Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: Robert E. Harris and Janie S. Smith 1966

This is the tombstone of Robert E. Harris, born in Scott County, VA in 1889 and Janie S. Smith, also born in 1889 in the same county. They were this author's maternal great-grandparents. Robert was the son of William Patton Harris (born 1862 in Scott County, VA) and Anna Kilgore (born 1866 in Scott County, VA). Janie Smith was the daughter of John B. Smith (born app. 1863 in Scott County, VA) and Martha E. Kilgore (born bet. 1856-1858 in Scott County, VA).

In the late 1920's the family moved from Scott County to Fluvanna County, VA. Robert and Janie were laid to rest in 1966 at Monticello Memory Gardens in Charlottesville, VA. I took this picture a few months back, but not before contending with a cemetery plot salesman.

The dates of birth and death for this couple are remarkable to me. They were born within months of each other and died within months of each other. It makes me wonder about the connections people share, though they may not show on the outside.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Memorial Day: Dudley George Roberts, 1950

Pictures in possession of and scrapbook page done by the author's aunt
Dudley George Roberts, my paternal grandfather, enlisted in the U.S. Army in December of 1950.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Memorial Day: John P. Harris - 1943

John P. Harris (on the left) in 1943 with a fellow Army buddy. Photo taken in the Philippines while on active duty - WWII.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cemetery Research...Or... How I Fended Off a Plot Salesman

A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I took a ride up to the cemetery where my Grandma and Grandpa Harris are buried. Morbid as this may sound, I needed a photo of their grave stone to prove dates of birth and death for both of them. I am putting my application in for the Daughters of the American Revolution lineage society and I have four great grandfathers on my Harris side that served in the Revolutionary War. This fact will make me a SUPER DAR MEMBER!

Anyhow, I needed a photo of their tombstone, so we went up to the cemetery. I tried to find it on my own first while Mom stayed in the car. I knew the general section it was in, but it is a packed cemetery, so I was having trouble. It was really bizarre traipsing about the cemetery in search of a grave stone. Most genealogists say they feel very at home in a cemetery, but I think that’s something I’ll have to slowly lean into. I was creeped out.

When I couldn’t find it, we went up to the office to ask for help. The receptionist looked up the names and gave me a Post-It note of the exact spot. I told her I would need more help than that, which was her cue to bring in “Mike.”

“Mike,” as it turned out, was a cemetery plot salesman. He pulled out a huge map and told me to follow him down the hill. We were originally in the right spot, just couldn’t find the right row. He showed me right to the grave site, which was surrounded by a literal ton of my other family members. He took notice and then consulted his map. He said,

“This is a lot of your family, then? WELL…. As it happens, we have a LOT of plots available RIGHT here! We can go right back up to the office and discuss your options if you’d like.”

I said, “No, thank you. I’m just here to take a photo of this grave stone for my DAR application.”

Mike said, “Oh. I hear that’s a very involved process. Well, it’s VERY rare to have so many open plots down here, so let me know if you want to talk about it.”

I’m thinking, I really don’t want to talk about my own burial plot today buddy, but thanks anyway.

I didn’t say that. “Well, thank you. I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

Mike said, “I hope you will….they won’t last long.”

AAAAHHHHH. Ok. Let’s get out of here.

Like I said before, cemetery field research is obviously something I will have to approach with a calm resolve. No one ever said that genealogy was boring.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: Vincent Spina or "James Penn" - Born 1874 Simbario, Calabria, Italy

So, we're not all Irish! We're a little bit Italian, too. Here's the proof:

This is the petition for naturalization for my great, great grandfather James Penn, whose real name we were told was Vincent Spino. This record proves at least half of this is semi-true, with his last name being "Spina" on this record. His son, Bruno, known as "Bruce," was my great grandfather. 

Below is a picture of James, with wife Sarah Payne, born 1881 in Lee County, VA and daughter Laura, born 1909 in Wise County, VA.

James, Sarah and Laura Penn, circa 1911, picture in possession of the author's grandmother
There is a record of a Vincent Spina arriving at Ellis Island in 1892, just as his naturalization record states, but immigration records at that time did not list much more than name, age and how many number of bags the immigrant had in their possession. He was by himself, but it did not state where he was going once he reached the U.S. This arrival could have been him, but I can't say for sure.

I do have a copy of James and Sarah's marriage license, which states that James was a widower at the time of their marriage on May 20, 1899. James, born in Italy, listed his parents as Bruno and Mary Penn on that document. 

A trip to Wise County, VA is in order for me to dig up information on his first marriage, among the ten thousand other things I need to look up down there. Looks like I'll need to win the lottery, so I can spend months in these courthouses. Luckily, most of my family comes from southwest Virginia/western North Carolina, so not too much traveling is required!

James was a coke puller in the Wise County coal mines.

