Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Archibald H. McNeill and Jane Howell

My third great-grandfather on the McNeill line is Archibald H. McNeill who was born about 1838 to Hector McNeill and his wife Betty Pressley or Presnell. He was the second of seven children, presumably all born in Yancey County, North Carolina. His mother, Betty, died in 1849 within days of giving birth to her youngest child, Elizabeth. Much like his son Robert, Archibald lost his mother as a boy.

Probably in 1857, Archibald married Jane Howell, daughter of Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson. Jane was born about 1841 in Yancey county, the seventh of at least eight children for the couple. Archibald and Jane had their first child and my ancestor, Robert Nelson McNeill, on 29 Oct 1858. In about 1861, Robert was joined by a sister, Elizabeth.

It was at about this time that the dissension between parts of Yancey County became more pronounced, and a vote was taken to separate into two counties thus creating Mitchell County. I believe at this time Archibald lived on the Mitchell side which apparently tended to side more with the Union than with the new Confederacy. Yancey favored the Confederacy. However, on 8 March 1862, Archibald, along with two of his brothers, enlisted as privates in Company E, 6th North Carolina Infantry. This unit has an extensive list of battles they were involved in, including at Seven Pines, Virginia from about 30 May 1862 to 1 June 1862. Here Archibald's brother, Daniel, was wounded and died from his injuries. According to an article written in Volume 1 of the Toe River Valley Heritage series, Archibald was wounded in the hand at the second battle of Manassas (i.e. Bull Run) in August 1862. I believe the remaining brother, John, went unharmed.

Another tragedy struck the family in November 1862 when Jane Howell McNeill died. I have very little information about her so I have no idea how she died or if it may have been childbirth related. Until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know the date of her death. And I have no idea where she may have been buried.

I have a date of 27 March 1863 that Archibald mustered out of Co E. Family lore indicates that Archibald and probably John deserted the Confederate Army and returned to the mountains of Mitchell county. Whether disgruntled with military life, grieving the loss of his wife, or dissatisfied with the Confederate cause is unknown. I suspect it was a combination of all three.

In the spring of 1864, Archibald remarried to a young widow, Sarah Ann Elizabeth Sparks Silver in Mitchell County. During this same year in the fall he enlisted in the Union Army in 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry and went to Knoxville, Tennessee to serve under the famous (or is it infamous) Colonel George Kirk. He came home during the early part of 1865 on recruiting duty. Because of the fear of Rebel Home Guards from Yancey county, Archibald was forced to "stay out" much of the time rather than stay in his home. It was also about this time Archibald and Sarah had their first of 11 children. During his forced exposure to the harsh winter elements, he took ill. Some in the Union Army took him to be a deserter and he spent literally the remainder of his life dealing with the ailments as a result of his service and fighting to get the pension he rightly deserved. I have a copy of his entire pension file which I believe is about 187 pages. It was Sherman who said that "War is Hell" but apparently so was Archibald's effort to get his pension.

At the time he fell ill, he was at Thomas Howell's who was his first father-in-law. He apparently had been sick for quite some time, including during the time he shuttled four Union soldiers who had been prisoners held near Charlotte, through the rugged mountain terrain back to Knoxville, Tennessee. Archibald became so ill he was then bedridden at Thomas Howell's for about a month. He was treated by a physician for pneumonia fever and later was able to return to his unit. He was discharged in about August 1865.

Archibald returned home a broken man. He suffered from chronic catarrh of the head. He apparently every four to six weeks would suffer so severely from blood and mucous discharge that he would have to go to bed for a week or two to just recover. In approximately 1879, he began his quest to obtain a pension from the Federal government. He submitted medical affidavits, affidavits from those in the community, and still the government believed he was absent without leave during the time he was on recruiting duty to Mitchell County and when he became ill. It was a battle that he wouldn't win in his lifetime as he died 31 July 1886. He is buried in a private cemetery south of Bakersville, Mitchell Co., North Carolina.

His widow, Sarah, continued on with the battle to obtain the pension. She obtained affidavits from Archibald's brothers who served in Knoxville with him, some from family members who remember his falling ill in the spring of 1865, and even went as far as to contact the four Union soldiers that Archibald had shuttled through the mountain passes. Apparently he had kept in contact with at least one of them and that individual forwarded on the information to the other former prisoners of war. And the genealogical gold mine for me in the pension documents was the affidavit from a James C. Howell who claimed he was the brother of Archibald's first wife and gave a death date for Jane of November 1862. Another document told of Sarah's first husband, Reuben Silver and his untimely death from a lightening strike in 1858. Yet another listed the four minor children of Archibald and Sarah. Finally, after a lengthy struggle, Sarah did receive a pension for Archibald and it continued until her death in 9 April 1912. She is also buried at the McNeill cemetery with Archibald.

