Tag Archives: Family

The Down Side of Ancestry.com


Family Tree
Can learning about your genealogy have a downside?

You might not think that researching ones ancestry would have a down side, but it always does. The down side is that you find out things that you weren’t supposed to know or you reveal things that you weren’t supposed to tell. Actually, those are about the only down sides. With the advent of the Ancestry.com. web site, it has become so easy to research one’s roots. My cousin June, who spent years traveling to gravesites and public libraries to uncover details about our family history, would be amazed to learn that today it only takes hours to uncover much of the same information, thanks to Ancestry.com. I am so proud that she named me as the benefactor to our treasured historical documents and photos.

When I was 17 years old, I worked for the Community Action Program in Warrenton, VA. and was assigned as a summer counselor at a church out in the county. One day as I stood on the steps at the entrance of the church, a boy of about 10 years old walked up to me. He said, “Hi, I’m (he told me his name), I’m your cousin. My mother is…” (he told me his mother’s name). I recognized her name right away and I’d known his family all my life. He went on,”… and my father is (he named a relative of mine)”. One look at him and you could easily tell that he was related to our family; the head, the eyes, the cheeks, yes he was family all right, it was unmistakable. I was a bit taken aback at how matter-of-fact he was though, that young man wanted me to know exactly who he was. He went on to tell me that he’d gotten into trouble quite a bit in the past because he hadn’t had a father growing up. According to him, he didn’t have a father because the person he named had never acknowledged him as a son. The man who sired him had never so much as given him a Christmas gift and had never as stopped by to see him, ever. If you’ve watched any television at all, this scene is not that foreign to you. This family skeleton storyline has played out on the TV and big screen quite a few times over the years.

The problem is that you won’t find that boy’s name anywhere in my family tree. It’s not that the family doesn’t know he exists, it’s that we’re not “supposed” to know, it’s never been publicly declared that he is related to us. Granted, I learned of my cousin’s existence decades before Ancestry.com was ever conceived, but now that it’s here and I use it religiously, I have to play tug-of-war with my conscience over whether to include him in the family tree or not. Is it true that sometimes too much information can be bad for you?


Family Tree
Cousin June left behind a treasure trove of family history, a monument to her work ethic and dedication to family

Then there are the kids I grew up playing with that turned out to be my cousins. We, my siblings and I, were never told that our friends and schoolmates were actually part of the family. Not even the fact their grandmother always asked how my grandmother was doing and called her “Cousin Lula” tipped me off. It just never clicked in my brain that she always referred to her as “cousin”. It turns out that how we came to be related might be a cause for embarrassment for one or more members of the family, so I suppose that is why we were never told. But it really didn’t have any affect on our relationship with that family. We grew up in a very tight-knit community, where you felt kin to everyone even if you weren’t. Still it would have been nice to know at the time.

The moral to the story: family is family, no matter how you became family and it all should be acknowledged and welcomed. Researching our family history should not be cause for anguish or worry that long kept family secrets might get out. As family historians, as true genealogists, we must not be afraid to follow our roots to their true beginnings, no matter where they lead.

Post Script


Family Tree
George Samuel is the young man referred to in this story. George passed away on March 15, 2015 without ever being acknowledge as a member of our family publicly until now. At the urging of my aunt Helen, George has since been added to the family tree.

A Picnic to Remember


Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
My family and I on one of our many visits to Skyline Drive, that’s me on the right

While growing up, our family made picnicking on Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park, a regular pastime since before I can even remember. So when I was finally able to purchase my own car and it came time to take a female friend on a date during the day, driving and picnicking along the Shenandoah National Parkway was always my first option. The female in question on this occasion wasn’t actually a girlfriend, well she was my girlfriend, I just wasn’t her boyfriend. It gets complicated, see she already had a boyfriend, so to her I was just a good companion to have around when he wasn’t and it seemed like he was hardly ever around. Whatever the situation was, it didn’t matter, we seemed to enjoy each other’s company. This unidentified young lady lived on a farm up in the mountainous region of northern Fauquier County. She even tried to teach me how to ride a horse bare back once. I never caught on to it though, I couldn’t get pass the “slide-while-you-ride” factor, horses are slippery critters.

The dirt road that led to her house was like a rollercoaster ride, only worse. But that was during the day, at night you couldn’t tell if you were driving over a steep hill or about to plummet to your death off of a cliff, that’s how steep the terrain was. My car would get to the top of one hill that was so steeply angled that the frame would get caught on the gravel road with the tires suspended off the ground. You had to rock the car back and forth and you could end up going backward or forward, depending upon which tires hit the ground first, the front or the back. We really didn’t need to pay $2 to go to Skyline Drive, to me she already lived in the mountains.


