in the Bluegrass State
By James Pylant
DO NOT POST OR PUBLISH WITHOUT PERMISSION
Husky-voiced actress Patricia Neal, whose performance in Hud earned her an Oscar, made sixty-seven appearances on film between 1949 and 2009.1 Born Patsy Louise Neal on 20 January 1926 in Packard, Kentucky, she was the second child of William Burdette Neal and Eura Mildred Petrey.2 After she became a stage actress, her professional name became Patricia Neal.3 On 2 July 1953 she wedded Roald Dahl, whom she later divorced.4 Ms. Neal died of lung cancer on 8 August 2010 in Edgartown, Massachusetts.5 Kentucky’s Whitley County, on the southeastern border of the state, was not only the late actress’s birthplace, but home to countless maternal relatives for generations.
A traffic manager, William Burdette Neal, was known as “Coot.” On June 15, 1917, he registered for the draft, giving his birth date as 29 January 1895 and birthplace as Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The tall, stout, brown-haired, brown-eyed twenty-two-year-old was then a tip house foreman for the Mahan-Jellico Coal Company in Packard, Kentucky.6 Coot was the son of William David Neal and Mary Lou Fitzgerald.7 On 5 November 1918 he married Eura Mildred Petrey, the daughter of Dr. Pascal Gennings Petrey and Flora Jane Siler.8 Besides Patsy Louise, the couple were parents to Margaret Ann Neal9 and William Petrey Neal.10 The family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1929.11 There, Coot Neal died at age forty-nine on 16 April 1944.12 Eura Petrey was born on 27 September 1899 in Whitley County, Kentucky, and died at age 103 on 11 February 2003 in Union County, Georgia.13
Dr. Paschal Gennings Petrey was born on 8 January 1862 in Saxton, Whitley County, Kentucky, to Samuel Petrey and Elizabeth Bryant. He graduated from Louisville Medical College in 1892. He and Florence Siler, whom he married on 22 February 1893, were the parents of three other children: Della Elizabeth, Ima Gene and Virginia Siler Petrey.14 Dr. Petrey died of pneumonia in Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, on 12 May 1936, at age seventy-one years.15 Flora Jane (Siler) Petrey was born on 22 January 1871 in Whitley County, Kentucky, and died 7 November 1940 in Morristown, Hamblen County, Tennessee. She was the daughter of Green Adam Siler and Susan Jones, both Whitley County natives.16
Flora Jane SilerPatricia Neal’s maternal grandmothercame from Williamsburg, also in Whitley County. “She was related to almost everybody in that town,” the actress said. A seamstress, Flora Jane was not remembered for being affectionate, but as one who was “cold as a cucumber” and harsh when punishing her offspring.17 Appearing on the 1880 census as nine-year-old Jane F. Siler (“at school”), she lived with her parents and six siblings in the village of Boston, in Whitley County. Green F. Siler, age thirty-seven, worked as a dry goods merchant. His wife, Susan, age thirty-five, kept house. Flora Jane’s older siblings were Marshal E., age eighteen; Elizabeth, age fifteen, and George M., age eleven. She also had three younger siblings at the time of the census: John C., age seven; Ancel, age four; and one-year-old Anderson L. Two others lived with the family, Maynard Murray and Thomas Monroe, both of whom were listed in the enumeration as nephews to Green Siler.18 In 1900 Green Siler supported his family as a farmer in Garrard County. The census that year shows that he was born in September of 1841. His wife, Susan, was born in March 1844. The couple had been married thirty-three years, and she was the mother of eleven children, nine of whom were then living. Three of their children were living at home: Andrew (a farm laborer), born in June 1878; Nannie, born in January 1886; and Delphia, born in September 1888.19
Green A. Siler died 3 February 1913 in Boston, Whitley County, Kentucky. While the 1900 census lists September 1841 as the month and year of his birth, his death certificate records 22 August 1842 as his birth date. The same source says he was born in Whitley County to John Siler and Lusinda Evans. The informant was Dr. J. E. Siler.20 His widow survived him by nine months, dying in Packard, Whitley County, on 17 November 1913. Her son-in-law, Dr. Petrey, determined that her death resulted from heart disease. According to her daughter, Flora Siler Petrey (Patricia Neal’s grandmother), Susan Jones Petrey was born in Whitley County on 14 March 1846 to Isham Jones and Jennie Stanfill (Stanfield).21
The 1850 census shows Green A. Siler, age ten, in the household of John and Lucinda Siler in Whitley County. John, age fifty-six, a North Carolinian, held $3,000 in real estate. His wife, Lucinda, age forty-seven, was a native of South Carolina.
During the lifetime of Flora Jane (Siler) Petrey, a family history of the Silers was compiled and published by A. O. Siler. The author reported that Green A. Siler was a Civil War veteran, having served in Company A, 49th Kentucky Regiment. “This company was composed almost entirely of Silers and relatives of Silers,” he wrote.22
A. O. Siler’s published genealogy includes an interesting legend about John Wesley Siler (1794-1864) and Lucinda Evans (1800-1875), the great-great-grandparents of Patricia Neal. As the story goes, John W. had a dream about the woman he would someday meet and marry. About a month later, John W. and his brother, Benjamin Siler, went to a dance held in the neighborhood of Boston, Kentucky. There, he noticed his brother talking to a young woman who was a stranger to the community. John told his brother not to become too acquainted with her, for she was the young woman he had seen in his dream, the one he would marry. She was Lucinda Evans, and she became John Wesley Siler’s bride on 14 September 1817.23