Bera Franklin’s story is a perfect example of the host of challenges that face genealogical researchers. Bera’s name (first and last) and age are recorded inconsistently over the course of her life, making tracking her through time challenging. Though Bera is alternatively referred to as Berry, Berie, Bera, Gera, Dera, Vera, Elbera, and Elberia across different documents, we have chosen to refer to her primarily as Bera throughout this biography. In the memorial messages she had posted in the newspaper on each of the anniversaries of her daughter’s death, she calls herself Bera. Bera had more control over the form and spelling of her name in these documents, as opposed to the census, so we have chosen to use this name most often.
In the 1870 census record in which Charlotte Franklin appears, she is living with her husband, son, and daughter, Berry. Berry is recorded as being 10 years old at the time and attending school along with her brother. By 1880, the same year in which Charlotte was employed in the household of Emory Upton, Berie Franklin, aged 19, was working as a servant in the Fort Monroe home of Capt. Constantine Chase and his wife, May. Unfortunately, the majority of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire in 1921, making the lives of both Charlotte and Berry/Berie more difficult to trace during the last years of the 19th century.
On March 18, 1894, Bera Franklin married William H. Trusty, a local businessman and one of the first Black men to be elected to the Phoebus city council. Bera’s age on the day of her wedding is given as 29. Her approximate year of birth given her age at the time of the 1870 and 1880 census would have been 1860 or 1861. However, if she was 29 in 1894, her year of birth would have been a bit later, about 1865. This is the same issue plaguing the research of the life of Charlotte Franklin, as well as many other Black folks born prior to emancipation. Ages of enslaved people were often recorded inaccurately or manipulated by enslavers. Additionally, census records are notoriously inaccurate, as what appears in the document was at the discretion of individual census takers. In the census of 1900, both Bera’s date of birth (September 1862) and name (“Dera”) differ from other documents in which she appears. This trend will continue for her, especially after the name changes associated with her marriages.
In 1897, William H. Trusty had a home built in Phoebus for his new family. This included not only Bera, but also her daughter Ettrula Franklin. Trusty was not Ettrula’s father—her father’s name is recorded as “unknown” on her 1930 death certificate. Bera and her daughter would continue to live in the large Queen Anne style home after William’s death in 1902. Bera married her neighbor John Miles (or Myles) in 1907 and he moved into her home at 76 West County Road. At this point, Bera took Trusty as her middle name and became Bera T. Miles (or Myles). The family continued to live in their home in Phoebus for the next 20 years. Unfortunately, Ettrula predeceased her mother by about 10 years. Ettrula Franklin died on November 13, 1930 of valvular heart disease. On the anniversary of her death in 1931, 1932, 1933, 1937, and 1939 Bera and John had a memorial posted in the Daily Press. The wording of each is slightly different, but the intent follows the sentiment expressed in the first one, “In memory of our loving daughter, Eltrula [sic] Franklin, who departed this life one year ago, November 13, 1930.”
Bera continued to live at 76 West County until the end of her life. On November 7th, 1940, Bera T. Miles died in her home and was buried in Elmerton Cemetery in Hampton. In 1979, the William H. Trusty House was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register as well as the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 1970s, local historian Mrs. Sandidge Evans, called “Sis,” argued that the house was a significant landmark representing the history of Black entrepreneurial and political power in Phoebus at the turn of the century. Bera Miles’ continued occupation of the home also calls attention to the fragile nature of Black success in the South in the decades immediately following Emancipation. Though William H. Trusty owned many businesses and what was at the time the most expensive house in Phoebus, he died under a mountain of debt. Her husband’s businesses were sold to satisfy the debt and Bera had to buy her own home back at auction. Though capable of great economic success, Black citizens lacked generational wealth which could provide safety nets from failure.
Fort Monroe Authority. “Bera (Franklin) Trusty Miles.” Illuminating Shadows, May 11, 2023. [access date]. [URL].