Children of Archibald McNeill and Jane Howell:

Robert Nelson b. 29 Oct 1858 (my ancestor)

Elizabeth b. ca 1861

Children of Archibald McNeill and Sarah Ann Sparks:

Laura b. 1865, believe she married a David Nelson Howell (grandson of Thomas Howell above)

Ella b. 5 Jul 1866, married Dock William Greene, d. 25 Aug 1956

Julia or Ilia b. ca 1867

Thomas b ca 1869, d. before 1880

Archibald R. b 1869, married Harriet Stewart, d. 1947

Johnson L. b May 1871, married Alice Turbyfil, d. 6 Sept 1960

Minnie Alice b. 6 Apr 1873, married Robert Vance Wilson, d. 8 Nov 1937

William Lincoln b. 13 Dec 1875, married Laura Alice Morgan, d. 20 Jul 1962

Lily b. 1877

Rosa Magdalene b. 30 Feb 1879, married Chester B. Morgan, d. 2 Dec 1957

George Decatur b. 29 Apr 1881, married Laura Buchanan, d. 7 Jan 1963


"U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Profiles" Database. 2009, entry for Archibald H McNeill, enlisted 8 Mar 1862, North Carolina citing "North Carolina. Division of Archives and History. North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 A Roster. 14 vols. Raleigh: University Graphics, 1993."

Civil War Pension application: Archibald H McNeill, National Archives and Records Administration

Bailey, Dr. Lloyd R., "Heritage of the Toe River Valley, Vol. 1" 1994

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Robert Nelson and Margaret (Ledford) McNeill

My second great-grandparents were Robert Nelson McNeill and his wife, Margaret Ledford. My knowledge is rather limited of both of these individuals. However, what I have learned about their immediate family members helps round out their story.

Robert Nelson McNeill was born 29 Oct 1858, probably in Toecane, Mitchell Co, North Carolina, to Archibald H. McNeill and Jane Howell. He was their oldest child of two or possibly three children. Jane died in Nov 1862, thereby leaving a 4 year old Robert and a 1 year old sister, Elizabeth. There is a possibility there is another child, Laura, that may be Jane's or she could be the child of Archibald's second wife. In any regards, a small 4 year old little boy lost his mother much too young. To make matters worse, his father had already been away serving in Co. E, 6th NC Infantry and was injured at the second battle of Manassas. By the spring of 1864, Archibald had deserted the Confederate Army and married a second time to a young widow by the name of Sarah Ann (Sparks) Silver. Archibald then switched sides and joined the Union Army. I can only speculate that as the oldest child a lot of responsibility was placed up on Robert's shoulders as a young boy. Times were tough in Mitchell County if you were a Union sympathizer and I'm sure that extended to their families as well. Archibald returned from his service in the Union Army but with injuries severe enough to inhibit his ability to work more than about 50% on the farm. Once again, I suspect Robert learned how to do the work of a man while still a boy to fill the void of his father's injuries. His father died when Robert was just 28 years of age.

On Christmas Day 1877, Robert (age 19) married Margaret Ledford, a woman 10 years his senior. Margaret was born 24 Oct 1848 in Snow Creek township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina, to Noah Ledford and Clarissa Grindstaff. She was the sixth of 13 children.

By 1880, Bob and Peggie, as they were known, had settled in Snow Creek township (likely in the community of Bandana) and had the first of their three children, Dora E. who was born 11 Jun 1879. Hattie Emma followed on 22 Aug 1881 and my great-grandfather, Charles, on 18 Feb 1886. These three children gave Robert and Margaret 28 grandchildren.

Robert was not only a farmer, but he also learned the blacksmith trade, likely from his maternal grandfather, Thomas Howell. His occupation was a blacksmith in 1910, whereas up to this point he had been listed as a farmer. Obviously good with his hands, he supposedly helped construct the Silver Chapel Baptist Church in Bandana, according to a resident of that community. He also served as the 1920 census taker for his township. It should be noted he spelled his own name McNeal. Spelling is negotiable when it comes to these McNeills, McNeils, McNeals......

