My grandmother: I had another cousin that died. A man named Jay. He was Aunt Elethea’s boy. She died when I was about 12 years old, I think. Anyway, she died, and she had three sons.
Me: That was Jay and Charles and William.
My grandmother, looking at a photo: Now, who is that?
Me: That’s William, isn’t it? Elethea’s son?
My grandmother: Ah, yeah. Yeah. Bill.
My grandmother: No — that’s Charles. Boy, they were crazy about us. I mean, no man bed’ not even look at us. Bed’ not even look at us. You know how men can say things about women when they walk by? Child, they bed’ not say one thing about us. …
In 1942, Charles Edward McNeely filed for a delayed birth certificate in Iredell County. The document issued by the Register of Deeds reported that he was born 15 Jun 1904 to Eleather B. McNeely. No father is named. I have not found a birth certificate for Charles’ brother William “Bill” McNeely.
In the 1910 census of Statesville, Iredell County, on Salisbury, three little boys surnamed McNeeley were listed in the household of their grandparents, Sam and Mary Steelman. William was five, James was three, and Charlie was two. I once was pretty sure that these were Elethea’s boys, but I’m pulling back. Charles and Bill appear nowhere else in the census, but the ages of these boys are off. And who is James? (He’s not Jay/J.T. — Irving McNeely Weaver — whose father was Archie Weaver and who was not born until 1911 or 1912.)
I’ve found none of Elethea’s sons in the 1920 census, though they were probably living in their grandmother Martha McNeely‘s house in Statesville with their mother and aunts Minnie and Janie McNeely:
On 23 May 1926, Charles Edward McNeely, 22, married Willie Ann Davidson, 18, before witnesses Mary Louise Colvert, Levi Moss and Bertha Mae Hart. Louise, my grandmother’s older sister, was his first cousin. Bertha was the half-sister of my grandmother’s father. Charles listed his parents as Ed Stockton (living) and Letha McNeely (dead.) John Edward Stockton (1881-1955) was born in Iredell County to Alfred and Caroline Kerr Stockton. He was working as a bellhop at the Hotel Iredell at the time of Charles’ birth. I don’t know whether he was also Bill McNeely’s father.
Charles and Willie Ann’s marriage apparently did not take. In the 1930 census of Manhattan, New York County, New York, Charles M. McNeely, 26, and Willy M. McNeely, 22, were listed as boarders in household headed by Lucy R. Reid. Both were North Carolina-born and reported being married, though their wives were not enumerated with them. Charles worked as a machine operator in a mayonnaise factory and Willy as an elevator operator in a private house.
In 1940, Charles McNeely was still in Manhattan, but I lose sight of Bill. Thirty-six year-old Charles lived at 308 W. 127th Street, a lodging house run by Lillie Collins. He gave his occupation as steamship laborer.
On 29 September 1950, William and Charles McNeely are listed as nephews in the death notice of Edward McNeely of 454 Avenue C on September 28, 1950. Other survivors included wife Delphine (nee Peterson), sisters Emma Hauser [sic], Carrie Taylor and Minnie McNeely, nieces Ardeanur S. Hart and Lonnie [sic] Mae Jones, and nephews Henry and Erving Hauser [sic].
Charles McNeely, resident of north Harlem, died 1 Apr 1968. Four and a half months later, on 15 August, Bloomfield, New Jersey, resident William M. McNeely passed away. This William, however, was not Bill, but a son of William E. and Sarah L. McNeely. I have no evidence that either Charles or Bill had children.
“No — that’s Charles.”
Interviews of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; photographs in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.