dee_burris: (Default)
2013-10-11 13:35

A journey to the Arkansas delta...

Earlier this week, I went to Phillips County, Arkansas in search of two cemeteries.

That search turned out to be for three cemeteries. I located two of them, and got into one.

But I couldn't have done any of that if not for the help of some very kind people along the way.
I started in West Helena, at the funeral home that handled the burials of three members of the William and Emma McCarroll family - William, Emma, and son-in-law, Josh Martin, Sr., husband of their daughter Mary McCarroll.

I thought I was looking for two cemeteries. I had already spoken by telephone with a very helpful man who remembered the cemeteries on the death certificates - Howe Plantation and Zion Traveler, both in Phillips County.

When I got to Jackson and Highley Funeral Home, however, I found that the funeral home records said Emma McCarroll was buried at Zion Hill Cemetery, also in Phillips County.

The man at the funeral home told me that Howe Plantation was at Wabash, where the granary is now. He said Zion Traveler was at Mellwood behind a church of the same name. That made sense, as Josh Martin, Sr.'s death certificate said he lived at Wabash, and Emma and William McCarroll's certificates said they lived at Mellwood.

So I thanked him for his time, and set out from West Helena to Wabash.
I found the granary with no problem. There were a gazillion pickup trucks parked around it, and not a living soul in sight.

There was also no sign of a cemetery. Since it was getting close to lunch time, I decided to head on down Highway 44 to Elaine, where there is always fried chicken and fish at Robert's One Stop.
Around here, we call southeast Arkansas lowlands the delta. The mighty Mississippi River alternately meanders and roars along the eastern border of Arkansas. You have to cross the Mississippi River to enter our neighboring state of Mississippi.

The farm land is rich and fertile - a planter's dream. A white planter's dream, that is. For black Arkansans in Phillps and surrounding counties, working the land started out as slavery.

Then came sharecropping, which was just slavery by any other name. Whether a sharecropper paid cash rent on the front end, or crop rent after the harvest, he was still just scraping by. The guy who was making the big bucks was still the white plantation owner.

By the mid 1930s in the southern United States, sharecropping had largely been replaced by tenant farming. And although tenant farming was anticipated to enable tenant farmers to earn a decent living, you can't tell that in the Arkansas delta. (Sharecropping was still the predominant way of farming for black Arkansas farmers until the early 1950s. Arkansas has always been reluctant to give up its institutions.)

Tenant farming is still alive and well in Arkansas, but large corporations leasing land have contractual protections and insurance against crop loss not affordable by most individual tenant farmers. In the Arkansas delta, individual tenant farmers still pay crop rent, - 25% to 50% of the value of the harvest to the landowner.
It was a meeting of black sharecroppers from Elaine on 30 Sep 1919 that precipitated what has been called the deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history. (Source: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture)

The sharecroppers were attending a meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union in a church about three miles from Elaine. They wanted better payment for their cotton from the white plantation owners who dominated the area.

The sharecroppers had posted armed guards outside the church to prevent their meeting from being disrupted and to try to keep the white plantation owners from gathering intelligence.

There is bitter disagreement about who fired first, but two white men - one of whom was a deputy sheriff for Phillips County - died. By the following morning, lynch mobs of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 white people from Phillips and surrounding counties, as well as across the river in Mississippi, converged on Elaine. Hundreds of Elaine's black citizens were slaughtered. The Governor sent 500 battle ready troops from Camp Pike to help quell what was being called an "insurrection" of black residents.

The 1919 massacre nearly devastated Elaine. In 1920, the town population was 377. In 1970 - the period of time my friend lived in and remembers Elaine - the population had swelled to 1,210.

The last forty years have not been kind to Elaine. In 2010, the population was 636. There is ample visual evidence of its decline.

 photo ElaineAR9Oct2013.jpg
Photo taken from Highway 44, looking toward Main Street, 9 Oct 2013

A very sweet woman at Robert's One Stop waited on me at lunch time. I went to the back of the line to wait for her, and asked her about the location of the cemeteries. She said she didn't know, but if anyone did, it would be the mayor. She sent me around to the only bank in Elaine to talk to the mayor, who works there.

