Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Veteran Ancestors

This morning on this long Memorial Day weekend, I got to thinking about all the people in my family tree that have served in the military. I was surprised when I realized how long the list really was.

On my father's side:
  • Both my father and his brother served in the Navy during Vietnam. Their father, Lee McNeill (as mentioned in previous posts), also served in the Navy as a pharmacist's mate during the 1930s. My goal for this weekend is to finally draft the letter to the NARA to see if we can finally obtain his military records.
  • Lee's great-grandfather, Archibald H. McNeill, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War serving in Co E, 6th North Carolina Infantry. He escaped from that unit, returned home to Mitchell Co, North Carolina, and enlisted in the Union Army, serving in Co A, 3rd Regiment of NC Mounted Infantry. If I also recall, two of Archibald's brothers, John and Daniel, also served during the Civil War.
  • William Woody, another great-grandfather of Lee, also joined Co E, 6th North Carolina Infantry and died of the measles at Ashland, Virginia in May 1862.
  • William Woody's great-grandfather, Henry Woody, served in the Revolutionary War from Virginia.
  • Henry Grindstaff, Lee's great-grandfather, served in the Mexican War.
  • Isaac Grindstaff, an ancestor of Henry, served in the Revolutionary War from North Carolina.
  • On my grandma's (Lee's widow) side, her grandfather Conrad Coons Scott served in Co H 35th Missouri Infantry and Co F 12th Missouri Cavalry for the Union during the Civil War. Two of Conrad's brothers also served during this conflict.

On my mother's side:

  • Her father, Fred J. Harmon, served in the Army Air Corp station at Wharton Air Base in Wharton, England during World War II. I remember listening to many of his war stories, including the fact that he REFUSED to eat brussel sprouts after being in England, that they had to march through mud in the rain, and that after he was diagnosed with pluresy and put in a military hospital, Dinah Shore came to sing for the patients. He would always sing "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" when I was a child and I didn't realize until I was an adult he always fondly was thinking of her! Both of Fred's brothers served during WWII: one stateside and the other in the Pacific at Guam.
  • Fred's great-grandfather, Thomas Arthur, served in Co D, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery during the Civil War.
  • My great-grandfather, Helmer N. Hiby, served during World War I at Ft. Riley, Kansas. One story that sticks in my memory is that he worked in the medical unit during the flu epidemic and carried all the deceased victims out of the hospital presumably to the morgue. Apparently he refused to go to funerals for the rest of his life.
  • I think there were some Harmons that served in the Revolutionary War, but am not sure if they are my direct ancestors. It's a research point I'm currently working on.
  • I think there is a Struble or perhaps a Studervant ancestor that served during the American Revolution as well. Again, something I'm still researching.

In my husband's family, his brother is currently serving a second tour of duty in Iraq. His wife has also served there as well. My father-in-law served in the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s and was stationed in Germany for a while where he got to connect with some of his German aunts, uncles, and cousins.

May you take the time this weekend and every day throughout the year to remember the sacrifices our military personnel makes through their time and even the sacrifice of their lives to serve our country and protect our freedoms. I know I will.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lee and the 1930 census

By the time the 1930 census was released on, I felt I had made decent progress. I had found the 1920 census for the Charles McNeill family; the 1910 census for Charles McNeill and Della Grindstaff shortly before their marriage; the Social Security applications for Lee, Charles and Della; and I knew tentative dates and locations of the deaths of Charles and Della.

After I had not-so-patiently waited for a searchable index to be put together, I typed in Charles McNeill in Buncombe Co, North Carolina. I think I was nervous and worried that I wouldn't be able to find the family. After some digging, they were found listed as McNeal living in Asheville, renting a home at 44 Ormond Avenue (1). The household consisted of the following: Charles L, age 43, married at age 25, and working as a clerk in a rayon mill; wife Della, age 36, married at age 18; Lee W, age 18, working as a stock room clerk in a department store; Anna K. age 16; Ora B. age 14; Riley B. age 6; Robert N., father, age 71, widowed. Later communication with a cousin indicated the family had hit financial hard times living in the mountains of Mitchell Co, so they relocated to Asheville for work.

Lee's age for two consecutives censuses matched a birth year of 1912. So he lived his entire married life saying he was born in 1915, but lied about his age to join the Navy, when in reality he lied about his age to his wife and children. This also proved that he was still living at home in April 1930 and had yet to join the Navy. This census proved the old family chart I had that listed the two sisters and a brother. I knew that Margaret (Ledford) McNeill had died prior to this but didn't know if it was in Buncombe or Mitchell counties.

What I've done since finding this census:

I have determined that no death certificate appears to exist for Margaret who died in about 1927 or 1928. I had a fellow researcher and friend visit the Mitchell County office where these are house and she couldn't locate it. I've scoured the online database at for the death certificates and can't find it. I've come to the conclusion, sadly, it's just not to be found. Robert died a couple of years after this census. They are both buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Cemetery in Bandana, Mitchell Co., North Carolina.

I've corresponded with Lee's first cousin in Hickory who shed some light on the circumstances surrounding Lee's disappearance. Charles was a stern man and probably some stubborn pride on both sides led to Lee fleeing out the cousin's bedroom window to avoid his father and consequently was never seen or heard from again.

I've learned a little about each of the sisters and their families. Anna went north to the "big city". One cousin told me they didn't exactly know where, I've heard from another that it was New York City. She apparently married a Starrett and had one child named Charles in about 1941. Ora Belle, or Belle as she was known, married a Lee Roy Simerly and had three children. I've recently come into contact with the two surviving children. They have been kind enough to share a few stories and a couple of photos.

