Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 7. Love.

My parents celebrate 54 years of marriage in May, God willing. They have always been my model of deep and enduring love, and I have celebrated them here. For this week’s Ancestor Challenge, I’ve chosen to highlight a different kind of love.

My grandmother, Hattie Mae Henderson Ricks, and her sister, Mamie Lee Henderson Holt, were born into difficult circumstances. Their mother Bessie Lee Henderson, teenaged and unmarried, had been orphaned as a toddler. When Bessie died months after Hattie’s birth, the family gathered to decide who would rear the girls. Mamie remained in Dudley with their aged great-grandparents, Lewis and Margaret Henderson, and Hattie went to Wilson to live with their grandmother’s sister, Sarah Henderson Jacobs. They were not reunited until Grandma Mag’s death, when Mamie was 8 and Hattie, 5. They separated again just 7 years later, when Mamie married a young man she met while visiting relatives in Greensboro. Nonetheless, despite the short time they lived together in childhood, my grandmother and her sister were devoted to one another. Their fierce sisterly bond defied the uncertainty of their earliest years and the emotional neglect of their years with Mama Sarah. It knit their children and grandchildren in a web that continues to hold. Even my grandmother’s move to Philadelphia in 1958 did not shake it. Every Christmas, she visited us and my aunt’s family in Wilson, then my father drove her to Greensboro to bring in the New Year with the Holts. Eventually, Alzheimer’s began to claim Aunt Mamie’s mind and memories, and travel became too difficult for my grandmother, but her attachment did not waver. Only when Aunt Mamie passed did my grandmother begin to let go. Nine months later, almost to the day, she was gone.

After my grandmother passed in 2001, I found a note she wrote about her early life: Heart Broken Mother – Bessie Died age Nineteen Leaving two out of wedlock Girls arounds 3 years and 8 months old. … My sister and I always felt very close to each other as we had no real parents It had been a hard life for both of us

This is the love I celebrate in this week’s challenge. The first love that comes with family. The love that, if we are fortunate, endures the entire arc of life.

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Mamie and Hattie Mae Henderson, circa 1920.

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The sisters, probably in Greensboro, 1940s.

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The sisters on Aunt Mamie’s porch in Greensboro, probably late 1980s.

Agriculture, Foodways, North Carolina, Oral History

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 5. Plowing through.

Week 5 of the 52 Ancestors Challenge asks bloggers to consider “plowing through.” I immediately thought of two very different recollections by my grandmothers of gardens their families’ tended in their childhood.


Me: Did you grow all your vegetables and stuff, or was there a store?

My mother’s mother: Child, Papa would, every spring of the year, Papa would start out with this great big garden. Everybody would be out there hoeing and carrying on and planting and doing. And he wouldn’t go back out there anymore, and in a few weeks, the weeds would have taken over. [Laughs.] Oh, we might have some things that grew quickly first. Now, we always had potatoes, white potatoes. He would plant white potatoes, and what else would he plant? Green peas. You know, like snow peas. And I can see now, the cabbage with the worms eating that up. [Laughs.] That was no good. And what else did he have out there? Tomatoes. He’d have tomatoes. That was just about all. There’d be just those things that’d come early in the spring. And we wouldn’t have anything later. And then we had somebody who came in and – we lived on about an acre. It was just about an acre of land. And he would have all this cornfield, cornfield and pole beans. Ohhh, I can see those beans and great big ears of corn. I don’t think Mama ever canned any corn or anything like that, but we would eat corn, and all the neighbors would eat corn from that cornfield. And this old gentleman that I told you that helped Papa…. What was that man’s name? I can’t think of it, but anyway, he was the one who cultivated the land and did the planting.


My father’s mother: Yeah, they said he could use it and grow a little cotton. Old Man Price was in a house over on one corner, and the school over here. And while he was working, plowing that garden where was on the side, Professor [Charles L.] Coon[, superintendent of Wilson city schools] let him have whatever he put in it. He would buy all the stuff to go in the ground, if he would just work it. The part there where was to the children’s playground. But they had it barred off, the children didn’t actually go over in that part. So he’d plant that, and then he’d [inaudible] me and Mamie had to get up two o’clock in the morning, go down there and pick up potatoes. Light night. It’d be so bright you could see ‘em. He’d plow it up, turn that ground over, and all them old potatoes down there, put ’em in baskets, and what we couldn’t see ‘fore it got real daylight, we had to go out there and pick ‘em up when it got day.

Interviews of Margaret C. Allen and Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.




Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 4. Closest to your birthday.

I don’t know if her birthday (June 22) is closest to mine (June 26), but it’s pretty doggone close, so this week’s featured ancestor is my great-grandmother, Carrie McNeely Colvert Taylor, whom I’ve written about before here and here.

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Grandma Carrie in Jersey City, New Jersey, with her daughter Launie Mae’s children, early 1940s.


Me: Well, I wonder where she got her name from?

My grandmother: Who?

Me: Your mama. Your mother. Caroline Martha Mary —

My grandmother: Yeah. Who ever heard tell of such as that?

Me: — Fisher Valentine McNeely. Well, I know where the Martha came from, ’cause that was her mother’s name.

My grandmother: Yeah.

Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 3. Strong Woman.

