52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Unusual Name

My 3rd great grandmother, Zarilda Ray, was born September 4, 1852. She was the 10th of 11 children born to Wade H. and Margaret Barton Ray. In 1850, they lived in Heard County, on Stateline Road, near – you guessed it – the Alabama state line. Much like others in the rural community, theirs was a farming family.

Not only is Zarilda’s name unusual to us, it was also unusual among her siblings – all of whom had typical names like Nancy, John, William, Elizabeth, etc.  The website “Name Doctor” describes the name as Germanic and stemming from Sarohild which means “one who protects himself in combat.” If there are German roots in this branch of the family, I’ve yet to uncover them. Due to the dearth of Heard County records, I’ve not gotten very far back in researching her parents, but so far, the name doesn’t appear to be a family name, either. While it is an uncommon name among my family and to my ear, a search of the 1850 census shows no shortage of Zarildas in the Midwest and Kentucky and Virginia. Perhaps the namesake was a family friend who warranted the honor.

Zarilda’s mother died around the start of the Civil War when Zarilda was still a child. Zarilda had at least two older brothers who served in the war. John Langston Ray survived, but Wade Hampton Ray appears to have died during his service. By 1872 Zarilda married William Calvin Shirey – himself a Civil War veteran (pictured above). They raised their seven children around the Heard County area in places with names like Centralhatchee and Rockaloo.


According to family story, Zarilda’s father Wade owned land in a part of Heard County called Graball. The same family stories claim that Wade died while he was trying to cross “the river” which is assumed to be the Chattahoochee – as it runs right through the area the family owned land and lived in the 1800s.

Zarilda died around the age of 70 and William died a decade later around the age of 86. They lived their later years with families of a few of their children. William applied for and was granted a Civil War Indigent pension on the basis of “infirmity, poverty, and disability” and claimed to have no land or homestead to support him and his wife when he applied for the pension in 1897.

Zarilda is not the only uncommon name in my tree. She is kept company by a sister Matilda and a grandson Joseph Vesper as well as some extended family of her descendants: Montiesuma Buchanon, Nancy Zenobia West, Theodocia Bledsoe, and Vashtie Prophett.

On the other side of the tree there is Eudora Rucker, Burilla Hollis, Jink Devana Weathers, Lafate Lanier, Lillian Rozelle, and a distant Zelana Peugh.


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