Lee's brother married, had several children, and moved away from North Carolina. As a result of a message board post I did several years ago, a husband of Lee's niece contacted me and we've shared quite a bit of information, including pages of the family bible that led me to the above information on Anna and Belle. This man has been most generous with his time and research. He has also been incredibly helpful with issues of Y-DNA and help with researching genetically. He runs two surname projects through FTDNA so he knows his stuff. In a later post, I will discuss our Y-DNA findings.

(1) 1930 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Asheville, Buncombe Co., North Carolina, Dwelling 274, Household 287, Charles McNeal household, jpeg image, (Online: The Generations Network, Inc. 2002) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC], subscription database,, accessed ca 2003.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The mystery of an SSA form

While I waited for the 1930 census to be posted on, I followed several other leads in an effort to prove Lee McNeill was my grandfather. One of the first avenues I pursued was obtaining the Social Security Application for Lee as well as his parents. I don't recall specifically the date when I ordered these copies, but I recall the price was $7 each. Within a few months of my order, the price had increased to $28 each. I think I got a bargain and then some.

When I received the application I felt certain I had the right person. Lee had indicated his new last name and never listed McNeill anywhere on the form. He listed a Main St. address in Stockton, California and that he was currently unemployed as of the application date of 10 Mar 1937. He also listed his birth date as 2 Jan 1912 and a birth location of Asheville, Buncombe Co, North Carolina. He had always told my grandma that he was born in 1915 and she'd always assumed he was three years younger than the actual date indicated on this application. What I thought was probably the most telling piece of information on the entire form was how he listed his parents: father was Chas. (new last name) and mother was Anna Kate Grindstaff.

So somewhere in between lies the fact and the fiction. The facts: Lee listed his first name correctly as well as his birth date. He listed his father's first name correctly as well as the mother's maiden name. The fiction: the new surname he took on as well as the same name listed for his father, a birthplace of Asheville (that was actually his final residence in NC as far as I've been able to determine), his mother's name was Della, but his sister's name was Anna Kate. The one truth I can say with 100% certainty is that the number he was issued per this form is the one that matched the card my grandma had.

Two things are still uncertain to me. I've often wondered how he ever proved his birth as my understanding was that you had to have a birth certificate to apply. Because North Carolina didn't require this until 1913, many people applied for a delayed certificate. I wonder how he satisfied that requirement. The other reason for falsifying his name is still a mystery. My theories are far and wide but include some of the following: 1. He was evading his parents; 2. He went AWOL from the Navy (my grandma tried to obtain his military records in the 1980s to no avail); and 3. He was evading a previous spouse and/or children (this may be a little far fetched and no indication has ever been found that another spouse existed).

At the time I received Lee's application, I also received forms for his parents, Charles and Della. Their forms contained no real surprises. Charles' full name was Charles Lafayette McNeill born 18 Feb 1886 in Mitchell Co, North Carolina to Robert Nelson McNeill and Margaret Ledford. At the time he completed the application on the 29 Oct 1940, he was unemployed and living at Mountain Sanatorium in Fletcher, North Carolina. A quick Internet search didn't tell me much other than this was a place where tuberculosis patients went in the North Carolina mountains south of Asheville and that today it's a hospital under a different name. I have no idea if he was a patient or seeking work there.

Della's form stated her name was Della W. McNeill, maiden name of Grindstaff. She was born 15 Mar 1893 in Mitchell Co, North Carolina to Isaac Grinestaff [sic] and Mary Woody. Della completed this application on the 16 Jan 1952 while living in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I've been told from a cousin that Charles either owned or managed some housing for the military personnel stationed nearby.

For several years Lee's SSA form has been my primary connection, as well as the 1920 census and later the 1930 census, to a McNeill past in western North Carolina. Next stop: the 1930 Federal Census.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My serious research begins - Part 2

After my success of finding my grandfather in 1920 in Snow Creek Township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina, I worked backwards to see if I could find his parents in 1910. Because of what I had found in 1920, I knew indeed that Charles' parents were Robert McNeill/McNeal and wife Margaret. So a search of the 1910 index revealed a Robert McNeill living in Snow Creek Township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina (1). Robert, age 52, and wife Peggie, age 58, were living with their son Charles, age 23. Robert is listed as a blacksmith of an iron shop and Peggie as a farmer. I suspect that Robert had dual occupations of farmer and blacksmith...sort of like a jack-of-all-trades. And after some digging I determined that Peggie is an appropriate nickname for Margaret. So Peggie it is.

So with the success of finding Charles and his parents in 1910, I switched gears to try to find Della, Charles' future bride. Based upon the old family tree, Della was the daughter of Isaac Grindstaff and Mary Woody. I searched the 1910 index for a Della Grindstaff and found her in Bakersville Township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina (2). Her household included her parents Isaac, age 58 is listed as a clergyman, Mary 54, and the children at home: George 22, Alfonso 20, Della 17, Walter 13, Etta 9. Lastly, Bedie Grindstaff age 77, listed as widowed and mother of Isaac. A link to another generation..........

What a thrill this was to find both Charles and Della living with their parents shortly before they married and began their own family. Part of what made this so wonderful was that it helped prove the old family tree I had been given. While there was still much work to be done, at least I had a couple of generations of family. The names and the dates were about right. There was hope. My next thought was is there anyone still alive who remembers these folks? And what about 1930?

(1) 1910 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Snow Creek Township, Mitchell Co., North Carolina, Dwelling 219, Household 223, Robert McNeill household, jpeg image, (Online: The Generations Network, Inc. 2006) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC], subscription database,, accessed 2002.

(2) 1910 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Bakersville Township, Mitchell Co., North Carolina, Dwelling 104, Household 108, Isaac Grindstaff household, jpeg image, (Online: The Generations Network, Inc. 2006) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC], subscription database,, accessed 2002.