That year, Robert and Margaret were living with their son Charles and his family. Margaret died in 1927. According to family bible records it was June 8th. I have never been able to find a death certificate for her, as I have discussed previously. By the end of the 1920s, the Charles McNeill family had relocated to Asheville and Robert lived with them until his death on 22 Oct 1932. They are both buried in the cemetery at Silver Chapel Baptist Church, in sight of their homestead in Bandana.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Charles Lafayette and Della Winnie (Grindstaff) McNeill

I've spent several previous posts talking about my great-grandparents, Charles and Della McNeill. They can be found here:
Just the facts, ma'am,
My Serious Research Begins - Part 1,
My Serious Research Begins - Part 2,
The Mystery of an SSA Form, and
Lee and the 1930 census.

Those articles include a lot of dates and facts, but not about the type of people they were. I never had the opportunity to meet my great-grandparents, or to hear stories about them from my grandfather, so I have spent a lot of time trying to find those who did know them. Here are some snippets of those stories as well as some pertinent facts.

Charles Lafayette McNeill was born 18 Feb 1886, the youngest child and only son of Robert McNeill and Margaret Ledford. He spent his childhood in the Snow Creek area (likely Bandana) of Mitchell Co, North Carolina, where he married Della Winnie Grindstaff on 20 Feb 1911. Della was born 15 Mar 1893 to Rev. Isaac Grindstaff and Mary Woody. Charles and Della made their home in Bandana, Snow Creek Township, until sometime late in the 1920s. One of Lee's cousins wrote in a letter to me that they were doing well in the area and Charles owned the first automobile in the community and ran the Bandana post office from their home. They were considered good upstanding citizens.

This photo was given to me by a cousin. This is Charlie holding Anna, Lee is standing, and Della is seated. He thought the back had a date of 1911. However, I suspect it's closer to 1914 as Anna was born in October 1913 and she appears to be a year or a little younger in this photo. We assume this is their home in Bandana.

Charlie and Della had three children between 1912 and 1915: Lee, Anna and Belle. By 1920, another baby was born named Ben Arvel. This young little baby only lived about four months before he passed away. I can't imagine the pain of losing a child but was so common at the time. Ben is buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Church in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina, which is in sight of the McNeill home place. A fifth child, a son, was born about three years later.

A grandchild of Charles and Della recently told me that times were hard for the McNeills and eeking out a living in the mountains with four children proved to be difficult. By 1930 they were living in Asheville. My grandpa Lee was 18 and working as a stock room clerk, soon to join the Navy. Charles worked in a rayon mill. I believe his occupation is listed as Payroll Clerk. Certainly a lot different than farming in Mitchell Co. Also at that time, Charles' father was living with the family and would for another couple of years until his death in 1932. Another reason for a move to Asheville might have been that Della had a sister, Mrs. Etta Thomas, living there.

What happens over the next few years is unclear, but obviously the Depression is in full swing and times grew progressively harder. By 1940 Charles was in Fletcher, North Carolina. Within a few years, all his children would have left home to start their own families and he and Della moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina by the early 1950s. There they either owned or managed some housing that was used by the military personnel from a nearby base. By the 1960s, they had moved to the Kannapolis area outside Charlotte to be closer to their daughter Belle. I think she likely helped care for them in their older years.

A resident of Bandana shared this story with me. Charlie was known to have a good collie dog and one day he took the preacher home for dinner. To demonstrate the dog's abilities, he said, "Out Shep". Apparently much like my own dog, Shep had a mind of his own and didn't move. Charlie repeated the command and stomped his foot. Then Shep ran under the bed to which Charlie purportedly replied, "Or under the damn bed, whichever you please."

This same lady also shared that in their later years, Charlie and Della would go camping on Grandfather Mountain in the summer at times for nearly as long as a month. Obviously this love of camping and the great outdoors was not passed along to this great-grandchild. Marie at Blue Ridge blog has some beautiful photos of the area though hers are primarily farther to the northeast than Mitchell Co. Nonetheless, they are spectacular. I can see why camping in these mountains would have been appealing.

Though he was known as a stern man and very established in his ways (he insisted on McNeil with one L only though ironically I've seen a form he completed with two L's on it), numerous people have told me about his musical talent and his ability to make his own violins. I think that must be a very special gift (again one that did not pass on to this great-grandchild). A cousin recently shared this photo of Charlie and Della proudly displaying two violins. The date the photo was taken is not known.