Great Picnic fixings
I considered myself quite the lady’s man back then, unfortunately…

When it came to impressing the ladies, I didn’t half-step, I always tried to go the extra mile. This was one of those occasions where I wanted to make a good impression, so I stepped it up a notch. So, I went to the 7-11 and bought a bottle of Sangria, some assorted cheeses, went to the A&P and bought a loaf of French bread and two long stemmed wine glasses. I even drove all the way to Pier 1 Imports in Manassas to buy a wicker picnic basket (with the complimentary checkered table cloth included). All I needed to do now was pick her up and we’d be on our way. I drove 30 miles to the mountains to pick up the young lady, then we drove another 30 miles to some other mountains to look at other mountains, yep, this was going to be a day to remember.


1971 - An unidentified young lady sits atop an old Ford pickup truck somewhere in the mountainous regions of Fauquier County, Virginia
An unidentified young lady sits atop an old Ford pickup truck somewhere in the mountainous regions of Fauquier County, Virginia

Back then, I guess you could say I was a bit naïve about, well, just about everything. We arrived at Skyline Drive and spent the better part of the day moving from one overlook to the other, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Finally, it came time to eat and we decided to stop somewhere and enjoy our picnic lunch. I found a good spot to park, just along a curve with a shoulder just wide enough to be clear of oncoming traffic. The spot was at the foot of a pretty steep hill, but the hill rose to a secluded area. From our vantage point I could tell that the woods above contained a hollow with cool soft grass that was just right for a romantic interlude. We unpacked the car and hiked up the hill. We stopped at a spot where there was a clear 360 degree view, we were at the crest of the mountaintop. The wine was poured, the cheese was cut, our bellies were plied and content. Now came the time for romance.

I stared deeply into her eyes and leaned forward for that first kiss. It was at this juncture that I happened to let my eyes wander away from hers, I looked down the hill toward my car. That’s when I noticed that a park ranger had pulled along the shoulder. He was already out of his car and looking over my vehicle, this scene was being played out about a half mile below us, we regained our composure and watched and wondered at what caused him to stop in the first place. The park ranger then turned his attention toward the hill, the hill we were sitting on. He looked up and down the hillside, but there was no way he could see us, but he was definitely trying. He reached into his vehicle and pulled out some binoculars. After scanning through the trees for a while, he decided to just start up the incline. He was climbing the hill but had no clue which direction he should be going. I could tell that if he continued in the direction he was headed he would miss us by quite a distance, but he continued to climb, apparently determined to find the owner of the car left on the side of the road.

After about 15 minutes of watching the park ranger hunt for us in vein through the woods, I decided it was time to let him in on where we were. I knew he’d eventually find us because it didn’t look like he was about to quit anytime soon. I called him over:
“Sir! Officer! We’re over here!”
As he approached, he spoke up while we nonchalantly continued enjoying our wine and cheese. This is how the conversation went…
“Good afternoon sir, I’m the park ranger assigned to this area, is that your vehicle at the bottom of the hill sir?”
– “Yes, it is”
“You’re having a picnic, are you? Nice day for it”
– “Yes, it’s a beautiful day”.
“Is that wine you have there in those glasses?”
– “Yes, Yago Sangria” (He needed to know that he wasn’t just dealing with anybody, he was dealing with a connoisseur of fine wines)
“And the young lady, hello ma’am, how old is she?” (He was very polite)
– “Oh, she’s 17”.
“And you sir, how old are you?”
– “I’m 19”
“Ok, well, do you know why I came looking for you up here today sir?”
– “No officer, is there a problem?” (Did I mention how naïve I was?)
“Well there are a couple of park regulations that you’re currently in violation of, where shall we start?
Your car sir, #1, you’re parked on the side of the road, that’s an undesignated area. You can only park in designated parking areas within the park, sir. And #2, you’re picnicking in an undesignated area, we have picnic areas clearly marked throughout the park. Then there’s the alcohol, there’s no alcohol allowed in the park, that’s #3. You have an open container of alcohol, #4 and you are drinking in public, that’s 5 so far. Sir, the young lady, you say you are 19 and she is only 17, that means you are contributing to the delinquency of a minor, you could go to jail for that young man. That’s 6 park violations. That’s it, I think that’s all I can find for now. What do you have to say for yourself?”
– “I’m sorry officer, I wasn’t aware of those rules”
“You weren’t aware, YOU WEREN’T AWARE? We have signs posted everywhere! How could you not be aware?” He calmed himself and thought for a minute, then continued, “But you seem like a nice young man, you called me over, you weren’t hiding from me. You do seem innocent enough and you weren’t doing anything other than having a picnic, so I’m going to let you go, but let this be a lesson to you”
– “Oh thank you sir, we’ll go back down the hill and get out of here right now”
The officer turned and started down the hill to his car, then he looked back and pointed his finger, “Don’t leave any trash, that’ll be number 7! Take all your trash with you. Leave it the way you found it!”. With that he was gone.
Seven national park violations and he let us go, that had to be some kind of record. Needless to say, the young lady in question and I never went back to Skyline Drive again.

