Her Name was Lola…

18 Apr

We knew her as Elizabeth, but her name was Lola.  Lola E. Brown was born in 1903 in Guilford, North Carolina. Lola married to Paul Alexander Whitfield in 1923.  She passed away in Wake County, Raleigh, North Carolina in 1994.

She was a nurse, a homemaker and mother of two Dorothy Whitfield Dyson and Billy Keith Whitfield, Sr. my grandfather. She enjoyed her cigarettes, spoke softly and didn’t reveal much of her past.  My mother remembers only that she would say, “I’m American” when asked about her ethnic background.

My great-grandmother Elizabeth was an extraordinary lady.  Despite a hard and difficult upbringing in her young life – she still managed to finish up to a 3rd year of college in a time when many women would not even graduate high school.

I was quite young, maybe only about 3 years old when we visited her North Carolina home… the warm tones of the wooden walls of the small but quaint cottage which had been built by my great-grandfather Paul, the striking red hair and freckles of my mother’s cousin Lee, and a cute little white dog are etched in my memories.  Her hair was all white, curly, and kept short. Her skin wrinkled and aged with time.  Her smile sparkling like the way the light danced upon her eyes through thick glasses.  My beautiful grand-aunt Dorothy setting the table.  Four generations of Whitfield-Brown women under one roof. These are the memories I remember.


Three generations of Whitfield/Brown ladies — Lola Elizabeth Brown Whitfield, Sherry Leialoha Whitfield Fernandez, and Aunty Dorothy Whitfield Dyson circa 1974 in Raleigh, North Carolina

She came to Hawaii for a few visits in the 60s and 70s — in 1972 for my mother’s wedding (pictured below – with her son, 2nd daughter-in-law, and grandson Shawn) and sometime later in the mid-70s during the Halloween season.


Lola Elizabeth, June Mann Whitfield, Shawn Whitfield & Billy Keith Whitfield, Sr. at wedding reception for Lino & Sherry Fernandez at Pacific Palisades, Pearl City, HI January 22, 1972

Notes given to my mother about her parents were that her parents’ names were John and Mary Jane Brown.  (These common names made it difficult to find a proper pairing.) For many years, my research lead us to believe that she and Jewell Rebecca her elder sister were the children of John Dillard Brown and Mary Jane “Polly” Anna Pack.  For a decade or more, I researched and built out the John D. Brown tree taking their lines back across the pond to Europe to kings, queens and knights and the Pack lines to their Native American roots.  I don’t want to say this was a waste of time.  This was how I really “cut my teeth” into family research, cluster research and learning so much about the immigrations to America and migrations of pioneer people along the Eastern seaboard during a very difficult time in our country’s history during the Civil War years.  I “met” and collaborated with distant “cousins” who I treasure for their assistance and mentorship – learning so much about North Carolina history and landmarks. But alas, without vital documentation of her lineage all of this was “a wish” to find our people.

Fast forward to 2018, and to answer some long burning questions about “who she was” my mother gifted herself an AncestryDNA kit, and it turns out our Brown connection is probably not (at least not directly) connected to John Dillard Brown nor Mary Jane Pack.

Instead, our story leads us to new mysteries, brick walls and unanswered questions.  There’s probably another lifetime of research to really find out who the parents of Lola were???  But newly discovered living relatives to whom my mother had extremely high DNA matches gave us enough clues which I could connect the dots from Lola to the family of their grandfather Obediah Brown b.1839 – d.1905 and Frances Fanny J. Ellington b. 1839 – d. 1926 — both whom were born in Pittsylvania, VA but moved their family to High Point, Guilford County, NC. Obediah was a shoemaker and many of his sons, even grandsons continued this craft. I am hoping to isolate which of Obediah’s nine children is the parent to Lola Elizabeth Brown; my intuition is that her mother was Mary J. Brown b. July 1874 the seventh child of Oby and Fannie.

In 1900, Lola’s older sister Jewell then 3 years old is listed in the household of Obediah as a granddaughter.  Three years later Lola would have been born and two years after that their grandfather Oby would pass away in January of 1905.  Sadly, it is sometime between 1905 and 1910 that the girl’s are separated from the Brown family and become wards and begin living at the the Oxford Orphanage Asylum. They both would have still been there in 1911 when this photo was taken.

Oxford Orphan Asylum, 1911 (Sepia print)

Oxford Orphan Asylum, 1911 (Sepia print) Photographer: Walter Holladay, Durham, North Carolina; SMLMA Accession Number: 2010.3

One day I would love to visit the Sallie Mae Ligon Museum & Archives housed in the Cobb Center at Dunn Cottage, located on the scenic campus of the Masonic Home for Children, in Oxford, North Carolina. The museum holds the permanent collections of North Carolina’s first and oldest operating residential home for children, which opened its doors to 10,000 children in need since 1873.  It was here at the Oxford Asylum that both my great-grandaunt and great-grandmother learned the skills to both later serve long careers as nurses.

I imagine that the sisters remained close to the very end of their lives.  When Jewell Rebecca Brown Welpe was nearing her last days in the early 1990s, she relocated from Westchester (Croton on the Hudson), NY back to Raleigh and took up residence with my great-grandma Lola as her caregiver now in her late 80s.

In 1994 at the age of 90, Lola Elizabeth was laid to rest at the Raleigh Memorial Park in the plot at the Garden of the Last Supper beside Great-grandpa Paul who preceded her in death in 1970.  Her son Billy Keith Whitfield, Sr. passed October 22, 1997.  A few years ago, my first cousin found Dorothy Lee Whitfield Dyson in an obituary listed as the surviving spouse to her husband Hugh Monroe Dyson who died Feb 1, 2014. (it is unknown at this time if she is still surviving). Lola is survived by many grand-children, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren in North Carolina, Ohio, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.

2 Responses to “Her Name was Lola…”

  1. Erin Campbell May 20, 2022 at 4:39 am #

    I am Lola Elizabeth’s great-granddaughter! I knew her, Jewell, and Dorothy very well. Dorothy actually helped to raise me so I was around all three of them a lot growing up. I did not even know her name was Lola until this past week, when I also started my own ancestry journey. I am in Raleigh, North Carolina and help with some insight/research if you are interested. Thank you for sharing these stories!!!

  2. T A Price February 10, 2023 at 6:10 am #

    Obediah Brown and Fanny Brown (Frances Ellington/ Littleberry Ellington/Sarah Fleet Ellington) are recorded on the Quaker meetings in Springfield in Guilford County. Records are archived in the Hege Library Guilford College in Guilford County.

    View imageView record
    Record details
    Name Obadiah Brown
    Event Type Birth
    Birth Date 17 Jul 1832
    Birth Date on Image 17 1832 Seventh
    Birth Place Guilford, North Carolina
    Monthly Meeting Springfield Monthly Meeting
    Yearly Meeting North Carolina Yearly Meeting
    Meeting State North Carolina
    Meeting County Guilford

    Name Fannie Brown
    Event Type Removal
    Residence Date 11 Sep 1895
    Residence Date on Image 11 1895 Ninth
    Residence Place Guilford, North Carolina
    Spouse Obediah Brown
    Monthly Meeting Springfield Monthly Meeting
    Yearly Meeting North Carolina Yearly Meeting
    Meeting State North Carolina
    Meeting County Guilford

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