The Many Loves Of Boston Irwin

Boston Irwin is my maternal Alabama Great-great-grandfather. He continued to spell his last name as the people who held his family in bondage.

Boston was born during the Civil War in Shorterville, Alabama. The state has landmarked the area with a historical marker describing the Irwin Empire.

Boston grew up surrounded by love. The 1870 census lists 25 Black people with the Irwin surname enumerated together. The extended family was fortunate to be reunited. Keeping the enslaver’s name more than likely helped the relatives find one another after Alabama ratified the 13th amendment that abolished slavery on December 2, 1865.

Prior to emancipation, the domestic slave trade tore African American families apart. Many other newly freed African Americans were alone. They adopted or fostered families from the plantations where they cohabitated and worked. Sometimes I think terms, play cousins, big mommas, and aunties derived from this Black experience.

Boston’s immediate family included a younger sister, Martha, and parents, Luke and Malisa.

United States 1880 census, Alabama, Henry, Shorterville, ED 85. Nearly 20 years after the war among the states, my ancestors remained in Henry County.

Boston experienced so much exposure to Black Love. He made his first commitment in 1883 to love his wife, Jennie, at the age of 21.

Georgia Marriages, 1808 -1967

Knowing that Love never fails, Boston made another commitment to Love to his second wife, Fannie, in 1890.

Georgia Marriages 1808 -1967

There is an expression that family is everything. You know Cousin Love. Boston and his first Cousin Ellen produced a Love Child named Alma. Alma’s conception was no secret. When Alma and her sister Sarah visited her niece Mary’s house, Mary’s youngest daughter recalls, “We always called Sarah cousin and Alma aunt.”

When Boston’s sons Jarrett and Elgin relocated to Columbus, Ohio, he supported their decision, followed them, and showed unconditional parental love.

1925 Columbus City Directory. It shows Boston lives with his youngest son, Elgin and works at Elgin’s restaurant as a waiter.

However, Boston had no Love for the city. The story goes that he didn’t like the city life and returned down South. This story does not include an exact location for down South. His wife Fannie had passed, his parents were deceased, and Ellen was gone. His sister Martha Balkum, now a widow lived with her daughter Vera and her son-in-law, Lester Miller, in Shorterville.

Boston loved again. He loved himself, the best kind of love.

My Aunts told me; After Boston returned down South, he shopped in a store. A white teenage store clerk demanded that Boston address him as Sir.

Boston didn’t like the city life but had become accustomed to the Northern ways. Boston responded, “Why should I call you Sir”?

He was referring to the boy’s age.

Boston had self-respect, Black Love.

Even though a noose may not be involved, when mob violence occurs that is racially motivated, it’s a lynching. My Great-great-grandpa was a victim of a lynch mob.

My mother added to this account that Boston’s son had to go down South and identify his body. I was a young girl when I heard this story. I immediately asked Boston’s son, my Great-grandpa Ervin, “Was your daddy lynched? And you had to go down South and claim his body?”

Grandpa Erin dropped his head low and nodded yes.

He was a dutiful son who faced a challenging task to return to the scene of the crime; he did it in love. He gave his father a proper burial.

Family is everything.

Say his name and love yourself.

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Making revelations and family connections. Genealogy, Family History, African American Family History


Walter Lee Jennings is my maternal ancestor. I recall family members sharing oral histories about Walter Lee. I never saw a photograph but heard a description of him, tall and with a thick mustache. 

Before he grew a mustache, he grew up as a Virginia farmer with his 12 sisters and brothers on his parents’ land. Walter Lee was born on October 18th in 1879, in Halifax County. His father, Orange Jennings, registered Walter’s birth with his wife, Mary. County Birth registries are very similar to birth certificates. The registry provides birth date, full name, an ethnic description, gender, type of delivery: live or stillbirth, place of birth, and the father’s full name (if the parents were married). Virginia began issuing vital records, birth and death certificates around 1912.

I stumbled across this lead for the Virginia birth registries while researching on Our Black The site is similar to FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and Ancestry websites that maintain genealogical documents and an opportunity for members to connect with distant relatives.

As a young man, Walter married his teenage bride, Elnora. The couple ventured away from their farm labor community for the ironworks companies.  Walter became a Steel Mill worker in Pennsylvania.

A fellow researcher and author, Lander Anderson Jr. retrieved this record for me at the Halifax County Courthouse in 2019. Halifax County, VA 1901, Walter Jennings and Elnora Freeman’s marriage license.

Local Philadelphia history states Midvale Steel employed many African American workers during the 1890s through the 1920s. There isn’t any evidence that points that he was an employee at Midvale. However, Elnora delivered their firstborn son, Noel, whose name later changed to Frank, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania’s birth registry confirms Walter Lee’s occupation.

