Monday, July 18, 2011


© Kathy Duncan, 2011

Mrs. Turner pointed over my shoulder, “You can see it from here. The cemetery is under that stand of trees on the hill.” Her tone seemed meant to discourage me. As I turned and followed her finger, I was instantly a bit taken aback. The little grove of trees appeared to be at least half a mile away with no road to it in sight.

I turned back to her and asked, “Is there a road over there?” Again, her response was discouraging, “Not really.” I took another look at the cemetery. If I stuck to the fence line until I got to the top of the hill, I would not get lost. It was drizzly and a little muddy, but I did not care. “Can I walk through this pasture?” She just looked at me silently. “Is there a bull in that pasture?” That could be deal breaker. I was starting to waiver. Mrs. Turner remained silent, looking me up and down. Finally, I blurted out, “I’ve come all the way from Dallas, and I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to come back!” She sighed heavily, “Come on. I’ll take you.” I protested, but she assured me that she needed to go over there to check on her husband any way. Without a second thought, I left my mother and kids sitting in the car and happily jumped into a pick-up truck with a total stranger.

I hadn’t just come all the way from Dallas to get to that moment. I had traveled through the last twenty-two years searching futilely for the parents of my great-great-grandmother, Rebecca (Walker) Nevill. The pieces to the puzzle had fallen together only a few days earlier through the kindness of another stranger, Shirley Denney.

Early on a June day in 1997, I was preparing to leave on a long anticipated trip to Mansfield Arkansas. That morning I sat down with a cuppa coffee to check my email. Meanwhile, Shirley answered a roll call on the Scott County, Arkansas email list, hosted by Rootsweb, with a post detailing the family of one John Walker. A little girl named Rebecca L. was included among the list of his children. She was the right age to be my Rebecca, and I had long suspected, but could not prove, that she might be one of John’s children.

My grandfather Duncan told me that his grandmother Rebecca Nevill’s maiden name was Walker and that she had been born in Neosho, Missouri. There is no Texas death certificate for her, which would have the answers to the questions about her parentage easier to find. In 1870 Rebecca and husband Grandison Nevill were living in Titus County, Texas. On that census her name appeared as, “Louisa R Nevill,“ age 26, born in Missouri. On her tombstone, her name appears as simply “L.R. Nevill.” I concluded that her name must have been Louisa Rebecca. I scrolled the entire 1870 Titus County census looking for a Walker family from Missouri, but did not find any likely candidates. Next I scrolled the entire Newton County, Missouri censuses for both 1860 and 1850 and did not find a Walker household with a daughter named either Lousia or Rebecca in the correct age group. For many years I was at a standstill.

G.D. Nevill, Born Dec. 22, 1841, Died Oct. 4, 1924
L.R. Nevill Born Nov. 8, 1844, Died Mar. 23, 1912

Then I ordered Granderson D. Neville’s Arkansas homestead papers. From them, I learned that he and Rebecca had removed from Titus County, Texas to Scott County, Arkansas, settling on their homestead on 5 August 1871. There did not seem to be any one there related to Granville. That meant that maybe Rebecca was. On the 1870 Scott County, Arkansas census there was a family headed by John Walker with children born in Missouri. John Walker, age 48, and wife Hannah, age 46, were old enough to be my Rebecca‘s parents. Armed with this new information I spent a long day at the National Archives Branch in Ft. Worth examining every John Walker household in Missouri in 1850 and 1860. When that got me no where, I looked at Johnson Walker and then at every household hold in which the head of household’s given name started with the initial J. When the day was over, I had ruled out every John Walker household in Missouri. No one had a little girl named Louisa, Rebecca, Louisa Rebecca, Rebecca Louisa, L R or R L or R or L of the correct age. I had hit a brick wall, and it seemed immovable. I gave up on the Walkers.

In the intervening years, the internet blossomed. I joined the recently created Rootsweb email list for Scott Co., Ark and monitored it. Then Shirley Denney posted her message and shed light on the mystery; the indexing services had overlooked John Walker’s household for both census years. He was, in fact, on the McDonald County, Missouri census in both 1850 and 1860, and my Rebecca was in his household in both years. In 1850, she is “Louiza” age 6, born in Missouri. In 1860 , she is “Rebecca L.” age 16, born in Missouri.

Shirley and I spent the rest of the day swapping emails and multitasking. I told Shirley that I was packing to leave that very day on a trip to Mansfield, Ark, where I was planning a research trip on my Duncans and Nevills. She took mercy on me and shared her research with me even though she had a busy day planned, which included mowing her lawn. Between laps around her yard, Shirley was checking her emails and digging through her own research in order to respond to my questions . I was doing the same while pulling loads of laundry out of the dryer and packing. I delayed my departure until late in the day so that I would be armed with as much information as possible. By the time I hit the road, thanks to Shirley’s generosity, I knew that Rebecca’s parents were John C. and Hannah (Holcomb) Walker, that Hannah was the daughter of Azariah and Susan Holcomb, and that best of all--John and Hannah were buried in the old Marshall field cemetery now located in Bobby Joe Turner’s pasture in Ione, Arkansas.

Ione, Arkansas was only a short detour off of Highway 71. Just six miles. My mother and I decided on the morning of our return trip to Texas that we had enough time go to Ione. On the way, we found ourselves in a convoy of chicken manure trucks. While discussing strategies for finding Bobby Joe Turner’s pasture, my mother laughingly suggested that we just follow the chicken manure trucks. “I’m sure they are headed to Bobby Joe’s pasture,” she kidded. At least, I think she was kidding. We stopped at a house on the highway into Ione and asked if they knew where Bobby Joe Turner lived. We were pointed up a dirt road. Within a few minutes, I was standing on the Turners’ porch explaining that I was looking for the graves of my great-great-great grandparents and that I had been told they were buried in an old family cemetery located in the Turners’ pasture.

Once we were in the truck, Mrs. Turner said that she also does genealogy. That explained why she had taken mercy on me. On the way she apologized for the condition of the cemetery. They had fenced it to keep the cows from dong any further damage, but it was now overgrown. She assured me that we would be able to see the Walker stones, though.

When we reached the pasture, Mrs. Turner’s husband, Bobby Joe, was sitting in his truck, overseeing the delivery of his chicken manure! Mrs. Turner waited patiently while I looked at the stones and took pictures.

I was fortunate that Mrs. Turner took time out from her busy day to help because to date I have not been able to return to Arkansas. Over the years I have also been fortunate to be able to continue exchanging information and research with Shirley Denney, who I count as one of my dear friends even though we have never met. Whenever I find even the tiniest bit of information on the Walkers or Holcombs, Shirley is the first person I contact.

The moral here is that no matter how much research we do on our own, we are always dependent on the kindness of strangers. There is always another researcher out there who holds the key to a problem that we can not solve ourselves. I wish that over the years, I had not been too bashful to knock on more doors and chat up more strangers.

Hannah M. Walker, Born Mar. 25, 1824, Died Feb. 26, 1901

John C. Walker, Born 1821, Died Nov. 1874

No comments:

Post a Comment