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.

Mystery of the McNairs

Tonight was an interesting night. I received an email yesterday through Ancestry from someone seeking more information about my 3rd great-grandfather, Rufus Tannahill McNair. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with her and she has a collateral relative that married a Rufus McNair and is trying to figure out who her Rufus McNair may be. I think I may have some ideas and in researching with her tonight I’ve been looking more closely at my McNair roots.

In the 1880 census for Lees Mills, Washington County, North Carolina, there is the following household [1]:

Harvey, Tamer – age 53, B, F, widowed
McNair, Rufus – age 21, B, M, son
McNair, Jane – age 21, B, F, daughter

The family lives next door to the following household [2]:

Thorp, Tom – age 20, black male
Thorp, Adeline – age 20, black female, wife
McNair, Christopher – age 21, black male, brother

Jane, wife of Rufus, was born Jane Harvey and Tamer is her mother. The lady I spoke to (we’ll call her G) knows this for certainty. So, her dilemma is trying to figure out who this Rufus is and she found my family information in her searches.

Prior to hearing from her, I had seen this Rufus & Jane as I reviewed census records but was not able to connect him to my family tree. My Rufus Tannahill McNair did have a son named Rufus, but my Rufus Jr. was too young to be this married Rufus. Besides, I can account for my Rufus and his family in 1880 – they were living in neighboring Edgcombe County. Intrigued, I then began looking for her Rufus in 1870.

As I’ve been working on my McNair line for a couple of years now, I know that the McNairAfrican-American name came from the white slaveholding MacNair family in Edgecombe County. The only Rufus McNairs (or variations thereof) that I could locate in 1870 were in Edgecombe County. There were 4 of them and two of them are “mine” that I just mentioned. So, that leaves two to look at:

#1 – this Rufus McNair is 12 years old in 1870, thus about the right age, and is a servant in the household of the white Colin McNair, brother to the man I’m targeting as possible slaveholder of my Rufus Tannahill McNair. Interestingly enough, five households away from Colin is a 52 year-old black man named Anthony McNair married to Penny, with three kids – Isabella, Jane and Luke. [2]

#2 – this 12 year old Rufus McNair is the son of a 38 year-old black man named Christopher McNair. Christopher is married to a woman named Isabella and in addition to Rufus has kids Flora, Joseph, Sophy Ann & Martha. Next to Christopher is a 53 year-old black man named David McNair married to a woman named Martha.

So, of these two, which one is G’s Rufus? Of course, it could be the case that neither one of them is, but I believe that one of them is and furthermore, I have a suspicion it is #2. This is why I think this:

  • the father of Rufus #2 is only 8 years younger than my Rufus Tannahill McNair and is thus a good candidate to be related, possibly a brother? Could of course be just another former slave that took on the same surname, but keep reading.
  • My Rufus Tannahill McNair had a son named Christopher as I just mentioned. He also had a daughter named Sophie. Rufus #2 had a father named Christopher and a sister named Sophy. names reappearing!
  • Rufus #2 lives next door to a David who is 8 years older than my Rufus Tannahill McNair. Well, Rufus Tannahill McNair also had a son named David. Could David be another brother? David’s wife’s name is Martha and Christopher has a daughter named Martha. Given the proximity to similar aged Christopher, I bet he and Christopher are brothers and given the name similarities between Christopher and my Rufus Tannahill, I am beginning to think this is the case — the three could be brothers – Rufus, Christopher & David
  • In 1880 G’s Rufus lives next door to a Christopher McNair that is the exact same age as the Christopher that I know to the be the son of my Rufus Tannahill McNair. In fact, I already had attached this census record to my tree at least a year ago. Can’t be certain, but he was the only Christopher McNair in the area that was even close to being a possibility.
  • Father of #2 in 1880 lives two households away from Dred Wimberly, whom I believe to be my Rufus Tannahill McNair’s brother-in-law.
  • In 1900, Rufus #2’s family were living over in Lees Mills where Rufus had been at in 1880.
  • When Jane & Rufus were married in 1880, their witnesses included a Christopher McNair. Can’t say for sure if this is the possible father Christopher or the possible cousin Christopher? But the fact that Rufus #2 was associated with a Christopher puts more likelihood in him for me.

The next step from here is to begin researching the descendants of Rufus & Jane as we can track them. G did speak to some McNairs in the Plymouth area (including some of my relatives!) but did not get much new info, other than being told there are at least two McNair families running through that area that as far as they know, are not related. Is that true? It seems that there is a possibility. That Anthony McNair is still unsure to me, so maybe he is a different family? There is also a Wiley McNair running around that I am not sure of either. Maybe time will help us connect the dots.

[1] 1880; Census Place: Lees Mills, Washington, North Carolina; Roll: T9_986; Family History Film: 1254986; Page: 244.2000; Enumeration District: 136; Image: 0063. [Link to Ancestry image]
[2] 1870; Census Place: Tarboro, Edgecombe, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1136; Page: 216; Image: 433. [Link to Ancestry image]
[3] 1870; Census Place: Tarboro, Edgecombe, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1136; Page: 219; Image: 438. [Link to Ancestry image].

Alice has two birthdays

   My maternal grandmother, Alice Elizabeth McNair Robinson (the one perched on the car) has two birthdays. Officially, we celebrate it today, October 22nd.  However, her mother always told her she was born October 16th.  I obtained a copy of her birth certificate last year and guess what? It has October 16th too! I’m not sure how the family came to celebrate her birthday on the 22nd, but we always knew that she has two birthdays.  A similar situation also exists for her brother Fred – his birth certificate says one day, but the family celebrates it a different day. What was going on :-)

Today, my grandmother is  83 years old.  She is the only girl surviving to adulthood of Abraham Lincoln McNair Sr. and Martha Jane “Mattie” Walker. Alice was born in Tarboro, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, but grew up in neighboring Plymouth, Washington County.  Apparently, the family was temporarily living in Tarboro when she was born, then afterwards, they moved back to Plymouth.  Alice had four children, and married Herman Robinson on September 22, 1950 in New York, NY.   The story of how they met is a fun one, but I’ll reserve that for a later post :-)

My grandmother Alice is the reason I am as interested in my family history as much as I am. One day about 10 years ago, I interviewed her and over the course of several hours she gave me so many details about the family tree that I still find myself trying to document some of the things she told me about and I often refer to those notes. What I need to do however is type them all up so I have them electronically too, just in case something happens to them.  But, Alice knows her family. My mother says they could go anywhere and she would know family there.  It was always important to Alice for her to know the goings on of the family. It is my goal to be like her in that respect.

Now, my grandmother has Alzheimers , so the memories she’s able to share come and go, but I am so glad I did have that opportunity years ago.  This picture was taken in the mid 1950’s in New York.  The little boy is my uncle Stanley and we are not sure who the other woman is. That is a mystery for another day….