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My Genealogy Came to Life Today

Mrs. Willoughby and Mr. Willoughby and Robin Foster met for the first time. Meeting set up by Steve Bailey. Ellis McClure, May 31, 2021.

We took a couple of hours out of our Memorial Day to get some more of my questions about family that Buck Nelms left behind when he was taken to Mississippi. On our way to Anson Historical Society, the feelings came that told me that I was going to be starting a whole new adventure. I knew I would meet people that would make me feel a part of Anson County, NC.

I never know how these things unfold, but I know to be present and listening. Steve Bailey was once again ready for me. I first looked through the Richmond County books which he had ready and out on the table for me. I discovered the Nelms family had estate records in Richmond County.

I found Eben Nelms and William Smith summoned to appear on behalf of Presley in 1842. I will go into that in another blog post. I also will explain how Steve showed me how to search for bills of sale. I soon found out what my journey would today.

One of the questions I had was if Steve had anything on Rocky Mount AME Zion Church. He had a short piece from a book which I will cite later. It was started in 1880. The reason I had a question about it was because last night I found this death certificate:

"North Carolina Deaths, 1906-1930," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 3 May 2019), 004219835 > image 2190 of 2289; State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh.

Tom Smith was born in Anson County about 1849. He was married to Anna Eliza Smith. His parents were York Smith and Charlotte Nelms Smith. I knew I had to find out more about the place where he is buried (Rocky Mount Church).

I looked on To my surprise, I found him, his wife, children, and some siblings:

Tom was his name on the death certificate. Find A Grave had him as, Walter Thomas "Tom" Smith from Ansonville. He was buried at Rocky Mount AME Zion Church Cemetery. I now knew, as I told Ellis on the drive down to Anson County, I must visit the church one Sunday and look over the burial site.

Well, Steve Bailey is to be commended because he jumped on the phone, and before I knew, he was introducing me to a cousin and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Wilbert Willoughby. You know I do not meet strangers. We talked about how the Willoughby's are related to the Nelms family. We talked about how we must track our churches to find our family because the formerly enslaved are buried in the churches.

Right there at Anson County Historical Society we talked about Gatewood Station AME Zion Church. Mr. Willoughby said that some members of that church bury family at Madison Grove Baptist Church Cemetery which is near Gatewood Station AME Zion Church.

Anson County Historical Society has the deed showing Madison Grove Baptist Church got the land from Mr. Madison and Mrs. Mary Little in 1893 (Anson County, NC, Deed Book 30 pg. 6). An article in the Messenger-Intelligencer (Wadesboro, NC) on Thursday, April 4, 1918 on page 7, tells how Rev. W. K. Bennett of Cheraw, SC founded the church in 1892.

Mr. Willoughby and Robin Foster meet at Anson County Historical Society. Meeting set up by Steve Bailey. Willoughby and Foster both had formerly enslaved Nelms family. Mr. Willoughby's ancestor took the Willoughby surname instead of Nelms. Ellis McClure, May 31, 2021.

We then concluded the founding of the churches are as follows:

  • Madison Grove Baptist Church - 1892

  • Rocky Mount AME Zion Church - 1880

  • Gatewood Station AME Zion Church - to be determined

  • Other churches will be added

When we left this morning, we only knew about Rocky Mount AME Zion Church. Mr. Willoughby said that he knew of formerly enslaved people buried at Madison Grove Baptist Church. We will visit these churches. On a Sunday in July, the Willoughby's and Steve Bailey will accompany us when we go to Rocky Mount AME Zion Church. That's where Walter is buried. I want to find out where Charlotte Nelms Smith was laid to rest. We want figure out who many be related to us.

I also want to feel what Buck Nelms missed having been separated from his family since the 1840's.


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