McNair

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….

More about Dred

Since my last post, I’ve been spending the week looking for more information about Dred Wimberly, and doing some further analysis of the information that I do have. I posted that I think he is the brother to my 3rd great-grandmother, Mariah Wimberly. My connection is circumstantial at best, but let me share why I think this and I’ve love to hear any feedback from anyone who may be reading. Am I making too much of this?

Here is a list of reasons for my theory on why I think he is the son of Allen & Della and why I suspect Mariah to be his sister and also their child.

  • The 1930 census record for Dred’s family, has him living with his sister, Annie E. Wimberly, who was born about 1867. In 1870, Dred lives two doors away from Allen & Della and Allen & Della have a daughter named Annie who was born about 1867. In the 1870 census for Tarboro, Edgecombe County, the only Annie Wimberly is this daughter of Allen & Della’s. The fact that Annie is Dred’s sister is further confirmed by an article in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer from 1937 that I obtained from the University of North Carolina this week. (I’ve ordered his death certificate and expect it this week…)
  • Dred named two of his children Allen & Della. He also had kids named Lucy, Frank & Annie. Allen & Della also had children named Lucy, Frank & Annie (Dred’s siblings)
  • In 1880, Dred lives two doors away from Allen & Della again.
  • Mariah also lives two doors away from Allen & Della in both the 1870 and 1880 census records and she is of age to be their daughter given that I know from the book, Somebody Knows My Name, that Allen & Della got “married” about 1841/1842.
  • Both Mariah & Dred have a son named Andrew.
  • Mariah had two children named Louisa and Joseph – Allen & Della had two children named Louisa and Joseph (would have been her siblings)

So – that’s what I’ve gathered so far. Mariah died in 1910, and I’ve not been able to locate any death certificate for her. I also checked the newspaper for the city where she was living and did not find any notice. But, I have hand-searched the census for all of Edgecombe County in 1870 and the way the proximity of the three families (Rufus & Mariah, Allen & Della, Dred and his family), all make sense.

Now, apparently, Dred has a history which resonates with me as I received my library degree from the University of North Carolina. There seems to be a story from him and from the son and grandson of Kemp P. Battle (former president of the University of North Carolina), that during the time period when UNC was closed and they were seeking more appropriations to re-open the university, that Dred gave the deciding vote for the appropriations, thus the school was able to re-open. However, it seems that Dred’s account, and Kemp’s son’s and grandson’s account conflict with NC records and the history of the University that Kemp wrote. The documented records have the appropriations being decided and voted upon during a time when Dred was not in office. I will definitely be researching this further!

But, in the meantime, I continue to collect all that I can find about Dred. And, there have located several items:

  • UNC Clipping File – the North Carolina Collection at UNC had a few newspaper articles about him that they sent to me.
  • Battle Book – the TN State Archives has the published family history of the Battle Family. It is a two-volume set written by one of Kemp’s sons. In this book there is a picture of Dred.
  • Dred’s gravesite – Just last year in Rocky Mount, NC, his headstone was found as there was a clean-up going on of the cemetery where he is buried. This article in the Rocky Mount Telegraph reports on it, and there is a picture of Dred’s daughter, Della’s, headstone.
  • In 1967, a state historical marker was made and put up in front of Dred’s home for his role on the NC General Assembly and State Senate and his positive voting record for education. You can see it by going here and doing a search for Dred Wimberly.
  • Hall of Fame – and, the Tarboro Daily Southerner just ran a story this march that indicates Dred was inaugurated into their local Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • Biographical Profiles – and, I have two biographical profiles of Dred. One is from the NC Dictionary of Biography that I was able to get as Vanderbilt has this full-text online and one from the book Ninety Bits of North Carolina Biography that I ordered and was delivered to me just yesterday.

I’ve been a busy bee haven’t I? But, I now will proceed with ordering certificates for Dred’s suspected family members and ordering microfilm of the newspapers of the county during his time in the General Assembly and State Senate to see what else I can find!

Cold Calls

I’ve done a little reading online about how to go about the process of making cold calls to relatives in search of genealogy information. Yesterday, I finally worked up the nerve to call serveral relatives of mine on the McNair side and I am so glad that I did! I spoke to four McNairs all living in my grandmother’s hometown of Plymouth and they are all aged 75 or older.

It was an amazing experience for me. I learned some of the history of how the McNair family reuntion got started. I learned the circumstances surrounding my great-grandfather’s death and who found him. I learned more about some great-uncles of mine that I’d never met. All in all – I spent about three hours on the phone with the relatives and am very glad that I made contact.

I definitely plan to keep the relationship open too. It is so important to capture their memories and their knowledge and I’m so glad to have had this opportunity to further enrich my family tree. So now, I have work to do in following up with each of them. I plan to mail them some of the information I’ve gathered to use as a springboard for further conversations. Wish me luck!

Treasure Find!