I accessed this record at local Family History Center of the Church of the Later Days Saints. It’s a printout from a microfilm roll.
“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906”

The family relocated to an Ohio border town called Youngstown, near Pennsylvania. Walter continued to employ himself in the Steel Mill industry. His work commute was the Sharon Line electric car. The electric “car” he rode to work is not like the Hybrid fuel/electric vehicles you see on the roads today. The Sharon Line was like a city bus whose route began in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Walt’s former home location on Regis Street is part of the historical African American Community called Sharonline.

How Great-grandpa completed his enlistment card tells a lot him. He is into the details and he goes by Walt. This Military World War II enrollment card is available on

Walt became a widower, a single parent of three children, Frank, Adele, and Lee, after Elnora’s death in 1908. Walter returned to his family’s farm for his parents to raise his children. He married again four years later in Michigan and continued to live in Youngstown without his children. The marriage to Margret Cobb produced his youngest son, Walter Roy, who went by Roy, and Uncle Roy’s son shared a photograph with me.

While visiting my Cousin Becky, she suggested that our cousin may have a photograph of Walter Lee. I found an address and mailed a card introducing myself and including family photos. In exchange he sent me this photograph. His Grandparents Walt and Mags were in a wedding party.

My family described him correctly. Don’t you agree? I was so excited to receive this photo and show my mother a photo of her Grandfather. She never met him.

Walt remained a Steel Worker until the day he died. He collapsed on the job of a heart attack at the age of 68. His daughter, Adele, age 58, and sons Frank, age 71, and Lee, age 69, suffered the same ending. If you are a Walter Lee Jennings descendant reading this entry, be mindful of our medical history of heart disease.

Thank you, cousins Walter, Rebecca, Carolyn, Aunt Eleanor, my late Uncle Arthur, and my mother. I could not have shared our ancestor, Walter Lee Jennings’ account without you.

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Walt was one of a few of his 12 siblings to leave their hometown.

Are you an Ohio or a Virginia Jennings descendant? There are Pennsylvania and D.C families as well. Please comment below.

Mother knows best, Fannie H. Irwin

Fannie Hertz is my Great-great-grandmother. She married her second husband Boston Irwin on April 12th, 1890.

Georgia County Marriages, 1785-1950, database images, Georgia Dept. Archives and History, Morrow, GA

Fannie was a Civil War baby born in February 1865, Alabama. Her Georgia born parents are still a mystery. When she was born, Henry County, AL, did not experience any significant battles during the nation’s conflict over slavery. Alabama ratified the 13th amendment to abolish slavery on December 2nd, 1865.

Abstracted U.S. Census 1900 Shorterville, Alabama.
Fannie with her children and her occupation, farmer. It also indicates that she can read.
Abstracted U.S. 1910 Census Shorterville, Alabama.
Boston told the Census Taker that he and Fannie had previous marriages.
Abstracted U.S. 1920 Census Shorterville, Alabama. Boston and Fannie are empty nesters. Fannie said her parents were from Georgia. Notice two houses down, Hurst family, Ida Hurst says her parents are from Georgia as well. Hertz and Hurst sound a like. Are they Fannie’s relatives?

Shorterville, a rural area of Henry County, is where Fannie raised her children and worked her farm on the land she rented. She was educated and was into life coaching her children, Pearla, Jarrett, Elgin and Arie. According to family stories, she would be considered a helicopter parent by today’s standards. Once I go into this account, maybe a Monster-in-law would fit better.

When her son, my Great-grandfather, Jarrett, lived in Florida and married an older woman. Fannie visited the newlyweds. Nothing unusual about a mother’s visit to bless a new couple. It’s to be expected. Marriage is not just two people; it’s the blending of families.

Fannie didn’t bless. There was no blending.

Fannie disapproved of Jarrett’s choice of a matured woman. She told her son his wife was too old.

Eventually, Jarrett followed his mother back to Alabama. Fannie introduced him to a young Sarah Grimsley. Jarrett and Sarah married, raised children, shared hardships, and endured until death did they part.

Mother knew best. I am so thankful for Fannie’s wisdom. I would not be here if it weren’t for her motherly guidance.

Some people call it meddling. But the reality is a mother’s intuition is fail-proof.

Are you thankful for your mother’s advice? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sister-mother, Sarah LOU GRIMSLEY

My Great-grandmother Sarah was the oldest daughter of Nettie Smart and Samuel Anderson Grimsley.

Sarah was born in 1893, long after the emancipation of slavery in 1865, to liberate enslaved people from their long field working days without pay. However, the long, laborious days of fieldwork consumed her life and denied her an education.

A sister-mother is when the oldest daughter fulfills the motherly duties to her younger siblings.

Abstracted 1910 Federal Census

Sarah’s parents were Sharecroppers.

