Category Archives: Alexander

Valentine’s Day

How did your grandparents meet?  You might find clues in the census.

William Franklin Alexander married Loula Isabella Richardson on July 13, 1910, in Moore County, N. C.  (On the left is their wedding portrait.)  In May of that year, the census said he operated a shingle mill and was a boarder in the John D. Richardson household.  John Richardson was a farmer, and other records indicate that he  owned a saw mill.  His daughter Loula and her sisters were employed on the farm at the occupation of “chopping,” while their brothers did plowing.  Adjacent to the Richardson household on the census page was George Morgan, who was a laborer in the shingle mill.  In the same year, Loula’s sister Pearl would elope with George.  Two of her nieces told me that she slipped out of the house at night, with the help of some female cousins of the McDonald family.  George drove his buggy to Virginia, where they married across the state line.

Like many contemporary couples, these people met at work.  The shingle mill was located on the farm, and Frank actually lived in the household of his future wife.

Last fall, at the North Carolina State Fair, I saw a steam-powered saw mill in operation, which was probably similar to the one used by Frank and George for cutting wooden shingles for roofs and siding for buildings.

Source:  1910 U. S. Census, Greenwood Township, Moore County, N. C., E. D. 7, p. 9A; Family Bible records of the Alexander family in possession of Glenda Alexander.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

History Detective Work

Sometimes when the facts don’t add up in your family story, you may find yourself playing History Detective. I found a case that looked like either the dead had been resurrected, or someone had defrauded the state of North Carolina.

In researching Oswald Alexander of Mecklenburg County, N. C., (1836-1915) I found that after his death, his wife Mary R. Alexander applied for a Confederate widow’s pension. However, in the cemetery of Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, I had seen and photographed the grave monument of Oswald’s wife, Mary Reid Alexander, who died in 1894!

Over a period of years, I collected records indicating that:

In Mecklenburg County, N. C.,

  1. Mary Frances Reid married John Mack White, who died in the Civil War.
  2. Mary Reid next married Oswald Alexander, and about 25 years later, she died.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina,

  1. John A. Walker married Mary Crain, and they had a daughter named Mary Crawford Walker, and then Mary C. Walker, Sr., died.
  2. John A. Walker married Mary Rutland, and they had a son named John Rutland Walker.
  3. John Walker, Sr., died.

Then,

  1. Oswald Alexander married Mary Rutland Walker in South Carolina, in 1897.
  2. Oswald died and Mary R. Alexander applied for a confederate widow’s pension in N. C.
  3. Mary R. Alexander and Mary C. Stough, both widows, shared a household in Mecklenburg County. Mary Alexander, only 5 years older than Mary Stough, was her stepmother.

Altogether, I found records for two Mary C. Walkers, two Mary R. Alexanders, and two John Walkers, whose life histories intertwined and criss-crossed the border between the Carolinas.

The death certificate of Mary Crawford Walker Stough, which gave the names of her spouse, parents, and stepmother, helped to clarify their relationships and put them in their proper places on the family tree. With the help of newspaper announcements of marriages and deaths, I was able to sort out these people and find their official records. After a thorough search, I was relieved to find that the dead stayed buried and all parties were honest!

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Frank Alexander, Singer

Shape Notes are a way to lead groups in singing with an alternative music notation, which presumably is easier for untrained musicians to follow.  It began to be used early in the 1800’s and was especially popular in the South after the Civil War and into the 20th century.  Many old hymnals used the shape note system.

Frank Alexander, (1880-1945) my paternal grandfather, was a shape note singer and song leader in the First Presbyterian Church at Vass, N. C.

My Aunt Pollie, Frank’s oldest daughter, told me that when she was small, her father took her and her siblings to singing school in the summertime.  The school was held when their work on the farm slowed down for a time between planting and harvesting.  Pollie was born in 1913.  My father, who was born in 1925, and his younger siblings had no recollection of singing school, though Dad remembered that his father led the singing in Sunday School.

In The Pilot newspaper of Vass, I found articles from 1922 and 1923 about local singing schools.  Cypress Presbyterian Church seems to have been a major venue.

In February of 1922, this:  “The people of Johnsonville are having a nice singing school at Cameron Hill Church every Saturday night, opening at 7 o’clock.  Everybody is cordially invited to come.”

On a different note, in Jackson Springs, west of Vass and Southern Pines, a resort hotel announced its annual summer opening, with a dance. “Music was furnished by the Original Virginia Serenaders; this orchestra is composed of native Richmond boys who play the piano, two violins, two saxophones and drums.”  However, the article mentioned that the musicians studied at the Dayton Conservatory in Va., whose teachers presented singing schools in the local area.  (The founders of that school traveled to present ten-day singing schools and three-week music courses for people without the means and time to study formal music.)

In July of 1923, The Pilot reported that Mrs. A. K. Thompson and children of Vass went to the singing school at Cypress Church.  Johnsonville, Cameron Hill Presbyterian Church, and Cypress Presbyterian Church are all located in Harnett County, across the Moore County line, and a short distance from Vass.

The obituary of one of Frank Alexander’s friends, John Arch Keith, who was a singing school teacher, implies that by 1934 singing schools were something known only to the older members of the community.

Mr. Keith, a farmer and businessman, was born in 1859 in Moore County.  He was a deacon of Cypress Presbyterian Church, but his funeral was held at Vass Presbyterian, and Frank Alexander was an honorary pall bearer.

“Music for the service was by the community young people’s choir, assisted by several adult voices, and one of the numbers used was ‘From Every Stormy Wind That Blows,’ sung to one of Mr. Keith’s favorite tunes, ‘Retreat.'”

“Mr. Keith was greatly interested in music and derived great pleasure from teaching what the older people know as ‘singing schools.’”

frankinhatWilliam Franklin Alexander came from a musical family.  His uncle, Oswald A. Alexander of Mecklenburg County was a singing school master.   Frank and his brothers, Oswald and Oscar, sang harmony while their sister Belle played piano.  They had many other musical relatives and descendants.

Sources:  The Sacred Harp, (Sacred Harp Publishing Co., 1991) p. 470; David Warren Steel, “Shape-note singing,” https://www.britannica.com/art/shape-note-singing, accessed 15 Jan. 2018; “Cypress Creek Items,” The Pilot newspaper, Vass, N. C., 10 Feb. 1922; “Jackson Spring News:  The Season’s Opening,” The Pilot, 9 June 1922, p. 1; “Vass and Community,” The Pilot, 20 July 1923, p. 5; James R. Goff, Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel (Chapel Hill:  The University of N. C. Press, 2002) pp. 64-65, accessed 16 Jan. 2018 at books.google.com; “An Old-Timer Passes:  John Arch Keith,” The Pilot, 17 Aug. 1934, p.1.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.