Saturday, November 19, 2016

Attempt to have Baskin Family Cemetery declared endangered

When I met relatives of those buried in the Baskin Family Cemetery, I decided I wanted to see if I could have it declared endangered. I felt like this one deserved the certification if no others did.

I contacted the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I had saved a copy of the form to fill out, but I didn't know who to send it to. The gentleman's name is Mr. David Abbott. He took over for a gentleman I had worked with a few years ago. I hadn't gone through this process before, so I wasn't sure quite how it worked. Mr. Abbott was very helpful in this whole endeavor.

What it boils down to is MDAH needs permission from the landowner to come onto the property and check out the cemetery. There are several reasons why the cemetery could be declared endangered, and he looks for all of those possibilities. After that, he sends a letter to the landowner letting them know what being declared endangered entails. The landowner would have to grant permission for people from the state onto the property to maintain the cemetery. I'm assuming that would mean cutting high grass, cutting back vegetation growing around the graves themselves, and that sort of thing.

Two things about the form to be filled out and submitted ended up being something of a problem. The first thing is that you have to find out who the landowner is and get their mailing address. The second thing is fill out a statement of significance for the cemetery. I have spoken with several people over the last couple of years who know the owner and could tell me where he lived. I was fortunate enough to have help from a relative with the statement of significance. This part could be a real problem. If I don't know the people interred in the cemetery, I may not know the significance of the cemetery. Anyway, I thought it was worth working on.

Mr. Abbott was amazing. I told him where the cemetery was located. He went there and got pictures, GPS coordinates, and all the other information he might need. Then he typed up a letter to mail to the landowner and sent me a copy. At this point, I was pumped.

David mailed off the letter, and then all we could do was wait. After what seemed like a month or two, Mr. Abbott let me know that the landowner had declined. I don't know if he gave a reason or not and it really doesn't matter. It was discouraging. Mr. Abbott said he'd hang onto the paperwork for the future in case the landowner changes his or her mind.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Baskin Family Cemetery Revisited and Harris Family Cemetery, Hinds County, Mississippi

One of the main reasons I enjoy graving is helping to document cemeteries. I haven't been graving that long, but I've come to believe that the small family cemeteries are especially crucial to document. So many are found deep in the woods or in an old pasture where nature is doing its best to reclaim the land they're on. Quite often, the ancestors of those buried in these cemeteries have moved away and/or passed away, so they're no longer kept up.

Yesterday was a very enjoyable and satisfying day. I spent the whole day with some new friends revisiting Baskin Family Cemetery and looking for Harris Family Cemetery.

Left to right are Mr. Todd Dorsett from Pennsylvania, Mrs. Judy Wallace from Kosciusko, Mr. Steven Rowe from Madison, and Mr. Jimmy Wallace from Kosciusko.

Since the location of Baskin Family Cemetery was known, and the only thing required was permission to be on the property, we went there first. I spoke with Mr. Charlie Smith there on Thursday morning. He keeps his horses there, along with quite a few other folks. He said that fine and pointed out how to get there. It had been a couple of years since I was there, so I appreciated the directions.

After the rain we've had over the last couple of weeks, it was a bit sloppy in places walking back to the cemetery, but fortunately the site itself was nice and dry. It's interesting that you'll see all kinds of dead cars around the cemetery, and one car next to it could be seen from where we began our walk.

There has been some logging done since I was last there, and I was really concerned about the headstones. When we got there though, the ones standing were still standing. Like other neglected cemeteries, several headstones were either partially or completed covered by dirt and leaves. We managed to completely uncover four.

The headstone for Mr. James S. Baskin was one of those completely covered. We were fortunate in that it made sense to look for it where we did thanks to the initials on a footstone. You might stand right on a headstone and never know it. That's just another problem with the small family cemetery that has been neglected. Of course it was really handy to have my new friends there. They're familiar with those interred and their history, not to mention several sets of good eyes.

I think we had been there about an hour or an hour and a half. We had done what we could do and taken what pictures we could. It was time to move on. We walked back to our cars and headed off in search of the Harris Family Burying Ground. That's the name on the cemetery page in Find-A-Grave. I have called it Harris Family Cemetery because I stick "cemetery" on the end of any place where folks are buried out of habit. I'm adding this cemetery to my list of those endangered because I believe that without some sort of public access to it, and cleaning up of the vegetation, it is endangered.