Alabama 1880 Agriculture population record. It shows Sam Grimsley renting his plot. Besides Thomas Bell, everyone else owned their land. They also owned horses and mules to assist in plowing. My ancestors were strong.

Many people who study Southern African American History call sharecropping another form of slavery because they often did not profit from their labor. While Sarah’s parents worked the fields in rural Shorterville, Alabama. Sarah attended to her siblings and not school. This experience made Sarah an expert homemaker, caregiver, and illiterate. My Aunt shared a childhood memory of how she asked Granny to help her with her homework.

Granny replied,” Gal, you know I can’t read.”

At the mature age of 19, Sarah married Jarret Irwin, 26, a recent divorcé, on December 8th, 1912. Sarah’s youngest sibling, Nettie Mae, was one year old. It was time for Sarah to raise her own family. Her first pregnancy delivered fraternal, boy-girl, twins, L.D., and M.E. M.E is Mary Emma. She lived to adulthood; L.D. did not. Sarah had eight more children. Six of them reached adulthood.

The family name is currently spelled, Ervin. Family members speculate the change is due to Jarrett leaving his first marriage.

Sarah followed Jarrett to Georgia, where he worked at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad station in Waycross. The family lived there for 10 years or so. Sons James Carl, Leroy, and Robert were born there.

During their time in Georgia, Sarah contracted Tuberculosis; T.B. By the 1920s, T.B. deaths had significantly been reduced by healthy nutrition and proper sanitary practices. But just like our present COVID-19 pandemic with social distancing and wearing masks, people are still contracting the virus. Granny was so ill that her husband arranged for her to visit the Lookout Mountain sanatorium in Tennessee. Jarrett planned for their children to live with other families. In a last-ditch effort or the size of mustard seed faith belief, Jarrett heard a famous evangelist, C.H. Mason, would be hosting a camp meeting in Waycross. Sarah was so weak she could not walk. Jarrett carried her and laid a pallet on the ground for her. While C.H. Mason ministered the word of God, he noticed Sarah lying on the ground. He looked at her and said, “Woman, be thou healed!” Sarah immediately leaped from her bed and began to praise the Lord. She and Jarrett walked home together. She even carried their youngest child, Robert, on her hip. Her miraculous healing is a testimony that Sarah would always share that God healed her. My Aunt remembers taking Sarah to the doctor in the ’60s at Ohio State University Hospital. The physician remarked he could tell she had T.B. at some point. Sarah replied, “God healed me.”

Sarah and Jarrett migrated to Ohio to leave the hostility of Jim Crow racism. Sarah’s first cousin, Grover Cleveland Fields, lived in Columbus with his family since 1917.

A page from the 1923 Columbus City Directory. The Grimsley and Ervin families lived on Naghten Avenue before the city built Columbus Technical Institute, CTI. It is now known as Columbus State Community College.

Not long after their arrival to the “Northern paradise free from racism,” they experienced the worst type of tragedy as parents resulting in their two youngest sons’ deaths. Leroy, three, and Robert, two years old, became violently ill. Their oldest son, James Carl, survived the incident and told his parents; a white male neighbor gave them rice. Their death certificate stated the cause of death as Broncho-Pneumonia. The family believed the boys had died from poisoning. Leroy and Robert died four days apart. Two years later, the family grew again with another son named after Jarrett, nicknamed Jerry Jr.

Green Lawn Cemetery registry lists that Robert and Leroy are in the same grave. Photo Credit to FindAGrave Volunteer, Patty.

Respiratory issues continued to plague the family. Sarah, with her baby daughter, Effie, had rehabilitation visits at the Franklin County Sanatorium. Sarah recovered and birthed three more children: Nettie, Michael, and Lee. 14 month-old Effie succumbed to her respiratory illness. The couple buried her, a fourth child, on June 3rd, 1930.

Effie died at the Franklin County Sanatorium.

Sarah’s sister-mothering skills benefitted her family outside of the home, too. She was a domestic for private families. She was industrious as well. She and Jarrett’s property had indoor plumbing, which was a luxury in their neighborhood. Sarah charged ten cents per bath. Sarah ran the numbers. Before Ohio sanctioned the state-operated lottery, there was the illegal numbers racket. My cousin recalled accompanying Granny to the corner store to place the number orders.

One of Sarah’s noted skills was baking. The family had a restaurant in downtown Columbus. Sarah baked pies for their Black-owned business.

1934 Columbus City Directory listed Sarah’s brother-in-law, Elgin Ervin as the Restauranteur.

By the time I was born, Sarah had begun to display some Alzheimer’s disease behaviors. We called it old-timers.

At this time, Sarah and Jarrett lived with their oldest daughter, my Grandmother, Mary.

