About 1998, I began to get serious about trying to pursue my family history. I wanted some cold, hard facts and at the time I think I mentally prepared myself for the worst and secretly hoped for the best, or at least something better than the worst. I had no idea what I'd find out about Lee or if I could even find someone still living who would remember him or his family.
The cousin my grandma had communicated with in the 1980s had sent a typewritten chart prepared by Charles L. McNeill, Lee's father, that covered at least four generations of Charles' ancestry as well as his wife's, Della Grindstaff. It listed five children of Charles and Della with no birthdates: Lee Wesley, Anna Kate, Ora Belle, Ben Arvel, and Riley Barton. The tree also indicated Charles (1886-1970) was the son of Robert McNeill (1858-1932) and Margaret Ledford (1848-1927) while Della (1893-1979) was the daughter of Isaac Grindstaff (1852-1936) and Mary Jane Woody (1853-1946). Part of Lee's story was that he was born in Asheville, Buncombe Co, North Carolina. However, the cousin told us that the McNeills and Grindstaffs were actually from Mitchell Co, North Carolina, but had later moved to Asheville to find work. So I had a starting point...........
Thank goodness for the internet. I began by reviewing message boards and mailing lists on various websites including Rootsweb, Ancestry.com, and Genealogy.com. I could find quite a bit about the earlier generations of Grindstaffs, Ledfords, McNeills and Woodys, but little from the early part of the 20th century. I naively made some attempts at posting some messages after lurking for a long time and got a few replies, but nothing that was a pot of gold.
Next I turned to online census records. At the point I got this far it was probably 2001 or 2002. I remember all the excitement over the release of the 1930 census and I could hardly wait to see if I could find Lee and his family. While I waited for the 1930 North Carolina census records to be on the website, I diligently searched the 1920 and 1910 censuses for Charles McNeill and Della Grindstaff. This was also about the time I realized that spelling is optional....at least as far as the name McNeill is concerned.
The first discovery was the 1920 census. Charles L. McNeal and wife Della were listed as the first household in Snow Creek Township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina (1). Charles was age 33, married, and a farmer born in North Carolina. Wife Della is age 26, also born in North Carolina. Seeing the following children is what gave me chills up my spine: Lee Wesley, son, age 8; Anna Kate, daughter, age 6; Ora Belle, daughter, age 4. Also living in the household were Charles' parents listed as Robt N., father, age 61, occupation is blacksmith, and Margrett, mother, age 72. Both were born in North Carolina as well as their parents. As I looked to the top of the page to find the date the census was taken (2nd & 3rd of January, 1920), I noticed that the census taker was actually Robt. N. McNeal. What better household to begin with than your own!
(1) 1920 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Snow Creek Township, Mitchell Co., North Carolina, Dwelling 1, Household 1, Charles McNeal household, jpeg image, (Online: The Generations Network, Inc. 2005) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC], subscription database, http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 2002.