infant mortality

Lane Street Project: in memory of Costella V.L. Allen (1940-1940).

I’ve spoken of the database I am developing of likely burials in Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree Cemeteries. My spreadsheet draws upon death certificates, obituaries, and other sources — most distressingly imprecise. The term “Rountree Cemetery” on these documents may refer to Vick, Odd Fellows, or Rountree. Some documents broadly refer only to burial in Wilson. However, in the absence of official burial records for any of the cemeteries, we make do.

This series honors the men, women, and children who never had grave markers, or whose stones have been lost or stolen or destroyed. Graves believed to be in Vick Cemetery, which the City of Wilson stripped of remaining markers in 1996, will be identified with a Vick Cemetery logo.


Costella Virginia Lee Allen died 6 May 1940 at her home in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 19 April 1940 in Wilson to Charles Young of Wilson County and Almeta Allen of Saint Paul, N.C. Parthenia Allen was informant. Costella was buried in Rountree Cemetery by C.H. Darden & Sons.

Dew children perish in fire.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 December 1911.

It is difficult to know what to take away from this erratum. Unfortunately, the previous day’s paper is not available for details of the Dew children’s tragedy.


  • Oscar Dew — in the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Oscar Dew, 32; wife Annie, 24, farm laborer; children George F., 2, and Bettie M., 5 months; sister-in-law Fannie Strickland, 26, widow, farm laborer; and “sister-in-law son” Sydney Woodard, 10, farm laborer. In the 1920 census, Oscar and Annie Dew’s children were George F., 12, Annie Bell, 5, Rita Bell, 2, and James Arthur, 5 months. Presumably, the children killed in the fire were Bettie and a child born after the 1910 census was taken.
  • Nora Woodard — most likely: in the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Alfred Woodard, 69; wife Sarah, 59; daughters Nora, 21, and Francis, 17; and servant Bessa Foard, 19. [It appears that Alfred Woodard died 1900-10 — did Nora inherit farmland from him?] In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Woodard Norah (c) h s of Cemetery rd nr A C L Ry

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.


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.

The final resting place of baby George E. Smith.

George E., Son of Rev. O.L.W & Adora Smith, Aug. 31, 1905 June 21, 1906

I recently noticed for the first time in the Masonic Cemetery the little white marble headstone of George E. Smith, infant son of Rev. Owen L.W. and Adora Oden Smith. It was a rough decade for the Smith family. Five year-old daughter Flossie burned to death in 1901, the Reverend’s mother Maria Hicks died in 1902, and little George and his mother Adora followed in 1906.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, March 2022.

The doctor could not get there.

Six month-old Shirley Jean Everett died before Dr. T.G Bradshaw could reach her in the winter of 1948. Given the condition of the roads, it is not clear how he “sent medicine” from his office in Rock Ridge.

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“Probably Pneumonia Did not see [her?] & Roads so bad no one could get to see her Sent medicine 2/4/48”


Mortality schedule, no. 6: Town of Wilson, 1870.

Each of the United States federal censuses from 1850 to 1880 included a mortality schedule enumerating individuals who had died in the previous year previous. Each entry noted the decedent’s family number in the population schedule, name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.

Here is a detail from the 1870 mortality schedule for the Town of Wilson, Wilson County:

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  • Charles Edwards. Age 6 months, died in August, cholera infantum.

In the 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Cally Speight, 23; wife Margaret, 26; and Ann, 13, domestic servant; Abel Edwards, 84; wife Arden, 72; Issa, 20, hotel chambermaid; Gracy, 23, domestic servant; and Ann P. Edwards, 5.

  • Lane Scarborough. Age 8, died in August, “inflammation brain.”
  • Infant Scarborough. Age 3 months, died in September, “inflammation brain.”

In the 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Anna Scarborough, 35; son John, 17, furniture shop employee; daughter Louisa, 14; and Henry Blackman, 19, teaching school.

  • Rena Clark. Age 6 months, died in July, cholera infantum.

In the 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Mariah Clark, 20, listed as a domestic servant in the household of retail grocer Edwin G. Clark.

  • Neal Mac. Age 1, died in July, unknown.

In the 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Mary Whitaker, 22, domestic servant; Ann Pender, 13, servant; and Mariah Mac, 25, servant, born in South Carolina.

  • Elias Edmondson. Age 1 week, Died in May, “inflammation brain.”

In the 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Ellias Edmonson, 28; wife Emiline, 23; and Joseph E., 9.

The death certificate of the infant son of Geo. Ferguson.

North Carolina did not mandate death certificates statewide until 1914, but some towns and cities implemented the requirement earlier.

Wilson’s first death certificates date from late 1909. As the record below shows, in the early days there was sometimes confusion about who was to fill in what blanks. It appears here that the family took a shot at writing in personal information about the decedent, a duty that should have fallen to the undertaker. The result, however, is a fascinating collection of details that would otherwise have gone unrecorded.

The basic facts: George and Bettie Ferguson‘s infant son was still born (or died the day after he was born). The family lived at 505 Spring Street, Wilson.