The past couple of days have been amazing for my genealogy research. Thanks to being contacted by another person (NK) who is researching the descendency of Rufus & Mariah McNair on behalf of a mutual cousin of ours (VM), I have learned that a Bible Record exists for the children of Rufus & Mariah!

VM is a great-grandchild of Rufus & Mariah through their youngest son Solomon. Solomon’s brother, Andrew, was my great-grandfather. In the Bible, Solomon had written the birth dates of his brothers and sisters. I talked to both VM and NK last night, and though the bible pages are faint, we believe the information to be as follows:

Rufus & Fannie had a son named either Houston or Austin (I think it may be Austin)

Rufus & Millie had son Sterling b. 10 Dec 1852

Rufus & Mariah had the following children:

  • Christopher D. McNair born May 8, 1858
  • David born Feb 1, 1860
  • Byron W. born July 18, 1861
  • Blount born March 8, 1863
  • Rufus M. — (he was a son of theirs, but i’m not sure yet if he is in the bible record).
  • Andrew D. born May 5, 1866
  • Shedrick H. born March 3, 1868
  • William H.born May 23, 1870
  • Louisa born Jan 25, 1872
  • Joseph H. born Feb 9, 1874
  • Octavia born Dec 24, 1875
  • Susan born July 10, 1878
  • Sophia born Nov 19, 1880
  • Sarah born March 30, 1884
  • Solomon born Aug 7, 1887

The Bible was passed down to one of Solomon’s son, who’s wife likely has the bible. i would love to see it one day, but that would require a trip to Oakland, CA. VM was a great source of information when I spoke with her and I look forward to many more conversations!

More Information from the State Archives

After visiting the Tennessee State Library and Archives again today, I have more information to help me in figuring out the trees for the white families I’m researching. Some of the goodies:

While there, I also looked through the Heritage Books for Martin County, Craven County and Lenoir County. Made copies of a few key pages. However, I have to say that overall, I am quite disappointed with these series of books. They seem to have been mostly done by local genealogy societies in the 80’s and 90’s? My disapppointment with them is the true lack of adequate representation of black familes. Is it b/c the societies decided not to pursue as many black families? Is it because they tried and didn’t get participation from black families? For the Craven County book, the church section did not include black churches! (at least not the two that my families have been going to for the past 70 years. I am truly dismayed. Not sure what to do about it yet….

The Search Continues

I have been completely obsessed the past few days! But, I have to say, I am rather happy with where I stand with my searches thus far and I have more information to help me build up the family trees of the Wimberly and McNair families.

On Saturday night, I discovered the existence of a book written by a cousin to Robert Diggs Wimberly. The book is called Recollections of a Lifetime, and it was written in 1902 by Mary Katherine Killebrew. The book was republished in the 70’s by a person from this area of TN, so there was a copy of it at the Nashville Public Library. Mary Katherine’s father was Robert Diggs Wimberly’s brother. Robert was born in TN, so, their father had moved here in the late 1700’s and Robert moved to NC (where his father was from). Mary Katherine’s father stayed here, thus, she grew up in TN. The information in the book confirmed relationships for me, so I was very pleased to find them. I know now Robert’s family tree fairly well on his father’s side. I now need to start working in earnest on his mother’s side. I have put up the tree so far (I still have a lot of people to add) on my site.

Then, two nights ago, as I was searching for more information about the McNair’s, I found a book online in Ancestry.com written in 1928 called McNair, McNear, and McNeir Genealogies. It has 5 generations worth of the McNair family I’m researching! This book confirmed the grandfather of the McNair I was most interested in, Augustus Harvey McNair, and it had a ton of additional information about the family. Fascinating!

So, I do believe thoroughly understanding each one’s tree will help me once I get back into the county records. For example, I had a false lead earlier this week but now that I know the family tree, things are more clear.

Augustus’s brother, Hugh, reports having 7 slaves in the 1860 census. On the slave schedule, slaves numbers 5,6 and 7 had names next to them. One of the names was R Tannahill and there is a note that this person is from Virginia. I was beginning to get excited when I saw this b/c my ancestor is Rufus Tannahill! and, the age of the slave was about ten years off, but I was willing to accept it as him anyway. However, as I reflected more on the list, I realized that R Tannahill was indeed the slaveowner – it just happens that this slave was with Hugh McNair during the census. Slaves #6 and 7 on that list also have other slaveowner names other than Hugh. Each slavowner listed R Tannahill of Virginia, EB McNair of NC and another McNair of Virginia, are all family members of Hugh’s – R Tannahill is his nephew, Robert Tannahill (who in 1860 lived in Petersburg, Virginia), E B McNair is Hugh’s mother. I’m not sure who the third one is.
Alas, of course it was not going to be that easy!

