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!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Indie Lee Ogburn

Indie Lee Ogburn. I love everything about my great-great-grandmother's name.

It's fun for me to find a unique name, like that of another one of my 2x great-grandmothers, Edmonia Harriet Stratton. The hope is that it will be easier to research someone if their name isn't so common. That there won't be such a mystery surrounding them.

And mystery abounds when it comes to my Grandma Nora's family. There has always been this cloud over my understanding of her past, like a sheet keeping me from seeing what lies behind it. But Indie - my grandmother's grandmother - is shedding some light on the mystery that surrounds my Grandma Nora's family. Discovering Indie is an encounter with part of Nora. For me to understand what lies behind the mystery, I have to get to know Indie Lee Ogburn. 

From Brunswick to Dinwiddie

Indie Lee Ogburn was born in either 1864 or 1865 in Brunswick County, Virginia to James A Ogburn and Martha Elizabeth Smith. All of her grandparents were born in Brunswick as well, a county situated on the border with North Carolina. Besides the Ogburn family, she was also descended from the Browder and Smith families, all of which have deep roots in Brunswick.

Indie was the third child born to her parents, and she had eight younger siblings! In 1870, the family was still living in Brunswick County but by 1880, the family had moved northeast into Dinwiddie County to a small town called Darvills.

Now, there's some question as to when Indie was actually born. From 1880 on, she lists her birth year as 1865. But there's reason to believe she was born late 1863 or early 1864. Indie's sister Lucy - whose birth record shows she was born August 1865 - was listed as 4 in the 1870 census while Indie was listed as 6. So Indie must have been born a year and half or so before that. Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap in birth records from Brunswick County from 1863 and 1864.

Life in Dinwiddie

On 2 March 1887, Indie married James Thomas Vaughan at Rocky Run Methodist Church in Dewitt, Dinwiddie. Considering both families were living in Darvills at the time, I'm not sure why they went 11.5 miles east to get married instead of to the Methodist church around the street. This is another one of those stories I'd love to figure out.

She married well, it would seem, because her husband proved to be an industrious man! James was a farmer and blacksmith - which seems industrious enough to me. But he also ran a general store, a grain and lumber mill, a funeral home, and the post office! On 28 February 1908, their home burned - which made the local paper - but they were able to rebuild a home which still stands today.

Indie and James had ten children, three of whom passed away as children. Indie's husband James passed away on 20 December 1919 in Darvills at the age of 54. Their grandson Edgar Thomas Vaughan understood that he died somehow in an accident at his mill. His death certificate simply says he died of apoplexy - a sudden loss of consciousness and paralysis, generally meaning a stroke.

Personality and legacy

From what I can gather, Indie was a character. She must have been a tough cookie, someone who came from a large family and created a new one of her own. She helped her husband with his many business pursuits and worked to make sure people paid their debts to their family. As Indie was nearing the end of her life, she began to suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia and she passed away on 12 April 1944 in the county she had called home for most of her nearly 80 years.

Part of Indie's legacy, unfortunately, is a strained relationship with her daughter - my great-grandmother - Josephine (Josie) Lee Vaughan. At some point, Josie was disowned as Indie wrote her out of her will. While I don't have access to Indie's will at the present, I suspect the problem may have had to do with Josie's marriage. Josie seems to have eloped at the age of 15 with my great-grandfather Grover Steven Hite. They went down to Warrenton, North Carolina to be married by a Justice of the Peace on 28 May 1915, and their marriage record even lists Josie as 18 years old instead of her actual age of 15.

I can't be sure, but I suspect Indie held a strong grudge. And even though Josie moved back to Darvills where her four children were born, they didn't stay for long. Josie died after suffering for four months with pelvic inflammation and puerperal sepsis on 27 July 1927. This fact itself is curious. Puerperal sepsis is a common postpartum infection, which would imply Josie had been pregnant recently. But her youngest child - that we know of - was born three years prior. There's more to this story, I suspect.

Grover took their three girls (including my 7 year old grandmother) to an orphanage in Richmond and he raised his son himself. Since my grandmother grew up north in Richmond, far from her Darvills family, she was never very connected to them. Interestingly enough, Grover remarried in the last year of his life - 1943 - to another of Indie's daughters (Erma) who had also been widowed.

Indie's family was a large one. In the photo above, from about 1976, Indie's grandchildren (including my Grandma Nora) gather at the old home in Darvills. One of my Grandma Nora's first cousins, Preston Parham - who's also in the photo - recalled that moment long ago as a little boy, when his cousins were driven away to the girl's home in Richmond. 

It's only been through genealogy, the wonders of modern technology, and a bit of Indie's stubbornness that her descendants have once again been able to reconnect. I've visited Indie's home, I've gotten to spend time at Josie and Grover's graves, and I've benefited from the determination of other descendants of Indie's who are working to keep alive our ancestor's memory


Indie Lee Ogburn was a strong woman. She managed her home, she managed her family, she managed her businesses. And perhaps her strength and determination also translated into a cold stubbornness once she had made her will known. At the very least, it didn't help hold her daughter Josie close despite their personal differences. And that trickled down as my Grandma Nora seems to have later identified Darvills with pain and loss. I still wonder though if Nora ever got to develop a relationship with her grandmother Indie before she passed. 

While some questions may forever remain unanswered, Indie has certainly helped me paint some of the picture of my Grandma Nora's past. And all of this reminds me of the importance of family, and the clarity that no feud or disagreement is worth decades of lost relationships.

