My mom’s paternal relatives

Daniel and Sarah Williams

It occurred to me that when I have written about my mother’s ancestors, I’ve almost always written about my maternal grandmother’s side but little about my mom’s paternal relatives. The reasons are several.

Among them is that many of the folks on her mother’s side, at some point, lived at 13 Maple Street in Binghamton, NY. That’s where my mom grew up, and my sisters and I spent a lot of time as kids. Some, including my great-great-grandfather, James Archer, were buried at Spring Forest Cemetery, maybe 300 meters from 13 Maple Street. And many of their names are recorded in the family Bible.

However, my mother’s father, Clarence Williams (b. 1886), was largely absent. He had married Gertrude Yates (b. 1897) in 1926, and my mother was born in 1927. But Gert’s mother, Lillian Archer Yates Holland  (1866-1938), and perhaps her grandmother Harriet Bell Archer (1838-1928) disapproved of Clarence and drove him away, we had been told.  Was it because he was so much older than Gert?

My mom was not devoid of male role models in her household. Her maternal uncle Ed Yates and Maurice Holland, Lillian’s second husband after her first husband  Edward died, were around.

Her dad

Her father, though, was out of the immediate picture. Clarence Williams, who fought in World War I, was a machine shop laborer.

He lived with his mother, Margaret (or Marguerite) Collins Williams (1866-1931), in Owego, NY, according to the 1930 Census. Her parents were Irish, though I don’t have their first names or her mother’s maiden name, and I’ve been actively looking.

An odd thing, though. If there are any photos of my mom with ANY of her paternal relatives, even her father, I’m unaware of them.

According to Selective Service records, Clarence resided in Deposit, near Binghamton, with his father, Charles (1863-1944), in 1942. But he was living with his wife Laura back in Owego, in Margaret’s old house, in 1950.

Or were they married? My mother told of her and her mother visiting Clarence’s home in early 1958 and not being allowed to enter the house by a woman. His July 1958 death certificate says he was divorced, but was that from Margaret or both Margaret and Laura? The house became my grandmother’s after Clarence died; it is pictured above from more recent times. I attended his funeral in Owego.

When I was at my Grandma Williams’ funeral in Binghamton in May 1982, more than one of her in-laws said, “I bet you don’t remember me,  do you?” That would be correct since I last saw them when I was five.

Her great-grandparents

Charles Williams, the elder, married Margaret Collins c. 1883.  They were together in 1915 but not in 1920. I assume they divorced since the elder Charles married Margaret Greenleaf in 1921, as I noted.

Charles’s second marriage license led me to HIS parents Daniel Williams (1829-1893) and Sarah Benson (b. 1833), who were born in Maryland.

From the book An Evergreen Companion: “Sometime before 1860 [Daniel]  lived in the Tioga County Town of Barton with his wife Sarah and five children. [The middle three were born in Canada.] Late in the Spring of 1863, he registered to serve the Union Cause in the War of the Rebellion (Civil War).

“He enlisted on August 23, 1864, and became a member of Company F of the 43rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. The 43rd served with special distinction in the battles around Richmond and Petersburg, VA, capturing a Confederate battle flag and rescuing a Union flag at the Battle of the Crater. The regiment lost 239 men during service; 188 died from disease. Williams mustered out of service in September of 1865.”

What did Mom know?

I know my mom knew a lot about her mother’s lineage. But what did she know of her father’s line? What was her relationship with her father? She was familiar with her uncle Charles playing baseball, though I had never heard any details.

How well did she know her paternal grandparents? Was she aware she had TWO great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War? These are questions that I’d love to ask her but can’t since she died in 2011.

Today would have been my mom Trudy Green’s 96th birthday.


What IS that called?

Nomenclature is “the devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other discipline.” Also, “the term or terms applied to someone or something.” For example, “Customers” was preferred to the original nomenclature “passengers.”

I think a lot about what you call things, groups, and places and how difficult it is to change verbiage, especially when you get older. In the late 1960s, one of grandma Williams’ other grandchildren used to harass her when she referred to “colored” people. The child would say, “What color ARE you?” My grandma would sheepishly say, “Black.”

It’s challenging to change those brain synapses. Grandma Williams also used to call stores by their previous names, which they had not been called for over a decade.