The facts as entered:

  • The baby’s name — was it Stephen?
  • His sex? “Nov. 24” — apparently his birthdate, though this date should match his death date, which was recorded by Dr. W.A. Mitchner.
  • His color? “Color.”
  • His age? “No” years, which was true, as the boy was stillborn.
  • Father’s birthplace? “22 bone 1887 Nov 7.” This was George Ferguson’s age and birthdate.
  • Mother’s birthplace? “Mother bone 1888 August 10.”
  • Occupation? “Stem tobacco.” This, of course, was the occupation of one or both of the baby’s parents.
  • Informant? Charles Darden, though Darden did not serve as undertaker. Quinn-McGowan Firniture Company did.


George Ferguson, 20, son of Sam and Mary Ferguson, married Bettie Barnes, 18, daughter of Aaron and Margaret Barnes, in Wilson on 12 July 1909. W.H. Neal of Saint James Holy Church performed the ceremony in the presence of J.A. McKnight, Annie Pitt and Edmonia Perrington.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: George Ferguson, 21, factory worker, and wife Bettie, 18.

Bettie Ferguson died 24 July 1918 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 August 1890 in Wilson to Aaron Barnes and Margarett Blount; was married to George Ferguson; lived at 117 Wiggins; and worked as a stemmer at “Emperial Tobacco Co.” She was buried in Wilson by C.H. Darden & Sons.

George Barnes Ferguson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 8 October 1914 in Wilson County; lived at 1120 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Wilhelmina Ferguson; and he worked for R.B. Carroll Grocery.

Georgia L. Barnes died 3 June 1945 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. Per her death certificate, she was born about 1913 in Wilson to George Furgerson of Edgecombe County and Betty Barnes of Wilson County and was married.

The deaths of little Louisa Sims and Infant Thorpe.

Though the state of North Carolina did not require death certificates until 1913, some municipalities began to record them earlier. Below, the returns of a death for two young children born in Raleigh to parents from Wilson County.


Louisa Sims died on 1 March 1900 after a six or seven-day illness. The three year-old had been born in her parents’ home on West Connor Street, Raleigh. Her father was from Wilson County; her mother from “near Goldsboro.”


Thomas and Mary Thorpe’s infant son was stillborn at 832 South Wilmington Street. His father was from granville County; his mother, from Wilson.

Death Certificates 1900-1909, Wake County, North Carolina County Records 1833-1970,

Suffer the little children: death from brain and heart disease.

Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, and violence bore them away in sorrowful numbers. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children. Few children who died in Wilson County were buried in marked graves. In town, most early burials were in Oaklawn, Rountree, or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, Rountree was engulfed by pine forest, and their headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time.

By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died in the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.


On 14 July 1915, Theodor Smith, 13, schoolboy, of Wilson, son of Tom Smith and Edith McDowell, of “congestion of the brain.”

On 24 January 1917, Mary Myrtie Belle Banks, 3 months, of Springhill township, daughter of Allen Banks and Florence Taylor, died of “status epilepticus.” She was buried in “Watson graveyard.”

On 30 September 1917, Sadie Austin, 4, of Saratoga township, daughter of Matthew Austin and Hattie Eason, died of “brain trouble — don’t know cause.”

On 30 December 1921, Harriett Newsom, 10, of Black Creek township, daughter of Layfayett and Rebecca Newsom, died of “cerebral congestion,” with jaundice as a contributing condition. She was buried in “Jones graveyard.”


On 28 January 1911, Irene Dewey, 2, of 619 Vance Street, Wilson, daughter of Thomas Dewey and Callie Smith, died of cardiac failure. She was buried in Dunn, North Carolina.

On 17 January 1917, Edgar Lindsey, 17, of Wilson township, son of John Lindsey and Nancy Lane, died of endocarditis. He was born in Franklin County, N.C.

On 19 September 1918, Charley Hagans, 12, school boy, of Wilson, son of James Hagans and Hannah Bynum, died of “acute dilatation of the heart.”

On 2 November 1919, Raymond Dixon, 4, of Walstonburg, son of Thomas Dixon and Millie Barnes, died at Wilson Sanatorium, of “shock and heart failure on account of anaesthetic.” He was buried in Greene County, N.C.

On 10 May 1920, Creasa Ann Hinton, 14, of Springhill township, daughter of Rufus Hinton and Melvina Cook, died of valvular heart disease.

On 29 February 1924, John Brewster Armstrong, 5, of Farmville, son of E. Douglas Armstrong and Ellen Freeman, died at Wilson Hospital of cardiac decompensation. He was buried in Farmville, Pitt County.

On 10 June 1921, Morriss Lee Edwards, 11, of Wilson township, son of Anthony Edwards and Mollie Howard, died of “[don’t know] heart trouble stated death came suddenly. No doctor in attendance.”

On 14 October 1926, Elise Barnes, 11, of East Nash Street, Wilson, daughter of Rosco Barnes and Jessie Adams, died of acute pericarditis.

On 21 March 1930, Cleotha Taylor, 7, of Wilson township, daughter of Henry Strickland and Allice Taylor, died of “heart lesion –aortic insufficiency,” with rheumatism as a contributing factor.

On 11 April 1930, Ray M. Pierce, 4, of 1212 East Nash Street, Wilson, son of Andrew Pierce and Lessie Haskins, died of acute myocarditis.