Sarah Lenora Foster
February 2, 1875 - August 13, 1943

by Iris Teta Eubank Wagner

SARAH LENORA FOSTER was the grandmother I never knew.  I've always been curious in respect to my maternal grandmother's ancestral history.  I was age eleven on a trip out west visiting national parks with the family.  I was browsing a souvenir gift shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when I saw the face of my mother in the face of an American Indian doll, a Snookum doll of good detail.  I bought the doll and have watched for years that single stare, curious through the years, thinking my mother may have Native American  heritage in her genealogy, of which I would be very proud. 

In recent years, through the increasing accuracy of DNA testing, and specifically's DNA testing, I don't have to wonder about the question of Native American ancestry in my genealogy.   Ninety-nine percent of my genetic ethnicity is from Europe -- Ireland, Europe West, Scandinavia, and Great Britain.  Trace elements are 4% Iberian Peninsula; 1% Italy/Greece; 1% Finland/Northwest Russia; 1% Europe East.

My mother knew only that her mother's name was Nora Foster. And she thought her grandmother's name was Emmaline Embler, wife of Benjamin Foster, Jr.  My mother left Black Mountain, North Carolina, when still a child, and she never met her mother.  She had no information about her mother's ancestral family.  Her Aunt Frances B. Whisenhunt, with whom she lived, knew nothing of Nora's ancestry.

Through an online response to my website written for my mother Bonnie, I learned Nora was buried in the Tabernacle Methodist Church Cemetery on Cragmont Road.  My contact was the daughter of Pauline Bartlett of Black Mountain, and she told me I should contact her mother who had known my grandmother.

Acknowledgements for Pauline Bartlett and Charles R. Hendrix are noted below.          
                                                                                                            Wagner photo

The Obituary 
A visit on a memorable weekend in 2002 with Pauline Bartlett, of Black Mountain,
uncovered, literally, the dates of Nora's birth and death. During our visit to the cemetery, Pauline was sure she had Nora's grave location correct, being in the Foster lot with her son Claude, who died in 1997.  But there was no grave marker Pauline moved her foot around a few areas where she thought the grave was located.  In a moment she had whisked away from the stone  the loose debris that covered the dates of birth and death of my grandmother Nora. 

Knowing her gravestone dates would help me find the record of her death.  Her obituary would have appeared in the Asheville newspaper. The fabulous Pack Library in downtown Asheville holds an extensive archive of Buncombe County records.  Archived pages of The Asheville-Citizen are on microfilm there.  As I scanned the boxes of reels in their shallow pull-out drawer - there, I found the one that should hold her obituary.  What an exciting moment - I was about  to   "meet"  my  grandmother.

The Asheville Citizen, August 14, 1943, Pack Library, Asheville

The microfilm reader  was fast - I  zipped to the correct page. There they were - the brothers and the  sons of her life.  With research and study of the names given in this obituary, I could now research her family.  

Nora's first name was Sarah
I discovered a document at the Buncombe County Courthouse that revealed Nora's  first name to be Sarah. This discovery was important in that it made the 1880 Buncombe County census entry for Ben Foster's household make sense in my search for the identity of the name of my grandmother. Before knowing her first name was Sarah made me think that I must have the wrong Ben Foster 1880 household.  The entry for the little girl, Sarah L., age six, was strange and did not mean anything to me.  The age was right.

The 1880 Buncombe County Census now made sense
I had researched Buncombe census records for several years.  From 1900 in each subsequent census, my grandmother called herself Nora.  I had no reason to believe her name was other than that name - Nora.

1880 U. S. Census, Buncombe County, N.C., Benjamin Foster household image . . .  Jefferson White is Henrietta's older brother. He is Clerk at the Alexander Inn.

I had yet to reconcile the "L" in  Ben Foster's eldest daughter's middle name.  And too, on the 1880 census, the names in his family were strange.  Where was Emmaline, as his wife?

