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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.

Feeling Lucky

24 Mar

Last week’s St. Patrick’s Day holiday was ever sweeter as I could proudly wear a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shamrock — knowing it was true…This was the first day of wearin’ the green that I knew for certain I’m a wee bit Irish. Recent research revealed at least two “gateway” ancestors who emigrated from Ireland.  Both are through my Whitfield/Brown line.  Both were probably from Northern Ireland’s Ulster – which probably makes them “Scotch-Irish.”

The first was Mollie Browne circa 1712 – 1824. Mollie Browne emigrated to Bedford, Virginia with her Irish husband John Browne. He died soon after their arrival leaving behind an orphan son Richard Browne. Mollie remarried soon after John’s death to Joseph Underwood in 1730  who later settled the family in Rutherford, North Carolina. I am descended from Mollie’s daughter Elizabeth Underwood. Mollie is my 7x-Great-Grandmother.

My second Irish ancestor that I’ve found is Samuel King, Sr.  He married Elizabeth Underwood Davenport – Mollie Browne’s daughter. Her marriage to Samuel was Elizabeth’s second marriage.  Samuel was born in 1746 and arrived to America from Ireland with his brother Joseph and sister Elizabeth.

In 1770 Samuel purchased 200 acres along the North Carolina/South Carolina border which had a high hill that became known as King’s Mountain. Later on October 7, 1780, the “Battle of King’s Mountain” occurred between Major Ferguson’s troops and around 1,000 southern mountaineers making this family namesake a pivotal location in the war. Samuel King enlisted December 9, 1776, as a Private in Co. K, 11th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army commanded by Col. Daniel Morgan. He was captured at Germantown and listed as a prisoner on a muster roll call October 14, 1777. He apparently escaped and appeared on the Philadelphia Co., Pennsylvania muster roll on February 17, 1778, in Camp Valley Forge under General George Washington. Samuel is my 6x-Great-Grandfather.

I’ve spent more time learning about each of these ancestors and their families and taking in my Irish heritage and culture.  I’ve always been a fan of Irish fare, drink and a good shanty being lucky to have some great Irish pubs here in Honolulu like Murphy’s (my fave), O’Toole’s and the Irish Rose… so I tried my hand at making my first Irish Guinness Stew and adapted several recipes I found online.  The end product was a savory slow-cooked stew that packed lots of flavor with some interesting ingredients I didn’t expect like chocolate, brown sugar, and honey to counter the bitter potential of the single bottle of Guinness Extra Stout.  The remaining bottles of Guinness were paired with a Single Shot Pale Ale to make “Black and Tans”.

To learn a little Irish language  and song — I listened to a crash course of Michael O’Laughlin’s Hello Fada and also the Irish Song and Recitation podcasts. Here’s a favorite I discovered – “Oro Se” a 17th century standard and often a beginner’s first song to learn.

The Whitfield’s

16 Nov

My great-grandparents Paul & Elizabeth Whitfield resided in Raleigh, North Carolina. Great-grandpa Paul is my brickwall ancestor – with a mystery surrounding his “surname.” One tale is that he took the name from another passenger aboard the ship upon which he immigrated from Marseilles, France.

The Whitfields

Great-grandparents Paul Alexandria Whitfield & Elizabeth (born Lola Elizabeth Brown)



Finding Mr. Welpe

29 Oct

My Great-Aunt Jewell Rebecca Brown Welpe was born in 1897 in North Carolina and died in 1992. Until a few weeks ago all I knew of her was from a handwritten note my mother had after a conversation she had many years ago with Great-Grandma Elizabeth Brown Whitfield six years younger born in 1903.

“Grandma’s Sister: Rebecca Brown married Mr. Welpe”.  I’d always wondered more about my Great-Aunt and thought if I could learn more about her perhaps I’d learn more of my own Great-Grandmother.  And from that little 4×4 square note spawned years of wonder over the question: “Who was Mr. Welpe?”

Records I found on opened many new doors for my search. I started with my Great-Aunt’s name as I knew it -“Rebecca Welpe”-looking for some kind of death record or census record.  There was a hit – the North Carolina Death Collection – stating she had passed away in Raleigh, Wake County, NC. Which placed her in the right region for the family,  and it revealed a new name, Jewell.  Armed with this new gem of information — there was already a second suggested record  — from the SSDI (Social Security Death Index).  This one had somewhat conflicting information — but I knew it was another clue – “Last Residence: 10520 Croton on Hudson, Westchester, NY”.

