death certificate

Born in Africa.

A.M.E. Zion minister Owen L.W. Smith served as United States consul general to Liberia from 1898 to 1902. His family, which included second wife Adora Oden Smith and their children Flossie and George E. Smith, remained in Wilson during his post.

Flossie Smith died in 1901, and baby George and Adora Smith in 1906. On 24 February 1908, Rev. Smith married Cynthia A. King Isler in Pitt County, North Carolina.

The 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County, lists Owen W. Smith, 58; wife Lency A., 45;  children Jessy A., 27, and Carry E. Smith, 10; and stepchildren John H., 12, and Mary A. Isler, 10. John and Mary Isler were Cynthia “Lency” Smith’s children. Jesse Alexander Smith is described in Rev. Smith’s will as an adopted son. And what of Carrie E. Smith?

Carrie Emma Smith died 2 September 1917 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 29 December 1899 in “African (Liberia)” to Owen L.W. Smith and Mary Johnson. The certificate does not specify her place of burial, but we know she was laid to rest in the Masonic cemetery in the Smith family plot.

Her headstone is one of four remaining in the plot — Rev. Smith’s is not visible — and states: CARRIE EMMA Adopted Daughter of Rev. O.L.W. & Adora Smith Dec. 29 1899 Sept. 2  1917.

Carrie Emma Smith’s headstone in the Masonic Cemetery. The stone lying flat is that of O.L.W. Smith’s mother, Maria Hicks, who died in 1902. 

Adopted?

Carrie E. Smith was born in Liberia during Rev. Smith’s stint at consul. His wife Adora Smith remained in Wilson. Carrie Smith’s mother is named, per information provided by Rev. Smith, as Mary Johnson of South Carolina. Was O.L.W. Smith Carrie Smith’s biological or adoptive father? Did he bring the child home to Wilson when returned from his diplomatic post in Liberia? Who was Mary Johnson?

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2022.

The death of Solomon Clark.

On early Wilson County death certificates, causes of death were very often less medical than philosophical. Solomon Clark was blind and suffering from debilitating maladies. When all was considered, Dr. William S. Anderson concluded Clark “was just worn out.”

“He had been blind and in feeble health for several years and he was just worn out.”

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On 7 April 1887, Solomon Clark, 26, of Wilson County, married Dellar Braswell, 24, of Wilson County, at Dellar Braswell’s house in Wilson township. Free Will Baptist minister Solomon Arrington presided, and Frank Lipscomb, Mary Lipscomb, and Pattie Lancaster were witnesses.

I have found no other record of Solomon Clark.

Venus Ruff, centenarian?

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sarah Jackson, 21; brother-in-law Gabriel Bowden, 40, brother-in-law, laborer; sister Anna, 32, cook; nephews Columbus, 11, house servant, and James, 9; son B.F. Jackson, 6; mother Vinus Ruff, 52; and boarder Whitehurst Wiswould, 64, laborer.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: jailor Columbus Gay, 39; Silva Mix, 24, housekeeper; Vinous Wisber, 72, housekeeper; and Sarah Jackson, 47, cooking.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Sarah Jackson, 55, widow, private cook; mother Venus Ruff, 73, widow; and adopted daughters Effie, 17, private nurse, Bessie, 17, private cook, and Etta, 12.

There is no accounting for the 27-year gap between Ruff’s estimated age in the census and her age on her death certificate, made the same year. Earlier census records, however, suggest that she was closer to 82 than 100 when she died.

The death of little Bettie Askew of Whitesboro.

The death certificate of five-month-old Bettie Louise Askew caught my eye not only because of her young age, but also her birthplace — Whitesboro, the all-Black town in southern New Jersey founded by former United States Congressman George H. White and promoted by Samuel H. Vick.

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Theodocia Magnolia Boykin was born in Wilson County to John Boykin and Dicy Bailey Boykin on 7 February 1884. The 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County shows house mover John Boykin, 50; wife Dicy, 44, cooking; and children Sallie, 19, cooking, James, 18, day laborer, Dotia, 14, Susia, 14, Lillie, 10, and Eliza, 7. John Askew, a native of Northampton County, North Carolina, migrated with his family to Cape May County, New Jersey, shortly after 1900.

It’s not clear where Bettie Askew’s parents met, but John S. Askew, 26, of New Jersey, and Dothia Boykin, 24, of Wilson, applied for a marriage license in Wilson County. Though the license was never returned to the Wilson County Register of Deeds’ office for registration, Episcopal church records show that they were married on 2 September 1908.

Their first child, Bettie Louise, was born in Whitesboro in 1909, but brought back to Wilson prior to her death in April 1910. The 1910 census of Middle township, Cape May County, New Jersey, shows John S. Askew, 28, a wagon wheelwright, and wife Theodothia M., 26.

A second daughter, Elsie Joanne, was born 14 April 1911. [Per her death certificate, she was born in New York.]

John S. Askew apparently died around 1911, probably in New Jersey.

The 1912 Wilson city directory lists Theodosie Askew, music teacher living on Viola on the corner of Vick.

On 20 December 1913, Ezekiel Warren, 22, of Black Creek, married Thedore [sic] Askew, 30, of Wilson, in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Nathan W. Boyett, 69, carpenter, widower; nieces Therorshia Warren, 36, Elsie J. Askew, 9, and Elenzie C. Askew, 3; and roomer Lucy Wethers, 64. [Elenzie Cathleen Warren was Theodocia Askew Warren’s daughter with Ezekiel Warren.]