I don't have any relatives buried in the Harris Family Burying Ground, but my friends do. They where kind enough to let me tag along. I love mysteries. I didn't take notes even though I did have a pencil and some paper, so I may have to update this at some point if I get my facts wrong. I believe Mrs. Wallace was the last to actually visit the cemetery back in the '70's. Mr. Rowe has spent time looking for it, and was even in the area where the cemetery is located seeing if he could locate it. As I found out later, Mr. Wallace would bring his lawnmower to the cemetery years ago and cut the grass and keep it up. We didn't have to walk that far. At one point, I though maybe I could be helpful by walking off in another area to look. About that time, they called to me. They had found it. Even though I knew I wouldn't find any of my ancestors there, it was still exciting for me. I can only image how my friends felt. Most of the stones were in remarkable condition. I think being under the canopy provided by the trees gave them some protection. One or two had fallen over.

The headstone for Mrs. Florence Alford had fallen over. It took three of us to move a fallen cedar or cypress out of the way so we could right the stone, and three of us to right it. I have to brag on Mr. Wallace. He may be older than I am by about a decade, but he lifted up one side like someone the age of our son would do.

The picture of my four new friends was taken close to the center of the cemetery if I were to guess. It's also where I recorded the GPS coordinates.

Most of the time when I go graving, I find the solitude of hunting for cemeteries by myself really gives me the peace I need after a week at work. Times like yesterday though, with such pleasant company and enjoyable conversation, the day was more special than usual. As I told my wife, it was truly the most enjoyable and satisfying experience I remember ever having, without her being there. As I say time and again, it's about the journey.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ellison Cemetery, Yazoo County, Mississippi

Originally, I had planned on heading back to Holmes County yesterday morning, but it didn't work out. Instead I found another cemetery without a map and with one photo. This one was Ellison Cemetery. It appeared to be an old cemetery. The one photo was very small but was an excellent picture of a headstone in what looked like pristine condition. I thought I might could find the cemetery and get a bigger picture.

The forecast called for heavy rain and a thunderstorm late morning. I've told myself that unless it's actually raining when I was ready to go, I was going to go and if the weather gets nasty and I have to turn around, so be it. There have been too many times I didn't get out due to rain in the forecast only to have it clear off or not rain until late in the afternoon.

So, I filled up, ran by Cups for a large mocha latte, and hit the road. There was a light sprinkle but since where I was going was north and west of where the rain seemed to coming from, I thought I'd be in good shape.

I knew the cemetery was supposed to be off of Highway 16 on Linwood Road. I drove to Canton and got on Highway 16 there. I thought there was an exit from I-55 for 16, but I couldn't remember, and I knew how to get to it from Canton. Raindrops were hitting my windshield, but it was like a mist and not very heavy or steady, so I kept on until I got to Linwood Road.

I got to Linwood Road, turned onto it, and turned on my Garmin. I had entered the coordinates Friday night. I found out last week that they may be way off. I was hoping this time would be different. As I drove along I realized that after a bunch of coffee, I was going to have to find some woods pretty quick. As it turns out, I drove past a dirt road, so I turned around and pulled far enough up the road so hopefully I would be out of sight. As I took care of business, I looked up at the embankment to my right and immediately saw three headstones. I had to laugh. I went to the waypoint for Ellison Cemetery, and pressed Go. It didn't have to think about it. The response was, "You have arrived". No kidding!? I believe this is the first time I found a cemetery because Nature called.

You can get an idea from the picture that Ellison Cemetery is terribly overgrown. It was something of a challenge getting to the different headstones. What was odd was that the headstones I found were in dire need of cleaning, and I didn't see the one that was posted in Find-A-Grave back in February of 2014 that looked almost brand new. I also only found six of the ten that were supposed to be there.

There was a light sprinkle coming down, but I managed to keep dry under the trees. I decided to do what I could to clean the stones and then come back and take pictures. The distilled water and brush I brought didn't seem to make much difference. I really need to find a better way to clean them, but that's a subject that you could probably find books on. I wanted to just get them to the point where I could photograph them and make out as much of the details as possible.

I tried the manual setting and also tried with a flash. I know it didn't help being overcast under a pretty think canopy. I think I'm going to hit this one again this winter on a bright dry day.

As is almost always the case, I see something neat coming or going. This trip was no exception. On Highway 16 as I was driving home, I passed a church, which appears to be abandoned. I've seen it before but I wasn't happy with the picture I took, and it looked like something had changed. There's a structure to the left of the church I didn't remember from previous trips.

