Before I get started on Will Knoles I just want to put out there that I cannot verify that all of these records are the same person. I also can’t verify that all of these records pertain to the person my granddaddy, James Paul Stalls, Jr (1917-1987) viewed as a father figure. That said, tracking African American families can be a very difficult task. Due to social views of the times it appears that it was not as important to document our African American citizens. So what follows is what I have found and what I know.
On the 1910 Memphis, Tennessee census Will Knoles is found living with the Richards family. He is documented as Black, age 22 years, born in Alabama. His occupation is servant. He is single. It says that his parents were both born in the United States, but it doesn’t give an exact location. I don’t know if this means that he didn’t know, or the enumerator didn’t care. Will is able to read and write. He is working on his own account. He had been out of work for 8 weeks in 1909.
With that information I can only assume that the “Old Will” my granddaddy spoke about so fondly is Will Knoles. Of course, if it is, then we can’t figure out why my granddaddy would refer to him as “old” being that he was only 29-30 years older than granddaddy (unless, as my mother pointed out, any adult was seen as old…and of course, the older Granddaddy became the older Will would get, too!). I also can’t figure out where he was living when my granddaddy was small since he is not found on the 1920 census (but then of course, neither is my granddaddy! Maybe they were off together somewhere!).
When searching for Will Knoles born in Alabama about 1887/1888 I find a 1900 census record enumerated in Girard, Russell County, Alabama. On this census “Willie” Knoles is 13 years old and living with his grandparents, Frankney Knoles(66 years), a day laborer, and Axie Knoles(57 years) and his siblings, Charlie Knoles (10 years), Alburta Knoles (8 years) and Lewsile Knoles (6 years). Interestingly enough living next door to them are “Pe Ke” Knoles and Sallie Knoles. I suspect that “Pe Ke” is Willie’s uncle, Frankney and Axie’s son. Axie is listed as being the mother of two children, one of whom is still living.
The only other record I can find of this family is in 1910 in Girard, Russell County, Alabama. The family, now listed as “Knowles”, consisted of head-of-household “Frank”(79 years, now widowed), son “PK” (32 years, also widowed), grandson Charlie (19 years), granddaughter Alberta ( 18 years) and granddaughter Jennie (16 years).
So, back to Will.
The next time I am able find anything for Will Knoles is a WWI Draft Registration Card, signed in 1917 (the year my granddaddy was born). The information provided on this document is: his name is Will Knoles, age 28, and he lives at 519 Edith Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. His birthday is September 15, 1889 (which is a reason I question the 1900 census as being him seeing as it gives a birthdate of May 1887-unless his grandparents just didn’t know). He is shown as a “natural born” citizen and it shows his place of birth as Memphis, Tennessee (again, raising questions since the 1910 census says he was born in Alabama). He works as a concrete finisher for James Perryman. He is married with a wife, children and brother that are solely dependent on him for support. He is shown as “negro” and has not served in the military, nor is he exempt from draft. He is 5’2 and of medium build with dark hair, dark eyes and he is not bald. It doesn’t actually say if he has all of his appendages, but we will assume he does.
So, is this the same “Old Will”?
The only other record I can find for any Will Knoles born around 1887-1889 in Alabama listed as “Black” is the 1930 census enumerated in Miami, Florida. This man is listed as “William Knowles” and it says that he was 34 years old the first time he was married. I don’t believe that this is our guy at all, but strange that he is the only other person with a similar name, date of birth and place of birth as who I am looking for.
So what ever happened to “Old Will”? Where are his descendants? Granddaddy used to follow him around everywhere he went. He taught him how to catch birds with a box, a stick and a string. Granddaddy’s grandmother, Minnie, would have “Old Will” catch birds in the yard for her to cook. They used to hunt rabbits on the land around what is now Graceland.
I will keep looking for him and his family. I hope I can find them.