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.

Please subscribe with your email address.

  • Free census records –
  • Free marriage records –
  • City Directories –

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

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.

Learn more. Please subscribe.

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.

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.

Stay in the know. Please subscribe.

My awesome Amazon Affiliate program has sweet family jewelry.

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.