As a general rule, Southerners of any color are polite and hospitable. That's why it took me aback that of all the people I'd spoken to and asked directions from so far that day, the white mayor of Elaine never came out from behind her teller cage to talk to me. (She, one other teller and I were the only people in the bank.) Some of the African Americans were curious as to why a white woman was looking for obscure black cemeteries - That's a black cemetery, you know? - but they were all very cordial and welcoming.

She didn't know where the cemeteries were. She did, however, know the real "go-to" woman in Elaine.

Mrs. Viola Watson.

From the time I knocked on Mrs. Watson's front door, until I left almost an hour later, I had a delightful time.

She knew exactly where the cemetery at Howe Plantation was. (Apparently, once I got to the granary, I zigged where I should have zagged.)

She also knew exactly how to get to Zion Hill Cemetery (she has a cousin buried there), and asked me doubtfully, Honey, are you down here by yourself? What are you driving? (She was right about that. There's not a road down in there, but there are two ruts. I've told Curtis that he is going to come with me with one of his four wheelers, because I am going to find that cemetery. I also told him we should call on Mrs. Viola Watson while we are there. She knew his parents.)

She wasn't sure exactly where Zion Traveler Cemetery was, except it was at Mellwood, behind a church of the same name. She told me if I stopped at the store at Mellwood, anyone in there should be able to tell me exactly how to get there.

I left Mrs. Watson's house and made my aborted attempt to find Zion Hill Cemetery. Then I cruised on down Highway 44 to Mellwood.

I had a sinking feeling as I went into the store and saw the two white women behind the counter. They were friendly enough, but they sent me back up the highway toward, but not into, Elaine with very specific directions about how to get to Zion Traveler Cemetery. (Okay, now two black folks, each of whom are older than both of you combined, have told me unequivocally that this place is at Mellwood. Um hmmm...)

I found the cemetery. It was St. Peter Cemetery. The elderly man clearing brush gave me a brief history of the church and cemetery. The church had been torn down before it fell down.

I took photos of every gravestone I could see. Everyone deserves to be remembered.

He also said Zion Traveler Cemetery was at Mellwood. Behind a church of the same name.
I was running out of daylight, and had no four wheeler with me. So I headed back to Wabash to find the cemetery on Howe Plantation, because I really wanted to find that one.

This time, I was determined to find someone to ask. I parked in front of what looked to be a caretaker's house, but the only one who answered my knock at the door was a dog with a low throaty growl. I skeedaddled back to the car.

Drove around the granary for a couple of minutes, marveling that no one had come round to ask me what the hell I was doing.

Then I saw him. A man putting gasoline in a four wheeler. (No, I did not heist his four wheeler.)

Maybe I walked up to trotted toward him just a tad too fast. Or maybe it was my joyous, Yay! A real live human being!

In any event, he took a step back as he said, "Okay...yeah..."

I told him what I was looking for. Not unkindly, he asked me the same thing I had heard for most of the day. That's a black cemetery, you know?

We stood shoulder to shoulder as he pointed down a road that bisects the granary to a little white dot in the distance. The sharecroppers' church. Behind it was the cemetery. He said his parents were buried there. He also said there were many more unmarked graves than graves with stones, because the people around there were so poor.

He told me the cemetery was part of what is known by the local residents as Howe Plantation. The plantation was owned by Jimmy Howe. I asked him how many acres. He told me to turn around in a circle, and look as far as my eyes could see.

When I got home, I did some research on Jimmy Howe, son of Otis Wilson Howe and Harriet Virginia May, and grandson of Wilson Herrick Howe.

African American sharecroppers in and around Wabash worked the plantation fields until the early 1950s. Due to poverty of sharecoppers, many were buried (as well as their family members) in a field behind the sharecoppers' church.

