Everybody has a story to tell

Dec. 21, 2013 @ 01:53 PM

Sisters Jan Ellington Reese and Judy Ellington Stainback are fascinated by the past.

They are active in the Vance County Genealogical Society. They have explored cemeteries. And they spent more than three years as part of a team compiling Vance County history and family stories.

The result of that effort was the 2011 edition of the Vance County Heritage Book.

The sisters’ broad interests stemmed from an interest in their family history.

Reese said, “Daddy instilled in us the love of family.”

In researching their family history, they learned their great-grandfather, George Ellington, bought the homeplace in Drewry. Their grandfather, James Thomas Ellington, owned Ellington’s Merchandise on Garnett Street in downtown Henderson.

Their father, William Ellington, farmed the homeplace until his death in 2001. Their mother, Ella Adcock Ellington, still lives there.

The sisters have continued the family business tradition, operating Ellington’s Hair Trends for more than 30 years. It had several locations before settling at its present location at 121 Rose Avenue.

The exploration of their roots led them to encourage other people to contribute their family stories to the Heritage Book.

Stainback said, “We had our customers fill out forms about their family background.” Those personal histories and others collected throughout the community found their way into the Heritage Book.

Stainback and Mark Pace co-chaired production of the book. It contains 1,536 entries, more than half of them family stories.

Pace, who manages the North Carolina History Room at Thornton Library in Oxford, said of the sisters, “They bring a certain level of sticktuitive and enthusiasm to whatever they do.

“They’re always willing to share information. They find a diary or some other document and they want to get it out.”

Pace said, “I spend 90 percent of my time trying to make people aware of things in their lives that are worth preserving. The Ellingtons sure get that.”

Much information on local families is found in cemetery records. Reese chairs the cemetery committee for the Vance County Genealogical Society.

“There are more than 300 cemeteries in Vance County,” she said. She is compiling a record of the names of people buried in those cemeteries and their locations within the cemeteries.

That task is complicated by the fact the deceased may not now be where they were first interred. For example, when Kerr Lake was built, many cemeteries were moved before the waters rose.

“You had churches that would allow bodies to be moved to their cemeteries,” Reese said. “Our church re-interred 70 bodies in our cemetery. The Corps of Engineers bought land at the back of our cemetery.”

Many cemeteries, especially family cemeteries, are in danger of being lost, she said. As family members die or move away, cemeteries are often neglected and become overgrown with weeds and brush.

Reese and Stainback encourage people to tell their stories, especially to the younger generation.

“Christmas is a perfect time to talk about family traditions,” Stainback said.

Beyond that, she added, they should write them down. An untold story is a lost story.

Wayne Adcock, who with his wife Susan served on the Heritage Book committee, said of the sisters, “They have put in an unbelievable amount of time and energy on those projects.”

Reese, Stainback and Pace worked with the committee to edit the entries submitted for the Heritage Book.

“They worked real hard to make sure it was accurate,” Adcock said.

Joanne Carpenter, program chairwoman for the Vance County Genealogical Society, said, “They spearheaded the Heritage Book. It would never have gotten off they ground without them. They are wonderful, dedicated people with a great deal of knowledge. If you give them a topic, they are willing to research it, go to Raleigh if necessary.”

The 2011 Vance County Heritage Book is still available. The price is $55.

Stainback said, “Everybody has a story to tell.”

The Heritage Book was completed three years ago, but she hopes the flow of stories won’t cease.

She said, “There are more stories to be told.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.