Sunday, August 17, 2014

52 Ancestors #33: An Early Feminist of the Best Kind

I discovered May Hairston after receiving an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution for an ancestor of my 4 times great grandfather, Samuel Beard.

Lineage portion of May Julia (Jopling) Hairston's DAR application
(the first name of Samuel Beard's wife is incorrect)

The application was submitted by May Julia (Jopling) Hairston. She descended from Elizabeth "Betsey" Beard, Samuel Beard's daughter. I did not know the name of Betsey's spouse or their  children. So I had new avenues to research. I entered the brief information from the application[1] into my tree and began searching for source documents to validate everything.  A couple of days later, my tree looked like this:

A portion of my Jennings/Lange/Muir/Schalin family tree on

And then I discovered Samuel and May Julia (Jopling) Hairston's daughter, May.

May Hairston's timeline from my Jennings/Lange/Muir/Schalin
family tree on

What an interesting story there must be buried in that timeline.  She traveled by herself (surmised from looking at the passenger lists) as a young woman to England in 1928[2] and from Manila in 1933. She never married as was buried along with several siblings at Berry Hill cemetery in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

What did she do on those trips to foreign shores? There had to be a backstory. I believe I found the beginnings of that backstory in a brief 25 May 1935 article in the Danville Bee. 

"Miss May Hairston, of Wenonda, who has been doing mission work for the Episcopal church in foreign fields will speak to the members of the Women's Auxillary of the church of the Epiphany Monday afternoon at four o'clock in the chapel.  Members of missionary societies of other churches are invited to attend."

Her death certificate confirmed she never married, was living in Hendersonville, North Carolina at the time of her death, and was a retired public school teacher. Her obituary, which was published the day after her death in the Danville Bee told me an abbreviated version of her life story:

Published in the Danville Bee on 21 January 1975

But this was the best find of all -- a photo of May in the 1920 Salem College Sights and Insights yearbook. I just love how one clue can lead to so many others!

May Hairston in Sights and Insights, the Salem College yearbook;
image courtesy of the University of North Carolina's Digital NC project

The text accompanying the photograph above had this to say about May:

"Mae Hairston, Danville, Virginia, Dear little Mae, the youngest member of our class. Smart? Well, we'll say she is! Mae hails from Ole Virginia, and a more loyal soul of that dear old state never breathed. Everyone loves Mae; loves her for her generous heart and unspoiled frankness. Who would dream that in her heart she desires "Rights for Women"? Well, she does, and we're proud of her!"

And so my tree continues to grow. It includes an interesting cast of characters from murderers to missionaries.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

May Hairston was born on 10 February 1904 in Virginia to Samuel and May Julia (Jopling) Hairston. She never married but did missionary work for the Episcopal church in foreign countries. She died on 20 January 1975 in Hendersonville, North Carolina, of congestive heart disease and is buried at Berry Hill cemetery in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. She is my 4th cousin once removed.

[1] DAR standards for admission have certainly become more stringent. A lineage with no dates to be found is no longer acceptable. If a new member wants to use Samuel Beard as their patriot ancestor, they will have some work to do.

[2] This was likely the outward bound trip to Manila, Philippines, where May did missionary work.

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