James Penn, circa 1910's, coke puller, photo in possession of the author's grandmother
Raw coal was placed in a hot oven and the combustible properties of the coal were discharged and melted down. The result of that burning process was coke, which is used as a type of fuel and was also one of the materials used on the Apollo command module heat shields. James' job was to pull the coke out of the ovens when it was ready. It was hard work, especially in the heat of the summer.

James moved his family to Fluvanna County, VA sometime between 1930-1934. He died in 1962, eight years after Sarah passed away in 1954. Our family still owns a small farm just a few miles from where James and Sarah settled when they moved to Fluvanna over 80 years ago.

They are buried at Effort Baptist Church in Palmyra, VA.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Saturday, January 18, 2014

52 Ancestors: Hance Rector, Born Circa 1857, Madison County, North Carolina

The following is an excerpt of a paper I am writing on finding the birth parents of Hance Rector, born 1857, in Madison County, North Carolina. In said paper, I propose that Hance Rector is actually Hamilton Rector, born to James Rector and Jane Fortner of Madison County, NC. My hope in posting this is to find anyone who may have information to either confirm or dispute my theory.

"Hance Rector and Millry Grooms[1] (Millie or Emelia Grooms) were married on April 10, 1875 in Madison County, North Carolina, by Justice of the Peace J. Bradburn.[2]  Both were listed as being 18 years of age at the time of the marriage, consistent with the normal marriage age for the time. Witnesses at the union were Jacob Jarrett and Robert H. Rector.[3]

Seven children appear in the IGI Index for Madison County, NC records under the pair[4]:

George H. Rector                     born circa 1876

George H. Rector, circa 1900's, photo in possession of the author's aunt 

Malinda Jane Rector                  born circa 1878

Amanda Rector                         born circa 1883

John Wesley Rector                  born circa 1886

Garrison Garfield Rector           born circa 1893

Harrison William Rector           born circa 1893

Roy Mathew Rector                  born circa 1896


There was another child, James Harvey Rector, who was born in 1882 and was murdered in December of 1934 in McDowell County, WV. It is unclear why James Harvey does not show up in the IGI index, other than the fact that he went under the alias of John James after he murdered Charlie Davis over a poker game in 1911.

On July 17, 1877, we find that Hance Rector is granted land in Madison County, NC by a J.P. Rector and wife.[5] This date falls two years after his marriage to Millie Grooms.

“Hance Rectan” is found on the 1880 US Census for Madison County, NC.

Rectan, Hance, white, male, 23, farmer, born in NC

          , Millie, white, female, 22, keeping house, born in NC

          , George H, white, male, 4, son, born in NC

          , Malinda, white, female, 2, daughter, born in in NC

Next door, we find James Rector.

 Rector, James, white, male, 60, farmer, born in NC

                      , Jane, white, female, 60, keeping house, born in NC

                      , Katy, white, female, 14, daughter, at home, born in NC

                      , George, white, male, 12, son, farm laborer, born in NC

Hance is granted land by James and Jane Rector on August 15, 1885[6] April 9, 1891[7], and again on January 18, 1893.[8]  A transcription of the Madison County, NC deed made on August 15, 1885[9] finds James P. Rector and Jane Rector granting land totaling twelve and a half acres to Hance Rector that adjoins their own land, as well as the lands of Joseph Rector and Robert B. Roberts.

Moving forward to the 1900 U.S. Census for Madison County, NC, we find Millie Rector and family.

Rector, Millie, white, female, born March 1857, 43 years old, widowed

          , Amanda, white, female, born Oct 1882, 17 years old

          , John W., white, male, born Nov 1887, 13 years old

          , William H, white, male, born Oct 1893, 6 years old

          , Garrison G, white, male, born Oct 1893, 6 years old

Rector, Roy M, white, male, born Oct 1896, 3 years old

Rector, James, white, male, born August 1885, 14 years old, nephew, farm laborer

A Charlotte Observer newspaper article dated Wednesday, May 9, 1894 states that “Deputy Sheriff Hance Rector, while going along the Bear creek road last night about 10 o’clock to his home, was shot from ambush and instantly killed. George Roberts and his brother are suspected, but have not yet been found. The reason these men are suspected is that a feud existed between them and the dead man and threats had been made by them against Rector.” Only one other Hance Rector could be found in Madison County during that time period, a Hance Rector[10], born 1893 to George Rector and Sallie Lunsford[11]. This article would explain why Millie Rector was widowed by 1900.

