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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2010-11-01 06:32 pm
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When secrets are exposed...

It started a few weeks ago with an email I got from a young woman trying to break down a brick wall in her own family history.

Little did either of us know that we were getting ready to uncover a 140 year old secret.


My correspondent had been hunting for a James L Hill and JT Burris, who had witnessed her great-grandparents' (Charley Hill and Hanna Mason) 1919 marriage ceremony in Pope Co., which was performed by GW Burris, a JP.

She found all three in my family tree on Rootsweb, and was trying to figure out how they connected to her family.

I was able to tell her that the GW Burris she found was most likely my g-grandfather, George Washington Burris, Sr., and that JT Burris was James Taylor "Preacher Jim" Burris, who was the father-in-law of James L Hill. James Hill married our cousin Louisa Jane Burris (Prince - Louisa Jane had been married for about three years until her first husband died) after his first wife, Clara Richardson Burris, died. I told her that all of those people are buried at St. Joe Cemetery in Pope Co., AR.

Over a period of a week, she and I were emailing back and forth, and made some startling discoveries.

When James L Hill married Clara Richardson in 1888, his marriage license said he was James L Burris. I started looking backward...

In the 1870 census in Pope Co., I found James L Hill as a 10 month old, living with his widowed mother, Martha JF (Vick) Hill, and older siblings in Martha's mother's house.

Two farms away from James Littleton and Elizabeth Adeline Burris.

In the 1880 census, I found James L Hill living with his still widowed mother, Martha Hill, and three more children, born since the 1870 census. The youngest was Richard M Hill, born July 1879.

Two farms away from James Littleton and Elizabeth Adeline Burris.

I called Dad. He put me on the phone with my step-mom.

She said several years ago, a guy named Al Hettel (a great grandson of James Littleton Burris) came by the house to talk family history and told her about James Littleton Burris or one of his sons who "had two families." Very hush-hush, but Burris had taken care of them. She and my dad thought he had a touch of senility, because he was quite old at the time. (Al died in 1992.)

It gets better.

In 1883, the "widow" Martha Hill had another son named Charley.

Martha J F (Vick) Hill tried to divorce her husband, William J Hill, in 1867. According to divorce records, he was no longer in Arkansas, so the court told her she had to take out a legal notice in a newspaper to effect service on him. Her case was dismissed in 1868, for "want of prosecution."

On 1 May 1893, James Littleton Burris was granted guardianship of Richard and Charley Hill, minors, in the Pope Co. Probate Court. Martha Hill was dead.

James Littleton Burris died on 29 Aug 1895. On 29 Oct 1895, George W Burris Sr was granted letters of guardianship of Richard and Charley Hill, minors, in the matter of the estate of Mrs. M J Hill, deceased. The letters were filed in the Pope Co. Probate Court. (George W Burris was one of James Littleton's sons by Elizabeth Adeline Ashmore, and my great grandfather.)

Over the next six years, George Burris served as guardian for Richard and Charley Hill, managing Martha's estate and filing periodic reports, until the matter was discharged during the April 1901 session of the Court, with final accounting submitted 8 Jan 1901, and approved 8 March 1901.

Richard Hill was no longer a minor, and the Court removed Charley's disability as a minor (he was 18 years old, according to Court records), so both inherited the remainder of their mother's estate.

Some of the receipts filed with the probate court by my great-great grandfather George alternately irritated me and broke my heart. Richard and Charley Hill charged for half of their sister's coffin in the 1897 annual accounting to the court of George Burris' guardianship. George paid the other half.

These were a pre-teen and teenaged boy, who having lost a sister who would have been at most 19 or 20 years old, had the small estate left to them by their mother further depleted by George, who could well have afforded to buy the coffin himself. Apparently the coffin was purchased, and Hetty was buried, with no stone. Where, we do not know...

Other receipts and accounting show that George rented the Hill brothers' farm from them, then out of their estate, paid for their healthcare to his cousin, the doctor; bought their clothes and shoes from one of his brother's stores; and boarded them in town with another of his brothers - to go to school. My Dad and I think it was to get them out of the sight of his own mother, who lived until 1919.

We think we have found the "widow" Hill's grave, under a non-descript rock in St Joe Cemetery, long known to the locals as the Burris family burying ground. Dad has been over there twice now, weed-eating and spraying weed killer to be able to see just how many Hills may be buried there. James L Hill, who kept calling himself James L Burris all the way up to the 1920 census, has a marked grave, as do both of his wives (including the second one, who was already a cousin of mine by blood). Dad is trying to see how many spaces there may be in and around that plot that could be unmarked. If we can determine with old records from the St Joe Cemetery Commission - which is a really fancy name for a bunch of old people who have records scattered throughout their homes - we intend to mark the unmarked ones.

Because these folks are family.

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