I think it's still a neat building and scene. As it turns out, I posted this picture on Facebook, and the church was actually moved there by a gentleman named Greg Harkins. I believe he's the same man who makes incredible rocking chairs. As a matter of fact one or more presidents have one of his chairs, if I'm not mistaken.

The next step is to find out who owns the property. It is in dire need to cleaning up. If I can find the property owner, I will definitely submit this one to MDAH as endangered. I believe it definitely qualifies.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cooper Cemetery, Yazoo County, Mississippi

Last weekend, I decided to try and find Cooper Cemetery. It was one of those that had a map but no gate shot, and no pictures of those interred there. It's around Benton, MS off of Highway 16. The directions seemed clear enough. I needed to get on Niven Road off of old Highway 16 and then turn left onto Fouche Pit Road. I got to that point and drove until I was close. Fouche Pit Road turns from black top to dirt and gravel not far from where the GPS coordinates say the cemetery is. I drove until it looked a straight shot from the road to the cemetery, pulled off on what shoulder there is and turned the car off.

I didn't pass any kind of access road that I noticed, so it looked like I was going to have to just walk through the woods. The compass said about 170 feet or so. I decided to just lock up my camera in the trunk along with my clipboard and a list of names. I figured all I really needed was my GPS, my phone, and a monopod that I could extend enough to make for a decent walking stick and something to beat the bushes with.

It was tough going. The woods were seriously thick. After what seemed like an hour, I noticed what looked like a sunken road or trail of some description. I made my way to it. That was wonderful! Hopefully the way back to the car would be a lot easier than the trip from the car. I checked my GPS when I got to the road or trail and according the coordinates, I was only 2 dozen or so feet from the cemetery. I didn't see a thing though, except hills on either side of the road. I climbed up one hill that was pretty easy climbing that was between this road and Fouche Pit Road. I couldn't see very far, but I didn't see anything. So, I decided I'd try to climb a hill on the other side of the road. This climb was a little more difficult, but I felt like if I could get up high enough, maybe I could see something. Again, nothing. This time coming down the hill was a little trickier than going up it, and I busted my rear end when I was almost to the road. I bent the monopod so that it's no longer usable, and got some mud and dirt on my GPS. I was hoping it was still working. First thing though was to find my glasses. Fortunately they weren't broken and were only a couple of feet from where I landed. Fortunately too, I'm not blind without them.

Once I cleaned myself up a bit and got myself together, I thought I'd walk a bit in either direction of where I was to see if maybe the coordinates were off. A couple of weeks ago, I went looking for Alsop Cemetery, and I found those were off by about 20 feet or so. It looked like these were off as well, or since the last time a person was buried there was around 1918, it was too overgrown to see. I didn't see any sign of a cemetery. One of the folks buried there was a member of Woodmen of the World, and from my experience, the older WOW monuments were pretty tall, so I thought I'd still be able to see some sign of it. I decided to go ahead and walk the road back toward Fouche Pit Road. Surely it came out there, and it did. It was only a short walk. Close to Fouche Pit Road, there was a cable across the road I was on with two pieces of yellow plastic hanging from it. As soon as I stepped over the cable, I could see my car to the right, and only a few yards away.

After I got back to the car, I figured I'd drive a little further up the road to see if I could see any kind of access road. About a quarter of a mile up the road I found one. It had one of those red gates you see across a good number of roads, and it was locked. For grins, I took my camera this time and clipboard, climbed the gate and headed off up this road. It was mostly gravel with grass between the tire tracks. As I found out later, There used to be a Fouche gravel pit here, and that's where the name of the street came from. I wasn't seeing anything in any direction and when I looked at the coordinates, they said it was something like .28 miles in the direction I had just come from. Okay, something's not right. I hiked back to the gate, climbed over it, and headed off in the car the way I had come. I was hoping there would be somebody out milling around on a Saturday morning I might could ask.

I drove from the dirt and gravel road back to where it was black top. No sooner had I done that, I saw an older black gentleman in his front yard with a horse. It can't hurt to ask, so I parked on the side of the street and went to talk to him. There have been so many times in the past that I met someone along the way who pointed my in the right direction. He looked like he's probably been in the area for some time. As it turns out, he has. He remembers back when he was a boy seeing the cemetery. He didn't know what the name of it was, but he remembers it being up on a hill. When I asked if he remembers how to get there, he gave me directions. I didn't tell him, but that's where I had just come from. I thanked him for his time, and one more time headed back down Fouche Pit Road.