Does the number 12 represent anything in your family? Do you have an ancestor who had nearly 12 children or does anyone have an anniversary, birthday, or death date on the 12th?

This post was inspired by the week 12 prompt "12" 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!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Evolution of Family

Family is an adaptable institution. Or rather, we're adaptable to it's changing and evolving place in our lives.

As a genealogist, I make it my purpose to dive headfirst into my own family's history and the histories of many others...and yet, I don't often think about the varying roles family has played in my own life.

As my family has evolved, morphed, broken and formed anew, so too has my appreciation for family in all its beautiful diversity.

When I was a child...

When I was a child, I loved like a child. When I was a child, my understanding of family was narrow and limited. But as I've grown, so has my family! So humor me for a minute, as I quote St. Paul:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
When I was a child, I limited family to my family of four. When I became a man, I embraced the family that God put in my life.

When I was a child growing up in Chesterfield, Virginia in the 90s, family meant my dad, my mom, my sister, and me. And then there was Maggie Antionette, our beautiful and devoted Rottweiler. We weren't a perfect family, but we always knew to say "I love you," and to give each other a hug and a kiss every day. These were the only people I knew to say "I love you" to, the only people I knew were unequivocally my family. My imperfect family. But, my family nonetheless.

First cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents...those all seemed like extended family. I don't know if it was just our odd family dynamic, but I rarely saw them. My parents' first cousins lived minutes away, but I never met them until I was an adult. When I was a child, my family was a family of four but then it became a mosaic.

Family Mosaic

No mosaic would be beautiful without broken stones. And so it was for what became my mosaic of a family. Between divorce, remarriages, the births of nieces and a nephew, my family has grown through breaks and reformation. The family of four became a family of...well, quite a bit more! And, I'm all the richer for it.

I went from being the baby of the family to a big brother a week before my 15th birthday! I went from Sam to Uncle Sam a year and a half later! Not much later, I gained two more sisters, and a big brother. In the precise world of genealogy, where we know the difference between a first cousin twice removed and a second cousin once removed, we also have to know when not to distinguish between step, full, and half. They're my siblings. They're my parents. They're family.

This big kid is the baby I'm holding earlier!

The Body of Christ

When I became an Orthodox Christian in 2005, I couldn't have imagined just how much the Church would become another family. One big fat tight-knit world-wide family.

Whether I was in Egypt or Palestine, Lebanon or Greece, India or Kenya, I was at home. Where nationality raised walls, Christ tore them down. When I seemed a tourist, a simple "Christ is risen!" after Pascha (Orthodox Easter) or making the sign of the cross would make me a brother. 

And then I went to seminary!

There's nothing quite like an Orthodox seminary to make brothers out of a group of strangers. We prayed together, we studied together, we argued, we laughed together, we became family.

The Church has also given me sacramental family. I may not have a son of my own, but I have my adorable godson Teddy! He came out of the waters of baptism and into my arms - SUCH a powerful moment for me! I'm also the godfather/sponsor to Maria, John, Caleb, and Justin. And now I'm the koumbaros (wedding sponsor) to Thomas and Elizabeth. My Church family is growing, y'all!

As my family grows around me, I've also been discovering how big my family has been all along.

Long Lost Family

It wasn't until I dove into family history that I found just how big my family has always been.

The further I research my family, the more cousins I add to my tree, the further back I take a family line, I see that my family is gigantic! And with each passing day, I get new DNA-proven cousins, too! Some of these DNA cousins I would have never found without the help of science. Many are adoptees, or the descendants of children of unknown parentage. And yet others DNA has connected to me when their research hadn't gotten far back enough to discover our shared ancestor.

Plus, there's the genealogy family that gathers at local, state, and international conferences each year. And the online community that connects through genealogy companies, FamilySearch, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Not all of us are biological family, but we're all family in our shared love for family, for stories, and for connection.


From my childhood conception of family, to my mosaic family, to my church family, to my new-found family discovered in genealogy research, I've grown to discover I have quite the large family.

How has your perception of family changed during your life? Has genealogy taught you to view family differently?

This post was inspired by the week 11 prompt "Large Family" 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!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Douglas E Stratton: A Bachelor by Law

If you go far out enough in Powhatan County, and drive south on route 13, you'll eventually hit the town of Macon right before the road curves sharp west. Well, today it's not really a town. It's just a Macon sign, a curve in the road, and a stop sign. But in the 1800s, there was a tavern, a post office, and a town store. It was the administrative center for the western portion of the county. And it was there that the patriarch of the Stratton family, David Stratton, ran a tavern, was Constable, and the town postmaster. After him, his daughter Louisa Catherine and his son Douglas also ran the post office. The Strattons were faithful members of Peterville Baptist Church and after the fall of the institution of slavery, the African Americans who had once been owned by the Stratton family went on to found Pine Hill Baptist Church.

As any small town, there were no true secrets in Macon. Especially if you were a Stratton. That was all too true for David's son Douglas who was kicked out of his church, never married, and moved north to New York. But after a while, even country "secrets" start to be hidden.

Well, that is until your third-great nephew goes digging into the family history a century later!

So what happens when you're David Stratton's son and there's something you're trying to keep secret? What would make Douglas E Stratton a life-long bachelor, by law?

1. Douglas' early life

Douglas E Stratton was born 24 Mar 1852 in Powhatan County, Virginia to David Stratton and Jordenia E Hopkins. He was their youngest child, and just a few years younger than my 2x great grandmother Edmonia Harriet Stratton.

