While looking for more about William Burns, whose 1942 World War II draft registration indicated that he was born in Elm City, I ran across this entry in the 1940 census of Washington, D.C.:
William Burns, 51, born N.C., laborer on W.P.A. construction project; wife Lulu, 48, private family cook, born in Virginia; daughter Marjorie, 27, born in Maine, restaurant waitress; son-in-law Manuel, 26, born in Mexico, hotel waiter; granddaughter Carmelita, 4, born D.C.; daughter, Marion, 24, maid for private family, born in Maine; son William, 20, born in Maine; sons Herman, 18, and Carol, 18, born in D.C.; and daughter Janet, 6, born in D.C.
William Burns was born William Bunn. In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Bunn, 51; wife Mojano [Margianna], 40, cook; children Tildy, 24, cook, Amos, 21, farm laborer, William G., 19, farm laborer, Lewis B., 17, Genetta B., 14, Sallie B., 13, cook, Jonas B., 10, nurse, Louisannie, 7, Eddie B., 3, and James W., 2; and widowed mother Tabitha, 80, “idle.”
By 1910, William Bunn had left home. In the 1910 census of Portsmouth, Virginia: at 817 Queen Street, William Battle, 33, blacksmith helper, and wife Bettie, 31, shared a household with Charles Morris, 28, wharf stevedore, and William Bunn, 29, gas plant driver. All were from North Carolina. William Bunn reported that he was married.
In 1918, William Burns registered for the World War I draft in Portland, Cumberland County, Maine. He reported that he was born 26 July 1881; lived at 10 Deer Street, Portland; and worked as a cook and laborer for Portland Company (a marine repair company.) His nearest relative was Amos Burns, Wilson County, N.C.
On 24 September 1918, William Burns, 37, and Georgia Robinson, 31, both of Portand, Maine, were married in Portland. Both worked as cooks. William was born in Wilson, N.C., to Amos Burns and Margianna Bowser. Georgia was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, to Jarrett Robinson and Martha Cook.
Prior to this marriage, William had several children in Portland with Lulu Robinson, also of Virginia. (Was this Georgia, using a nickname?) An unnamed daughter born 27 September 1911 was described as the second living of three children. [Note that William is described as “W” — white. In other records, he is described as mulatto, and may have been light enough to pass.] An unnamed son was born 29 August 1917 in Portland. These children appear to be Marjorie and William Jr.
The Burneses left Maine around 1919. In the 1920 census of Washington, D.C.: Mary Williams, 38, charwoman for “Pullman (RR)”; William Burns, 28, apartment building porter; wife Lula, 30, laundress; and children Marjory, 8, Marion, 4, and William Jr., 2 (all born in Maine); and lodger Martha Robinson, 48, laundress.
In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 915 Fifth Street, William Burns, 44, rectory cook (birthplace: Maine); wife Lula, 36, rectory pastry cook (birthplace: Rhode Island); daughter Carmen Galan, 20, restaurant bus girl; granddaughter Carmen Galan, newborn; daughters and sons Marion, 15, William Jr., 12, Herman, 9, Carrol, 5, and Janet, 3; nephews Sin, 21, rectory dishwasher, and Henry Burns, 18, railroad cook; and lodgers Edward Young, 24, restaurant cook, and Mack, 6, and Margaret Herndon, 9.
In 1940, William Girard Burns registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 29 August 1917 in Portland, Maines; lived at 624 O Street, Washington, D.C.; his contact was mother Lula Martha Burns; and he worked for Z.D. Gilman.
Z.D. Gilman’s Drug Store, Washington, D.C. Historic American Buildings Survey, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Per his 1942 World War II draft registration card, William Burns was born 26 July 1882 in Elm City, N.C. He lived at 624 O Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.; his contact was Jeanie Peoples, 629 Rhode Island Avenue, Washington; and he worked at the Archives Building, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Herman Amos Burns registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 27 December 1920 in Washington; lived at 624 O Street, N.W.; his contact was Mrs. Lula Burns; and he worked for Z.D. Gilman Drug Co., 627 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In researching Nora Ward Goens, I discovered her sister Mattie Ward Robinson, who spent her adult life as the wife of a coal miner in east-central Illinois.