Sarah would revert to her domestic, sister-mothering, parenting days, wrap me up and leave the house. No one knew where we were. They called the police. We finally returned home. Sarah asked, “What? When she noticed the cop cars in front of the house. And answered, “I was walking my baby!”

I remember the day Sarah left for the last time in an ambulance stretcher. She died on October 30th, 1970.

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Eastlawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH. Photo Credit to FindAGrave Volunteer, Gene.
Sarah L. Grimsley Ervin. Photo provided by Trina.

Who is your Great Family Matriarch? Please comment below. I would like to hear from you.


This entry is updated to reflect new information to correctly tell the story.

Growing up, I remember hearing my paternal Grandmother Ann and her sisters saying there were six girls and one boy. Their mother had six daughters and one son. However, my research shows there was one more girl living in their childhood home.

I found evidence of Grand Aunt Fannie’s birth online at The online repository stores Birth, Death and Marriage documents. It is a free database to research your West Virginia ancestors. The West Virginia Birth registry recorded her birth as April 25th, 1917, Mildred Frances Ford. I learned two interesting details of Aunt Fannie’s birth from this document. First, my Great-Grandfather’s Willard’s middle initial. (New information: I am not a Ford descendant.) It’s the letter G. Secondly, it includes the doctor’s name, Dr. G.S. Gouchenour who assisted in the delivery. I wonder if Aunt Fannie was the first doctor-assisted delivery for Great-Grandma Sallie, because her other deliveries do not list a physician in the registry.

Abstracted, West Virginia, Births Index, 1804 – 1938,, the “C” is for colored.

Fannie lived her most of her life in Moorefield, West Virginia. Three census records from the 1920s -1940s chronicle her whereabouts. Fannie first appears as Mildred with the middle initial F, at age two. When Fannie is twelve years old, the census lists her as M. Francis. At 17, she married Richard James Rowe. The newlyweds lived with his mother. It looks like she has chosen her middle name as her first name. She is Francis M. Rowe in the 1940 census.

1940 US Federal Census abstract , South Fork, Hardy, W.VA

Richard became a sailor when he enlisted in the Navy in October of 1940. I can imagine the couple sharing a tearful good-bye when he departed to serve our country. Rowe participated in the critical World War II battles against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean. He may have entertained the thought that he would leave their marriage first by being a causality. WWII was one of the deadliest military conflicts.

Abstracted U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947

Before Richard left to serve, the family migrated from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia to the Queen City of Maryland, Cumberland, where her older brother, Charles owned a Rooming House. The couple lived in that Rooming house on North Mechanic Street. While Richard was at war, Aunt Fannie became ill. She had a wisdom extracted with instructions stay home. She didn’t follow the doctor orders. She caught pneumonia. Fannie died at Memorial Hospital at the age of 27.

I titled the blog entry, “The Forgotten Aunt Fannie,” but I realized Aunt Fannie is not forgotten. She has a namesake. Her sister Mary Jane graced her only daughter with the name, Mildred. Mary Jane and Mildred Francis (Aunt Fannie) were two years apart in age. I have known my cousin Mildred since childhood. I didn’t know her name was out of honor of an aunt whose life was short-lived.

Here’s Aunt Fannie’s obituary that appeared in the Cumberland Times. The obituary has many family names inaccuracies. I am beginning to think this obituary started with the six daughters and one son account. Fannie was the first sibling to pass. It describes her survivors as six sisters and one brother. Her parents’ name are incorrect, Willard and Sallie Method. Method is Sallie’s maiden name. Not all of her sisters were married at this time. Aunt Helen was still single. My Grandma Ann and her sister, Edna were single parents at the time of their sister’s death.

Cumberland Evening Times, Cumberland, Maryland
Wed, Nov 01, 1944 · Page 9

Even though Aunt Fannie died in Maryland she is buried in her hometown. Her grave marker doesn’t include her name Mildred at all. I know it’s my aunt’s grave because her husband’s name is on the her tombstone.

Oak Hill Cemetery, Moorefield, W.V. Photo Credit: Jeff on

Thank you for stopping by. What discoveries have you made in your family research? Did you have any ancestors who fought in WWII? Do you have any name-changers in your family?

If you enjoyed reading my family history and are curious about your family stories, but need help and direction in research, contact me, Cousin Tammy at

The Princess, the Divorcee’ and the Queen

Adele Jennings Roller Gaskin was my maternal Grand Aunt, my Grandpa Lee’s only, older sister, and Walter and Elnora Jennings’ middle child, a princess.

Adele was five years older than my Grandpa. I am positive she was mommy’s little helper. I am more confident that she continued to nurture her baby brother when their mother passed in Youngstown, Ohio, 1908.