I was kicking myself on the way there thinking I just hadn't walked far enough and the coordinates were just flat out wrong. This time, I walked all over the place, up and down hills, past a couple of big ponds, and past a deer stand strapped to a power pole. Still nothing. By this time, my calves were killing me, and I had had enough. I walked back to car as fast as I could. Cooper Cemetery would have to wait for another day.

That was all last weekend. I thought I'd give another shot Friday morning, the 4th. Since I knew where the road or trail was that came off of Fouche Pit Road, and about where the coordinates said the cemetery was supposed to be, I'd just start there. I was convinced I was close the first time. So, I parked on the dirt and gravel road by where I walked out last time. I recognized the cable with the yellow strips of plastic.

Once I stepped over it, I was on the trail.

I don't recall how far I had to walk, but it wasn't more than a couple hundred feet. I turned on my GPS and walked until the coordinates said I had arrived. I was facing the same hill I had taken a spill coming down from last weekend. I was also checking the elevation. According to a Mississippi topo map, the cemetery was at 300 ft. or so. Well, I was standing at about 300 ft. or so. I decided to walk the trail away from where I had entered to see if I could find a spot up on that hill, but where it wasn't quite as steep, and was a little easier getting up and down. The first place I tried was easy enough to get up, but I didn't see anything. I walked down the trail back toward where I started for a few yards and found a spot where there was a spot I could stand on about halfway up the hill.

As I got to the top of the hill, I couldn't believe my eyes. I was looking right at an obelisk-looking stone! As it turned out, that was the stone for Mr. W. L Harper.

As I looked to my left there was a cemetery inside of a fenced area, and right behind the gate was the headstone for Sarah Cooper

This was definitely it! I took pictures of all the headstones I could fin. I believe there are only five people interred there, and I got pictures of the five. With all the vegetation, I couldn't get in a position to capture the whole cemetery, but I did get a shot of the three stones inside the fenced area.

I wrapped everything up there and started heading for the car. It was a great search with satisfying results, and hopefully I've helped someone by posting these pictures. I can't wait until the next adventure. I found an Albino Cemetery which only has coordinates but no list of those interred there or a gate shot, so that'll be fun for sure. I'll let you know if I find it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

McLeod Cemetery, Yazoo County, Mississippi

Over the last year or so, I've changed my focus. For quite awhile, I would fulfill requests on Find-A-Grave for cemeteries that existed, occasionally looking for those cemeteries that didn't have much information to go by, such as a map or a good description added when the cemetery record was created. Lately though, I've decided to only look for those smaller cemeteries that may or may not exist anymore. McLeod Cemetery is one of those.

I don't know for a fact, but I'm pretty sure that Find-A-Grave got its initial list of coordinates for cemeteries from the Geographic Names Information System. If a cemetery existed at a certain point in time in the past, I'm not certain of the year, they had the GPS coordinates for it. In some counties, you'll find cemetery records that have a map because they had the coordinates, but you may not have a "gate shot" or any sort of description of the cemetery. McLeod Cemetery was just one of those. Someone had created memorials for those interred there, but there was no picture of the cemetery nor of the headstones. Those are the ones I want to focus on now.

Not long ago, I had fussed about my Magellan GPS device. It's a great little GPS, but you can't hook it up to the computer. Well, my extremely generous brother bought me a Garmin GPSmap 62S. IMO, it's the Cadillac of handheld GPS devices. I knew the cemetery was going to be off of Highway 433 in Yazoo County. I knew too that if I reached Mechanicsburg Road off of 433 I had gone too far. So, I drove to Mechanicsburg Road and pulled over across the street by some dumpsters to get my bearings. I turned the Garmin on. I had downloaded the coordinates before I left and created a new waypoint for McLeod Cemetery. I went to that waypoint and clicked the enter button. Then I had two options, "Map" and "Go". I clicked on go. Then I went to the compass. When I did, it told me how far I was from the destination (cemetery) and which direction I needed to head. So, I drove back the way I came. As I got closer, the distance was updated. Finally it got down to less than 300 feet, and the needle was pointing to the woods on my left. All of a sudden, the distance starts to increase again. I had gone too far. I made a u-turn and then crept back to where it looked like I needed to stop and head to the woods. Unfortunately, that was behind a house. I just want to make a note here. For those who are reading this, you may way more about GPS devices and that sort of thing. I put it in here partly for my benefit in the future. I'm still learning how to use the thing. Some landowners are helpful, and some aren't. I saw a couple sitting in a pickup right outside of their house enjoying a cigarette, so I figured I'd get out and speak to them. They could not have been nicer. They were aware there was an old cemetery behind the house a bit and in the woods, but they weren't sure where it was. The man said he'd get one of his sons. He had come across it while playing in the woods, and could lead us to it.