I thanked him, and set off down County Road 433, where the pavement soon gives way to gravel. I stopped at the church first.

 photo church.jpg


As you walk across the cemetery, it is fairly easy to see the evidence of unmarked graves, some of which have holes from shifting soil and disintegration of wooden coffins.

 photo IMAG0375.jpg

 photo wideangle2.jpg


Crops encroach to the very edges of some graves.

 photo wideangle.jpg


Someone must have loved her very much, as they made a homemade stone for her grave. I think her name was Mariah Washburn, but I can't make out any dates that may have been on the stone.

 photo MariahWashburn.jpg

I created Howe Plantation Cemetery on Find a Grave.

I didn't find a stone for Josh Martin, Sr. I wasn't expecting to, but was strangely disappointed anyway.

You can leave a virtual token for Curtis' great grandfather on his Find a Grave memorial.

Everyone deserves to be remembered.
dee_burris: (Default)
2013-10-01 11:02
Entry tags:

Oh my...Find a Grave has been acquired by Ancestry...

And the FAG message board users are not happy.

One is particularly in a snit, and threatening to take all her photos down. (See this thread in The Lounge, and I don't know if you have to be logged in to view it.)

They are using all the symbols on their keyboards to indicate how large their individual snits are.

This thread was locked immediately.

 photo fagacquiredbyancestry.jpg


Here's a news release, posted yesterday by Ancestry.

 photo Ancestryblog.jpg


Jim Tipton didn't let his members know about this - Ancestry did.
dee_burris: (Default)
2013-09-14 08:48

The importance of probate records to African American researchers

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been having delightful email and text correspondence with a woman who found some of my Find a Grave records on her family members.

I had gone graving one fine day in Desha and Phillips counties to locate graves and exact dates of death for my research on the Gordon/Martin/McCarroll family tree.
Virtually every family historian knows the importance of finding probate records for their ancestors and collateral relatives. You get so much good information from mining them.

But for African American family historians descended from slaves, 18th and 19th century (and earlier) probate records generally have a bittersweet quality.

They don't mine their ancestors' probate records from that time, because their ancestors didn't own things.

They were owned. And they were included in inventory lists of the master's and his descendants' estates.

My new friend just shared with me that in her quest to find out how her ancestor is related to a white family, she received a probate record with such a list.

And her ancestor was not among the slave inventory.
I can only try to imagine the feeling you have when opening that envelope or electronic file.

On the one hand, you really, really want to see your ancestor listed. So there has to be some disappointment if s/he is not.

And on the other, if your ancestor is on the list - although now you've got some vital information...Well, your mind would have to wander to what kind of life your ancestor might have had.

Keep those lists coming, folks. For those of us who had slaveowner ancestors, we need to post those lists. People are looking.

And yes, some of us had ancestors who owned slaves. I'm not going to pretty that up with some euphemistic phrase.
dee_burris: (Default)
2013-07-12 19:23
Entry tags:

FAG frequent flyers...

Some of the people who send me corrections to records I maintain on Find a Grave just kill me.

They want you to spell names on records the way they want them spelled, instead of what the stone says.

I'm not saying a stone carver couldn't have messed up a stone. In photographing graves for a decade, I have seen a couple of stones that some family member should have bitched about.

Like the one where the dates of birth and death were reversed on the stone. I have a photo of that stone around here on some flash drive, but can't locate it at the moment.

It wasn't at all uncommon for children and/or grandchildren to change a vowel or leave off the last of a double consonant in a surname before we had official identification issued to us by the State.

Sometimes I think a bunch of sibs may have decided to really complicate things for their descendants by a practice of only some of the sibs changing a surname spelling. (Here in the south, I am sure they grinned and said some form of, Hey, watch this shit...)

In my own family, two clans come to mind immediately - my Wharton/Whortons and my Herrington/Harringtons.