Before Douglas was born, several of his older half-brothers moved to Alabama and later to Kentucky. His father was 64 when he was born, so he even had nieces and nephews who were older than him! When Douglas was nine years old, the Civil War began and just one week after his 11th birthday, his brother David Creath Stratton died in the war - just missing his 21st birthday. On the 4th of July, in 1867, his older brother Robert was murdered in his sleep in his home in Gainsville, Alabama. Weeks before Douglas turned 16, he lost his mother Jordenia on 2 Mar 1868. That's a lot of loss for the youngest in the family.

Douglas never even met his grandparents. His paternal grandfather - John Stratton - fought for Powhatan County during the Revolution. His maternal grandmother - Mary H Martin - was of proud French Huguenot stock, descending from John Martin who settled Manakin in 1700.

2. Bachelorhood

After Douglas' mother passed away, he and his father David were living in 1870 with Douglas' sister Emily and her husband Francis Bishop Hague. The following year, on 24 Apr 1871, David Stratton passed away and the next record we have of Douglas comes from the minute book of Peterville Baptist Church.

Just months after David Stratton passed away, Peterville Baptist Church appointed a commission to find Douglas E Stratton. On 23 Jun 1871, he was called a "habitual absentee" from church and Deacon Bagby was appointed to look into his "spiritual state." In July 1871, Deacon James D Bagby "reported he had not seen Brother Douglas Stratton." In April 1872, Deacon Bagby was "appointed and directed to cite Brother Douglas Stratton to attend at next church meeting to show cause why he should not be dealt with for habitual absence from church meetings."

By May 1872, "E. Douglas Stratton was excluded for want of Christian character."

During the 1870s, Douglas served as the postmaster of Macon and by 1800, he was listed as a carpenter. In 1880, Douglas was living with his niece Alice Elizabeth Hague and her husband Walter Henry Harris.

3. The mystery years

We have no census records for Douglas until 1920. He's missing in both the 1900 and 1910 census. Where was he? I'm not quite sure! But, he shows up in other sorts of records just as mysteriously!

4. Secrets revealed

On 3 Jan 1898, a curious record was produced in Powhatan County. A Suvella Stratton married William Henry Brown at Mt. Pero Baptist Church. Suvella lists her father as Douglas Stratton and her mother as Nancy Jackson. Could this be our Douglas Stratton? What's so curious about this record?

Both Suvella and William are listed as "colored." What's more, Mt. Pero is a historically black church founded by previously enslaved members of Peterville Baptist Church. As soon as they were married, Suvella and William moved north and by 1900 were living in Pleasantville, New Jersey.

When Suvella applied for her social security in 1940, she lists her father as "Dove Stratton" and her mother as "Nancy Bromsted." Douglas to Dove. Jackson to Bromsted. Perhaps this is a different person all together, you might say. Why even assume her father is our Douglas?

5. The plot thickens

In 1920, we finally find Douglas again living in Macon. He's listed as single, and living with him is a single "mulatto" woman named Maria Wells listed as his servant with an 11 year old daughter Valeria Edith Wells.

What's more, on 4 Jun 1926, Douglas sold Maria Wells six acres of land (with its buildings, a cow named Bell, a wagon, and farming implements) for ten dollars.

On 30 Oct 1926, Maria Wells passed away. Her death certificate lists her as a single "domestic." She's shown as being buried at Pine Hill (shown in the first photo above) in Macon. And who's the informant? Douglas Stratton of Macon, Virginia. Douglas E Stratton is also a witness to her will she wrote just before her death.

By 1930, Douglas is again living by himself and is a 76 year old single farmer.

The last document we have for Douglas is what appears to be his death certificate from New York City. The parent names add up, but there's no clear evidence it's the same Douglas E Stratton. It doesn't even list his state of birth. He's listed as an 80 year old widowed salesman. He died at a historic hospital, House of Calvary, devoted to offering hospice and palliative care. The back of the document lists the informant as his daughter, Elizabeth Hash.

6. Bachelor by Law

So far, we have random loosely-connected stories for Douglas E Stratton. We have a "colored" woman listing him as her father. We see him intimately connected to Maria Wells, a "mulatto" woman and we see he's a life-long bachelor. And don't forget, there's the gossip of a small town! A living Stratton cousin of mine remembers being told that Douglas was involved with black women and even had children. Children! So far, we only know of one!...right?

Well, more than the paper trail of Suvella Stratton Brown, there is DNA evidence connecting Suvella to the Stratton family. Several descendants of Suvella match my father and aunt as second to third cousins - sharing between 186 cM and 221 cM of DNA with them. More than simply sharing this DNA in common, all of their shared DNA matches are descended from either David Stratton or his father John Stratton. And then I saw a photo of Suvella.

The photo on the left is my great-grandmother Mary Susan Wooldridge. The photo on the right is Suvella Stratton. These two are first cousins, but they could have passed for sisters! The one on the left was white; the one on the right was called "colored," "black," and "negro."

Douglas Stratton could never have married Suvella's mother Nancy. Since a 1691 law, interracial couples could not remain in Virginia. Anti-miscegenation laws prevented marriage between people of different colors in the state of Virginia - even "illicit cohabitation" - until Loving v. Virginia in 1967. So whether Douglas and Nancy had a long-standing relationship or not in 1876 when Suvella was born, it would be another 91 years before that relationship would have even been legal in the state.