Eleven years later, Adele married Benjamin Frank Roller. The newlyweds lived with Frank’s family. If you are to choose your spouse based upon looks, Adele did very well. The problem is other women found Frank attractive too. All three wives after my aunt thought so! Notably, the second wife who became the mother of his oldest child nine months before his wedding to Aunt Adele. Thus, their marriage did not last long.

James, Maud, Lorenzo, Rufus, Frank, Ernest and Odel Roller. The census taker incorrectly spelled her name and relationship status to the head of household.
Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Frank Roller November 29th, 1919 Mahoning County, Ohio.

Three years later, Adele lived alone on the same street as her Aunt Mollie and Uncle Jordan Freeman in Columbus, Ohio. In 1927 she finalized her divorce to Frank and relocates to Pennsylvania. Aunt Adele, the divorcee’ is living her best life in the city of Love, Philadelphia. She rented a home and sublet to two people.

Adell Jennings looking fashionable and confident.

Aunt Adele visited her brothers in Ohio. She gave her favorite nieces money and gifts. Aunt Dell had a favorite niece per brother, per city. She was being a Queen, lavishing her gifts as she pleased. Aunt Dell critiqued her brothers’ households, handed out chores to her subjects (nieces and nephews), her pet niece she entertained during her entire visit.

On some visits, she only made an appearance to chat on the porch with her favorite niece to bequeath her with a monetary gift.

Later in life, Adele found love again in a younger man. Being the Queen that she was she had her own home, she earned her own money and showered herself with jewelry, fine perfumes and furs. She needed an escort, a companion. When Adell dated Donald L. Gaskin, he was nine years her junior, estranged from his wife.

Adele experienced heart failure at the age of 58 inside the home she shared with Donald due to a chronic heart condition, which is hereditary. The Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital pronounced her dead on arrival on January 12th, 1961 at 6:45 pm in Darby, PA. She died the same way as her father, Walter. Her brother, Frank would pass 11 years after her in 1972 and her baby brother, my Grandpa Lee in 1976.

If you’re my Jennings-Freeman cousin reading this entry, please be advise of our family’s heart history and take heed.

In closing, I say when people know better, they do better. Aunt Adele didn’t know how to show affection equally. Alternatively, I could describe her actions as there were too many nieces and nephews. There were nearly ten of them. Aunt Dell focused on one child per family to share her presence and presents.

After all, she was the princess, who became a divorcee’ that ruled her world like a Queen.

Photos & Convos

In this entry, I will share how to research at home. Researching your family’s history doesn’t always consist of library trips, state archives visits, and online database searches. It begins with you.

You have access to family bibles, photo albums, scrapbooks, and conversations. These are excellent family research resources.

How to begin your family research at home.

  1. Write down what you know about your parents and grandparents, that’s six people. Add your great-grandparents that 14 people. You are off to a great start!
  2. Search your family photo albums and family bibles. Gently peel the photos out and flip the back for names, locations, and dates. Family bibles will have a marriage, birth, and death dates.
  3. Visit your elders. Begin a conversation about what you remember about your relatives and allow them to correct you.
  4. Bring/buy a flatbed photo scanner. Or download a scanner app. Using an app is more time consuming because you will be scanning photos individually. Don’t forget to write down the information about the pictures.
  5. Use your smartphone or device to record their conversations. Ask, “May, I record your story?”

Recently a cousin posted a photo on social media of her dad, Jarrett Ervin Jr. and his cousin Samuel Crawford posing with their mothers, my Great-grandmother Sarah Grimsley Ervin (b. 1893), and my Great Aunt Mamie Grimsley Crawford (b. 1899). The black and white photo was in a park setting.

Cousin Sam, Aunt Mamie, Granny, and Uncle Jerry at Columbus Zoo 1968

I asked, “Was this photo taken in 1968?” My cousin answered she didn’t know any details about the picture. I posted a similar photo of me sitting in a baby carrier on a picnic table. I added I believe this was on the same day.

In carriers: Cousin Jay and me. Standing: Cousin Tony and Grandma Mary, 1968.

I texted my mom the pictures. I asked if she remembered the event. She answered no, but she enjoyed seeing her Granny and auntie.

Out of the two photos, three people are still living, me, my cousins Jay and Tony. Jay wouldn’t know more than me because he’s only three weeks older than me, but Tony is ten years older than us. I asked my mom if she had Cousin Tony’s telephone number. She gave me two different numbers for him. The first one I dialed, he answered.

My call surprised Tony because we hadn’t talked in years. I texted him the photos. But he didn’t need to see them he knew what pictures I was describing to him. He gave me the details.

Tony said it was a family reunion. We use to have them every year at the Columbus Zoo.

After my conversation with Tony, I followed up with my mom. Now she remembers. My mom added Ohio state employees with their families received a free day at the zoo. Uncle Jim, Sarah’s son, was State employee. I thought, Wow! Uncle Jim got his entire extended family into the zoo free annually.