I have become my grandmother. There’s a restaurant in Albany less than a block from where I lived in the mid-1980s. I went there at least six times annually for about five years. It changed ownership and name in 2017. I had been there once before, pre-pandemic. Yet it took me five minutes and a movie mnemonic to summon the new name.

What we call people

Three of my friends have children whose pronouns have changed. At least two of them have periodic trouble remembering, which is understandable. The real issue is how patient the child is with the parent, which sometimes is not so much.

I have an acquaintance of about 40 who changed their name and pronouns. The pronoun was no big deal to me, but the new name? I can’t get it into the brain. But because this person is older, they’ve shown grace in understanding that change is difficult to absorb.

Mental retardation is now an intellectual disability; there are now several preferred terms for people with disabilities. And I try to adhere to all of them, but sometimes, I forget.

The gender-neutral terms in employment, such as flight attendant, police officer, and firefighter, seemed so evident that it gave me almost no difficulty.


Somehow, place changes have been easier for me, perhaps because I don’t use them that often. It was no big deal when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, or Southern Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe. Peking is now Beijing, Bombay is now Mumbai; no prob. Until 2022, I had no idea Kiev should be Kyiv, but the transition wasn’t difficult.

How are you with changes in nomenclature?

Mom could have gone to college

good hair

I had heard this vague story that my mom could have gone to college. By vague, I mean I don’t know where she would have attended. Moreover, someone (who?) was willing to pay for it. Further, the reason she didn’t go to college or join Girl Scouts was her hair. Specifically, the fact that her hair would become kinky when wet.

Was this a genuine concern of my mother’s? Maybe. But it sounded more like HER mother. Mom’s first cousin, Frances Beal, told this tale about Fran’s daughters and my grandmother, who was temporarily taking care of them. The story, which I have excerpted here:

“The girls were five and four [in the mid-1960s]. They had never seen a curling iron in their life. And in this house, the heat, there was this big, big cast-iron stove… Gert had started the fire and put [in] these coal-burning things, and flames are leaping up when she takes the burner off. She sticks the comb in there. The elder one’s watching all of this, getting more horrified by the minute. And so then she takes it out, wipes it on the dish towel, right? And she says, ‘Come here.’ ‘What are you going to do with that?’ She said, ‘I’m going to straighten your hair. You look like the wild woman from Borneo.'”

So if her potential frizzy hair was a college deal-breaker for my mom, it was from the conditioning [hair pun there] of her mother. Regardless, it was a real shame. She was astute. Even in the stages of dementia she experienced in her last years, she was still very savvy with math.

Marrying that man

One of my sisters asked her, late in our mom’s life, “If your mother was so restrictive, how was she able to marry Les Green?” She said, “I don’t know.”

But her cousin Fran did. “When my cousin Gertie — Trudy, they call her now — started to date the man who eventually became her husband, he was deemed too dark for the family. And I think my father [Ernest Yates] and my Uncle Ed had to intervene and say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to be able to ever speak to you again unless you stop this nonsense.'”

This tracks. Ernie, who died the year after I was born, was a labor leader who ran for political office and married a white Jewish woman. Ed fought in World War II and had a more expansive worldview. Could Ed and/or Ernie have been my mom’s would-be college benefactor? I may never know.

My mom was a wonderful woman. Still, it pains me that the narrow-mindedness of her mother limited my mom. Given the time my sisters and I spent with my grandmother, we knew first-hand that side of my mother’s mom.

Today would have been my mom’s 95th birthday.

Grandma Gertrude Williams

August 10, 1897-January 24, 1982

Gertrude WilliamsIt occurred to me that I’ve written a few times about my paternal grandma Agatha Green. For instance, here and here and especially here. I am reminded that she was born 120 years ago on July 26.

I’ve written far less about my maternal grandma Gertrude Williams, born August 10, 125 years ago. I think it’s because my relationship with her was more… complicated. She was born Gertrude Elizabeth Yates, daughter of Edward Yates and Lilian Bell Archer. For the longest time, even my mother believed she was born in 1898. I always remembered it because it was the year of the Spanish-American War.

Then one day in the mid-1960s, she went to register to vote. Unwilling to lie to a government official, she confessed her true age.

