Sarah Lenora Foster
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 ancestry.com'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.
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
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
The 1880 Buncombe County Census now made sense
1880 U. S. Census, Buncombe County, N.C., Benjamin Foster household
ancestry.com 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?
Alexander, Foster, Sams, and
Revolutionary War Pension Files
White families in Union County, South Carolina, 1790 - 1820
Capt. Isaac White and older brother Lieutenant Thomas White
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.
Other George Newton Alexander, born 1814
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.
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
Ben Foster's children with Henrietta White Wilfong
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,
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.
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, Ancestry.com, 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,