The Columbus Zoo had an amusement park on the same grounds. My mom said the rides were free, too. However, there was an admittance fee to visit the animals.

This family historical event has been accurately recorded through a family home visit to scan photos, a social media posting, and three telephone conversations.

If you doubt that the photos were taken on the same day, take into consideration that the top photo is a picture of a picture. The bottom photo was scanned and restored through an app. Before restoration, it was severely discolored and scratched. I had baby spit-up on my chin too.

History of the Columbus Zoo.

  1. In 1927, the Columbus Zoological Park opened in Columbus, Ohio.
  2. In the 1940s, the zoo increased its number of animals.
  3. In 1951, the City of Columbus began to manage the zoo.
  4. In 1978, Jack Hanna became the zoo’s Executive Director. He worked as the director for 14 years. Hanna appeared on television shows and made the Columbus Zoo nationally known.

The history of the Columbus Zoo is from .

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A Sister’s Love, Annie Jennie Grimsley Tiller

Great Aunt Jennie was the third daughter of my maternal Great-Great-grandparents, Samuel Grimsley and Nettie Smart. Her oldest sister was my Great-grandmother Sarah Lula Grimsley Ervin.

My Grimsley ancestors lived in Abbeville, Henry County, Alabama. Henry County’s border touches the Georgia’s state line.

Sarah, her husband, Jarrett Ervin, and their four children migrated to Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1920s.

Jennie and her husband, Carl Tiller were a childless couple. They migrated to Bayonne, New Jersey, in the early 1930s.

Annie Jennie nicknamed Zada called Sadie came to visit her sister in 1932.

How do I know these names are for the same person?

  1. 1910 Alabama Census shows daughter Gennie Grimsley, nine years old.
  2. 1920 Alabama Census shows daughter Annie Grimsley, 18 years old.
  3. The Ohio death certificate shows, Jennie Tiller, her parents Sam and Nettie
  4. The Alabama marriage certificate shows Zada and Carl Tiller
  5. 1930 New Jersey Census shows Jennie Tiller

My mom’s oldest sister, Aunt Ceil, told me this story about Jennie’s visit.

Jennie didn’t return home to her husband.

Sarah had been ill, near death. When Jennie saw her lying in bed, she prayed, “God allow me to take on her sickness so she can care for her many children.” Sarah had four children at the time of her sister’s visit; three sons and a daughter had previously passed. After her prayer, Jennie became ill. She laid down in Sarah’s bed. Sarah’s health improved, and she rose out of that bed. Jennie died. Family members said an image of a dove appeared and flew away when Jennie passed.

Just like that Aunt Jennie went onto glory.

Abstracted Jennie Tiller’s death certificate

I never repeated that story, until I found some evidence that supports Aunt Ceil’s account about an aunt dying on a visit to Columbus.

Jennie Tiller’s Ohio death certificate shows that she was not a Columbus resident. Jennie died from Bronchial Pneumonia, Influenza on December 19th, 1932. Mrs. Irvin, Sarah is the informant. I discovered a small blurb in the 1933 Jersey Journal Newspaper stating Carl Tiller was an heir to $500 from Jennie’s death.


The Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It is still a dangerous illness to contract. According to the 1932 Mortality schedule, 129,540 people died to Influenza and pneumonia. Data for Columbus, Ohio, shows that over 200 African Americans died in 1932 from the illness. Jennie is in that number.

Mortality Schedule 1932 Columbus, Ohio African Americans died from the Flu or Pneumonia like illnesses

There is an expression that says; There is no greater love than a brother to lay down his life for another. In this story, Jennie had loved her sister; she died for Sarah to live.

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The repositories and databases I accessed to support my Aunt’s account of our family history are listed below.

Familysearch an online census records database.

GenealogyBank, an online newspaper database.


UPDATE: On June 15th, 2021, A correction includes Sarah lost a daughter.

Elnora Freeman Jennings

My mother introduced me to my maternal Great-grandmother Elnora Freeman Jennings in 1976. It was a 1908 Memorial portrait, a casket photograph. As creepy as a photo of a dead person sounds, I am glad my Great-grandfather Walter Lee Jennings agreed to have the picture made of his wife. She was pretty. My mom looks like her. Matter of fact, their hair was styled the same that day in Afros. Grandma Nora was a head of her time, a “Naturalista.”

Memorial Portraits were common back in the day, but Grandma Elnora’s is the only one I saw in my family to have one made. I think her husband decided to have the picture made so their children would remember their mother. When she passed their children were young. Frank was turning seven, Adele was five years old, and Arthur, who went by his middle name Lee was only 18 months.

The Youngstown Vindicator Newspaper issue November 11th, 1908 reads “Mrs. Jennings dead.” The death announcement included her cause of death, Typhoid Fever.