My thoughts and deductions for Nora's middle name were validated as I was looking for documents of possible White family relatives in Buncombe County.  I found the death certificate of George M. White online.  He died at Alexander, North Carolina (just north of Asheville), at the age of  ninety-three in 1929.   His parents were Moses White and Rachel Alexander (daughter of James and Rhoda C. Alexander) of Buncombe County.   The families of Foster, Alexander,  and White were connected families of the early settlement days in Buncombe. 

1900 U. S. Census, Buncombe County, North Carolina, George M. White household


On the 1900 U. S. Census, George M. White and his wife Clarissa   are entered on the  census with nine children.  A daughter Lenora B was born in November, 1874, about four months before my grandmother was born in February, 1875. 

Who was Henrietta Wilfong?
My mother thought all of her life that Emmaline Embler was her mother's mother.  So, finding the marriage records of Ben Foster, Jr., Henrietta White, and Emmaline Embler (Gorman) certainly explained things for me.

Henrietta White's marriage, certificate #1441 in Buncombe, to William O. Wilfong, explained Benjamin Foster, Jr.'s marriage to Henrietta Wilfong on September 9, 1874.  Ben was age twenty-five; Henrietta was age twenty-two.

Ben Foster, Jr. married his second wife, Emmaline Embler Gorman, on May 23, 1890.  He was age forty, and Emmaline was age thirty-three.  Emmaline had married previously to Robert Gorman, and their child was Mary Gorman, wife of Arthur Govan Jones.

Alexander, Foster, Sams, and White families
Early Buncombe County settler James Alexander was the first Justice of Buncombe; Edmund Sams the first Coroner.  Both were prominent in the early governing affairs of the county.

James Alexander's Revolutionary War Pension Files
Recorded in James Alexander's Revolutionary War Pension Files: File #w.12190
(paraphrased from the record at the National Archives)
       James Alexander was born in Rowan County, North Carolina, on December 23, 1756.  He enlisted from Lincoln County, North Carolina, in 1778, under Col. Erwin.  He        enlisted again the same year, under Capt. Malcolm Henry.  In 1779, he enlisted and served in the company of Capt. Isaac White in the regiment commanded by Col. Campbell.   Continuing to re-enlist as a private, and serving under Capt.    John Barber and Col. Charles McDowell, and again with Capt. Isaac White and Col. Campbell, he fought at the Battle of King's Mountain in October, 1780.

White families in Union County, South Carolina, 1790 - 1820
Both John White b1794 (Henrietta's father) and Moses White b1790 (George M.'s father) were born in South Carolina.  But, where in SC?  The answer came in the death certificate of John White's son and Henrietta's brother, Thomas Lafayette White, who died in Buncombe at Swannanoa on February 24, 1924.  The death certificate provided the answer - the informant gave Union County, South Carolina, as Thomas's place of birth.   Families named White - Thomas, William, and James - lived in Union County, South Carolina in 1800.  Thomas is the only one of the three with two sons who are under ten years of age, the range in which John and Moses would have been entered on the census.  On the 1850 U. S. Census both men were entered as born in South Carolina.

Capt. Isaac White and older brother Lieutenant Thomas White
Mary Collins is a descendant of Lieutenant Thomas White, and has posted several pages of information online about her ancestor with brief information about Capt. Isaac White.  I haven't connected the genealogies of Henrietta's father John White to this Thomas and brother Isaac.  Yet, the families White are living in close proximity in South Carolina, and later in Rutherford County, North Carolina.  Henrietta's father John White's entry on the 1880 U. S. Census gives Maryland as the birthplace of John's father, who is likely Thomas White of the 1800 Union County, South Carolina, census.

Nora's paternal great grandparents were Capt. Thomas Foster and Orra Sams, daughter of Edmund Sams, who was elected County Coroner at the organization of the Buncombe County Court.  James Alexander was among the first justices to organize the Buncombe County Court in 1792. 

Two daughters of Thomas and Orra Foster married sons of James Alexander and Rhoda Cunningham  --  GEORGE C. ALEXANDER  married ELIZABETH FOSTER and JAMES MITCHELL ALEXANDER married NANCY FOSTER.  James and Nancy were the grandparents of Buncombe County historian, author, and attorney, Foster Alexander Sondley.  A donation by Sondley of his extensive personal library provided the foundation on which the North Carolina Collection at Asheville's Pack Library began to develop. 