Henry Ward, son of D.G.W. Ward and Sarah Darden, married Sarah Forbes, daughter of Henry Forbes, on 16 June 1870 in Wilson. Rev. L. Moye performed the ceremony at a M.E. Zion church.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Henry Ward, 21, and wife Sallie, 19, next door to Henry Forbes, 48, domestic servant, wife Louise, 43, children Charles, 15, Georgiana, 21, and John, 21, and Patsey Forbes, 70. [The Forbes family migrated to Indianapolis before 1900. More about them later.]
I have not found the family in the 1880 census.
In the 1900 census of Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee: at 527 High Street, minister Edwin Ward, 44; wife Sallie, 43; and daughters Adelia, 20, seamstress, and Mattie, 16. Edwin and Sallie were described as North Carolina-born; their daughters, Tennessee. [This, presumably, is the family. Nora Goens’ death certificate lists her father as “Rev. Ward.” Mattie’s age is right, though her birthplace is not. Had the family migrated to Nashville directly from Wilson, or did they detour in Indianapolis, where Nora married Eugene Goens in 1894?]
In the 1910 census of Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois: at 216 Clements, coal miner John W. Robinson, 29; wife Mattie, 26; and children Magdelene, 7, Adelia, 4, William, 2, and Eugene, newborn. [I have not found John and Mattie’s marriage license.]
In 1918, John William Robinson registered for the World War I draft in Vermilion County. Per his registration card, he was born 8 April 1886; lived at 216 Clements, Danville; worked as a coal miner at Peabody Coal Company #24, Catlin, Vermilion County; and his nearest relative was wife Mattie Robinson.
In the 1920 census of Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois: brickyard laborer John W. Robingson, 38; wife Mattie, 34; and children Magdeline, 14, servant at soldier’s home; Odelia, 12; Eugean, 10, Fay, 5, Dorothy, 3, and Walter, 1.
Mattie L. Robinson died 12 March 1921 in Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 September 1884 in Wilson, N.C., to Henry Ward and Sallie Forbes; was married to J.W. Robinson; and was buried in Springhill Cemetery, Danville.
William Robinson, 23, son of J.W. Robinson and Mattie Ward, married Vivian Thurston, 19, daughter of William Thurston and Anna Logan, on 17 March 1930 in Danville, Illinois.
In the 1930 census of Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois: coal mine laborer John W. Robinson, 49, widower; children Eugene, 20, hotel porter, Fay, 15, Dorothy, 14, and John W., 22, coal miner; daughter-in-law Vivian, 19, restaurant waitress; and daughter Mae M. Rachold, 26, divorced, office building elevator girl.
Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the fifth in a series of excerpts from documents and interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Sarah Silver died of a massive heart attack on a train platform on 8 January 1938 while on her way from Wilson to Greensboro, North Carolina. After receiving the news via a shocking and confusing telegram, my grandmother sent word of Sarah’s death to other relatives. One went to Sarah’s widowed sister-in-law Carrie L. Henderson Borrero, who replied via letter immediately:
Sunday Jan. 9. 38
My Dear Hattie
I received your telegram to-day. 1 P.M. it was certainly a shock to me you & family certainly have my deepest sympathy & also from my family.
I did not know your mother was sick you must write later and let me know about her illness.
It is so strange I have been dreaming of my husband Caswell so much for the past two weeks he always tells me that has something to tell me & that he feels so well so I guess this is what I was going to hear about your mother.
I wish it was so that I could come to you & family but times are so different now seems as if we cannot be prepared to meet emergencies any more but you must know that my heart & love is with you & family.
I am just writing to you a short note now will write you again. Let me hear from you when you get time to write
Your Aunt in law
Carrie L. Borrero
322 E. 100th St. N. Y City
Letter in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.
I recently happened upon the death certificate of Nora Goens, who died 3 November 1935 in Merrill, Newaygo County, Michigan, north of Grand Rapids. Per her death certificate, she was born in Wilson, North Carolina; lived in Denver, Colorado; and was buried in Danville, Illinois.
Though it’s still not clear why she died in Michigan, available digital records do shed some light on Goens’ peripatetic life and, surprisingly, link her to another Wilson migrant — Dr. Joseph H. Ward!
On 6 February 1894, Nora Ward, 21, daughter of B.H. Ward and Sallie Forbes, married Eugene Goins, 22, son of Lewis Goins and Edna Martin, in Indianapolis, Indiana. [Henry Ward (recorded elsewhere as B.H. and as Edwin H.), son of D.G.W. Ward and Sarah Darden, married Sarah Forbes, daughter of Henry Forbes, in 1870 in Wilson. Henry Ward was the brother of Joseph H. Ward’s mother Mittie R. Ward. Joseph Ward arrived in Indianapolis around 1890. Did he join or precede his uncle’s family?]