In the 1930 census of Newport News, Virginia: on Shoe Lane, Jesse Faulkland, 40, brickyard laborer; wife Eliza M., 37; children Rachael R., 16, Ethel M., 14, Jesse A., 10, Margaret C., 7, and Coynetta M., 4; nieces Elsie Askew, 18, and Cathleen Warren, 12; and lodger Coy Jones, 52, shipyard laborer. [Eliza Boykin Faulkland was Theodocia Magnolia Boykin Askew Warren’s sister.]

On 31 August 1931, Curtis Wiggins, 23, of Whalleyville, Virginia, son of Robert Wiggins and Cora Ford, married Joann Askew, 21, of Buckingham, Pennsylvania, daughter of John Askew and Magnolia Boyd, in Newport News, Virginia.

In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: at 4431 Brown Street, William Ricks, 25, cook and waiter at cafe; wife Anna, 26, hotel maid; and aunt and lodger Magnolia Henry, 56, widow.

In 1941, Curtis Wiggins registered for the World War II draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 15 October 1908 in Whaleyville, Virginia; lived at 1255 South 18th Street, then 902 North Sartain, Philadlephia;his contact was wife Joanna Wiggins, 1255 South 18th; and he worked for Merchants & Miners Transportation Company, Philadelphia.

Elsie Wiggins died 27 January 1941 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 January 1911 in New York to John Askew and Magnolia Boykin; was married to Curtis Wiggins; and lived at 902 Sartain, Philadelphia.

In the 1950 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: at 741 45th Street, Magnolia Henry, 66, widow; nieces Ella Davis, 25, and Victoria Drain, 11; nephew Thomas Heath, 28, and his wife Geneva, 25, and son Thomas Jr., newborn; and lodgers Ruth Mines, 26, Nancy Mines, 4, Kenneth Mines, newborn, Flax Graves, 42, Susan Graves, 45, and Beatrice Graves, 15.

Magnolia Henry died 30 April 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 7 February 1884 in Wilson, N.C., to John Boykin and Dicy Bailey; was a widow; and lived at 741 North 45th Street, Philadelphia.

Lucas killed by falling lumber.

Ed Lucas was killed when falling timber struck his head while he worked. His employer W.D. Hackney was the informant for his death certificate, but knew little of Lucas, and the document notes: “Deceased was an unknown laborer at Wagon Factory.”

Update, 16 July 2022:

Evening Chronicle (Charlotte, N.C.), 2 May 1910.

Thanks to Carol Ten Hoopen for locating this article.

Lucy Ward’s baby.

Death certificates have not always been complete or reliable sources of primary evidence. When a two month-old girl died on 9 January 1914 in Wilson, her name was originally given as “Lucy Ward‘s Baby.” Her first name was later added as “(Mildred)” and, later still, a surname, her mother’s.

Worse, the toddler’s cause of death is wholly unsatisfactorily: “Don’t know — didn’t have a physician.” End of inquiry.

Mildred Ward’s place of burial is broadly noted as Wilson, N.C. Assuming this indicates a cemetery within town limits, she likely was buried at the old Oakdale Cemetery or the newly opened public cemetery that we now refer to as Vick.

Young Mary Vick drowned?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 June 1940.

The brief news report about Mary N. Vick stated that the ten year-old drowned after falling into a wash tub. Her death certificate, however, declared hers a natural death, with “no signs of foul play.”

An article in the 2 June 1940 News and Observer helps explain:

The death of John Henry Evans.

The cause of death on John Henry Evans‘ death certificate is fairly laconic: “brain injury due to auto accident.”

Newspaper accounts detail a more complicated story. About eight o’clock on the evening of April 11, Evans and J.D. O’Neal, on whose land he lived, were driving wagons to fertilizer to O’Neal’s farm near Lamm’s School [today, near the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. 264.] The men stopped on the shoulder of the road to talk to O’Neal’s brother. Both wagons were lit with lanterns. Erwin Stewart of Durham smashed into other wagons in a Graham truck and flipped over in a ditch. According to witnesses, Stewart’s truck had only one headlight working and had drifted partly on the shoulder of the road. The wagons were demolished, one mule was badly injured, and John Henry Evans was first thought dead. He was rushed to the “colored hospital.” As his death certificate notes, Evans lingered for five days before succumbing to injuries to his head.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 April 1929.

For all the carelessness hinted at in the initial report, a month later, Stewart was acquitted of a manslaughter charge in Evans’ death.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1929.

“If he doesn’t bring that money in, something has happened”: the obituary of J.P. Fields.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 August 1911.

“The worst had happened, Fields was dead,” and the Times penned a tribute to its loyal subscriber.

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On 26 February 1903, James Fields, 52, of Wilson, son of Alex and Mary Fields, married Lucy Warren, 30, of Wilson, at her residence. Missionary Baptist minister E.P. Pearsall performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles B. Gay, Ella Gay, and William C. Barnes.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: James Fields, 49, odd jobs laborer, and wife Lucy, 32, laundress.

James P. Fields died 21 August 1911 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 58 years old; was married; lived at 213 Hackney Street; worked as a gardener; and was born in Boyton [Boydton], Virginia, to Elex Fields and Mary Smithering. W.B. Fields of Wilson was informant.

 

“Uncle Dortch” struck by train.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1928.

In June 1928, a Atlantic Coast Line railroad worker spotted a grievously wounded elderly man lying by the tracks. He flagged a train, and the “injured negro” was taken to the company’s hospital almost twenty miles north in Rocky Mount. He died. Two days later, the Wilson Daily Times reported the death of “Uncle Dortch.”

So did his death certificate. 

Though he lived at the Wilson County Home, also known as “the poorhouse,” no one seemed to know Uncle Dortch’s surname. I regret that I have not been able to restore it to him.

“Fractured Skull (found by side of R.R. track near Wilson)”

A.C.L. Hospital, Rocky Mount, N.C. (1925), East Carolina Digital Collections.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the clipping.