That Douglas and Maria Wells were close cannot be dismissed. He sold land to her, he witnessed her will, she lived with him. But whether she was actually his servant or if that was just a cover can only be surmised. I have yet to find a link between Maria's children and the Stratton family. But, we do have reason to conclude that Suvella was truly Douglas' daughter.


My great-grandmother would have been ten years old when her first cousin Suvella married William Henry Brown and moved to New Jersey. It's likely she never met her, but she had to have known her uncle Douglas. If only I could have asked her about his life and what she knew about him. Did everyone gossip about her bachelor uncle? Did he ever get in trouble with the law for breaking cohabitation laws?

Douglas E Stratton may have been a bachelor, but probably not by choice. He was a bachelor by law.

This post was inspired by the week 10 prompt "Bachelor Uncle" 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!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Powhatan History is in Your Hands

Powhatan County has a rich and long history that deserves to be preserved. And while organizations and politicians make it their business to discuss the preservation of buildings and monuments, the citizens of Powhatan County have a duty to protect something that transcends politics: the county's records. But remarkably few know that much of the county's history is held within one small room at the Powhatan Courthouse.

Just as you enter the Powhatan County Courthouse, on the right, is the Circuit Court Clerk's Office. Many know the clerk's office for being where you go for passports, marriage licenses, and land plat information. Fewer could tell you that this office holds hundreds of years of Powhatan history in the record room. Less visible than monuments and buildings - but older than any of them - are the wills and deeds, the marriage licenses and minute books, the order books and chancery records that lay mostly forgotten.

So why should you care about some old dusty records at the courthouse? The answer is closer to home than you might think.

As of February 2019, an estimated 26 million people have tested their DNA with in-home DNA testing companies including AncestryDNA, 23andme, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA. What drives so many people to have their DNA tested? For some, it's to discover their ethnic origins through these companies' increasingly specific ethnicity estimates. For others, it's to find long lost family, or for adoptees to discover their birth family. And for the growing community interested in their genealogy and family history, DNA testing provides a living record that proves vital to their research.

It's likely that if you're reading this, you - or one of your close family members - have already been DNA tested. And after seeing your ethnicity estimate, you'll notice a long list of all the other people in the database that match you as a cousin. The first question for most people is, "How on earth am I related to all these strangers!?" To figure this out, you need records. You need a paper trail to follow. But what happens if these records are lost, forgotten, or - even worse - destroyed because there's no room to store them? This is a risk Powhatan faces if more residents do not push for the preservation of their records.

If your ancestors lived in Powhatan, do you know where they lived? Do you know how they obtained their property? Was your grandmother left something in her parents' wills? When did your great-grandparents marry and which pastor performed the marriage? How old were your ancestors when they married? Do you have a Revolutionary War patriot that served from Powhatan? All of these are questions you can answer at the Circuit Court Clerk's Office. And once you discover you have a deep-rooted connection to Powhatan's history, you'll realize just how important it is to preserve that history.

The preservation and digitization (making digital copies by scanning and photographing) of Powhatan County records is vital to the preservation of Powhatan County history itself. But this takes awareness, it takes funding, and it takes citizen involvement. So what are you willing to do to preserve our history - the history of ALL of the citizens of Powhatan County?

To learn more about the Clerk's Office and how you can help preserve Powhatan history, visit


What have you discovered at the courthouse? Have you helped preserve or digitize records at your local courthouse?

This post was inspired by the week 9 prompt "At the Courthouse" 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!

A Wooldridge Family Photo

There is power in seeing the faces of your ancestors.

There is power in this encounter. An encounter with people who lived and loved and hoped and struggled just as we do. An encounter with art - in a photograph - showing a moment in the life of our loved ones.

So let's take a look at a moment in the life of Leroy Samuel Wooldridge - from about 1912 - in Powhatan County, Virginia. A moment special enough for him and his family to be cherished for generations to come.

The Family Photo

The first time I saw a photo of Leroy Samuel Wooldridge was probably in 2014. I started delving deeper into my family history, and I found that someone had posted a copy of a family photo on Ancestry. It shows Leroy with four of his eight children, along with two of their spouses and five of his grandchildren. It's a stunning photograph - albeit a tad grainy and not amazingly clear. My guess is that it's from about 1912. 

There's a lot to love in this photo. First off, Leroy looks like Colonel Sanders from KFC! Amazing. Then there's the fashion: big dresses, cool ties, big hair. I love that my great-grandmother Mary Susan is sitting front and center. And can we notice the smiles? Only two of them are smiling - one is my Mary Susan, who has a youthful joy about her in the photo, too.  It feels so very characteristic of her descendants - we have a habit of standing out in a crowd!

I then found another version of the photo, but this time the family posed in front of a house. Instead of standing in the back, Leroy sits front and center with arms crossed - enthroned as the pater familias of the Wooldridge clan in Powhatan County. Mary Susan is standing behind Leroy this time. Together, these two photos are the only photos I have of my great-grandmother from before her marriage in 1913.

The photo in front of the house comes from a book that includes the Wooldridge family. The author even helped to identify the different people in the photo, which was an added bonus.

The Family

The Wooldridge family has deep roots in Chesterfield County, Virginia. They're known for being some of the earliest and most successful coal miners in the county. They were also instrumental in the founding of what is now the town of Midlothian. I grew up 10 minutes from the area where my Wooldridge family would have run the mines. Growing up, not only did I know nothing of my family's connection to the area, I never even knew there had been mines there!

This is one of those cool - history-comes-to-life-when-its-relevant - type of stories! Genealogy has this sort of effect on us, doesn't it? When we know we have a personal connection to history, it comes to life before us. And we care! History stops being about dates and it becomes about us and the people that made us who we are.