So as stern as Charlie was known to be, Della was known to be "sweet and kind". I have never heard an ill word spoken about her and everyone repeatedly has stressed what a wonderful person she was. Her sweet dispostion may have tempered Charlie's stern one. No matter the circumstances, they were married for 49 years until his death in 1970 in Kannapolis. Della passed away in 1979. A kind soul sent me photos of Charles and Della's gravestones from the Carolina Memorial Park in Concord, Cabarrus Co, North Carolina.
What I wouldn't give to go back in time and have the opportunity to visit with them, even for an hour. So many questions, and never the opportunity.

My attempt at "filling in the dash"

I read a recent post by Elizabeth Lapointe on her Genealogy Canada blog about "filling in the dash". I found this quite interesting as I've spent a lot of time looking for the dates rather than the dash. You know the dates I'm talking about: birth, marriage, death. But what about what happened in between the dates or "the dash" i.e hyphen: the life the person lived, who they were, and the times they lived in.

I've spent several posts talking about the mystery of my paternal grandfather, Lee McNeill's, family, upbringing and the possible reason why he estranged himself from his family. Through my mistakes and attempts at the truth, I have learned some about "the dash" that he lived and some of those that came before him. Sometimes though it's been just a battle getting a name and dates, so how can I ever learn about "the dash"? Over the course of the upcoming posts, I hope to talk about Lee's ancestors who settled the rugged mountains of Mitchell and Yancey counties of North Carolina. I will try to accomplish two things: first to simply list their dates, but secondly, to talk about what happened to them in the years in between. In some cases, it's pretty limited. But perhaps if I spell it all out for myself, maybe I'll have a revelation of something I haven't researched before and expand "the dash".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

McNeills and Y-DNA

At the conclusion of my last post on Lee McNeill, I mentioned how Y-DNA had provided further evidence for my research. Like many researchers, I had been watching the progression over the last decade of DNA testing for genealogical purposes. I was interested but the price had deterred me from considering it even as I watched it come down. Earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see offer Y-DNA testing for a mere $79 for a 33 marker test. This price was a significantly more budget-friendly.

The next problem was who to test. Obviously as a female, I couldn't take a Y-DNA test. The next logical person would be my father. As I've mentioned in the past, I have a limited relationship with him and I wasn't sure he'd be willing. As it happened, I spoke with my grandma and discussed this with her, explaining what the test could tell us. In no time flat, he agreed to take the test.

The turnaround time for the results was only about two and a half weeks, which was much quicker than the month they estimated it would take. When the email arrived telling me the results were ready, I was nearly sick with anxiety over all the years spent working on this family and what if I had been barking up the wrong tree for a decade? Based upon my research and reading on the FTDNA group for MacNeils, I knew there were two primary haplogroups (with a few others scattered in there) that were the groups most McNeills (of all spelling variations) fell into. They were R1 and H1. H1 is where the majority of McNeills from North Carolina were classified.

So with a great deal of trepidation, I viewed my father's results. We were H1 and there were some others that had either tested with or that tested with another company but posted on that had similar names. McNeely and McNeil stuck out immediately so I felt somewhat comfortable with being on the right track. I took the results and posted them on Ysearch in the hopes that more matches could be found. I was somewhat disappointed as many people that tested with Family Tree DNA apparently never bother to also post their results on Ysearch. So the next step was to take my father's results and I manually compared them to the McNeill H1 haplogroup participants. My father had tested using the's 33 marker test. Family Tree DNA uses a 37 marker test but there are a couple of differences from Ancestry's. Of the markers that are comparable our results matched on every marker except marker 391. I've since learned that marker 391 is a slow-to-change marker but obviously our line was the one to have the change.

What was most striking to me is that of the participants that matched many of them were descendants of McNeills that came to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina, typically before 1800. This was good news as family lore indicated we were from McNeills that came to the Carolinas in the 1760s. There were also some participants that had Nova Scotia or other Canadian ancestry.

So while these results added credence to the fact that we were McNeills, were they from the branch of McNeills that I had spent a decade researching? As you know, Y-DNA results are useless if there isn't anyone to compare them to. So the next step was to find a male descendant from the same line from the Mitchell and Yancey Co. McNeills. Because Lee had a brother, I was fortunate to be able to find as close a male relative as you can get. He agreed to take the test. I was almost more ill feeling when his results were ready than when my father's were. Fortunately for me and my 10 years of hard work, they were 100% identical. My grandpa Lee was without a doubt Lee McNeill, born in Mitchell Co, North Carolina to Charles and Della Grindstaff McNeill.

