McNair

Our Family and WWII

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years now as it was one of the most interesting history lessons I had early on when I started doing my genealogy in 2006.

December 7th marks the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and my great-uncle,  Lorenza McNair (1921-2005), was in the military during this time of war.  I’d always heard from my mother that after he returned, he told the family that if they had any questions about what happened, they’d better ask then because he was never going to talk about it again.  To the best of my mother’ s knowledge, he never did.

Lorenza McNair

Lorenza’ s military records show that he was a crew member on the USS Neosho when it was attacked during the Battle at the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942.   This is the last picture taken of it after it was bombed; 80% of the crew were killed during the attack and my uncle was one of 123 people rescued when the ship was found 4 days later; he was wounded in action.   This picture comes from a very thorough account of the ship and it’s activities from a man named Del whose uncle was also one of the rescued.

You can read more about the intense action of that day on Del’s website. He also has a video interview of his father and his uncle with his uncle describing some of what happened that day. This was very moving for me to watch as my own uncle was part of it too.   There’s been a book written about the USS Enterprise that I should read – The Big “E” by Edward Stafford.

Lorenza’s next military service was then on the USS Enterprise, which he joined in October 1942.  The USS Enterprise was the US ship with the most battle stars during WWII.  While he was on the USS Enterprise he was also involved in several more battles:

In November 1943, Lorenza then transferred to the USS Hornet. The Hornet deployed in 1944 and began it’s career with a series of raids against Japanese bases in the Caroline islands; Lorenza’s records show he was on the ship during this time.

According to my grandmother,  her brother was the 1st black man from Plymouth to join the Navy.  There was a newspaper write-up about him that I have, but it does not have the date on it.  One of my future research tasks is to see if I can find out when this was published.  However, the article gets the order of his ship service wrong, having him listed as being on the Hornet first and then the Enterprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I learned all of this, I realize it is no wonder Lorenza did not want to talk about his service.  This was certainly a traumatic experience.  I think our family was truly lucky that he did return home after the war.

I’ve added information about Lorenza to his Footnote Page.

Happy Birthday Grandma

Yesterday, October 16th,  was my daughter’s birthday. She turned 4! She was born on my maternal grandmother’s birthday and she has the middle name of Kalonji’s paternal grandmother.

My mother told me she went to the nursing home yesterday to help grandma celebrate her birthday. She turned 84 yesterday.  Happy Birthday grandma!

So, as a tribute to grandma (albeit a day late), let me post a poem that she loved. My mother went to the nursing home a couple of years ago and while there recited the first line and grandma recited a few more lines after.  It freaked my mother out b/c this after Grandma’s Alzheimer’s set in.

It Couldn’t Be Done by Edward Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “couldn’t be done,” and you’ll do it.

Show & Tell

The call for submissions to the 55th Carnival of Genealogy has been announced and the topic is Show & Tell! Participants are charged with sharing an “…heirloom, a special photo, a valuable document, or a significant person that is a very special part of your family history.”

To this end, I’d like to share this picture of my grandmother, Alice Elizabeth McNair as part of her high school graduating class.  To accompany the picture, I also have her original commencement program as well! These two are part of my treasures because of the fact that I have a photo and the program.

My grandmother is pictured 2nd from the left in the front row of girls; as the picture shows, there were 13 graduating members.  Last year, I made contact with a distant cousin of my grandmother’s who is also related to one of the other girls graduating that year.  I’m not sure which one she is, but the cousin informed me that the girl had passed only a few months prior to us talking. I was able to send her copies of this photo and the commencement program for her to share with my grandmother’s deceased classmate’s children.

The high school my grandmother graduated from was Plymouth Colored High School in Plymouth, Washington County, North Carolina.  I am pretty sure that somewhere, I have her diploma as well (or, my mother has it).

Heritage of Edgecombe County

A few months ago, I read an announcement that a new Heritage book was coming out for one of the counties that I have roots in – Edgecombe County, North Carolina.  My McNair family line goes back (as far as I can trace it), to Rufus Tannahill McNair and his wife Mariah Wimberly McNair of Edgecombe County, NC.  So, when I learned of the book I was very excited and I plan to submit a story. I don’t have any pictures to go with the submission, but I’m excited nevertheless. I discovered these Heritage Books very early on in my genealogy quest and I’m excited to have a chance to actually contribute to one – especially with information on an African-American family, which I’ve noticed tend to be underrepresented in these books.

My deadline is October 15, 2008, so I have to get busy!

Footnote Findings & Feature Friday

I haven’t been working on my own family genealogy much this past two weeks or so – we’ve been rather busy and I’ve been devoting quite a bit of time to a few other genealogy projects; but, tonight I took a few minutes to play around on Footnote’s website.  I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I have developed some blogging memes – one of them was to take a database a month and search/browse for content relative to my genealogy blogs. I call it “Feature Friday”.

  • Last week, I found something in Footnote for my Kinston Free Press blog of deceased soldiers from Kinston on the Vietnam Memorial
  • Tonight I found a UFO sighting that was reported in Plymouth, NC for my Roanoke Beacon Blog
  • And, I just blogged about a descendant of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt (namesake of my employing institution) who was approached to go in with a group of people to buy an island in France and make the American dollar the legal tender.

The time that I spend poking around gives me a better sense of the collections – as we know, much information continues to be frequently added.