So back to my story! Leroy Samuel Wooldridge was born on 3 Feb 1839 to John M Wooldridge and Mary Susan Beazley. He was the middle child, the second of three sons. Leroy moved to neighboring Powhatan, while his older brother Chamberlayne eventually moved to Paducah, Kentucky and his younger brother Henry Clay stayed in Chesterfield.

Leroy married Edmonia Stratton after fighting in the Civil War in 1867. Edmonia passed in 1905, and Leroy lived until 1918. The longest living of their children was my Mary Susan who lived until 1988. Over the years, the Wooldridge cousins have lost touch, but through the power of genealogy we are coming back together again!

A copied photo is a beloved photo

Soon after I found the first photo of Leroy and his family, my cousin Veronica connected me to two women with a DNA connection to our family but who weren't sure how they connected. (The whole story will have to wait for another post...but trust me, it's an amazing story!) Well, long story short, they turned out to be descended from one of Leroy's daughters, Rosa Lee. 

Later that year, we had a big Southern-style reunion for everyone to get to meet in person and share in the joy of new connections. As we were enjoying some amazing Southern food overlooking a lake in Powhatan, some of my new cousins brought out a box of old photos. They pulled out a particularly old one, framed, and asked me if I might know who the people were. HA! Did I ever! 

It was the exact same photo I had seen online the year before...but this time it was a fuller picture, not accidentally cutting out one of the grandchildren. I was able to share who everyone was in the photo...and as I did, I could feel my connection to my cousins. I could point to my great-grandmother and then point to her sister Rosa Lee and say, "you're from her!"

My cousin Veronica and I posed with their copy of the photo - both of us in disbelief to be holding another copy of our family photo! A few months later, I found *another* copy of the photo in a box of photos at my aunt Patsy's house. My great-grandmother and her siblings must have loved this old photo. Different branches of the family all had a copy. A copied photo is a beloved photo! 


This Wooldridge family photo has proven to be a bit of glue for my extended Wooldridge family. It's been like one of those best friend heart necklaces, where each person gets half of the heart. By each of the different lines descending from Leroy and Edmonia having a copy of this family photo, we can identify the other as being part of us. We each share something we never knew the other had too.

Do you have a cherished old family photo? Has a photo helped to connect your family?

This post was inspired by the week 8 prompt "Family Photo" 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!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mimi & Pop

When I was about 11 years old - give or take a year - I interviewed my great-grandmother about her husband, my great-grandfather. We called her "Mimi," and though I never met him, everyone called him "Pop." That interview was the first time I took action to learn my family history. 

Twenty years later, I'm still trying to gather the pieces of the story of Mimi and Pop. Faded with time, jumbled with other memories, and discolored by different perspectives, their story has been passed down through their children - my grandmother "Memaw," and her brother, my great-uncle Sam - and my mom.

So let's discover Mimi and Pop - the beautiful couple from Petersburg, Virginia - and how their love has endured the test of time.

Gertlie Edgerton

Mimi was born Gertlie Edgerton on 8 Jun 1914 in Petersburg, Virginia. Sometimes, she was called Gertie or Gertie Lee, but she insisted that her name was actually Gertlie. Her father, Riley Ralph Edgerton, had moved to Virginia with his parents from Lake County, Indiana when he was between 10 and 15 years old. Her mother, Lillian Dee Emory, was a native of Prince George County, Virginia. Mimi had two older brothers, an older half-brother, and a little sister. The Edgertons lived in Petersburg and Riley worked as a refrigeration engineer. He was something of an inventor, always taking things apart and making new and interesting things.

After the 8th grade, Mimi had to leave school to support the family. Her father Riley was sick and out of work, so she took a job at a local dime store. By the time she met Pop, she was making more than he was! My great-uncle Sam says he thinks she was making about $10 a week. 

Now, my Mimi was a pretty lady. I mean, look at her! Gorgeous! As a young woman, people tried to persuade her to enter the Miss America pageant, but New Jersey was just too far from Petersburg. But soon enough, a dapper young man managed to steal her attention.

Samuel Franklin Brooks

Pop was born Samuel Franklin Brooks on 11 Feb 1913 in Halifax County, Virginia. His parents James Gordon Brooks and Lena Belle Adams were natives of the county too, but when he was very small, the family moved to Petersburg. It was sometime after his sister Arline was born in late 1916, that the family decided to pack up and take the dusty route north to the big city. Pop insisted that though he was not much more than three years old, he could remember the trip. It took them three days to travel from Halifax to Petersburg by horse-drawn wagon, and they kept getting stuck in the sandy roads.

The Brooks family always kept a connection to South Boston - in Halifax County - but Pop's immediate family stayed in Petersburg. 

Street gangs and pool halls

Pop had a group of guys he'd hang around in Petersburg. They'd spend time in the pool hall and probably get into a bit of mischief. We're not sure how exactly Mimi met Pop but we're guessing it had something to do with the pool hall or this group of guys that hung around the streets of Petersburg. Pop was a character, and she was a beautiful girl, so I can't imagine it took long for their eyes to catch. And the rest was history! 

A life together

They married on 24 Feb 1934 in Petersburg and began a life together. Pop worked as a sign painter and Mimi gave birth to my grandmother at the home of Pop's parents. After a few years, they moved to Richmond, had a son, and the United States entered World War II. Pop served all over Europe, and at one time was feared to be a prisoner of war. He was wounded and taken in by a group of nuns - possibly in Germany - and set on his way without a helmet so he couldn't so easily get back into combat. He never reported his injury though, so he went without a Purple Heart.

