The Journey in Finding Mrs. Rachel Ellerbee

Rachel Flowers in class

I have been researching Mrs. Rachel since 2012. For the past two years, I have discovered and learned an endless amount of information about this beautiful courageous woman and her family. Despite this journey with the Flowers, there obviously remains missing pieces in their story, particularly Rachel’s story. It never ceases to amaze me of how much I know about her life and how little I know about her life. I am aware of her past jobs, rent amounts, church associations, and fashion, yet when it comes to other major details of her life, I can find little to no information including the biggest mystery, her marriage to Mr. ________ Ellerbee.

In the beginning of my research, I wrongly assumed that Rachel never married. Newspapers including the Harrisburgh Patriot, the Harrisburgh Telegraph, the Philadelphia Tribune, the Chicago Defender, and the Afro-American Newspaper of Baltimore, document her writings, organization affiliations, and personal life beginning in 1922 up until  1948 under the name Rachel Flowers or Rachel H. Flowers. After 1948, it seemed as if Rachel vanished without a trace. Perhaps newspapers were occupied with documenting the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement or maybe Rachel faded out of the social class of Philadelphia. Who knows? It was not until 1973 when Rachel’s name begins to reappear in local newspaper, but with a new surname–Ellerbee.

These are the same newspapers who would announce her absent from events, sickness, and road trip plans who neglect to publish articles about her marriage, education, and life beyond the 1950s. It simply does not add up. Rachel reemerges on March 13, 1973 after a 25 hiatus. The Philadelphia Tribune highlighted her work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as corresponding secretary. She held a position with this organization prior to the 1970s. Now, there is always the question of how do we know if this is truly Rachel Flowers and this is where a half-brother’s ,Henry Sams, obituary comes into play.

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In the Tribube, editor John Saunders wrote a piece in honor of his friend, Henry Sams in 1975 following his death. There it is stated that Henry is survived by his wife, Edna Sams, daughter, Cathy, two brothers, Vincent and John, as well as three sisters, Gladys Stevenson (Paul), Hilda Wilson (Herbert), and Mrs. Rachel Ellerbee (unknown). Somewhere between 1948 to 1975, Rachel became someone’s wife. This is also confirmed by Rachel’s Social Security Death Index which documented a Rachel Ellerbee’s,  born on August 2, 1900, this birth date coincides with the one listed in her college records, death on October 8, 1988. Her SSN was issued in the state of Pennsylvania, which means she had to reside in the state for quite some time. Sadly, I have found no database recording the marriages in PA beyond 1950. Probably has not been released yet.

For the past two weeks, I have been on the hunt for Rachel’s man. I first started off my research with a mini-timeline, documenting Rachel’s whereabouts and important events in her life from her birth until her death, 1900-1988.

1900-Rachel’s birth (Jacksonville, FA)

1903- Birth of a little brother Theodore, I imagined she called him Theo, or perhaps I watch too much of The Cosby Show (Jacksonville, FA)

1905-Birth of another little brother, Vincent (Jacksonville, FA)

1908-Birth of a little sister Gladyce (Jacksonville, FA)

1910- Birth of a little sister, Hilda (Jacksonville, FA)

1910-1913-Rachel’s parents divorce, Father (Harry) relocated to Harrisburg, PA)

1913-Rachel and her sibling move to PA relocating with their father to Boiling Springs, PA

Rachel’s mother remarried to Henry Sams

1915-Birth of a half-brother, Henry Sams Jr (Jacksonville, FA)

1916-Rachel graduated from Boiling Springs High School and enrolled at Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home. She became the first black student to do so!

1918-Rachel graduated from Messiah and returned home to live with her father.

1918-1922- Rachel worked as a housekeeper in the Boiling Springs area

1922-Rachel moved to Suldersville, MD where she worked as a teacher within the public school system

1922-1928-Rachel traveled around the East Coast with family and friends. She also returned home frequently to care for her elderly father and younger siblings.

(1928) Rachel’s father passed away. His home is placed in her name.

1928-1930- Rachel began to take care of her youngest sister, Hilda, and they relocated to Philadelphia. She reunited with most of her siblings there.

1930s-Rachel becomes an advocate for equality in education. She wrote a series of newspaper articles expressing her stance.

(1931) Hilda married Herbert, (1933)Gladyce married Paul, Older brother, Theo, died.(1936) Older brother, Chauncey died.

(1930-1948) Rachel worked as a cook and servant in private homes, entertained and hosted parties, and joined a multitude of black organizations.

(1973) Rachel continues her work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (Philly)

(1988) Rachel passed away.

Too many gaps.

First, I attempted to locate her husband using multiple databases from Ancestry and Familysearch.org. No luck. Next, I tried Newspapers.com. No luck.Then, I tried reading articles Rachel Flowers was reference in with the hope that her future husband attended events with her or was present there. No luck. Google books. No luck. Google in general. No luck. Attempting to regain access to ProQuest Black Historical Newspapers. 1/2 No luck, must talk to the librarians at my graduate school. Archives of the Afro-American Baltimore Newspaper. No luck. Findagrave. No luck. I am not giving up, I simply quit at the moment.

One day, I will find Mr. Ellerbee. One day, indeed. 

Until the next post, I have to run to class!

Christina

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