In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 1504 Arthur Street, janitor Eugene Goins, 27, and wife Nora, 27.
Within the next decade, the Goenses migrated further west to Colorado. In the 1910 census of Denver, Denver County: at 2230 Cal. Street, among other families, apartment janitor Eugene Goens, 36, and wife Nora, 36. Eugene reported that he was born in Ohio to parents from Virginia and Kentucky. Nora was born in North Carolina to North Carolina-born parents. The couple had been married 16 years, and Nora reported that she had had one child, who was dead. [Thirteen years later, after divorcing her first husband, Nora’s first cousin Minerva Ward Artis (Joseph Ward’s half-sister) married Jonas Biggins in Denver. Had Minerva come west to stay with the Goenses?]
2230 California Street, Denver. Courtesy of apartments.com.
Nora Goens’ mother-in-law Edna Martin Goens Wright died in Denver in 1919. Her body was taken to Castalia, Ohio, for burial. Norris Wright was Eugene Goens’ half-brother. Norris was born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1888, and the Wrights moved to Indianapolis before 1900.
Sandusky Star Journal, 5 December 1919.
In the 1920 census of Denver, Colorado: at 2230 California Street, among other families, Eugene Goens, 46, apartment janitor, and wife Nora, 46, janitress.
Though I have not found record of Nora’s early life, she had at least one sister. Mattie L. Robinson died 12 March 1921 in Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois. Per her death certificate, Mattie Robinson was born 16 September 1884 in Wilson, N.C., to Henry Ward and Sallie Forbes; was married to J.W. Robinson; and was buried in Springhill Cemetery, Danville. [More about Mattie to come.]
The Goinses made a long, looping excursion in 1928, spending considerable time in Xenia, Ohio. Their weekend hosts Joseph T. and Addie Artis Rountree were natives of Wilson. Mrs. Fred Cosby — Ardeaner Rountree Cosby — was the Rountrees’ daughter and was also born in Wilson.
Xenia Evening Gazette, 7 July 1928.
Xenia Evening Gazette, 16 November 1928.
In the 1930 census of Denver, Colorado: at 609-26th Street, Eugene Goins, 39, and wife Nora, 37.
In February 1934, the Goinses were again back East and were honored guests at dinner hosted by the S.S. Club of Xenia.
Xenia Evening Gazette, 27 February 1934.
In the 1935 San Diego, California, city directory: Goens Eug (Nora) h2874d Franklin Av. [Nonetheless, Eugene Goens reported his and his wife’s residence as Denver on her death certificate.]
As noted above, Nora Ward Goens died 3 November 1935. She was buried near her sister in Block 26 of Vermilion County’s enormous Springhill Cemetery.
If you’re not already following his eponymous blog, David Cecelski’s recent series of posts on the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina is the perfect introduction. The Sons and Daughters, with chapters in at least six cities in in the Northeast, “did … a great deal to foster a sense of community for African Americans making their way in a strange new land for the first time,” serving as mutual aid societies, burial societies, and fund raisers. “At the same … wherever they were, [they] kept a close eye on events back in North Carolina and did what they could to support their kindred that were struggling to overcome Jim Crow, racial violence and oppression.”
In his final post, “All Roads Lead Back to North Carolina,” Cecelski noted that “[b]y 1970 approximately half of black adults born in the state of North Carolina lived in other states, and the largest number resided in or around New York City,” and cited my commentary on the ubiquity of New York cousins for everyone I knew in Wilson. (Surely somebody’s great-uncle was a dues-paying Son.)
Cecelski wraps the series by tracing the arc of life of a Brooklyn Daughter of North Carolina. His final sentences caught my breath. Welcome home, Naomi Hand Tyler.
As discussed here, the Atlantic Coast Line’s handsome passenger rail station was the point of departure for many African-Americans leaving Wilson during the Great Migration. Now an Amtrak stop, the station was restored and renovated in the late 1990s.
Here’s the station’s main waiting room today. Through a doorway, a sign marks a second room for baggage.
Into the 1960s, though, the baggage area was the train station’s “colored” waiting room.
Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June and September 2021.