It's hard not to be drawn into the love these two had for one another. I don't know what they were like later in life as a couple, but you can see they were smitten with each other as youth.

Old photographs tell a story words never can. Personality, spunk, humor, and spirit get captured in that one moment for all to see and remember. I see my aunt Judy in both Mimi and Pop - eerily so really. She looked just like them. Beautiful like both of them. I wonder how much of Mimi and Pop has trickled down to me, too!

Later in life, after raising their two children, Mimi and Pop also helped to raise my mom after her parents' divorce. Pop painted not only for his profession, but also as his passion. He painted beautiful scenes from photographs - and I'm blessed to have a painting of his in my living room. My mom remembers him with a collection of religious texts from different faiths, all of which he could proudly say he'd read. Pop passed away in 1981.

My reflections

I was only 12 years old when Mimi passed away. In her last few years, I was able to spend some time with her at her home where my mom had lived, and later in the retirement home. I remember the bowl of strawberry candies, the egg-shaped glass containers with colored sand and nature scenes, the paintings by Pop, and all the fancy furniture. 

My aunt Judy took care of Mimi in her later years. She loved the beach and they'd goof off on the board walk, Judy pushing Mimi and the two of them carrying on like young girls. We'd go to Piccadilly together in Richmond - that smorgasbord of southern cafeteria-style dining. She always had her hair and nails done, and she always kept her spunk. For Y2K (when 1999 turned to 2000), my cousin Marty and I spent the night at her apartment. That was her last New Year's Eve.

The more I see photos of Mimi and Pop, the more I realize how much I favor that side of my family. My Memaw looks just like Mimi - her mom...and my mom looks JUST like Memaw. And I look just like my mom. So it was a special treat to join the Mayflower Society through Mimi's Edgerton family in 2017.


When I asked my Memaw and great-uncle Sam how their parents met, neither were quite sure. It reminded me how easy it is to take our family stories for granted. We never ask our parents how they met, because we never really imagine them apart. And by the time we think to ask family members about their lives, or think about these family mysteries, they've passed on along with our opportunity to ask.

Mimi and Pop shared a love that started in Petersburg, endured war, and found new roots in Richmond. They had two children, four grandchildren, and Mimi lived long enough to know her great-grandchildren. So however it was that Pop swept Mimi off her feet, or whatever Mimi did to stop Pop in his tracks, I sure am grateful for their love!

Whose love story inspires you? Do you know how your parents or grandparents met?

This post was inspired by the week 7 prompt "Love" 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!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Surprise of Alice Liney Hobbs

The other night, I sat staring at my family tree looking for a story. Not your average story. A juicy story. Something that catches my attention. A surprise.

I thought to look at a distant corner of my family tree that hasn't gotten much light lately - my maternal grandmother's maternal line. After some clicking around, and looking at some chancery records, boom. A story!

So let's take a look at the story I uncovered and some surprising connections I was able to make between my mother's family and my father's family. We'll also note some important lessons that we should remember when it comes to family history surprises.

Prince George County, Virginia

Of my 2x great grandparents, only one hails from Prince George County, Virginia. Lillian Dee Emory was born in 1893 to William Robert Emory and Minerva Jane Rainey, both natives of the same county. This line has always fascinated me and occasionally pulls at me to dig a bit deeper. Emory, Eppes, Rainey, and Brockwell: the surnames of Lillian Dee's grandparents. What surprises are in store for me with this Prince George crowd?

My first step was to look back over what I already have on them. What census records are still missing? Have I included all of each generation's children that are listed in the census records? Have I worked on filling in their family story through vital records? I've found that digging a bit more on even one more child can correct assumptions, add more detail to names, and even break down brick walls.

Once I've covered census and vital records, my next move is to check out chancery records at the Library of Virginia. This takes some effort, but it's always worth doing a search there online. I searched the surnames Emory and Brockwell for Prince George County. My trick is to leave the plaintiff and defendant spaces blank. Instead of using those spaces, I type in one or two surnames in the surname blanks. This finds cases where a particular surname is mentioned but isn't necessarily the subject of the case. I don't get discouraged when I can't find a record for my ancestors...I just hope one of their descendants or a cousin is mentioned in a record. Chancery cases often include gems of genealogical data like names and dates that prove connections between people.

And sometimes you find the right chancery record with a story. A juicy story!

Chancery enchantments

Only three cases include the surname Emory from Prince George. So I chose Prince George County chancery index number 1906-007 between Henry A Hobbs and Alice Liney Hobbs. It turns out to be a divorce case. I was hooked!

Henry A Hobbs was filing for divorce from his wife Alice Liney Hobbs. When they married in Prince George on 5 Dec 1901, Alice was listed as Alice Liney Emory. Ok, there's the Emory! But how is she connected to my family? So I read on. Alice deserted her husband on or about 5 Jan 1902 and at the time of the suit she still had not returned for more than three years.

According to the deposition of Henry A Hobbs' sons from his previous marriage, William Allen Hobbs and Charles Simmons Hobbs, Alice only lived with Henry for a month after their marriage. 10 days after she left, she returned with a John A Devorak to pick up her things. His sons knew these details because they lived with their father during the marriage and were witnesses to her desertion.

