Ancestry.com Connections: Eli English and Finding Friends Beyond Your Tree

One of the great things about joining Ancestry.com has got to be finding other members to connect with. I've found distant relatives, photos, stories, and all sorts of information from other contributors who are related to me in some kind of way. And sometimes you find something extra special.

 Eli English

Eli English

My paternal great grandmother, Hannah, was the oldest of 10 children. I've written about her brother, Fate, and I've often wondered about her other siblings. When I traveled to Bakersville in the spring of 2014, I took as many pictures of the family grave sites as I could. Many, many of my relatives are buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery, and they weren't difficult to find. I took a picture of Hannah's brother Eli's tombstone and put it on my Ancestry.com tree.

A man named Jerry Hartley saw the picture and left me a comment. Jerry knew Eli and had some great stories and wonderful things to say about him. I am so grateful to put together the picture of who Eli was and what kind of impact he had on others.

Born in 1882, Eli English grew up as the third born child to David J. English and Susan Sparks. In the 1900 census he lived with his parents and siblings . But 10 years later, the 1910 census lists him as widowed and living with his parents in Bakersville, NC. I discovered Eli married a woman named Elvah Dellinger, but she succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907, as did their infant child. Looking at all the censuses, it doesn't appear he ever married again. He lived with his sister Dolly's family in 1920 and then moved to Avery County, where he's listed in 1930. In 1940, the census shows he lived as a lodger with a woman named Minnie Holtzclaw (Jerry's grandmother) and her family near Cranberry, NC. Eli lived in a room under the garage, unless it was too cold, and he then joined the family in the main house. The area, known as Blevins Creek, had a shrinking population due to the closing of the nearby iron mines.  Jerry doesn't recall Eli ever paying rent but working on the farm to earn his keep, as well as driving Minnie to different places since Minnie didn't have a driver's license. Jerry remembers the car being a shiny black Chevrolet with lights sticking out of the fenders. 

 Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

When Jerry was five, he and his mother went to live with his grandmother, Minnie, in North Carolina. Some time after, Jerry's mother had to move to Kentucky to care for a sick aunt, but soon became sick herself. Minnie then had to leave North Carolina and take care of both of them in Kentucky, and unfortunately, no adult relative lived in the area to look after Jerry. The family made the decision to send Jerry to an orphanage called The Grandfather Home in Banner Elk, NC (still in existence today). Jerry remembers this as a very traumatic experience; he cried for much of the time there and refused to play with any other children.

Jerry spent nine months at the Grandfather Home. For the first several months, the only familiar face he saw was Eli's. Every Sunday, Eli would bring Jerry fresh eggs from the farm so Jerry could enjoy some extra food for breakfast. Eli came to visit Jerry every single Sunday for those nine months, often leaving with tears in his eyes when it came time to go. Jerry remarked again and again at how touched his life became because of Eli's kindness. Just the small act of visiting him once a week made an enormous impact on a nine year old boy.

Eli died from bronchial asthma on March 18,1956 when Jerry was nine years old. Eli is buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Cemetery in Bakersville, NC, close to his siblings and other relatives. 

Thank you, Jerry, for sharing your story. May Eli's kindness and generosity always be remembered.