The cause of death surprised me. The story I heard was that she died on an operating table.

I am familiar with Typhoid Fever disease. In third grade, I gave an oral report on Typhoid Mary, a New York Cook, Mary Mallon infected 51 people from 1907 – 1915. Three people died as a result. There was an epidemic in Philadelphia in 1906. Elnora gave birth to Frank in that city in 1901. Maybe my Great-grandparents lived Philly for a few years.

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid Fever is contracted through contaminated food or water. During this time, people did not use or prepare food with the healthy practices that we use today. We wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and do not eat food at room temperature. The disease is related to Salmonella poisoning. In 1914 an Army doctor developed a Typhoid vaccine that became available for the general public six years after Elnora’s death.

Before becoming a mother and a wife, Elnora was the seventh child of Henry and Hannah Freeman in Halifax County, Virginia. Her mother Hannah Palmer Young died in 1892. Elnora was eight years old. Her father remarried. The 1900 census record shows Henry with his new bride, Rebecca Hamlet, daughter, Elnora, twin daughters Martha and Mary, and stepson Aron Hamlet. Elnora’s six older siblings no longer lived at home.

Even though my mom looks like her, my mom is not her namesake. Her sister is. I learned that a namesake doesn’t share the exact spelling of the honorary person’s name. I ran into research challenges online. My aunt spells her name E-l-e-a-n-o-r like former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. When I typed Elnora’s name like my aunt spells her name, a birth registry for Nora appeared on I thought to dismiss the hint, but I read the entire entry. I recognized Great-grandpa’s name and my Grandpa’s name included on the 1907 Ohio Birth Registry. Then I accepted the document as proof of Elnora’s existence.

The next document I found for Elnora is when she married her husband on March 5th, 1901. Her marriage registration does not list her parents, only Walter’s. I wonder if her father approved of her choice. Their oldest son, Frank was born nine months later on December 25th. Grand Uncle Frank’s birth registry shows his name a Noel. I guess Elnora felt the Noel fit due to the holiday. Uncle Frank didn’t keep Noel as his first name. Records show Uncle Frank using the letter N as his middle initial. The N is not for Noel, but Nora.

Abstracted marriage registry Halifax County, VA 1901 Family History Center

The birth registry included Elnora’s birth place as Virginia. This detail also confirmed that this entry was my family. Grandpa Lee would share stories about growing up in Virginia. After Elnora passed Walter Lee’s parents Orange and Mary Jennings raised Uncle Frank, Aunt Adele and Grandpa Lee on their Halifax County farm. Walter Lee remained in Youngstown working the steel mills.

The steel mills is what bought Elnora and Walter Lee to Youngstown, Ohio. The Youngstown city directories give three different addresses for the young family from 1906 through 1908. In 1906 they lived at 478 Andrews Avenue. The second address in 1907 was on 1401 West Federal Avenue. Then in 1908 they resided at 1856 West Federal Avenue, her last home.

Walter Lee remarried in 1912 to a Canadian woman of African descent named Margaret Cobb. Family members I interviewed shared that her nickname was “Mags.” She gave birth to my Grandfather’s youngest brother, Uncle Roy in 1916.

I mention Grandpa Walter Lee’s second marriage because many relatives believe that’s his only marriage. They never heard the name, Elnora, their direct ancestor. Without her, many of us would not be here.

Elnora Freeman Jennings Never Forgotten Never Forget

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Finding Obituaries

There are online services that have historical newspapers databases. Some are free and some have a fee. I always try free first when searching for obituaries.

I several documents told Elnora’s story. My Amazon Affiliate program has the tools to stay organized!

Special Thanks to the Ohio Genealogy Society and Stacey Adger for their time in locating the news articles and burial records.


In this blog, I am sharing how my interest in family history began after watching the 1977’s T.V. series Roots by Alex Haley.

I was so inspired by Mr. Haley’s storytelling of his family’s history that my mom bought me an Ebony Jr., family research kit to build my family tree and a cassette tape recorder to record my family interviews.

I scheduled my first interview with my Great-grandpa Jarrett Ervin. Ervin is spelled E-R-V-I-N. I am pointing out this spelling because it has changed over the years. Great-Grandpa was in his 90s. He lived in Columbus, Ohio, with his oldest daughter Mary, who was my maternal Grandmother. Grandpa Ervin’s bedroom was at the end of the hall.

His room had an armoire, and not a closet. 

He was a widower by seven years. His wife Great-grandma Sarah Grimsley Ervin passed in 1970.

I asked him my first question, “Grandpa Ervin, What was it like living in Alabama?”

As he opened his box of photos, he answered slavery. He handed me a picture of a woman standing in a field of cotton. He pointed that’s my sister.

I couldn’t focus on the photograph because his answer confused me.

