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I got a bundle of old newspaper clippings, telegrams and letters from my youngest sister not long ago. In that bundle was a clipping that solved a riddle for me.

I never understood why my great great grandmother, Laura Isabelle Cunningham Balding was buried at Oakland & Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park. Her husband, James Henry Balding, was a musician in the Civil War for the Confederate States of America. When he died, he would be buried in the Confederate soldiers section of what is now the Little Rock National Cemetery.

Wives and widows could be buried with their husbands. So why was Laura buried next door at Oakland? I pondered that for several years, until I read the death notice for Laura and Henry's youngest daughter, Ethel Clare Balding, and a letter that told me Ethel Clare had died of congestive fever (malaria) and was buried in the city cemetery.

The city cemetery was Oakland, purchased on 31 Dec 1862 from a plantation owner.

That sent me on a search through Oakland's digitized deed and burial records. I found the deed for a single lot, purchased for $2.50 on 13 Oct 1890, two days after Ethel Clare Balding died. But there was no stone.

No stone for a nine year old child. The family pitched in to mark her grave.

On 4 Feb 2016 - 125 years after her death - Ethel Clare Balding's grave was properly marked with a gravestone I hope would make my great great grandparents smile.

 photo Ethel Clare Balding.jpg


The sexton placed it at the foot of her mother's grave, because we believe Ethel Clare was buried there, her remains perpendicular to her mother's.

 photo Ethel Clare Balding and Laura Cunningham Balding.jpg

It's never too late to do the right thing.

The journey is good.
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I took time to actually sit down and eat lunch the other day.

With my favorite aunt and my cousin.

Naturally, we had to get around to talking about the family tree.

We talked about my great-grandmother, Mary (Wharton) Burris.

I wondered aloud how our Whartons - who originally hailed from North Carolina, then took a little trip into Georgia - made it from Alabama to Arkansas by way of Mississippi. I found the whole bunch in the 1870 census in Chickasaw Co., MS.

Photobucket


My aunt remembered something her dad, George Washington Burris, Jr., told her about his mom's family coming to Arkansas.

They ran from an epidemic. Burned all their stuff and fled.

Great grandma's obituary says she was about 17 when they got here. I know they were here by 1877, because great grandma married George Washington Burris, Sr. on 7 Oct 1877 in Pope County.

So I started looking for epidemics in Mississippi around 1877/1878...
What I found was fascinating, if you can call a disease fascinating.

In the late 1870's, yellow fever was spreading throughout the southeast United States, finally reaching epidemic proportions in towns and cities along the Mississippi River.

The disease, sometimes known as 'Yellow Jack,' and 'Bronze John,' devastated Mississippi socially and economically. Entire families were wiped out while others fled their homes in panic for the presumed safety of other parts of the state. Quarantine regulations, passed to prevent the spread of the disease, brought trade to a stop. Some local economies never recovered. Beechland, near Vicksburg, became a ghost town because of the epidemic. By the end of the year [1878], 3,227 people had died from the disease. (Source: Deanne Stephens Nuwer, "The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic along the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Gulf South Historical Review 1999 14(2): 51-73)

Although they didn't know it at the time, yellow fever is caused by a virus that is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which originated in tropical climates of sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. My great-grandparents and their parents thought yellow fever was caused by uncleanliness and poor sanitation, hence the burning of possessions.

Theory has it that those mosquitoes hopped rides on slave ships, and found the fertile land along the mighty Mississippi river (as well as other large water sources east of the Mississippi) quite to their liking.
So I think it might be quite likely that my Wharton ancestors ran from Mississippi to Arkansas to flee yellow fever.

Which is horrible. How terrified they must have been.

But it's also good.

Because if they hadn't, my aunt, my cousin and I wouldn't have been around on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 to enjoy each other's company over plate lunches at Zack's.
And while I was doing all that digging around, I also made another discovery.

Great grandma's mother applied for her daddy's Civil War pension in 1908, three years before she died.

And the records are at the Arkansas History Commission.
The journey is good.

Listen to your elders.

And then write that stuff down.

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Dee Burris Blakley

August 2016

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