But, as I look at the 1860 slave schedule for Robert Wimberly, I notice right away that he is enumerated right after Augustus’ brother, E.D. McNair and their brother, Ralph McNair. So, I plan to really focus more on these two McNair brothers as I move forward. If Rufus was with one of them, and if Mariah was with Robert Wimberly, the proximity of the white McNair/Wimberly’s might be meaningful!

More to come as I find it.

Results from my State Archives Visit

Okay – here is a summary of what I retrieved today at the TN State Archives. Today I focused on Edgecombe County, NC where I am most heavily researching my McNair, Wimberly and Tannahill surnames as I look for possible slave owners.

1. I have a few counties photocopied from Somebody Knows My Name, but went today to look for the records of cohabitation for Jones County, North Carolina. I need to order the CD so that I can have my own copy. Unfortunately, Jones County is not included. However, I did go ahead and photocopy Nash County. I learned yesterday that Rocky Mount,NC is split in the middle of town, between Edgecombe County and Nash County. I have had family in Rocky Mount, and so I decided I should have this county as well. Good thing too – I found another Wimberly!

2. From the book, Heritage of Lenoir County, I photocopied the entry for Richard H. Koonce & Eliza King. Richard is the son of Wiley Benjamen Koonce. I still am not sure how Wiley fits into the family tree for the white Koonce family I am specifically tracking, but I figure I will get there eventually. Good to have it for later reference.

3. Abstracts 0f Wills, Edgecombe County by David B. Gammon – This was wonderful! It is a four-volume set that covers wills from 1732-1910. I photocopied almost every will that had a mention of any McNair, Wimberly, or Tannahill person. I see now that there were two I missed, so I’m making a note to get those when I go back. I also photocopied the indexes of volumes 3 & 4. I plan to make them PDFs and put them online so that others will know if the person of interest is at least mentioned. I’ll go back another time to get the indexes for Volumes 1-2.

4. Marriages of Early Edgecombe County 1733-1868 – Another great book. The authors have compiled early marriage bans, marriages as proved by county wills, as published in newspapers, and other various sources. I photocopied every page that had a reference to a Wimberly, McNair or Tannahill. I also copied the indexes from this book as well.

5. Tombstone & Census Records of Early Edgecombe County – This is a compilation of cemeteries throughout Edgecombe County. Again – I photocopied every reference to a McNair, Tannahill or Wimberly that I could find. I do see that I skipped one, so I’ll have to go back to get it.

Overall, a wonderful morning. I think however, that I am going to now have to create formal trees to track everyone I want!

My Famous Relative


I finally found him! Growing up, we’d always heard from my maternal grandmother that we were related to Charles Barkley. She would tell me how he would sometimes go to the family reunion too. I’ve never been clear about exactly how we were related until tonight though – but I got it! We share descent from Rufus McNair – my 3G Grandfather and his 2G grandfather. (Charles’ father was named Rufus Barkley). So, that makes me his third cousin once removed. Hey Charles – maybe I’ll see you at a family reunion!

In other genealogy news I have the following updates!

  • While attending my grandmother’s funeral, I was able to take pictures of several of my relatives’ headstones in the cemetery. I hope to go back this fall and take more.
  • With the help of a woman who has been researching her family ancestry for more than twelve years, I may have found my first evidence of an ancestor being sold as a slave. I have been corresponding with her to try and follow her same logic in understanding all the clues, so I expect to post more about that later.
  • My mother and stepfather were visiting family this week (I’m helping him do his family genealogy too) and I received a shipment of pictures today. Including a picture of my mother’s paternal grandmother whom I had no idea what she looked like until today!
  • I am on a quest for the perfect program to create good quality lineage charts! I just purchased RootsMagic and so far I like their charting options a lot. I bought it in combination with GenSmarts to see if that helps me assess different avenues for my research.
  • I am starting the process of really cleaning my online site and standardizing the way I collect data. I’ve been so gung-ho on collecting information that I have just kind of thrown it all up! Well, the librarian in me is starting to bring me to my senses and I must get it all cleaned up.

Happy hunting!

In Memorium

to my uncle “June” – 1932-2006

My family found out today that we have lost a family member – one of my grandmother’s brothers – Abraham Lincoln McNair, Jr. Uncle June had been out of touch with the family for years. We knew that he was living in the New York area but had not been able to find him. In part inspired by my recent activities in researching the family, my mother began to look for him again in earnest. Well, we found out we were about a month weeks too late. The police department in the area that we had a last known address for him informed us that he died on February 9th.

I have only one memory of Uncle June from when I was about 8 years old or so and we were visiting my grandmother. He was prone to seizures and while we were visiting her, he had a seizure in the living room. My mother was particularly close to Uncle June and has told me many stories about him. We are devastated to think that he died alone in the hospital with no family around, but I understand that is how he lived his life. My grandmother does not know and we probably will not tell her. She has Alzheimer’s and is in a home and this is now her third brother to pass (of four). This is why it is so important to know about family. If we had not continued to search for him, we may have never known what happened.