Lessons learned:
1. Try to post results to as many places as possible, including and on You do not have to test with to post your results there. The more places you post matches, the most greater chance of finding a match.
2. Try to find the closest male relative to your line as possible to test for comparative purposes.
3. Be prepared for surprises. I was even though I didn't really have any.
4. Never give up hope! My gut instinct told me I was on the right path and this helped solidify that.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What's next, Grandpa?

I have spent nearly all of my previous posts writing about my paternal grandfather, Lee McNeill. However, today is different. Today would have been my maternal grandfather's 88th birthday.

I had the privilege of spending 18 years with my grandpa, including some under his roof, before the ravages of cancer took him from us 16 years ago. It was devastating to watch a once vital, strong man become slowly weaker as brain cancer consumed him and finally took him from us. Most people have very fond memories of their senior year of high school. Mine was spent watching his health fail and finally succumbing to cancer the day after my senior prom. I could have cared less about the dance, but as a result I always know what day it was on.

Fred Joseph Harmon was born 1 June 1921 to Edward Joseph Harmon and his wife, Kate Nellie Arthur in Clark Co, South Dakota. He was the third and youngest son. Grandpa grew up on the farm and always told me that he went to the School of Hard Knocks, though it was really a small one-room schoolhouse! He was able to finish through the 8th grade before times got so hard that he had to stay home to work on the farm. He also attended part of 10th grade in an unknown school in central California where Edward and Kate had gone for a period of time before returning to South Dakota. I know that he regretted not having more formal education and that's why he stressed it so heavily to my sister and me.

Grandpa joined the U.S. Army Air Corps on 8 Oct 1942 at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. After receiving training in several locations in the States, he was sent to Wharton Air Base at Wharton, England. There were a lot of dinner table discussions when I was growing up about his days in the army, including how he hated the dreary weather and having to march in the mud, his memories of chipped beef on toast (though I can assure you that was NOT the term he used), and the "hurry up and wait" that was the norm for the army schedule. Probably all that marching in mud contributed to his developing pluresy. At first no one believed he was ill as other servicemen, unfortunately, had tried to shirk duty. However, he was truly ill and spent many months in a military hospital, even coming home on a hospital ship. He was thrilled to discover a few years before his death the BAD 2 Association and the yearly military reunions they had around the country. My grandparents were able to attend a few before his untimely death. I remember him being so pleased to connect with some of his buddies that he hadn't seen in over 40 years.

After the military, he returned home to South Dakota, married my grandmother and had their one and only child, my mom. After struggling to make it in South Dakota, he picked up his family of three and headed west to Bremerton, Washington where he worked at the shipyards as a welder. He later joined the Boilermaker's Union which helped him find better work and pay. He spent many a summer working in Alaska in the 1950s while my mom and grandma were still in the Seattle area. Eventually his skills took him to the company Chicago Bridge and Iron where he worked for many years until he retired in the early 1980s. This work required travel so my mom went to about 13 different schools during her Kindergarten through Senior year of high school. He worked all over the western part of the United States building tanks and towers. Usually these were water towers for municipalities, but also included, for example, an underground storage facility at Hanford in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. He was very proud of his work for CBI and I remember he received an award for no accidents on the job for several consecutive years.

By the time my parents had divorced, my grandfather was preparing to retire to a small town in Southwest Idaho to farm. We spent about 6 years living with my grandparents - basically all of my elementary years. He served in the father role for the Daddy-Daughter Girl Scout banquet, he taught my sister and me how to set siphon tubes out in the field, ride a four-wheeler, he taught us the finer points of baseball and about his favorite Dodgers, he listened to my piano practicing, and a host of other activities. If I came home with a B on my report card, his response would be, "How come you didn't get an A?" When it came time to choose a college, though he lay sick, he read cover to cover one of the college catalogs I had.

Because Grandpa didn't know how to be retired, he continued to farm and weld for many years following his formal retirement. He had a shop out behind the house where he spent many an hour. He taught us girls about all the tools in his shop and we spent a lot of time "helping". Apparently we were so "helpful", we would complete one task and then promptly ask, "What's next, Grandpa?" It became a running family joke and still is to this day. And now that I have two young girls of my own, I realize though he probably enjoyed those times spent in the shop, my sister and I probably weren't all that helpful.

There have been times in the last 16 years where I have come to the proverbial fork in the road and think, "What's next, Grandpa?" I only wish he were here to advise me.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I miss you.