George C. and Elizabeth Foster Alexander built The Alexander Inn at Swannanoa about 1820. 

(below)  The 1870 U.S. Census entry for the Alexander Inn, Res. #119.  In residence are George C. Alexander and Elizabeth Foster Alexander, son George N. Alexander and wife Sarah White Alexander, daughter Orra Alexander, Franklin White, a nephew of Sarah, and several servants. 

Thomas L. White, at residence #120 is Sarah White Alexander's brother.  Thomas's wife is Rhoda  Alexander, a granddaughter of James and Rhoda C. Alexander.

1870 U. S. Census, Buncombe County, North Carolina, Swannanoa Twnsp.

George C. Alexander lived for another ten years.  He died October 3, 1880.  Rufus D. Alexander, who purchased the Inn in 1909, was a grand-nephew of George C. Alexander.   

Sarah Lenora is named for her maternal grandmother Sarah White, wife of  John White, and for her mother Henrietta's  older sister Sarah White Alexander wife of George Newton Alexander.  Sarah and George were married on May 22, 1866 in Buncombe County.   George Newton Alexander was the son of George C. Alexander.  

The Other George Newton Alexander, born 1814
George C.'s son, George Newton Alexander,  born 1833, has been confused by some researchers with the George Newton Alexander who was born in 1814, and who is a son of  George C's brother John C. Alexander.   Sarah and George did not have children.

The Alexander Inn
(right)  On the National Register of Historic Places, the Alexander Inn was located along state route 70 at Swannanoa, twelve miles east of Asheville.  This plaque stood along Rt. 70 at the site of the old inn.  The inn was a comfortable over-night stay for  early Buncombe County travelers by stagecoach.

 1910 U.S. Census, Buncombe County, NC, George N. Alexander 

It was only a year after Rufus D. Alexander purchased the Inn from George N. Alexander in 1909, that my grandmother Nora Foster, with her eleven-year-old daughter Blanche, were entered on the 1910 U. S. Census in the household of her uncle George N. Alexander.  George Newton's residence was located on the Swannanoa Road within three residences of the residence of Benjamin F. Foster and his second wife Emmaline and their sons.   Nora was  entered on the census as having two children - the first is Blanche, who is with her, and the second child is my mother Bonnie Jones, who was born in 1907.  Bonnie was with her father, Winfred L. Jones and grandparents Marcus M. and Rachel Jane Stepp Jones at Miss Annie Ingram's, and with her paternal grandparents, on North Fork Road in Black Mountain, while Nora stayed with, and was  tending her aging uncle George N. Alexander.  By 1910 George's second wife Margaret B. White had died.  She was the younger sister to George's first wife Sarah White.   George and Margaret were married on February 22, 1893.


Ancestry,com image

Rufus's grandfather, William D. Alexander,  was George's brother - both were sons of James Alexander and Rhoda Cunningham. 

Sarah Lenora's parents and brothers
Benjamin F. Foster, Jr. and his first wife, Henrietta White Wilfong were married on September 9, 1874. Henrietta had first married William O. Wilfong, son of Daniel and Rebecca Patton Wilfong.  Rebecca was the daughter of George Patton whose sister Elizabeth was the wife of the famed Tennessean Davey Crockett.  William died within a few years of his and Henrietta's marriage and is buried in the old Patton Hill Cemetery at Bee Tree, near Swannanoa. 

Ben Foster's children with Henrietta White Wilfong
Benjamin and Henrietta married September  9,  1874,  and  Sarah Lenora Foster was their eldest child.  The second child was Georgia A. Foster, born 1877/78, for whom I've found no further information.  Nora's brother John B. Foster was born on August 23, 1879.  He married first Annie Shell, and second Nannie Hellams.  He lived in Oconee, Walhalla, South Carolina, where he died on March 3, 1951.  He is buried in West View Cemetery there.

Lloyd E. Foster was born  June 25, 1882.   He was seventeen when the census was taken in 1900, and he lived in an Asheville boarding house on West Haywood Street.  He married Minnie McGinley in 1905.  He was entered on the 1920 U.S. Census as the Superintendent of County Schools in Christian County, Kentucky, and on the 1930 census as the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Jackson, Mississippi. 