For my own family tree however, back in May I found my grandmother’s brother listed on a crew list for the USS Neosho.  I already knew he was on this ship and let me tell you, that ship saw some crazy action – I leared a couple of years ago that about 80% of the crew was lost in action around the time of Pearl Harbor.  That is a story for another post – but my spotlight page is here.  I believe I have overcome my “battle with footnote”  :-)

No affiliation with

Princeville, NC – Wordless Wednesday Follow-up

Yesterday in my Wordless Wednesday post, I put up a picture of the historical marker of Freedom Hill, North Carolina.  Freedom Hill was an all African-American community established in Edgecombe County, North Carolina in 1865 by freed slaves. It is the oldest incorporated black town in the US, getting incorporated in 1885 as Princeville.  The community was named after Turner Richard Prince (1843-1912) who was a carpenter in the community.  In 1999, Princeville received nationwide attention after Hurricane Floyd hit the coast of NC as many of the town’s residents were displaced and there was extensive flood damage.

I first learned of Princeville when I purchased an Arcadia Publishing book on Edgecombe County last year.  At that time, I had no one in my family tree that I knew of that had any connections to Princeville, though my maternal grandmother’s McNair line started (as we know of) in Edgecombe County. When the Ancestry database of NC death certificates came out, one of the many discoveries I made was that there is indeed a connection.

My earliest known McNair ancestor, Rufus McNair (1823-1910) and his wife Mariah Wimberly (abt. 1843-1903) had at least 15 kids (in one census record, it is reported she had 22) that lived to adulthood. Two of their youngest, Susan & Sophia, both married a gentleman name Arthur Wooten.  Arthur married Susan first and together they had at least 8 children. Then, I believe Susan must have died and he then married her sister Sophia. With Sophia, he had at least 3 children.  Arthur Wooten Jr’s (son of Sophia) daughter Violet married George Mays and they for several years lived in Princeville.  Arthur & Susie were in Princeville in the 1910 census.

I discovered this after my mother, in going through some of her mother’s papers, found a double obituary for Violet and her husband George.  Since Princeville at that time was only a community of several hundred, I wonder if they knew Turner Prince? Possibly! Again, more flavor to add to the background context should I ever decide to do a formal write-up of my McNair ancestry.

Wordless Wednesday June 4, 2008 Follow-Up

This picture is one my mother recently sent me of her uncle Fred and Curtis – both brothers of my grandmother. This was taken in the 1940s-early 50s most likely. The reason I posted this picture is because of the tanks in the background. My mother was always telling me how close their building in Cooper Park Projects in Brooklyn, New York was to these tanks and this picture really shows that. Here is another picture that shows it too – my mother’s brother Calvin behind their building.

These tanks were a very vital part of my mother’s childhood landscape. She told me that the first time she ever experienced the feeling of nostalgia was when these tanks were destroyed. They were demolished in July 2001. They were the largest gas holders in the world at 400ft high and an ever-present part of the landscape for decades. They were apparently visible from all 5 boroughs.

Here is an article from the New York Times about them.

Back From Chicago

I’m back from my very quick trip to Chicago, but it was a very worthwhile trip. On my last post, I blogged about the death of my great-uncle. Fred was my maternal grandmother’s youngest and last surviving brother. On Saturday, I was able to spend some time with the family whom I’d never met. It was great. I learned more about his life things he had accomplished. For example, I did not know that he was an electrician by trade and the reason he moved to Chicago in the first place was b/c of a trade school he attended there. It was in Chicago that he met his wife and they have lived there ever since – some 46 years.

His wife, Priscilla, is my kind of person – she had tons of pictures! It was cool going through them and really getting to know some of the history of the family through the pictures. I took pictures of some of them, namely, their wedding pictures. What struck me most about looking through the family pictures is how different Fred looked at different stages in his life – really looking like a completely different person!

Here they are from one of the wedding pictures.

And, here is Priscilla going down the aisle. She was given away by her uncle, Moses Wright.

It was a very enjoyable experience. I really look forward to visiting with them again.

Now, Priscilla’s uncle, Moses, is affiliated with a very tragic event in the past. More on that in the next post.

Fred Louis McNair 1934-2008

On Monday, May 12th, my maternal grandmother’s youngest brother, Fred Louis McNair passed away. This is a picture of him from the 70s I believe, though it could be from the 80s.
Fred was born in January 1934 to Abraham Lincoln McNair Sr. and Martha “Mattie” Jane Walker.

Just like my grandmother, there is some discrepancy of his birth day. According to his daughter, he used to celebrate his birthday on January 18th, but changed it to the celebrating it on January 22nd like his birth certificate said. He has two birthdays! :-)

I never knew Fred, but in the course of doing the family tree, have corresponded regularly with his daughter. Fred was a preacher at a church in Chicago and my mother has all kinds of stories about him. He was very much like my grandmother in approach to living – very straightforward and proper :-)

His funeral is being held tomorrow in Chicago. Coincidentally enough, I am flying into Chicago tomorrow for a business trip, so while I will not be able to attend the funeral, I will get to spend some time with the family tomorrow evening.
My grandmother is now the last of the set of kids. She grew up with four brothers, Curtis who died in 1997, Lorenza who died in 2005, Abraham Jr. who died in 2006 and now Fred. Her parents did have five other children that all died as infants/toddlers. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and does not know that she has no more siblings alive. She knows of Curtis’ death since that happened before the Alzheimer’s, but not of the others. We are hoping to keep it that way.

Rest in peace uncle Fred.