Grandpa Ervin, you were not born in slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was during the Civil War. I explained.

He repeated that it was slavery. Then he signaled for me to return his photo and proceeded to close his box, escorted me out of his room and shut the door.

I was a young, inexperienced ten year -old interviewer. Since my first interview, I understand to ask follow-up questions rather than to correct someone’s experience.

When Grandpa Ervin shut his door, he shut down my interest in family history too.

Recently, family history piqued my interest again. has made researching easy. In their database is where I found them. I found Grandpa Ervin’s dad with his parents, his sister, his grandparents, and cousins by the dozens living together in the 1880 census. It was a great discovery.

I called my mom on the telephone. I described to her their beautiful names, Boston, Luke, Mariah, Julia, Moses, Prophet, and Shepherd. Another thing about their names, their surname was spelled I-r-w-i-n.

How did I find this census record?

  1. I visited my Grand Uncle Michael. Great-Grandpa Ervin’s son. I asked him what were his Grandparents’ names. I called my mom’s older sister and asked her who were Great-Grandparents.
  2. I visited I went to their search tab and typed in their names that were given to me, and the location.
  3. I sorted through the list of populated hints. I noticed their last name was spelled five different ways, Irwin, Irving, Irvine, Irvin, and Ervin.
  4. I looked at the community on the census record. I looked at their neighbors. I recognized other family names, the people the Ervins married.
  5. Lastly, DNA confirmed extended family relationships.

Today I will highlight my Cousin Shepherd. When I see the name Shepherd, I think of someone responsible, law-abiding, and brave.

According to the census records, Shepherd was born 1862. I smiled. I thought he did not have to pick cotton for free.

Shepherd and my great-great-grandfather Boston (Jarrett’s father) were first cousins. They were a year apart in age. I can imagine they were like brothers like their fathers Luke and Moses. Luke was Boston’s father and Moses, Shepherd’s.

How do I know Boston and Shepherd were first cousins?

  1. There were 20 family members listed together.
  2. A 5th – 8th cousin range DNA match sent me a message asking if his ancestor came across my path.
  3. His direct ancestor was Shepherd’s brother Huey/Hugh Irving.
  4. Our 5th cousin relationship fits our direct common ancestors.

The next document I would find for Shepherd would be a convict’s record. This find would be a shock to my soul.

How do I know for certain that it’s Shepherd

  1. I confirmed the dates, location, and family on the document.
  2. I searched other online sources for any other activity for Shepherd.

Shepherd broke the law…

He was convicted of robbery on March 2, 1899, and sentenced for 25 years. He would have been 27 years old. The record does not fit my notion of someone with the name Shepherd. The file does not provide details of what was stolen. I doubt it valued 25 years of Shepherd’s life. My Great-grandpa Ervin was 12 years old during this time.

To paint a clearer picture of Shepherd’s conviction, I must go back to 1865 when the 13th amendment abolished slavery. The Southern states suffered financially due to the loss of free labor. As a result, Southerners concocted black codes and city ordinances to restrict the newly freed Americans’ freedoms. African Americans found themselves falsely accused of crimes and bogus violations. There were trials, but not trials judged by a jury of their peers, but all white male jurors.

As an Alabama inmate, Shepherd worked at Pratts Mills, a textile company – cotton. Alabama prisons had a practice of leasing their convicts. They arranged for prisoners to work for private companies or individual planters. These agreements covered the inmates’ food and housing.

Shepherd more than likely worked in the picker house to haul the boxes of cotton to be cleaned. Something I thought Shepherd would not have to experience picking cotton without pay. In my opinion, an incarcerated person working in a picker house hauling cotton is the same as an enslaved person working in the cotton field. It is forced labor without pay. We understand today that convict leasing is coined “slavery by another name.”

Even the great Confederate cavalry genius Nathan Bedford Forrest, his regiments eviscerated by four years of war, was swept aside with impunity. Wilson crushed the last functioning industrial complex of the Confederacy and left Alabama in a state of complete chaos. 

Author Douglas A. Blackmon, “Slavery by Another Name.”

Many times in the convict leasing settings, these inmates were unsupervised. Arguments would become physical. No one in authority was there to stop any brawls. Sometimes these fights would end in death. I believe that was my cousin Shepherd’s fate. The record described his injuries as left eye out, scar over the eye, and a scar on lower left chin.

On December 22, 1900, another inmate took Shepherd’s life.

My Great-grandpa Ervin would have been 14 years old. Old enough to attend a funeral, old enough to listen to grown folks talk about what happened to Cousin Shepherd, and old enough to understand that after the North won the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed emancipation, and the 13th amendment abolished slavery, he lived in an oppressive state.

Great-grandpa Ervin described to me his Alabama experience correctly.

My Amazon Affiliate program the book for further reading.

It was slavery.