Friday, August 30, 2013

Dr. Herman Lee Harris - Coeburn, Wise, Virginia

One of the best things about genealogy is finding those ancestors who were quite accomplished, of whom most of the family has no knowledge. Such is the case of Dr. Herman Lee Harris, son of my three-times great grandfather John D. Harris and his third wife Louisa B. Greer.

Resources available to me on Herman Lee’s vital records are limited at best. I am hoping that someone may have more information on this (to all outward appearances) remarkable man, who had a rather impressive run at the College of William and Mary.

Herman Lee Harris was born in Flatwoods, Wise County, Virginia in February 19, 1893 (1). In 1900, the family was living in Lipps, Wise, Virginia with two of Louisa’s sons from a previous marriage, Dayton and Hugh Baker (2). John D. Harris worked as a farmer and was recorded as “A.D. Harris” on the census.

In 1909, Herman Lee Harris, from Coeburn, VA appears at the prestigious College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. A search of Herman Lee on gave me the clues needed to locate a digital copy of the William and Mary yearbook, “The Colonial Echo.” His impressive list of accomplishments at the school is outlined in his senior page from 1915 below (3).

I adore the personal description of Herman Lee on this page. So rarely do we, as genealogists, get an insight into an ancestor’s personality of this kind. To see one’s ancestor described as an “Adonis" is classic!

At the time of this writing, my records for Herman Lee for the time period between 1918-1935 are incomplete. I found a World War I draft registration card from 1917 on that lists Herman Lee Harris from Coeburn, VA as having the occupation of navigation inspector with the Department of Commerce in Norfolk, VA. I have been unsuccessful in locating Herman Lee in the 1920 or 1930 census records.

What I do know is that by 1940, Herman Lee was the doctor of medicine at the Clinch Valley Hospital in Tazewell, Virginia, as evidenced in the 1940 US Census and Herman Lee’s World War II draft registration card(4).

I would love to find out more about this man. We know based on his World War II draft registration card that he did marry, but his wife is listed as Mrs. H.L. Harris. I would love to find out more on his experience as a navigation inspector, where he attended medical school and what was the history, if any, behind the Clinch Valley Hospital prior to his arrival.

(1). "U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942," digital image,, ( : Accessed 26 July 2013), Herman Lee Harris; citing .
(2). 1900 U.S. Census, Wise County, VA, population schedule, Lipps, enumeration district (ED) 126, page 73, household 254, A D Harris; digital image, ( : Accessed 23 April 2013).

(3). “Colonial Echo: The W&M Digital Archive.” Issue date 1915, volume 17. Accessed July 26, 2013 from
(4). 1940 US Census, Tazewell County, VA, population schedule, Richlands, enumeration district (ED) 93-17, page 21A, Herman Lee Harris; digital image, ( : Accessed 26 July 2013); NARA.

©2013 copyright, Piper Oneto

Thursday, August 29, 2013


You may be wondering about the title of my blog: What Do You Mean, We're Irish?

My great-grandfather, shown in the picture above, was half Italian. His father was born in Italy and his mother was born in Southwest Virginia. My great-grandfather was born in Southwest Virginia, as was my great-grandmother, who is also shown in the picture. We had been told all of our lives that, as far as my mom's side was concerned, we were Italian, no if's, and's or but's. My grandmother, my mother and my brother certainly had the tan skin and the dark hair that my great-grandfather had, so I didn't question it. In fact, I proclaimed it with pride whenever someone asked about my cultural background. "I'm Italian! Proud of it, too! I make a MEAN lasagna!"

I have been teased about my extraordinarily fair skin, complete with freckles and a light shade of red in my hair, for my entire life. I just figured that my paleness came from my dad's line, which was English/Scottish. Even so, I staunchly maintained that I was Italian, even though nothing in my complexion suggested that there was anything Italian about me. People often looked at me, with what I describe as the "Elvis lip confusion face" when I loudly proclaimed, "I'm Italian! Definitely not Irish in any way, shape or form!"

My husband is indeed half-Italian and our last name is proof of that pudding. Once we got married, I held onto that last name for dear life, because that solidified my Italian-ness! No mistake about being Italian now!

After my great-grandmother passed away in 2004, I quickly came to the realization that I knew next to nothing about her parents, where she grew up, etc. I panicked and jumped onto to determine if I could locate Grandma's parents. I was successful in finding her, her siblings and parents on the 1920 census. In doing this research, I was bitten by the genealogy bug we all know so well. This bite led me to research all branches of our family.

One thing led to another in my research and over a period of a year, I traced my southwest Virginia lines back to the early 1800's. Names such as Dougherty, Kilgore and Armstrong started showing up everywhere. What I eventually found out was that 99.9999999% of my family on both my mom and dad's side are Scotch-Irish.


I walked out of my office one day (sulking, more like it) after the realization hit that, yes, I am Irish. Hardcore Irish.

I looked at my husband and said, "You know, I think I'm only one thirty second Italian. I'm pretty much all Irish."

He looked at me with the "Elvis lip confusion face" and said, "You think?!"

So, while I do have a full blooded Italian great-great grandfather, he is only one of eleven other great-great grandfathers who are mostly Irish, Scottish or English.

Genealogy has a way of rocking us to the very core regarding our identities. All my life, I had identified myself as a true Italian, when in reality, I am, for the most part, all Irish. 

Having done tons of research on these ancestors of mine, I am now proud to say that I am Irish, as my progenitors were some pretty amazing people. My hope on this blog is to share what I have learned about my amazing family and help others who may be researching the same areas/surnames as me.

*Picture in the author's private collection: Bonnie Alverna Reed and Bruce Daniel Penn 1932

©2013 copyright, Piper Oneto