I thought Gert grew up in the house my mother always lived in until mom got married. But in the 1905 New York State Census in Binghamton, NY, she lived at 53 Sherman Place, a street razed c. 1960 to build a park near 45 Carroll Street. By 1910, she lived at 13 Maple Street with her parents and her younger siblings, Edward, Ernest, and Adina, or Deana as everyone called her. Gert had an older sister who had died before she was born.

In March 1912, her father died. Yet, in July of that same year, her mother Lillian married a guy named Maurice Holland, a guy from either Texas or Mexico, depending on which subsequent Census you believe.

In the 1920 Census, the household was Harriet Archer (Lillian’s widowed mother), Lillian, Maurice, and Lillian’s four children. Gert, now 22, was working as a maid.

My mom enters the picture

Gertrude married a guy named Clarence Williams around 1927, and they had a child named Gertrude. (She will hereafter be referred to as Trudy to avoid confusion.) And they had a second child, who did not live long and died in early 1929.

In the 1930 Census, the household consisted of Lillian and Maurice; Gertrude, Edward, and Deana, Ernie having moved out; a nephew of Lillian named Edward Archer, 17; and my mother Trudy, 2. Here is a picture of Gert with her mother, sister, and daughter.

But where’s Clarence? Fuzzy gossip suggested that Lillian and maybe even Harriet (d. 1928) drove him away. I never got the real story. Gert is 32 and working as a servant.

By the 1940 Census, the residents were Maurice (Lillian d. 1938), Gert, Edward, Deana, and Trudy. Gert only had a 6th-grade education, and she was working as a housekeeper.

My sister has many undated pictures of people visiting 13 Maple Street, eating in the not-very-large backyard. So it was some sort of cultural mecca. What was THAT all about?

I’ve just seen the 1950 Census

It shows Edward, 47, as head of household, naturally(!), because he was the eldest male; he was a truck driver. Adenia, 42, was a stitcher. Gert, 52, was now listed as separated from Clarence (d. 1958) and not working outside the home. Trudy, 22, is a shipping clerk. She married Les Green, 23, on March 12, 1950; he was a cleaner doing remodeling work.

Eventually, in 1950, my parents-to-be moved into 5 Gaines Street, about six blocks away. It was owned by Gert and presumably her siblings.

I enter the picture

I was born in 1953. In 1958, when I was going to kindergarten, I was supposed to attend Oak Street School. Since my mother worked outside the home, at McLean’s department store, it was determined that 13 Maple Street would be my school address so that I could go there at lunch and after school, tended to by Gert and Deana. Ed had moved out by then.

Deana was cool. We’d play 500 rummy and Scrabble. I taught her canasta, which Grandma Green had shown me.

Gert was a pain. She would tell stories, but it was difficult following them or believing how much, if any, was true. She would indicate that we should not go near this person, who turned out to be a relative. Worse, she forbid her adult daughter and us to see her brother Ed because he was living with a woman, Edna, who was not his wife. After Ed died in 1970, my strongest memory was of Gert and Edna crying on each other’s shoulders at the funeral.


There were “bad men” lurking in the Oak Street underpass, we were told. The boogie man existed.  When I washed the dishes, which I did at home regularly, she told me I shouldn’t because it wasn’t manly. This was one of the several times that Deana said to Gert, “Leave the boy alone!” When Deana died in 1966, I was devastated.

My mother was in a tug-of-war between her mother and her husband, which I alluded to here. Dad clearly did not like Gert. One time, we were having dinner, and someone asked Gert if she wanted some peas. She said, “I’ll have a couple.” My father put two peas on her plate. It was shocking and bite-your-lip funny and may explain why I can be such a literalist.

Mom’s first cousin Frances Beal, Ernie’s daughter, tells a Gert story here, in the fifth paragraph from the end.


When my parents and baby sister Marcia moved to Charlotte, NC, it became clear to everyone except Gert that Gert needed to move down with her daughter and son-in-law. She had a coal stove, which required going to the basement to shovel the coal into pails and carry it up rickety steps. I did this a lot as a kid, which I oddly enjoyed.

It was the task of sister Leslie and me to take Gert to Charlotte. She railed against it. Where would she get stockings? “They sell stockings in North Carolina.”

She lived in Charlotte until she died on Super Bowl Sunday in 1982. She was cremated in Charlotte but buried at Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, less than 100 meters from 13 Maple Street.

I did love Gert, I believe. But I didn’t always like her.

Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.


4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

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