central pennsylvania african american history for everyone
              ten years on the web 1997 - 2007



African American History
in South Central
the 19th century

Midland Cemetery's People 
Roebuck Family
by Beula Virginia Roebuck-Mack

Midland Cemetery was rescued from neglect by local historian Barbara B. Barksdale, who began the Friends of Midland organization.  That organization is the best source of information on the cemetery.  They can be contacted at the following address:  Friends of Midland, P. O. Box 7442, Steelton, Pennsylvania 17113-0442.

This article is part of a series about the people who make up the community served by Midland Cemetery.  Information and photographs for this article were contributed by Beula R. Mack of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Beula R. Mack wrote the narrative, submitted the photographs and supplied information for the captions that accompany the photographs.  Some additional historical background has been supplied by the Afrolumens Project staff.

For photographs of the dedication of the new headstone for George and Jennie Roebuck on October 16, 2004, click this link.

Jennie Roebuck, standing, early  twentieth century.  The seated woman is unidentified.My search for my paternal grandparents, George and Jennie Roebuck, ended on June 28, 1998.  While searching in the Midland Cemetery, I happened upon Barbara Barksdale who was there with a cleaning crew clearing away debris.  She promptly showed me where they were buried (see picture).

George W. Roebuck, Sr., an Afro-American, was born in Madison County, Virginia about 1860.  He is listed in the 1880 Federal Census in the household of his father and mother, Noah and Rhody Roebuck, as age 20.  Oral family history states that he followed his brother to Pennsylvania; probably to work in the steel mills.  Jennie Virginia Speers was born a mulatto in Nelson County, Virginia about 1865.  She married John McKamey in Augusta County, Virginia in 1884.  It is not known when they left Virginia for Pennsylvania.  From this union, three children were born:  Fannie, Barbara and Louis.

» At left, Jennie Roebuck is the person standing in this early twentieth century portrait.  The identity of the woman seated in the ornate chair is not known at this time.

(Boyd's 1887 Directory for Steelton lists a Charles Roebuck living on Adams Street, north of Bailey Street--house numbers were not yet in common use on all streets--and working as a laborer.  John S. McKamey, a laborer, was listed as living at 148 Ridge Street.  For more details on the McKamey family, see our McKamey Family Page.  Editor.)

Portrait of George W. Roebuck.  Photo courtesy of Beula R. Mack.« Portrait of George W. Roebuck.

A marriage license was issued to George and Jennie in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania in the year 1898.  George is listed as single and Jennie is listed as divorced, most likely from John McKamey.  From this marriage four children were born:  Chester, who was my father, Theodore, George Jr., and Esther.

The Roebuck family attended the First Baptist Church of Steelton.  Jennie is said to have helped raise money to buy the land on which the church was built.  Her husband, George, and her son, Chester, served as choir directors there.  Chester also played the church organ.  A stained glass window in the church was dedicated to Chester for his service in the church.  Esther was a soloist in the church choir and became the first black contralto to sing with the Harrisburg Symphony Choir.

(Jennie McKamey was living separate from John McKamey as early as 1894, according to a Steelton directory from that year.  "Mrs. Jennie McKamey" was listed at 150 Ridge Street, and no John McKamey appears in the listings.  It is interesting to note that George W. Roebuck, a laborer, was also listed at that address.  It was common for families to rent rooms for extra income.  Perhaps Jennie McKamey met George Roebuck because they both were boarders with a family at this address, or perhaps one rented a room to the other.  By 1897, Mrs. Jennie McKamey had moved to 152 Ridge Street, but there is no listing for George Roebuck.

The 1920 census for Steelton shows George and Jennie Roebuck living at 257 Adams Street.  Living with them was their son George and his wife Annie and son Russell.  Also living at this address was the youngest child, Esther, who was twelve years old and attending school, and a "Foster son," Richard Matthews, age 10. 

The designation "foster son" was used differently in 1920 than it is today.  According to Buela Mack, Richard Matthews "was the son of Barbara and Randolph Matthews.  Barbara was a McKamey.  She was the daughter of John and Jennie McKamey...Consequently, that makes him Jennie's grandson and George Roebuck's step grandson."  She further notes that the reason Richard Matthews was living with his grandmother and step-grandfather was that "Barbara died in childbirth.  George and Jennie raised Dick [Richard]."   Beula adds "He was living with my mother in Philadelphia when he died in 1968 on May 9th.  He is buried in Midland."  A surviving tombstone in the cemetery is inscribed "Richard Matthews, WWII, July 13, 1908 - May 9, 1968." 

George Roebuck owned the property at 257 Adams Street, but it still had a mortgage in 1920.  His occupation was listed as laborer at the steel company.  Jennie was working as a laundress at at hotel.  The Roebuck's second son, Theodore, died as an infant, at 5 months of age, on March 3, 1906. Their address at that time, according to the death certificate, was 304 Ridge Street. The First Baptist Church, with which the family was associated, was located at 160 Adams Street.    Editor.)

James Roebuck standing outside of the Roebuck ancestral home in Steelton, 257 Adams Street.  Photo courtesy of Beula R. Mack.Their great-grandson, James Randolph Roebuck, Jr. is currently serving in the Pennsylvania State Legislature as a Representative from Philadelphia.  George and Jennie Roebuck remained in Steelton until their deaths in 1920 and 1937 respectively.

» At left, "Ancestral Residence."  James Randolph Roebuck, Sr. is shown standing at the childhood home of his father, Chester Roebuck.  This was the residence of his grandparents, George and Jennie Roebuck, at 257 Adams Street, Steelton, Pennsylvania. 

Many special heartfelt thanks to Barbara Barksdale and her crew.  If not for their diligence, I doubt that my search would have been successful.  

Beula Virginia Roebuck-Mack
March 26, 2004


The author at the gravesite of her grandparents, George and Jennie Roebuck, in Midland Cemetery.« Beula Roebuck-Mack at the gravesite of her grandparents, George and Jennie Roebuck, Midland Cemetery, Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

Beula Mack recently placed a permanent gravestone to mark the final resting place of her grandparents.  For photographs of the dedication of that stone, held on October 16, 2004, please click this link.

Sources used for Editor's notes:

Boyd's Harrisburg and Steelton Directory, 1887.
Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton, 1894.
Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton, 1897.
Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton, 1919.
Steelton Death Certificates, All names index, R.
Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920, Steelton Borough, Pennsylvania.
"Tombstone inscriptions, Midland Cemetery," Friends of Midland Cemetery
Correspondence, Buela R. Mack to George F. Nagle, May 1, 2004.

Letter from Calobe Jackson, Jr., mentioning Charles Roebuck's participation in a 1911 ceremony at Lincoln Cemetery, Harrisburg.


People of Midland Series:

Clayton Carelock
Trennor T. Beckwith
McKamey Family

More Midland Photo Galleries:

The Civil War Burials at Midland
African American Burial Traditions at Midland
World War Burials at Midland
Gallery of Home Crafted Tombstones
Gallery of Plot Boundary Markings
Artifacts of a Historic Cemetery

Return to Midland Introduction

Steelton History:

Andrew Askins Post 479 Veterans
Steelton Death Certificates, 1892-1893
1920 Census of African Americans in Steelton

Hygienic School:

The Hygienic School Story
Roll of Colored Graduates
Teachers at the Hygienic School


Friends of Midland Home Page


afrolumens project homeenslavement | underground railroad | 19th century | 20th century

Original material on this page copyright 2004-2006 Afrolumens Project.
The url of this page is
Contact the  
This page was updated July 19, 2006.