes handled a little differently there and "off the grid".

I'm fortunate to have a number of great pictures of Grandma Ethel. 

This picture was taken probably around 1916. I think she looks a lot like me at that age, but perhaps I'm flattering myself. 

I love the detail of her dress - the embroideries at the waist. And note that ring on her right hand. Looks a lot like a wedding band. I'd love to know the story behind that! 

This is a picture of Ethel with a suitor, Luther Lowery.  He looks at her so lovingly. In this picture, she looks a lot like her youngest daughter, Mary Joyce.  She seems a  little indifferent, but I love the way his right foot is touching her foot. I think he was in love. Ethel...maybe not so much. 

This is a picture of "the sisters". 

Mary Davis Allen,1899 - 1875 
Ethel Davis Allen, 1906 - 1965
Cora Davis Finch, 1903 - 1991
Meona Davis, 1988 - 1964

Missing sister: Ovie Davis Lowery, 1914 - 2006

Another great picture of the sisters. From left to right:

Meona, Ovie, Ethel, Mary, Cora

January 8, 2014

Vada Atlas ALLEN, 1905 - 1964

Atlas Allen and best friend, circa 1925
My maternal grandfather, Vada Atlas ALLEN, was a gentle giant. He died in 1964 when I was just 6 years old, but I remember him clearly. A tall lanky man, he carried me on his shoulders, perched me on his lap, and perhaps best of all...took me to Mrs. Carter's candy store in the Caraleigh neighborhood of Raleigh, NC every chance he got. 

He was well loved by his family. A devoted family man, I've been told a number of stories about his rather colorful past and how he worked to provide for his family. 

Clearly, he loved pets. He is pictured here with man's best friend, probably a hunting dog. He also had the sweetest little chihuahua named "Tiny". He loved Tiny and took her everywhere! When I was born, my parents and I were gifted with Tiny's puppy, "Peanuts". Peanuts passed away when I was in high school, but there could not have been a better cared for pooch.

Grandpa Allen had seen the harder side of life. Born to a poor tenant farmer, I imagine he hunted to provide for the family, but he also shared in the family business - moonshining. On the wrong side of the law, he spent some time at Caledonia Farms, a prison farm in north eastern North Carolina. There, he learned the more legal trade of repairing diesel engines.

At least in this case, I think we can say the State of North Carolina did the right thing and rehabilitated a man to provide him with the highly marketable skill of diesel mechanic.  This put Grandpa in high demand during World War II when the government would request his assistance in maintaining helicopter engines at Ft. Bragg, NC.

There is also a family story that Grandpa spent some time working in the coal mines in Grundy, Virginia where he was seriously injured in a mine explosion. He remained hospitalized in the Grundy area for nearly a year before returning to NC. Naturally, the great aunt who told me that story now doesn't recall that Grandpa ever worked in the coal mines. Such is the nature of genealogy.

Grandpa and Grandma (Ethel DAVIS) Allen was one of the first in either family to own their home when they bought a small house in Caraleigh, a working class neighborhood of Raleigh, NC. There was a large snowball bush on the side of the house where us kids would play hide and seek. My mother had a cutting of that bush in the yard where I grew up, and I had a cutting in my yard for 22 years until I bought into the "townhome lifestyle" where such things are considered crass. 

Atlas Allen funeral
Good Hope Baptist Church
October 1964
In the odd southern tradition of taking pictures at funerals (and particularly odd is the practice of photographing the body), you can see his family to the left, (left to right) middle daughter Grace Elizabeth (Lib) ALLEN LEE,  Grandma ALLEN, youngest daughter Mary Joyce ALLEN LUCAS and his oldest daughter, my mother Ann Gladys ALLEN STANCIL. 

Atlas and Ethel were married 38 years. They died 8 months apart when Ethel died in June 1965. I've discovered it is common for couples who have been together a long time to die close together. My parents died just 10 weeks apart and were married 45 years.

Vada Atlas ALLEN Funeral Card

January 5, 2014

James Medicus Davis

JM Davis Gravestone
Good Hope Baptist Church,
Youngsville, NC
My great grand uncle, James Medicus DAVIS, has one of the most colorful stories in my family history. And one of the saddest stories, too. 

He was born December of 1864 and died November 1932. He lived all his life in Granville County, NC. He did not marry, but that doesn't mean he didn't get around. He is reported to have two illegitimate children to show for his travels. 

Family lore has it that James Medicus' uncle Charlie DAVIS shot and killed his wife Alice while she held their newborn baby. Charlie was arrested and held in the Wake County jail. During a visit, Medicus mentioned that he had attended Alice's funeral. Charlie did not remember killing Alice and was distraught at the news of her death. That night, Charlie hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet. Med carried a lot of guilt for the rest of this life.

Family stories are great and give us clues to a family member's history. They can also send us on some wild goose chases. I haven't done so yet, but I'm planning to look for evidence of some truth in this story. However, my instincts tell me that I won't find much. Either because it's just not true or because documents, court records, etc no longer exist, etc. 

Which means we may never know, but wouldn't this make a great novel? Just when I think those DAVIS folks were just plain old farmers!

January 1, 2014

Eugene Narron ALLEN and Elizabeth RAY

Eugene Narron ALLEN and Elizabeth RAY were married on July 2, 1904 in Wake County, NC.  He was 24, she was 17.  He was called Bud and she Sissy by their families. Their first child, my grandfather Atlas ALLEN, was born 11 months later. 

Sissy continued having children on a fairly regular basis about every 2 or 3 years until her last child was born in 1928 for a total of 8 children. There would have likely been more children, but Sissy died in childbirth with Marvin Eugene ALLEN.

I imagine Bud and Sissy had a tough life. Both were from poor farming families. To make ends meet, Bud was quite active in the moonshine business, a common endeavor at the time in Wake and Granville County, NC. He served some time in jail and on a road crew - on a couple of occasions - leaving his wife at home with the children for long periods. When he wasn't in jail or running moonshine, Bud was a sharecropper farming cotton.

They lived in the New Light area of Wake County, NC which is in the far northern part of the county near the Granville County line.

They were married by WH CHAPPEL, Justice of the Peace at the home of Al WILSON. Al also served as a witness along with HF CHAPPEL and JW PERRY.