March 2nd, 2011

dee_burris: (Default)
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 08:19 pm
I have several photos of my great-grandmother.


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I like this one in front of the tree. I don't know where or when it was taken, although her appearance in this photo is very similar to those taken on the occasion of her 50th wedding anniversary in 1927. It looks like there are chairs on the lawn - perhaps there had been a family gathering.

The expression on her face is kind of sad. Maybe the sun was in her eyes.

Or maybe she was remembering the ones who weren't there.


Mary Mathilda Wharton was the third child of nine I have documented in her family. Her parents were Thomas Jefferson Wharton and Rutha Evaline Coleman. (Rutha's first name gave census enumerators fits for decades if variant spellings are any indication.)

She was born on 5 Oct 1859 in Alabama, probably St Clair County - because that's where the family was in 1860. Mary was nine months old.

For reasons I have yet to figure out, the family was in Chickasaw County, Mississippi in 1870. And not just Thomas and Rutha - there were several Wharton cousins who moved from Alabama to Mississippi about the same time.

Mary's father, Thomas, was a private in the 33 Regiment Miss Infantry, Company I. He enlisted on 7 Mar 1862 in Eureka, Panola County, Mississippi. (Both Panola and Chickasaw counties are in northern Mississippi.) Thomas was paroled at the end of the war, on 1 May 1865, at Greensboro, NC.

Whatever the attraction in Mississippi, Thomas Wharton moved his family to Pope County, Arkansas by 7 Oct 1877.

That's when Mary wed George Washington Burris, Sr.


As far as I know, newlyweds George and Mary lived on the Burris family land and farm not far from the location where some years later, they would help to establish a free will Baptist church.

They celebrated the arrival of their first child, Mary's 19th birthday, and their first wedding anniversary almost simultaneously. Richard Benjamin Burris was born on 3 Oct 1878. He and all 11 of his younger siblings were born, as some of the old handwritten family group sheets say, "on Isbell Creek."

There really is an Isbell Creek, and yeah, before the land was subdivided, George, Mary and their family lived not far from it. So it was the landmark that indicated place of birth.

For the first 23 years of her married life, Mary was pregnant and gave birth at least 12 times.

Her first 5 children were healthy, and lived fairly long lives. So it must have been somewhat of a shock when Mary's sixth child was a stillborn son on 21 Oct 1889. His gravestone says that his grave was the first in St. Joe Cemetery. My grandfather, George W Burris, Jr., was Mary's seventh child, born in 1890.

Mary lost several children very young. James Thomas Burris wasn't quite 5 weeks old when he died in 1895. Ella Rea had just turned 3.

The youngest of the Burris bunch were Arkie and Ocie, the pretty little sisters I always saw photographed together.

Ocie died first - of a fever caused by malaria - on 12 Oct 1910, just days after Mary's 51st birthday.

Arkie died as the result of a fiery accident on 3 Jun 1913 - and lingered overnight and into the early morning hours of the next day, with her parents by her side. She was laid to rest with her brothers and sisters in St. Joe Cemetery on Thursday, 6 Jun 1913.


By the time Mary reached her mid-50s, she was well acquainted with loss. Census records show that her parents, Thomas and Rutha Wharton, lived on the same farm with Mary and her family, as did George's parents, James and Adeline Burris.

Mary's father died first - in 1908, followed by Rutha Wharton in 1911. So Mary did not have the comfort of her own mother when she lost her youngest child.

Makes me just want to give her a hug.


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I have no idea how Mary felt about her father-in-law's second family, or her own husband's role in making sure his half-siblings were raised to adulthood.

None of us who are now living know about that, because the secrets started in that generation, and were kept through the next.

But at the time George, Sr. assumed guardianship of Richard and Charley Hill in 1895, Mary and George had just lost a newborn baby, and buried George's father.

So there must have been additional stress there.


George and Mary celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the house in town. There was a lengthy article in the newspaper about it. (Which one, I do not know, because someone neatly cut it out...)

Mr. and Mrs. George W Burris, of Russellville, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary Friday, October 7, with a dinner serving 50 guests, one for each year of their married life. Their guests included their seven children...The folks are hearty and hale for their age and enjoyed the day with their children and friends. Many valuable gifts were bestowed upon the couple, among them being $50 in gold. Mrs. Burris smilingly admitted that "life is not so bad after all," but that "the happiest part of life was when all the kiddies were at home - that's why I'm so happy today."


By the 1910 census, the family had moved to Russellville, and according to the census form, lived on Brucker Street. (Dad, I don't think the street's there any more - or maybe that's what has been called Glenwood Street.)

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In the 1920 census, they were living at the house where the 1927 anniversary celebration was held...602 Long Street.


Two years after that 50th anniversary celebration, Mary's husband died. The nation was on the brink of the Great Depression.

In the 1930 census, "Tilda" was living at 300 West 2nd Street in Russellville, and had two boarders.

Mary Mathilda Wharton died on 26 May 1938, and was buried beside her husband in St. Joe Cemetery.


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