So no, I am not changing the spelling on the Evins FAG records in Itawamba Co., MS...

And pssstttt...click on Find all Evinses in New Salem Cemetery, and look at that list.
ETA: Now the author of the suggestion has informed me that since I won't change the spelling, she's just duped the record.
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-12-02 19:04
Entry tags:

I want to be like them...

Well, not really, I'd just like to have the free time they do.

Like this chick on FAG who has the time to count the number of someone else's memorials that are listed as "burial unknown."

On the bright side, I bet she has all her holiday presents bought and wrapped, and can tell you which of her neighbors are woefully inadequate in that regard...

Geez...
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-11-26 20:13

Tombstone Tuesday: He did it again...

Find a Grave volunteer Larry Hart went back to Union Cemetery in Panola Co., MS, and got the rest of the gravestone photos in what must have been the Conner family plot.

He emailed me to let me know, so I could create memorials for them.

Then he posted his photos.

William Henry Conner, 1808-1858, my 3rd great grandfather.

Elizabeth Curtis Conner, my 3rd great grandmother.

Henry Conner, 1874-1874, and Claudius Conner, 1876-1876, baby sons of James Alfred Conner, one of William and Elizabeth's sons.
And then he sent me the photos he took by email.

You just don't very often run across people like Mr. Hart.

When you do, you've found a real gem.
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-09-23 09:51
Entry tags:

Find a Grave "suggest a corrections"

I've had an account at Find a Grave for several years now.

I try to deal promptly with corrections for my records suggested by other folks, but there are things I won't do.

I will not copy and paste every census transcription for the deceased's natural life into the bio section.

I don't do verbatim transcription of obituaries unless I am sure that 1) there's not going to be a copyright infringement issue; and 2) I'm not making names of living survivors searchable.

Friday, I got another request from someone to add the cause of death cited in a news article to the bio field. The requestor had already asked me to do that several months ago, and I declined.

So she was asking again.

I emailed her and told her that I prefer to use the bio field for a real bio - information about the person while they were living, to flesh them out as a 3 dimensional human being - and I didn't think adding that this individual died of pneumonia contributed to that.

I also offered to transfer the record to her in the event that she felt very strongly that the record just could not be complete without the cause of death.

Haven't heard back from her...
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-06-07 09:04

Why all the negative energy?

I hope this post doesn't wind up sounding like a rant. I would only be adding to the negative energy I found this morning.
I found a genealogy blog solely devoted to making fun of people who have errors in their published family trees.

Who among us has not found a published family tree containing our own ancestors?

And maybe contacted the owner, providing correct information, and offering to untangle some limbs?

And maybe getting no reply at all, or perhaps one that hotly defends the errors?

And maybe we blog about it. That, I get.

What I do not get is the significant investment of time and energy expended in searching out family trees unrelated to my own, looking for obvious errors and broadcasting it in a blog solely devoted to sarcastic fingerpointing.

AND failing at the same time to provide the correct information.

Because we all know that some folks just seize on a string of search results and re-publish them, compounding the error.

So what's accomplished by that?
Of course, I have to consider where I found the link to the referenced blog.

At the Find-a-Grave forums. Where more often than not, all that's going on is negative.

I had gone there to see how far behind the cemetery fix-it thread was.

And ran across one of those discussion threads where someone with way too much time on their hands was asking...

Look at this photo and see if you think it's a post-mortem photo...you can't see a casket, but I'm just sure it's a post-mortem photo...

Because Find-a-Grave does not permit post-mortem photos on its grave records, and someone just might need to be cyber-whipped.

One commenter pointed out that the subject's eyes could have been closed when the photo was taken.

A couple of commenters tried valiantly to talk about the differences in burial and mourning rituals in other cultures, and in western US culture over history.

Then, words like creepy, jarring, physically repulsed, SCARY (caps in original), and disturbing started creeping into the comments.

And all I could think about was the wonderful work of the volunteer photographers at Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who give modern day grieving parents a tastefully photographed portrait of their deceased child - the only one they will ever have.