It probably would have been amusing to see us walking single file; the son, the dad, me, and the mom bringing up the rear. I was fired up. I doubt we walked more than about five minutes through some woods, and son pointed to a headstone up on a hill and said, "There it is!

There are only seven people interred there, and all members of the McLeod family. All of the stones can be read which is pretty remarkable. However, you can see the condition of the area. It's not fenced off, and there's no public access to it. I found out that the folks who live in the house don't actually own the property. If I can get her name and address, I'd like to submit this one to MDAH. The nice couple gave me her name, but don't have an address or phone number for her. Hopefully I can get that information to pass along. McLeod Cemetery is hanging in there, but the headstones really need to be cleaned and the area around them raked and cleaned up. At least one more little family cemetery is documented.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Warm Springs Methodist Church Cemetery

Until a few days ago, I wasn't familiar with the Warm Springs Methodist Church Cemetery. Then an article appeared in The Clarion-Ledger newspaper saying that the headstone of Tommy Johnson had been smashed. Tommy Johnson was a Blues player decades ago who was born in Terry, Mississippi and lived some of his life in Crystal Springs, Mississippi.

I saw on Find-A-Grave that there was no gate short, nor a map. However, a graving friend had the coordinates. I converted them from decimal, generated a map, and headed off to Crystal Springs.

I drove to County Line Road and turned onto it. I drove just under 1.9 miles to Henry Road, and turned right on Henry Road. As it turns out, when I got to Henry Road I drove right past the access road to the cemetery. I was trying to drive and look at my GPS device at the same time. At the end of Henry Road, I turned around, drove back toward County Line Road. This time slower and looking around. I had gotten just past the access road, and happened to see a gate with an arch over it to my right in the distance. I couldn't read it from the street, so I drove up the dirt and gravel road until I could read it. It was the right cemetery.

The gate looks pretty new and it was locked. I could walk around the gate, which I did and walked on the road for what seemed like 100 yards or so. Eventually, I came to a clearing.

It's obvious that someone has been clearing out the area. If you look at the clearing, almost in center is where Tommy Johnson is buried. His headstone is now completely horizontal now. I don't know the reason, but hopefully it's part of getting it fixed. This is how it looks up close.

Even though the location of the cemetery is now known, I still feel like it's endangered. When I walked around to the right of where Tommy Johnson is buried, I found several headstones that appear to have been made of concrete that someone wrote the names and dates in while it wet.

Some were partially covered by debris. There is a lot of brush and trees that have been cut down. Some of the headstones for others interred there might be under the brush. I don't if anyone will know until the area is completely cleaned up. I'm hopeful that Tommy Johnson's headstone will be repaired, but I'm also hoping that the exposure in The Clarion-Ledger plus some additional information in Find-A-Grave will help generate a renewed appreciation for the places our ancestors are interred.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Baskin Family Cemetery

View Baskin Family Cemetery in a larger map

At the end of McDonald Road off of North Livingston Road in Madison County is the Baskin Family Cemetery. Actually you have to go through the gate below, which is normally locked, through a cattle gate, and then a couple hundred yards along a road through the woods.

I chose this one because there isn't a map or a gate shot for it in Find-A-Grave, but there are several requests for folks interred there. As it turns out, I committed what are probably cardinal sins in the graving world. I didn't take a shot of the cemetery area, and I didn't get the GPS coordinates, except the for the map above. I believe I had some Heavenly assistance because while I was parked by the gate, the gentleman who rents the property and keeps his horses on it happen to drive up. He said he'd be a little while, but I didn't want to hold him up, so I tried to just concentrate on getting what shots I could.

I got directions from him. He wasn't certain where it was, but he knew about. He said to follow the road for just a little ways, and I should see some headstones on my left. He was absolutely right. For future reference, there are two or three dead cars close to the cemetery area, so when you start getting close to them, look to your left.

There was one headstone standing, and half of one standing. The rest were on the ground, and were either mostly covered or completely covered by dirt and leaves.

The headstone for Estella Wesley was the only complete headstone still standing. The other two I uncovered were for Lillie Wesley, Estella's mother, and R. Franklin Baskin.

Some distilled water and a soft brush would help clean them up quite a bit, but unfortunately I didn't have either one with me. Well, I confess. I did have a brush, but I left it in my trunk.

To me, these two headstones are another example of how dire the need is to rediscover our old cemeteries, and preserve them.