Friday, May 31, 2019

Keeping up our Waddill Appearances

Charles City, or "Cha'les Citeh," as it's said in my ancestors' non-rhotic dialect, is a place steeped in American history and interwoven with my own family story. Situated between Richmond and Williamsburg, Virginia, Charles City County was first established as Charles Cittie in 1619.

I was in high school when I took my first trip to the Library of Virginia with my mom to look into our proud connection to the Waddill family from Charles City County, Virginia. 

There at what has now become one of my happiest of places - y'all really need to take a trip to the Library of Virginia! - I had my first experience of learning about my ancestors from a printed book. I felt like royalty: "You mean we come from these people? And someone wrote a book about them!?" I suppose everyone wants to feel like they come from some higher more sophisticated stock than the lot they've been given. And that's how I felt all those years ago holding The Majors and their Marriages written by James Branch Cabell and published in 1915.

And as I've learned more about my Waddill side, the more I've wanted to hold on for dear life for some of their famous connections too. Because I, like Hyacinth Bucket, have some intrinsic interest in Keeping Up Appearances too.

So what is my connection to the Waddills and why did James Branch Cabell write a book about them? Since I have two Waddill lines, let's take a look into the life of Edmund Thomas Waddill.

Early Years

Edmund Thomas Waddill was my maternal grandfather's maternal grandfather - or put another way, my 2x great grandfather. He was born on 19 Sep 1844 in Charles City County, Virginia to Samuel Waddill and Sarah Irby Stagg. 

He was born first, followed by Mary Alice, William J, and Sarah. His mother passed away in 1864 and the following year his father married Henrietta M Bradley, and in 1870 his youngest sister Annie Virginia was born.

During the Civil War, he served (according to his wife's later widow application) with the Confederate Topographical Engineer Department from Ruthville in Charles City County. By 1870, he's listed as a laborer living with his father, but by 1880 he's listed in the census as being a storekeeper employing his brother William as a clerk in the store. He was a merchant "on the up and up!"

Married Life

It wasn't until 19 Jan 1882, when Edmund was 37 years old, that he finally married. He chose Elizabeth Avery Waddill, his 17 year old 4th cousin whom he married in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Though she was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, her paternal side had deep ties to Charles City County - along with Waddill connections, her family was also descended from the Majors and Marables. On her maternal side, she was a Cabell, Syme, Meriwether and Avery - families deeply connected to Virginia gentry. 

Edmund and his wife Elizabeth had ten children, with two passing away as infants or young children. The names they gave their children reflect a clear pride for their ancestors and the importance of their family history: Samuel Cabell, John Lamb, Elma Leigh, George Major, Edmund Thomas, Julian Avery, Patrick Henry, and Sarah Alice. Ancestral surnames abound, while some are named directly for ancestors or famous cousins. 

Patrick Henry Waddill, for example, was named for Elizabeth Avery Waddill's 2x great grandfather's little brother, the famous Patrick Henry. And it was this connection that I had always grown up hearing about, though no one was quite as precise in recounting the story. "We're Patrick Henry's cousins!" was all I knew until I investigated the story for myself. My mom was even named Patricia in his honor.

My great-grandmother - Sarah Alice Waddill - was the youngest child of Edmund and Elizabeth. She born when Edmund was 58 and Elizabeth was 37. The photo above is of the three of them in front of "The Glebe," their family home in Charles City County.

Later Life & Death

In lieu of attempting to retell his later life, I'll share instead his obituary in full. This was his moment in the limelight, his moment "In the News." He passed away on 8 Oct 1916 in Richmond, Virginia and his obituary was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 10 Oct 1916, on page 3.

"The funeral of Edmund Thomas Waddill, who died suddenly at his home, 911 Lamb Avenue, Barton Heights, Sunday afternoon, was conducted at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon at Bethany Church, Charles City County, by Rev. O. E. Buchholz, pastor of the Overbrook Presbyterian Church, of Barton Heights. Mr. Waddill was seventy-three years of age.

Mr. Waddill leaves a widow, who was Miss Lizzie Waddill; two daughters, Mrs. L. B. Adams, of Charles City County, and Miss Sarah Waddill, of Barton Heights, and six sons - Cabell Waddill, of South Hill; John Waddill, of Giant, Cal.; George M. Waddill, E. T. Waddill, Avery Waddill and "Pat" Waddill, of Barton Heights. He is survived also by two sisters, Mrs. George Hubbard and Miss Annie Waddill, of Charles City County. Mr. Waddill was a first cousin of Judge Edmund Waddill, Jr., of the United States District Court, and of Samuel P. Waddill, clerk of the Henrico County Circuit Court.

Only a week before his death Mr. Waddill moved to Barton Heights from Charles City County, where he had been a merchant and farmer for many years. He was a Confederate veteran."

The obituary mentions several things worthy to note. First, Edmund was buried at the family church, Bethany Presbyterian, in Charles City County. He had only moved away from Charles City County the week before, to Barton Heights, a town that had only a few years prior been incorporated into part of Richmond. It was an up and coming area, and the family wanted the world to know their connection to a famous judge and circuit court clerk. 

Their home no longer stands, but some of the old homes from that period still stand in the neighborhood. Even Overbrook Presbyterian moved out of the neighborhood a few decades later. 


Most families have a ancestral legend, an origin story, of famous connections or roots in royalty. For me, the stories were always about my family's connections in the Waddills of Charles City County. We no longer have first cousins as federal judges, and barely anyone has heard of the Waddills or Cabells anymore. The family homes are no longer in our family, and everyone has moved away from Charles City. But I'm still happy to keep up my Waddill appearances. After all, my ancestors weren't the only ones to write about their family connections...I make a habit of that myself, too!

What legend did you grow up hearing about your family? Are you descended from or related to someone famous?

This post was inspired by the week 13 prompt "In the News" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

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