There is still an issue, however, with the listing of Roy M Rector’s birth date of 1896. The North Carolina Index to Delayed Birth Certificates lists both Garrison Garfield Rector[12] and Harrison William Rector[13] being born on October 20, 1895 to Hance Rector and Millie Grooms. Millie lists the twins’ birth date as October 1893 on the 1900 census and backs up the claim by listing them as seven years old. Given the nature of a delayed birth registration, it is possible that the twins were born in 1893, but were incorrectly registered as having been born in 1895. Roy Mathew, however, does have an October 1896 birth date recorded on both the 1900 census and the Index to Delayed Birth Registrations for Madison County. In said index, he is listed as the son of "Horace" Rector and Millie Grooms. The first possibility here is that Roy’s birth date is recorded wrong in both places and he was actually born in October 1894, which would be correct timing for Hance to have been the father. Another possibility is that another man fathered Roy Mathew in 1896, after Hance Rector’s death. A third possibility is that the Hance Rector listed as being murdered by George Roberts in May 1894 is not the same Hance Rector as Millie’s husband."

I go on in this paper to present evidence as to why I believe Hance Rector is actually Hamilton Rector, born to James and Jane Rector, but I still do not have direct evidence. What I do have is a solid preponderance of the evidence case! I welcome any and all information anyone has on this family!


[1] Madison County, North Carolina. Marriage Records. County Records. File: “Hance Rector to Millry Grooms, 1875”; County Records Collection, Madison County, Marshall, North Carolina.
[2] Madison County, North Carolina. Marriage Records. County Records. File: “Hance Rector to Millry Grooms, 1875”; County Records Collection, Madison County, Marshall, North Carolina. J. Bradburn would have been Madison County, NC Justice of the Peace Joseph Bradburn.
[3] “Marriage Records,” online database, Rector Family (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/Marriages.html: accessed 31 October 2013), marriage listing, Hance Rector and Milly Grooms, 10 April 1875; citing Madison County North Carolina marriage records.
[4] International Genealogical Index, CD-ROM database (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1993), North American Region, entry for Hance Rector, born 1857, reference number F5800089.
[5] “1800s Grantee Index,” online database, Rector Family (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/1800sGranteeIndex.html: accessed 17 October 2006), deed listing, J.P. Rector and wife to Hance Rector, 17 July 1877; citing Madison County, North Carolina, Deeds G:387.
[6]  “Book T, Page 273,” Rector Family ((http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/BTP273.html:accessed 17 October 2006), deed transcription, James P. Rector to Hance Rector, 19 August 1885; citing Madison County, North Carolina, Deeds T:273.
[7] “Book T, Page 273,” Rector Family ((http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/BTP273.html:accessed 17 October 2006), deed transcription, James P. Rector to Hance Rector, 9 April, 1891; citing Madison County, North Carolina, Deeds T:273.
[8] “1800s Grantee Index,”
[9] “Book T, Page 273,” Rector Family ((http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/BTP273.html:accessed 17 October 2006), deed transcription, James P. Rector to Hance Rector, 19 August 1885; citing Madison County, North Carolina, Deeds T:273.
[10] 1900 U.S. Census, Madison County, North Carolina, population schedule, Marshall township, p.2A, family number 22, Jeremy Lunsford; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 14 February 2013); citing FHL microfilm publication 1241205.
[11] “Marriage Records,” online database, Rector Family (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rectorfamilies/Rector/Marriages.html: accessed 22 November 2013), marriage listing, George Rector and Sallie Lunsford, 17 August 1886; citing Madison County North Carolina marriage records.
[12] North Carolina. “Index to Delayed Birth Certificates,” digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 10 January 2014), entry for Garrison Garfield Rector, delayed birth record, citing 20 October 1895 birth.
[13] North Carolina. “Index to Delayed Birth Certificates,” digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 10 January 2014), entry for Harrison William Rector, delayed birth record, citing 20 October 1895 birth.

©copyright Piper Oneto

Thursday, January 9, 2014

52 Ancestors: #1 Dr. Herman Lee Harris

Below is a circa 1914 yearbook photo of my three times great uncle, Dr. Herman Lee Harris, born 1893 in Wise County, Virginia.

Courtesy of The College of William and Mary Digital Archives

He was the son of John D. Harris, my three times great grandfather, and his third wife, Louisa Greer. While most of John D. Harris' children stayed in Wise and/or Scott Counties, Herman Lee most certainly did not. He was accepted to The College of William and Mary on a Chancellor Scholarship. He graduated in 1915 with a Teacher's Diploma.

Courtesy of The College of William and Mary Digital Archives

After graduation, he served as an Officer in the United States Navy during World War I and from there went on to obtain a Master's degree from Columbia University, graduating in 1919. H. Lee was then the Superintendent of Schools for James City County, New Kent County and Williamsburg City in Virginia. He left Virginia in 1924 for Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1928. He came home to Southwest Virginia after graduating and was a well known ENT with a large family until his death in 1960.

He is one of my most fascinating ancestors and I enjoy learning more and more about him!

©copyright Piper Oneto