John A Devorak's deposition reveals that Alice's brother asked him to help get her things. The separation seems to have been amiable, because Henry A Hobbs treated Devorak to dinner and let him stay the night before they took Alice together to Petersburg the next morning. Devorak drove the wagon with her things while Hobbs took Alice in the buggy. When asked whether Alice told him whether she were leaving permanently, Devorak stated, "She said she could not live with Mr. Hobbs there."

At the January term of 1906, the circuit court declared the couple divorced.

The plot thickens

The devil is in the details. So what might have made Alice unable to live with Henry? What was so difficult for her out on their farm in Prince George? Their marriage license reveals that she was a 30 year old widow and he was 66 years old. That's quite the age difference, isn't it? Also, who was her first husband? Turns out, he was Matthew Nathaniel Emory, my 4th great uncle - the youngest brother of my William Robert Emory whom I mentioned earlier. Alice was left a single mother when Matthew died; she was listed as a widow with a two year old - Matthew Nathaniel Jr in the 1900 census. Coincidentally, the day Alice left Henry was Matthew Nathaniel Jr's 4th birthday!

A year after their divorce, Alice married Henry Lewis Humphries. By the 1910 census, Alice is enumerated as the mother of three children: Matthew Emory, Bessie Hobbs, and Martha Humphries. Bessie Hobbs was born in September 1902 just nine months after her parents' divorce. So, if Henry A Hobbs is Bessie's biological father, Alice had just barely conceived her during the one month she lived with him. Did Alice know she was pregnant when she left her husband?

Alice's son Matthew Emory went on to get married, and to father two children. His first wife died at the age of 46 after a three year battle with cervical and uterine cancer. A year later, Matthew Emory (my mom's great-grandmother's first cousin) went on to marry a widow, Alma May D'Bene née Chappell (my dad's third cousin)!

Surprise connections

Alma May Chappell was born in 1908 in Surry County, Virginia. Her grandmother, Anna Delia Hoye, was born in Manchester (now South Richmond) but moved to Surry after her marriage. Anna's maternal grandparents were Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams of Powhatan County. So while it was a wild surprise for me to find a couple that connected my mom's family to my dad's, it's not entirely shocking when you look at the geography.

The Williams side of my dad's family is from Powhatan County - which is only separated from Prince George County by Chesterfield. To get from Powhatan to Surry you just follow the James River east. And Prince George and Surry are neighboring counties. (Take a look at the map above showing Prince George and Surry County on the James River.) Similar surprises link my two sides of my family through Halifax County and Chesterfield County.

I discovered that my Granny Linda (my mom's stepmom) is a DNA match to my dad! Turns out they're 5th cousins through their shared Hite ancestor from Halifax County, Virginia. Another surprise was that my Aunt Judy (my mom's sister) was married to my 5th cousin on my dad's Wooldridge & Elam side from Chesterfield County.


Here are a few take away points from these family history surprises!

1. Maintain a thorough family tree that goes out and down as much as it goes up. The only way I was able to confirm any of the connections I've mentioned here is because I already had their families in my tree. I nearly always include the parents of a new spouse that I add to my tree. These webs are impossible to maneuver if your tree is not rooted in solid research and supporting strong branches!

2. Take advantage of the amazing chancery records available in Virginia! Use my suggestions for searching according to surname and county. Be patient and scan the entire document, page by page, until you find that little nugget of information that can be that next necessary catalyst to your research!

3. Expect surprises in your DNA match list. You are going to find surprise matches. You are going to find evidence of infidelity and/or children conceived out of wedlock. Your DNA results may even be the clue that reveals one of your family members had a child out of wedlock. Other surprises may be that someone was adopted and no one ever talked about it. Expect that your mom might have cousins who married your dad's cousins. And if you're from an endogamous community, your parents might even be cousins too. Expect the unexpected.


Family history is filled with surprises. People are unpredictable. Sometimes whole communities stay put and intermarry. Other times, people somehow connect to one another when we least expect it, reminding us just how small the world is, after all.

I went searching for an Emory, and I found a Hobbs who had once been an Emory. That find helped me discover not only an interesting story - one undoubtedly filled with great pain and sorrow - but also whole new branches to my family tree. Oh! And our Alice was born Alice Liney Nunnally.

What surprises have you uncovered in your family history research? Do you expect the unexpected?

This post was inspired by the week 6 prompt "Surprise" 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!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Mystery of Kenneth Helvering

As we plug away in our genealogical research, invariably certain rabbit holes turn into real research questions. At first, these diversions are just mere curiosity - "hmm...this person looks interesting!" But as the rabbit holes reveal real holes in our research, we must stop our digging and decide how to proceed and what questions we want to answer. So let's take a moment to explore the mystery of Kenneth Helvering.

Introduction to Kenneth

Several years ago, I was working on descendancy research for the children of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams of Powhatan County, Virginia. I found that their son John H Williams had left Powhatan County, as many did in his day, and headed for Manchester City (now South Richmond) on the southern bank of the James River across from Richmond. By the time of his father's death in the mid 1890s, he was living in Newport News in Warwick County. There, he worked as a ship carpenter at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.

John H Williams and his wife Mary Frances had one daughter, Ida Virginia Williams. In the 1900 census, I found Ida living with her husband Edwin Helvering, son Kenneth M Helvering, and her mother. Ida is shown to have had two children, but only one is living. Now, Kenneth is listed as being 6 years old, though his parents are shown as being married in 1897. I didn't think much of this though - how often are ages incorrectly listed in census records?!