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“The Miracle of the Corn”

Remember that Ford Falcon I told you about in the State Bank of Remington story that I posted in 2013? You do? Well, there’s another story that goes hand-in-hand with that one. Here it is… As soon as I got my driver’s license and bought a car, my mother decided that she too, should learn to drive. Knowing that dad didn’t have a lot of patience when it came to teaching something to someone that he felt should come naturally to them, my mother turned to our neighbor across the field. Buddy Hayes, you may know him around town as “Blinky”, taught both my mother and me how to drive a straight stick. He would let us drive up and down that old dirt road we lived on to our heart’s content. He was very patient and he’d let you make mistakes without being judgmental, a virtue that not many of us possess. After Mom received all of the training she felt she needed from Buddy, she decided it was time to give her experience a real test. she wanted to take my car out on the pavement, down Sumerduck Road and beyond.

Once we started, Mom did really well. I was in the passenger’s seat and my younger brother was just along for the ride and was in the back seat. Sumerduck Road “651” was a breeze, she did everything right. We turned on Savannah Branch Road, “751”, and still things went smoothly, but this is where the controversy begins and our collective memories of what happened next part ways. I decided to have her turn left on Morgansburg Road, “653”, it runs along the Ott farm, yes the same farm mentioned in the story, The Long Way Home”. Mom says I waited too late to tell her to turn, I think I gave her adequate notice and that said notice abided by the strict Queen’s Standard Protocol for blurting out driving instructions. We will have to agree to disagree on this matter, for there is no documented evidence or video footage that we can cite as a valid and reliable source at this late date. All I know is, no matter who was to blame, the car veered too late to make the turned and the steering was overcorrected to the point that the car ended up in the ditch. I apologize for all the legal mumbo jumbo, but one must be very careful when recounting disputed accounts and recollections, especially in cases yet to be settled. But I will yield to my mother’s version out of respect and the fact that she may knock me up-side the head if I don’t.

The next thing I knew we were sitting cock-eyed in the ditch, teetering precariously to the left. I immediately jumped out of the passenger side door, flailing my arms above my head yelling “My Car, My Car! What have you done to my car!?!?”. I was completely in shock and adrift of my senses as I circled the car, searching through the imagined wreckage looking to assess the damages. The car had not a scratch on it. At that point my little brother decided that he too, should go into panic mode and began crying uncontrollably. It was summer, the windows were down, so I stuck my head in the back window and yelled, “Shut Up! You’re not hurt! My car! My Car! Look at my car!”.

All of a sudden, the ocean of corn parted majestically, a la the Red Sea. A light appeared in its midst and descended down upon us? Was it an hallucination brought on by a concussion? Was it an angel from on high? No, it was none of those, it was Mr. Ott on his tractor. This was old Mr. Ott, not to be confused with the young Mr. Ott. The Mr. Ott, who, from my perspective at the time, owned a farm on the scale of the Ponderosa Ranch on the TV show Bonanza, that Mr. Ott. The Mr. Ott that my father had worked for, milking cows, when he was only 12 or 13 years old, that Mr Ott. But to me all I saw was a guardian angel. He stopped with the tractor still puttering and asked if we needed help. He said he’d brought a chain with him so he could pull us from the miry clay, to wrest us from death’s impending grip! He and his tractor pulled the car out of the ditch. We were saved! Afterwards, we talked. He knew who we were, asked how my Dad was doing and refused to accept any payment for his kind deed. He drove off into the sunset the same way he had arrived. As soon as we returned home we told Dad what had transpired, “The Miracle of the Corn”, as it has come to be known and he immediately got in his car and drove down to the Ott farm to thank him for helping us. And indeed, it was a miracle as far as I was concerned and something that has stayed with me to this day.