I’ve been working on my Book of Negroes post, digging in my Family Tree Maker files and through scanned documents, cross-referencing and making notes. At the top of the list of enslaved ancestors is Juda, a woman named in the 1819 will of Elizabeth Kilpatrick of Rowan County, North Carolina. Kilpatrick left her “negro boy Dave” to her son Robert Kilpatrick, her “negro girl named Lucinda” to her daughter Mary Kilpatrick, and directed that her executors sell her “negro woman Juda and all her children (not disposed of).” There are gut-punches all through this document — Lucinda was my great-great-great-grandmother — but that last one always tears me all to pieces. Put it all together, and you see that Kilpatrick owned one family of slaves — Juda and her children — and she directed that that family be ripped apart upon her death.

Elizabeth Kilpatrick’s will was devastating enough. And then I found her 1829 estate records. There, in faded script is the last sighting of Juda and her not-disposed-of children, Matthew, John, and Kezy. It’s damnably hard to read, but if you peer closely: Negroes Juda $50 Matthew $425 John $2[illegible]0. And below, a notation: Kezy Unsound Not sold by consent of Heirs Remains in the hands of [illegible]. (Another note in the file records a change of heart — on 20 October 1830, Kezy was, in fact, sold for $74.75.) I don’t know how old Juda was when she was sold away from her children in 1829, nor Matthew, John, Kezy, or Dave, but Lucinda was about 13.

And, so, without the need to explain further, the “strong woman” to whom I dedicate this edition of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is my great-great-great-great-grandmother Juda.

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 Estate of Elizabeth Kilpatrick (1829), North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979,

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2. King.

That’s this week’s thing — King. Whatever way you want to go with it. I thought I had a great Martin Luther King Jr. idea, but the photograph I thought I was going to build it on didn’t show what I remembered it showing. (That is, black folks’ Other Trinity — MLK, JFK and Jesus — mounted on my grandmother’s dining room wall. They were there, but outside the frame of the photo I wanted to use.) Another suggested King, Elvis, is not an option. The apocryphal “all Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes” story held sway in my family, and in consequence the man and his music play no role in any story I can tell. (Except the one in which my sister called her friend to tell him she’d heard Elvis had died. The girl gasped, hung up, then called back later to deliver a tearful thank you message from her father. We were mystified.)

I picked cousin Louella Henderson King instead. Said my grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks:

And I think Mama Sarah said that Molly was older than she was, but I reckon they was ‘long there together. Nancy was older than both of them, and A’nt Ella was the youngest one. She and Mama always were together, ‘cause they all played “sisters.” But Sarah was really Molly and Nancy and Ella’s niece. Their brother Lewis’ child.

Unfortunately, I have had few sure sightings of Louella “Ella” Henderson in the record. The first is the 1880 census of Faisons township, Duplin County, North Carolina: James Henderson, 62, wife Eliza, 38, and children Alexander, 21, John, 19, Nancy, 14, Julia, 8, Edward, 6, and Lewellen, 4. (My grandmother was not quite right.  Nancy was oldest, and Ella was youngest, but Julia, called “Molly,” and their niece Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver were about the same age.)

My grandmother recalled that Ella was married twice, and her first husband was a King. In the 1900 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, I found Adam King, day laborer, and wife Ella, cook, married 16 years and living on George Street.  There are a number of problems here though. This Ella was 34. Mine was ten years younger. Most critically, this couple’s marriage license (1) issued 29 August 1884, when my Ella was only 8 years old, and (2) it shows this Ella’s maiden name as Herring.

The same couple appeared in the 1910 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County.

On 22 April 1914, a woman named Ella King died of “exhaustion from acute mania” at the state hospital just Goldsboro. (This was a psychiatric facility reserved for African-Americans.) She was 34 years old, her parents were unknown, and she was buried in Forsyth County, North Carolina. I don’t think this is my Ella either. Her age is off by a few years, and there is no known reason for my Ella to have been buried half-way across the state near Winston-Salem.

Plus, on 27 Dec 1918, Lon Bryant applied for a marriage license for Patrick Diggs and Nancy Smith, both of Goldsboro.  One of the witnesses to the ceremony was Ella Wilson, also of Goldsboro NC.  Nancy Henderson Smith Diggs was the Nancy my grandmother spoke of, the elder sister of Ella.  I suspect that Ella Wilson is Ella Henderson King, remarried, but I have no evidence.

Perhaps: in the 1920 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, living on Smith Street were South Carolina-born Ed Wilson, 39, a supervisor in a box factory, and his wife Ella, 30, a washerwoman.  Is this the right Ella? I don’t think so. Her age is off, too.

And that’s it. That’s all I have. My grandmother told me that Ella left Goldsboro and moved to a city in the western part of the state. Gastonia, maybe? Bessemer City? She could not definitely recall. I’ve searched statewide for women who could have been my Ella. Though I have not found her, but she is not completely lost.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 1. Fresh start.

I tried the “52 Ancestors” challenge in 2014.

I failed.

I mean, I surely blogged about more than 52 relatives last year, but the constraints of the weekly format didn’t really work for me, and I faded out after posting four. This year’s challenge is a bit different. Each week is themed. As Amy Johnson Crow explained:

“The vast majority of people who responded the survey I did a few weeks ago said that they would like to continue with optional weekly themes. So, we’re going to give it a try. The weekly themes are strictly optional. They are meant to give you some ideas on who to focus on. (Isn’t choosing the week’s ancestor often the hardest part?!)

The themes are going to be general — one might even say “ambiguous.” I’m doing that on purpose. I’m hoping to inspire, rather than dictate.”

I’m picking up the gauntlet again, though I’m cheating a bit at the outset. The theme for the first week in January is “Fresh Start.” This is it.