I have yet to find the family in 1910, but the next records I found for the family were their passport applications from 4 Jan 1916 and 12 Feb 1918. Edwin was member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. In 1920, he is listed as a government inspector and in 1923 as a senior inspector for the Department of Maintenance and Repair at the shipyard. Their passport applications were for Edwin's work in Manila, the Philippines - a trip which took them through California and Hawaii. The photo above is from Kenneth's 1918 passport application.

It wasn't until I saw his photo, and the photo of his mother, that I really wanted to know more about Kenneth. Did he marry? Did he father any children? Unfortunately, the trail seemingly ran dry in 1930. I simply couldn't find anything else about him.

Field trip to the cemetery!

With no more information on Kenneth, I turned to his mother Ida. I found that she passed away in 1930 and was buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Newport News. Her husband Edwin remarried to a Marie Schmidt in 1934. Conveniently, Ida's parents John H and Mary Frances Williams are buried at the same cemetery. Guess what that means? Field trip time!

So on 10 July 2016, I took a trip to Greenlawn Memorial Park. After meandering all over the cemetery - which felt like forever and made my eyes go in and out of focus staring at so many names - I finally found the Williamses and the Helverings! Here I found Ida's parents, alongside Ida, and Edwin with his second wife Marie. And then I saw the strangest thing: a little broken tombstone for a Ruth F McGruder propped up in front of Ida. And next to her rests a Charles Kenneth McGruder.

Could this Charles Kenneth McGruder be Kenneth M Helvering? The birth date of 1894 lined up, and there was the name Kenneth. But McGruder is nothing close to Helvering. Could "M" have been an abbreviation for McGruder?

At the Library

After doing some more research on this Charles Kenneth McGruder, I found that his obituary was published on 18 May 1942 in the Daily Press in Newport News. Additionally, I found that the Daily Press also published obituaries for Edwin Helvering and for Ida Virginia. So on 20 August 2016 I went back to Newport News to the Martha Woodroof Hiden Memorial Room at the Main Street Library. There I was able to find the obituaries and burial announcements I needed!

Now that's odd! Charles Kenneth McGruder is listed as the step-son of Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Helvering! But then I remembered that Edwin had remarried in 1934. So at least Maria was his step-mother.

But what was the "long illness" that he died from? And where was he living in 1940?

Census and Hospital Records

Could Kenneth M Helvering actually be Charles Kenneth McGruder? If so, his biological father must have passed away when he was little and Edwin Helvering took him in as his own son. (Kenneth even wrote his signature as a Helvering as you can see in his passport photo.) I then found that Charles H McGruder married Ida Virginia Williams on 29 Dec 1891 in Manchester. Charles H McGruder then passed away on 13 Sep 1894 in Warwick County - which became Newport News. So Charles H McGruder must be the biological father - and namesake - of our Kenneth.

But where was Charles Kenneth in 1940? I found him in the 1940 census, not in Newport News as I expected, but in Williamsburg as a patient at the Eastern State Hospital for the Insane. Whoa! So he had some sort of debilitating illness that caused his step-parents to put him away sometime after his mother passed away.

I reached out to the Eastern State Hospital to see what records they might have still on Charles Kenneth McGruder. I was hoping to at least get a record on the reason for his entry to the hospital. Since he has been deceased for over 50 years, they were able to grant my request! A week later, I had mail from the hospital!

All records for his stay at Eastern State Hospital were destroyed except for this Master Patient Index card. But even with this simple index card, we have the story.

Helvering or McGruder?

Charles Kenneth McGruder was the step-son of Edwin Griffith Helvering. He contracted spinal meningitis as a child which caused a "mental deficiency." He was first admitted to Eastern State Hospital on 9 November 1934. After a brief furlough from December 1934 until April 1935, he lived the remainder of his life in the hospital. He then passed away on 17 May 1943 at 5:00 pm. From the other side of his Master Patient Index card, I learned that his cause of death was thyroid cancer.

Eastern State Hospital was founded in 1773 in Williamsburg, Virginia as the first public facility devoted solely to the care and treatment of the mentally ill in the current United States. I'll never know the reason his step-father decided to send him there in 1934, but I can't help but assume it had something to do with his new marriage in February of that year.

It's also curious that all public records for Kenneth from 1900 until 1934 refer to him as Kenneth M Helvering. His mother Ida's death notice lists her son simply as "Kenneth" and her address as 18 Buxton Ave., which corresponds to the address given for Edwin G Helvering in the Master Patient Index card as well. So we can safely confirm that Charles Kenneth McGruder was indeed the same person as Kenneth M Helvering. At what point did he start to use his birth name again? Was this an attempt on the part of his step-father to distance himself from his responsibility as a caregiver?


Charles Kenneth McGruder - also known as Kenneth M Helvering - was my grandfather's second cousin. I wonder if they knew of one another, if their parents were close - as first cousins - or if he ever visited Powhatan County. What did Kenneth think of his time in the Philippines? How must it have been for his mother Ida to be the daughter of a Powhatan boy, to be born and raised in Manchester City, and then to travel across the world from Newport News to California to Hawaii to the Philippines? What was it like at Eastern State Hospital for Kenneth in the 1930s and 1940s?

Finding Kenneth gave me opportunities to learn new skills, to discover new record sets, and to explore a new cemetery and a new library. Encountering him in these records helped me paint a fuller picture of his life, and to bring into focus as one man who had before appeared to be two.

What mysteries have you solved at the library? Have you considered supporting your state library?

This post was inspired by the week 5 prompt "At the Library" 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!

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 Americ...