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Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractors

You couldn’t be a black male from the Piney Ridge area of Remington, VA. and NOT work for the Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor company at some point in your life, it just didn’t happen. Working for the “Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor” company was a rite of passage for every African American male child born within a one mile radius of the business. This rite of passage helped boys become men, as they hauled bricks, blocks, stone, mortar and concrete for at least one summer during their formative years. Some of our most auspicious community members started their careers by working for Charles Davis or his father, Newt Richard Davis. My father acted as the foreman on the job until Charles’ son, Charles Edward or “Cubby” (as he was sometimes referred to on the job), earned his wings and took his rightful place as heir to the vast brick and block empire. When it finally came time for me to take my turn as a summer laborer, Mr Davis saw a unique opportunity and moved on it. The second day I was on the job, he presented me with a fully stocked mason’s tool bag. Inside were new trowels of various sizes and uses, brick hammers, levels, plum bobs and the like. These were all spanking new tools and Mr. Davis had plans for me to follow in my father’s footsteps, little did he know.

It didn’t take very long to find out that I had neither my father’s immense talent nor his desire to work in the masonry trade. I had much bigger plans, I intended to graduate from college and become a high school physical education teacher. I was only working construction to make enough money to apply to Norfolk State. I hadn’t strategized beyond that point yet.

I enjoyed working with the crew, there was a lot of horseplay, gossip and general instigating to see how far you could push the envelope before someone pushed back. The job was ok, but it became fun whenever we did a job for Claude W. Ritchie. “Toad”, as he was called by everyone I ever knew, was partners with his brother C. L. Ritchie, in the business their father started, Ritchie’s Millwork & Building Materials, Inc. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Ritchie was a genius, the Frank Lloyd Wright of his time, I liked watching him work. I enjoyed watching him explain his vision to my father on intricate brick work. The fun part was the carpenters that worked for Mr. Ritchie, they would keep you laughing all day. One of the larger than life characters on the job was “Foots” Southard, there was never a dull moment with him around. The other great thing, even though I did not partake myself, were the times when we worked with Toad’s crew and a job was completed on a Friday. Finishing a job on Friday for those guys usually meant that someone was going to make a beer run and the old ice chest would come out. Our boss, “Mr. Cha’ Newt” would have never allowed drinking on the job, but when those boisterous carpenters yelled “grab one” to anyone in listening range, Mr. Davis would give a nod that said “go ahead, get one” and our guys would happily dig in. Everyone would sit around laughing with a cold one for a while until my father or Charles Edward said it was time to head home. My father only drank when he added ‘a taste’ to a bowl of ice cream, that was the extent of his drinking when I was growing up. I may have had a beer or two by then, but not in the company of my father, that’d never happen. Young Charles and my father both drove company vehicles, hauling men and supplies to and from our meeting place in front of Archie Edward’s general store, so they did not imbibe and wouldn’t have anyway.

Our dad had served in the Navy during WWII as a cook on a battle ship. He served honorably with no chance for advancement even though he had the mind of an engineer who could build almost anything. When he came home from the war he couldn’t get a loan to build a home for his family so he bought what materials he could buy each week until the home was completed. I was five years old with two younger siblings when we moved into that new home in Remington, VA. The good news is when we moved in dad didn’t owe anybody a nickle because he built the entire house with his two bare hands.

My mother says that they did receive some help in the early years. She says that Mr. Archie Edwards “carried” her and my father for the first two years of their marriage. They were just starting out, dad was building the house at the time and they didn’t have a penny to their names. Mr. Edwards let dad put two years worth of food and supplies on credit at his store until the house was completed. After completing the house, Dad paid it all back almost immediately. My mother said that she has always been grateful to Archie Edwards for being there for them.

Speaking of being there for them, a lot of families depended on Haught’s store for everyday needs, “Put it on the bill” was a common expression heard at the counter. Mrs. Haught would pull out the box of index cards, thumb through the names and jot down, yet again, another purchase with a promise to pay. I could never figure out how Mrs. Haught was able to give so much credit to so many people. You could sometimes see the weight of maintaining that store written across her brow. We always kept our bill paid up, but not everyone was that considerate or fortunate, I suppose.