I understand the rules at Find-a-Grave. But where is all the judgement coming from?

If you don't want to see a post-mortem photo, don't look.

But don't judge the family for having it.
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-10-30 09:49

Anniversary of "Shakin' the Family Tree"...

The first anniversary will be tomorrow.

Technically, about 6 p.m. tomorrow night. I was piled up on the couch with the laptop and a bowl of candy for the trick or treaters when I had my Nike moment.

Just do it.
390 blog posts.

That's not bad.

It's the number of comments that blows me away, though.

791.

From people all over the United States and a few from the United Kingdom, if Google Analytics is correct.

That's 791 times someone has stopped by and felt enough for what they were reading to comment about it - offering words of encouragement, tips and tricks to help me break down a brick wall, or to say something to the effect of...

I think we are related.
I used to keep count of how many people made contact with me through my online genealogy activities.

Before I started this blog, those contacts were made through post-ems and emails about my family tree hosted at Rootsweb, or through my posting activities at Find A Grave.

Since starting this blog, I've lost count of the contacts I've gotten this year, and exactly where they came from. This year, there have been weeks I've received contacts in the double digits. (Sometimes, I take a day off from my day job to deal with those, because I think it's important to reply to everyone who contacts me in a timely fashion.)

People have gotten a lot more tech-savvy and I have cross-linked from every online genealogy profile I have, so usually, when they find me here, they also find me there.
If you are one of those people who has stopped by and taken the time to comment, I want to thank you.

I am honored that you took the time.

If you are one of the people who just comes by to read, and you're kind of hanging out in cyberspace, wondering if blogging could help you along in your family history search, maybe it's time for your Nike moment.

Just do it.
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-07-12 11:47

Tombstone Tuesday: Online Stroll

This is for me one of the more interesting features of Find a Grave...

The online stroll, where you can use the arrow keys on the top of the random record to move back and forth through online burial records that have been submitted to the online stroll database for that purpose.
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-06-10 15:00
Entry tags:

I love it when that happens...

Just got a FAG correction.

For Luvina Burris.

My good Samaritan told me that her parents were John Sherman Burris and Mitti Belle McElroy.

That little email solved a mystery.

I've had Mary L Burris (born about 1916) in John and Mitti's family for years.

Just never knew what happened to her - or whether she married or had kids.

She is buried in St. Joe Cemetery, as are her parents.

Now I wonder why she died at the age of 23...
dee_burris: (Default)
2010-11-24 11:19
Entry tags:

Can't we all just get along?

I am a big proponent of making genealogical information freely available. I intend to do that in this blog, and I try to support other online activities where the information is free.

That's one of the reasons I am such a big fan of FindaGrave.

I am not, however, a fan of the increasing politicking, nitpicking and inflated egos I find in the FAG forums though.

Particularly those that surround transferring of memorials to family members "out of guidelines."

Yes, there is a four generation "rule," (which is really two generations up and two down) that I personally ignore when I get requests for transfers of memorials to family members for decedents to whom I am not related.

I make that clear on my profile, which really chaps some of the forum members. They are the ones who hang on to the memorials they have created for dear life, and will not ever ~gasp~ transfer "out of guidelines."

They make fun of people who even ask.

Like a snippet from an ongoing thread entitled Rethinking transfers!...

The post I replied to...

I had this one ask for her GGG Father. She had created 8 memorials and managed 68. I wandered (sic) how many GGG Fathers she had.

My reply...

Well, that would probably look like this...she had two parents.
She had four grandparents.
She had eight great grandparents
She had sixteen gr-gr grandparents.
She had thirty-two gr-gr-gr grandparents.

If I understand biology correctly, half of those gr-gr-gr-grandparents were male.

So I would say she had 16 ggg grandfathers.


I cannot fathom why you would want to hold on to the management of a record for someone to whom you are not related when someone who is related wants to manage it...