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Genealogical research always starts with a name. And questions. The Library of Virginia’s comprehensive genealogical resources – online data bases, microfiche, archival documents, and more – help researchers find the answers. Clues begin to emerge: a birth certificate, a marriage record, maybe a published obituary. Dead-end searches slow us down, but with a bit of luck and persistence, a biographical picture begins to take shape. And sometimes, this process of discovery takes surprising twists and turns, yielding answers to questions we never asked.

Harris family plot at Evergreen Cemetery

Image Courtesy of Author

For a research project on the Harris family memorial in Evergreen Cemetery, my primary objective was uncovering the relationship between the six seemingly unrelated individuals represented in the plot. Four headstones anchor each corner of a square cement border, now overgrown and barely visible. In the center, a formal obelisk is engraved with the names of Luversa Jones (1844-1919), Emma Randolph (1865-1934), Joseph Harris (1879-1939), Louise Harris (1884-1976), Robertnette Williams (1886-1926), Clarence Harris (1899-1934), and Coral Turner (1909-1934). The different names etched in stone raised many questions. For example, how are Luversa Jones and Emma Randolph related to the Harris family? Clarence Harris and Coral Turner seem to have died on the same day – perhaps an accident? And Louise Harris, the wife of Joseph Harris, has no date of death – is she buried somewhere else, and if so, why? The Harris family memorial presents many mysteries. Who are these individuals, how are they connected to each other, and what is their personal story?

To piece together a comprehensive family tree, I began with the oldest occupant of the Harris family plot, Luversa Jones. Luversa was born to free Blacks around 1845 in James City County, Virginia. She married Leonard Twine at sixteen, and by 1870, was the 27-year-old mother of five children. By 1880, she was widowed and remarried to a farm laborer named Amos Jones. Sometime around 1895, likely in search of better paying jobs, Luversa and Amos moved to Richmond’s segregated Marshall Ward, where Amos worked as a laborer and Luversa found work as a nurse.

Over the next few years, other relatives of Luversa Jones moved from James City County to Richmond: two of her sons found work as waiters; Luversa’s daughter Emma Randolph and her husband Moses Randolph lived in Shockoe Bottom; and Luversa’s granddaughter, Louise (Lou) Bradsberry moved in with Luversa and Amos. By 1900, sixteen-year-old Lou Bradsberry Harris (now married to Joseph Harris) and her one-year-old son, Clarence Harris, both lived with Luversa and Amos Jones.

The marriage of Lou and Joseph Harris is a critical piece of the family puzzle, linking the Jones and Harris families. In the decades that followed, Joseph Harris built a successful shoe repair business in Marshall Ward, and became an esteemed member of the Black community. Lou and Joseph’s son, Clarence, grew up in a neighborhood filled with family, and in 1921 married another Marshall Ward native, eighteen-year-old Daonese Johnson. This is another important clue, integrating the Johnson family with the Jones/Harris family. In digging a bit more, other relationships within the Harris family plot become clear: Robertnette Williams was the sister of Joseph Harris, and Coral Johnson Turner was the sister of Daonese Harris. They too lived within a few blocks of the other family members.

Residences of the Jones/Harris/Johnson family (1900-1940)

By mapping the addresses found in the Richmond city directories for the Jones, Harris, and Johnson families between 1900 and 1940, a close family geography emerges. A dizzying array of cousins, aunts, and uncles, both blood- and marriage-related, all lived within a five-by-seven block rectangle in upper Marshall Ward, bounded by Quince and Leigh Streets on the top and bottom and squeezed in between 25th and 32nd streets on each side. This was a working-class neighborhood, filled with laborers, tobacco factory workers, washerwomen, domestic workers, and the like. As historian John Ingham writes, “These [segregated] neighborhoods concentrated the population so that, despite the meager earnings of most [B]lacks, it was possible to establish successful groceries, barbershops, beauty salons, saloons, pool halls, and other small businesses…forming the backbone of new [B]lack communities.”1

``2,000 Attend Joint Rites For Pair Drowned On Outing: Clarence Harris and Mrs. Corale Turner Victims of Overturned Boat; Was Wedding Anniversary``

New Journal and Guide (1916-); Norfolk, Va. `{`Norfolk, Va`}`. 04 Aug 1934:

Family biographies are bittersweet. They capture life stories, both the good and the bad, from beginning to end. Sadly, it was a tragic end for Clarence Harris, age 35, and his sister-in-law Coral Johnson Turner, age 25, who both died on July 28, 1934. A letter from the Essex County coroner, attached to the death certificate of Coral Turner, states that the cause of their death was accidental drowning. Newspaper accounts detailed that the accident occurred during a family fishing trip to Tappahannock, Virginia. Falling overboard into thirty feet of water, Clarence and Coral’s cries for help were short-lived; Lou and Joseph Harris, along with Clarence’s wife, watched helplessly as Clarence and Coral drowned within minutes.2 Over two thousand grief-stricken Richmonders, including Maggie Walker, attended the joint funeral services at the Fourth Baptist Church. Both would be laid to rest in the Harris family plot in Evergreen Cemetery on August 4, 1934.

Clarence Harris and Coral Turner Grave Sites Evergreen Cemetery

Image Courtesy of the Author

By 1939, Lou Harris had buried six members of the Jones/Harris/Johnson families: her grandmother Luversa Jones in 1919; her sister-in-law Robertnette Harris in 1926; her son Clarence, Coral Harris Turner, and her aunt Emma Randolph in 1934; and in 1939, she laid her husband Joseph Harris to rest alongside his son. Sadly, when this matriarch of the Harris family passed away at the age of 92, she could not be buried in the Harris family plot, as lives cut short too early filled all the available spaces. Upon her death in 1976, Lou Harris was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Only her name and birth date, engraved on the Harris family obelisk, connected her to her husband and son.

Today, the Harris family plot is not only the final resting place for six beloved members of the Jones/Harris/Johnson family, but is also a memorial to their strength, resilience, and accomplishments. These families defied segregation and discrimination by building a vibrant and loving community in Richmond’s Marshall Ward. Although their descendants have scattered far and wide, their roots – and their history – remain anchored in the red clay of Virginia.


[1] John N. Ingham, “Building Businesses, Creating Communities: Residential Segregation and the Growth of African American Business in Southern Cities, 1880-1915,” Business History Review, Winter 2003, p. 639.

[2] Milton Randolph, “2,000 Attend Joint Rites For Pair Drowned On Outing,” New Journal and Guide (1916-), 4 August 1934, p. 1, retrieved  from


Lee Ann Timreck

Education and Outreach Volunteer

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