Avis Wilhelmina Drew Mackey

This is a photo taken of my great great grandmother, Avis Wilhelmina Drew Mackey while she and her husband still lived in New York State. Avis Wilhelmina and her husband, Oscar J. Mackey moved from New York sometime in the 1880s, settling first in Kansas and then in Northwest Arkansas. This great great grandmother of mine has been one of the most fascinating characters in my families’ genealogy, particularly because of what has been told to me by my own grandmother, Avis Frances Mackey Fletcher.

The Drew and Mackey families were old New York State families. I learned about my grandmother’s paternal grandmother when I was a little girl. My grandmother told me that she was a very gentle lady. She said that Avis Wilhelmina told her that if she lived in England she would be a “Lady.” I know her stories captivated my grandmother’s imagination, I just don’t know how much of it is truth and how much is fancy.

I videotaped my grandmother and her account of Avis Wilhelmina Drew in 1990 but the videotape was lost in our move to Panama. It was the only tape I had of my grandmother and it broke my heart that it was lost. But her stories remain. My cousin, David is also interested in family history and has done as much research as he can to document with birth, census and other records the history of the Drew/Mackey families. Unfortunately, much of New York State genealogical history is sketchy in the period we needed to find birth records although we do have more information on the Mackey family because they originally settled in New York City and intermarried with the Dutch.


Photo of Oscar Mackey and children, taken after the death of Avis Wilhelmina.

We do know that Oscar J. Mackey, husband of Avis Wilhelmina served in the Union Army during the Civil War because we have the records.

We know that Avis Wilhelmina Drew controlled the family money because every piece of land that was bought was in her name. We know that she expected a great inheritance of an estate in England because it was mentioned in her will. Avis Wilhelmina died before her husband and he remarried a woman the family disliked strongly, most likely because she kept the family silver and jewels instead of giving it to the descendants that Avis had listed in her own will.

But of her parentage we have little more than handed down oral traditions. My cousin, David interviewed Avis Wilhelmina’s daughter-in-law, Pearl Irene Valentine Mackey about the family history years ago. Pearl lived to be almost one hundred years old and it was late in her life when David interviewed her but he believed her to be very sharp in mind so what we learned from her seems plausible but also fantastic. Here is her account:

The following information was related by Pearl Irene Mackey about stories told to her by Avis W. Drew Mackey, and from recall of events through the years.

Noah Drew and his sister, Emma, reportedly grew up in New York State of English and Scottish heritage. Emma lived in Jamestown but Noah became a sea captain and was called a sea farmer because he lived at sea with his family. Noah and Emma were considered wealthy.

According to the story, Noah married a girl from South Africa who was called a “yellow African girl”. She was disowned by her family for marrying a sea man. Three children, all born at sea, were Norman, the oldest, Edward and Avis Wilhelmina. The mother of these children became very ill. Noah believed her to be near death, and it was her request that the children be taken to Emma, which was done. Ages of the children when he left them behind with their Aunt Emma in Jamestown, New York in 1844 were Norman, 8, Edward, 3 and Avis, 2. Noah visited the children about every two years for a period of several years, then was heard from no more.

There is much more to this account but in the interest of being short and to the point I will stop there.

This is the problem. I have no idea whether the account is true or not. It’s a sad tale and considering the fact that there are no birth records found for Avis and her brothers in New York, it could be true. I will continue to search for the truth but have no idea how I can discover whether Noah was indeed a sea captain or the name of his ship and the routes he sailed. I definitely don’t know how to discover the name of the mother of Avis or anything about her family since she was disowned and died a death at sea. I have tried to find out the meaning of “yellow African woman” and haven’t had much luck. I surmise that she must have been of mixed race.

At this time in the political season I simply have no interest in blogging about the presidential race. My mind has turned to family history, a subject that has interested me since I was a girl.
Whether Obama beats Hillary makes no difference to me because I will vote for John McCain, flawed as he is, in the interest of national security.

Most people (except for the die hards) are tired of the constant barrage of news about the election. As summer comes on there will be more time for family history research and sipping tea on the porch. That is what I intend to do.