One day at work while I was standing at the mixing machine “shaking up” a fresh mixed batch of “mud” (making sure the mortar did not set and hardened), a truck drove up to the job site and a white man climbed out of the passenger’s side. As the pick-up pulled away, I noticed the man who’d gotten out had a tool bag under his arm. The bag was flat and appeared to be completely devoid of any tools. He walked up to Leonard and I and asked if the boss was around. We explained that Mr Cha’Newt didn’t worked as a mason much anymore and was probably out drumming up new business. Someone told him that the boss usually came by the job site at least once a day, so he could wait around if he wanted. The gentleman, who looked to be about 45 years old, placed his bag on the ground and took a tour around the construction site, saying hello and introducing himself.

At some point during the day the boss stopped by, that’s when the man approached him. “Mr. Davis, my name is Earl Hager, I’m an experienced brick mason and I’m looking for a job”. Just about everyone heard him and they all stopped working at once, turned and listened. Reading this now, you may not know this but, in the sixties, no self respecting white man that I knew of, would ask for a job working for a black man. I can’t say it never happened, because it did that day, but it was rare. And I can state freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, that it had never happened on our job before.

Earl Hager got the job and began work immediately. From the very start something didn’t quite feel right about him. He was very quiet, almost to a fault. He didn’t join in the horse play, he never spoke at all about himself. He didn’t even call out for brick and mortar when his supplies ran low like all the other masons did. “Little brick, little Mud!!!”, Charles Edward yelled out, but not for his station, he was yelling to get us to set up Earl. “Shake’em up over here” came a cry from Jesse Mason or my father, “Doc Brown” (that’s what everyone called my dad, “Doc”, I never knew how that got started). “Shakin’em up!” was echoed by one of the laborers and they would again bring Earl’s supplies up to par. The “eagle (payday) didn’t fly” for a new employee until they’d worked a full week on the job, the same applied to Earl. When payday rolled around, something very strange happened. On Friday’s, dad and young Charles would pull up in front of the State Bank of Remington and we would all pile out, run in and get our checks cashed or deposited. I jumped out of the truck to go into the bank, looked back and noticed that Earl was just sitting there looking toward the other side of the street, he never got out of the truck. After we all returned from the bank, Sonny Newman, who worked with us at the time, asked Earl if he was going to get his check cashed. Earl explained that he didn’t have a drivers license or any other identification for that matter, so he couldn’t get his check cashed. Sonny told him that he should have asked the boss to pay him in cash, then he offered to go in and have the check cashed for him. Earl agreed and that’s what happened, Sonny had the check cashed that week and from then on Earl’s little manila pay envelop had cash in it rather than a pay check. The next time we worked with Toad’s carpenters you should have seen the look on Foots’ face when he saw Earl Hager climb out of our truck. If you knew Foots at all you can imagine the expression on his face, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to, his expression said it all. He looked at Earl, then at us, then back at Earl again. That collective crew didn’t seem to have a prejudice bone among them, it was always a joy to share a job site with them. Somewhere around the third or fourth week of Earl’s arrival, we received a huge surprise. The day started out just like any other. We arrived in front of Edward’s store, went in, bought snacks and other supplies needed for the day, then went off to the job site. At around 10 am, a green 1965 Ford Fairlane pulled up next to the mortar mixing machine where I was working. Two men in black suits climbed out, walked over to me and introduced themselves as deputy U.S. Marshals looking for one Earl Hager. I pointed Earl out and they approached him. They identified themselves and immediately placed him in handcuffs. Apparently Earl was an escaped convict from a Tennessee correctional facility and had crossed the state line into Virginia. That made his apprehension fall under the jurisdiction of the U. S. Marshals service.
No wonder he was so quiet, stayed to himself and couldn’t cash his own paycheck, he was a fugitive from justice. Earl was always pleasant and quiet, but he’d made one fatal error in his quest to remain free. There was no way he could ever be inconspicuous working with us. What could draw more attention than a white man working in an all black construction crew in 1968? Not much. Thus ended the story of Earl Hager, but the story and success of the Charles N. Davis construction company continued. The black owned and operated business flourished and carried on as a rite of passage for young men in the community for many years to come.

Post Scipt:

If you think the brickwork on your home may have been done by the Charles N. Davis Masonry company, there’s one sure way to find out. Here’s how you can tell:

My father ALWAYS signed his work.
1) Get a ladder

2) Climb to the top of the chimney

3) Somewhere around the flue, etched in the concrete, will be the initials A.E.B.

4) That’s it! If its there, you have an Ellsworth Brown original fireplace/ chimney in your possession, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to sell it on eBay