I quickly flipped over to and found their expanded  entries of data — all more valuable clues — Burial Place: Fayetteville, NC; Place of Birth: Randolph County, NC; Occupation: Public Health Nurse; Marital Status: widowed.  So we know our Mr. Welpe passes on before 1992.  A second microfilm death collection there has much of the same information but lists the name of the crematory – Rogers and Breece Crematory in Fayetteville and also lists an residence address on Crutchfield Rd.– the very same address I had as a known address for my own Great-Grandmother.  Perhaps her health began to fail so she traveled south to be with her sister Elizabeth back home in Raleigh soon before she passed to have the conflicting last known residences.

On the same search at the bottom of the page — “the following results don’t strongly match what you searched for but may be of interest”  and yes they were… perhaps these Welpe’s were relatives of –or the “Mr. Welpe”  himself.  Unfortunately, none seemed to be a match for him – but all had some kind of New York connection.  So into the database they go as possibles. For some odd, gut-reason I especially like the possible Fredrick Welpe – born approx. 1894 to German immigrant parents and living in Brooklyn Ward 27, Kings, NY. (1910 Census). But even he seems to be a miss.

Simultaneously — I wonder where is Jewell in that year – so back to Ancestry – to build her timeline:

  • 1910 United States Census: 12 year old Jewell Brown is residing in the Oxford Orphan Asylum in Oxford, Granville, North Carolina.  Listed right under her name on the next line is Lola Brown listed as the same age.
  • 1920 United States Census: 22 year old Jewell is now in Henrico County, Virginia.  Richmond Clay Ward, Independent City, Virginia.  She’s in a household of Staff nurses who are “visiting nurses.” living on South Cherry Street.
  • 1930 United States Census: 32 year old Jewell moves again this time to an apartment house on Sherman Ave. in Manhattan, New York City.  She’s her own head of household, still single and working as a nurse in the maternity center.  Many other nurses are listed in the same apartment building so perhaps this is near the hospital.
So now I’ve established her in NYC by 1930  — a marriage to Mr. Welpe just might be in Manhattan…unfortunately to get a marriage certificate in NYC it will require me to know Mr. Welpe’s first name and to acquire a copy of both his death certificate and Jewell’s.
I’ve found many Mr. Welpe’s in  NY, NJ areas from other sources — just not the one who married Jewell Rebecca.  At least not yet:
  • Albert H. Welpe b. 1878 NYC; father Clements Welpe b. 1846 Austria
  • Frank Welpe b. 1883 d. 1978 married Mary Branard /Brainerd – daughter of Grove P. Branard b. 1851 – brother Charles D. Branard
  • Frederick Welpe b. 1893 NY married Gertrude
  • John Charles Welpe married Lulu Rowland; son Dennis J. Welpe d.2007 who endowed the Welpe Theatre in NJ.
  • Lawrence Welpe b. 1884 d.1963 married
  • William Welpe  a Broadway actor in the 1920s
Until I found a resource called the “dead people search engine, funeral news and directory.”  They claim on their homepage to be “the first social network dedicated to the death and funerals”. On their search – was one Mr. Welpe with the right approximate birth and the last location zip — 10520 – that’s New York’s Croton on Hudson village. Very promising.
Milton Welpe b. 1895 died 1974.
Other citations I’ve found for Mr. Welpe  include:
  • 1910 United States Census: Milton M. Welpe — 14 years old – stock boy – natural born – parents German Andrew H. Welpe & Thelka Welpe residing in Manhattan on West 114th Street
  • 1917 — WWI Draft card from June 1917 – the 21 year old Welpe is single; a salesman for Charles Russell in Baldwin where he also resides.  On his draft card he reports he has grey eyes and brown hair.
  • 1920 – possible “first” marriage at age 24 (per 1930 US Census)
  • 1930 United States Census: 34 years old – listed as married  and age of first marriage 24. No wife is listed in the household though.  He is residing with his parents on W. 204th Street which happens to be right around the corner from the Sherman Avenue apartment where Jewell R. Brown resides.  He works as a manager of a radio store.
  • 1974 – SSDI  – Milton Welpe last residence Westchester, New York, zip 10520 (Croton on Hudson)
My intuition tells me we’ve found Mr. Right in this Mr. Milton M. Welpe,  but till i find some vital record linking them on a death certificate or marriage certificate or probate – I’ll still be… finding Mr. Welpe.
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