Lloyd and Minnie Foster at their home in Birmingham, Alabama, 1945
My thanks and appreciation to Frances Lyda Foster for the use of this picture.  Frances was the widow of  Claude R. Foster, Nora's son. 

Lloyd died on May 3, 1956 in Birmingham, Alabama.  The Birmingham Public Library has archived many issues of The Birmingham News.    
Obituary for Lloyd Elmore Foster

The last child born to Ben and Henrietta was Jesse Chalmers Foster who was born April 30, 1885.  Henrietta died that same year, and it's probable she died from complications of the birth.  Jesse died in April, 1967, in Pickens, South Carolina. 

Robert, David, Chester, and Will Foster are Nora's half brothers.  They were children of Benjamin F. Foster and his second wife Emmaline Embler Gorman.  Ben and Emmaline were married when he was age forty and she thirty-three.  They married on May 23, 1890.

Robert F. Foster was their eldest child, born February 28, 1891.  He married Carrie Lail about 1920.  He and Carrie lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  Robert died on August 24, 1974 at the V. A. Hospital at Oteen, North Carolina.  He was eighty-three years of age.


 Notes of Acknowledgement                                                                                           

Pauline Bartlett  - Weekend visit 2001 . . . .  I met Pauline's daughter Mary online through an email from Mary about a web site I had written for my mother Bonnie.  She thought I should contact her mother Pauline, who lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  I phoned Pauline and soon after I was on the road across the mountains.  The weekend visit was memorable.  We toured the Swannanoa Valley; I drove, and Pauline talked about Black Mountain, and of the North Fork Valley, of the people and places she had known all her life.   After lunch and a light rain shower in the afternoon, we stopped in the shade of trees at the Tabernacle Methodist Church Cemetery.  Pauline had told me she knew where my grandmother Nora's grave was located in the cemetery.  I followed her about forty feet to the family plot of Nora's son Claude Foster who had died in 1997.  Pauline was trying to remember the exact place of Nora's grave.  " I think it's here," she said.  She moved her foot around the debris and grass.  She had found it!  This was quite exciting.  I knelt and brushed off the debris and began pulling grass that had grown over the flat stone marker.  I could now see Nora's name, birth date, and the year of her death. 

Pauline had known Nora and Claude all her life.  And she had known my mother's brother Winford Foster, who had died in 1975 in Utah.  Pauline was as bright and beautiful a person as the flowers blooming in her yard were bright and beautiful, blooming "all summer," she said.

On the morning I left Black Mountain, I went by to see Pauline and took pictures of her lovely flowers and yard, and of her little dog Tiny.  Before leaving I wanted to go by the cemetery and clean my grandmother's grave marker.  Pauline asked what tools did I have, and it turned out I didn't have much.  She insisted I take a small bucket, and she gave me an old digger she said she didn't use anymore.  I still have that bucket and digger.

Pauline's  daughter Rhonda wrote to tell me of Pauline's death in 2004, and how our weekend visit was as memorable to her mother as it was to me. 

Charles R. Hendrix

I am most grateful to my cousin Charles, "Bobby," in my grandfather Jones's lineage.  The photo shown at right is a side view of Nora's grave stone. Charles Hendrix rescued the stone, dug and lifted it out from the  grass and overgrowth.  With a base of smaller stones, he raised the marker about ten inches, placing it at an angle for better presentation. 


Nora Foster's grave marker, Tabernacle Cemetery, Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Nora Foster's Obituary, The Asheville Citizen, August 14, 1943, Microfilm collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.

U.S. Census Collection,, Census Years 1790 through 1940.

State of North Carolina Certificate of Death for Nora Foster, Number #1093, Buncombe County, North Carolina, Courthouse, Asheville, North Carolina. 

Certificate of Birth Registration for Claude Raymond Foster, Black Mountain, North Carolina; North Carolina State Board of Health for the delayed registration of births; Buncombe County Courthouse, Asheville, North Carolina.

State of North Carolina Certificate of Death for George M. White,