dee_burris: (Default)
For the past month, I've been working on the family tree of a dear friend of mine. He is African American, and the going gets tough.

I was helped out immensely by a cousin my friend didn't know he had. She found two of my Find a Grave entries for my friend's grandfather, Josh Martin, Jr., and Josh's mother, Mary E McCarroll Martin. The cousin contacted me, and we have been emailing and texting ever since.

There's a mystery surrounding the gravesite of Josh Martin, Sr. (Josh Martin, Jr.'s father). His death certificate says he is buried on Howard Plantation in Phillips County, AR.
When I first read that, I was dubious.

Josh Martin, Sr. died in 1945 of congestive heart failure while his children were teenagers.

I started researching any place in Phillips County called Howard Plantation. There was no cemetery by that name.

I looked back over the five death certificates I had for the Martins and McCarrolls, and saw that most of the burials had been handled by Jackson and Highley Funeral Home in West Helena, AR.

The ancestors smiled favorably on me. Jackson and Highley is still in business, although they do not have a website.

That was oddly a comfort to me. As I made the phone call, I hoped the voice of an elderly man or woman would answer the phone - someone who had been around Phillips County long enough to remember Howard Plantation, and be able to give me an educated guess as to why my friend's grandfather was buried there. (There was also another cemetery listed on the death certificates of my friend's great grandparents I couldn't find - Zion Travel, also in Phillips County.)
Twenty minutes later, I knew I had found him - the man who not only remembers Howard Plantation, but can give me directions about how to get there. (He also knows where Zion Travel is.)

Apparently, it was pretty common for African American sharecroppers to be buried on the plantation they farmed. Although there are several likely candidates for slaveowners with the surname Howard in Phillips County, right now I only suspect there may also be slave graves on Howard Plantation.

Next Wednesday, I'm going to Jackson and Highley Funeral Home in West Helena to meet and talk with the kindly gentleman who answered my call, and who was so gentle as he tried to let me down easily about the condition of the lands on which so many of my friend's direct ancestors are buried. As we talk, I hope I can get him to reminisce about Phillips County in the first half of the 20th century. I hope he will let me record him.

And then, I will follow his directions about how to get to Zion Travel Cemetery, and Howard Plantation. I want to take photos, even if there is nothing identifiable to see - no gravestones or monuments. Abandoned cemeteries are not new to me.

I want to lay some flowers even so. The history of some of Phillips County's abandoned African American cemeteries needs to be recorded - if possible with a list of some those buried there.

Everyone deserves to be remembered.
dee_burris: (Default)
I have a death certificate for an African American woman who died in 1941 in Chicot Co., AR. The certificate says she was buried at Mt. Grove Cemetery, most probably in Chicot County because the funeral home was also located in Chicot County.

There is no modern day Mt. Grove Cemetery in Chicot County. I've found the following cemeteries in Chicot County with the word "Grove" in them:
Holly Grove, Holly Grove Number 1 and Holly Grove Number 2.

Holly Grove Number 2 appears to be an African American Cemetery, and has very few interments listed on Find a Grave.

Any thoughts or suggestions? The nearest Mt Grove Cemetery is Mountain Grove Cemetery (African American) in Faulkner Co, and given the distance, I just don't think that's it. This was a family of modest means.
dee_burris: (Default)
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.


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Dee Burris Blakley

August 2017

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