The Destruction, reclamation and restoration of The Brown’s Homestead Cemetery. There is reference mentioned below, that quit possibly there was once a small chapel located near but further research is needed to confirm its existence.
Digging up clues
A detective of lost roots
By Julia Hunter, New Era Staff Writer
The phone rang in Betty McCorkle’s small Friendship House apartment. What the 82-year-old redhead heard when she picked up the phone made her livid.
A small family cemetery in northwestern Christian County had been bulldozed, the caller said.
McCorkle didn’t waste any time.
The next morning, McCorkle rifled through cemetery listings at the library. There she found the first clue: Brown Cemetery on Mount Carmel Creek Road. John M. and Alizia H. Brown, some of Christian County’s earliest settlers, were buried there. The next piece of the puzzle: a marriage certificate. The two were married in 1823 in Christian County.
McCorkle left the library and headed to the cemetery — or what was left of it. At the end of a winding road, McCorkle discovered what she had feared was true. A small sign marking the cemetery, a fence and a headstone had been bulldozed over and drug into the nearby woods. Nothing was left.
Later, at the county’s Property Valuation Administrator’s office, McCorkle continued to dig for clues. She learned the cemetery was on a farm owned by Jesse L. Sumner, of Talbert Drive.
Back at her apartment, surrounded by bookshelves packed with binders full of family trees, family journals dating back to the early 1800s, a bulging Rolodex and a library cart and filing cabinets stuffed with newspaper clippings, McCorkle wrote a letter.
“Dear sir,” McCorkle typed to County Attorney Mike Foster. “On April 30, 2009, we received a call from a lady who asked advice as to how to report the obliteration of a cemetery near her home …”
McCorkle, president of the Christian County Genealogical Society, is a detective of sorts, she’ll tell you.
In a matter of a week, McCorkle uncovered the history of the cemetery and the people buried there. Archibald Steele was Alizia Brown’s father — he’d signed the marriage certificate. The family was the third to own the piece of property where the cemetery was, part of an 1804 land grant.
John M. Brown was born in June 30, 1797, in North Carolina and Alizia H. Brown was born on Jan. 15, 1808, in Kentucky. The couple had five children — that McCorkle is sure of. But because of the large gaps in time between the births, as much as seven years, they likely had more children that died as infants. It was unusual to have such large breaks in time between children in those days.
The cemetery, she said, likely began with the burial of an infant.
“Something happened to them and they never showed up on the census,” McCorkle said. “That was a time when many children died early.”
McCorkle flipped through an old census book, pointing to the numerous infant deaths.
“Age 2 years … 3 days … 4 months …”
McCorkle has been a genealogist since the age of 6, when her uncle Charlie Aldridge, a columnist for the New Era, began drumming it into her head.
He was always pointing out who was related to whom and how, who their ancestors were and where they were from. McCorkle was taking it — and keeping it — all in.
“You grow up with it,” she said. “You don’t start doing genealogy in this country. Families live it — and they talk about it all the time.”
Now, she hunts farms, property records, family bibles and anything she can get her hands on in order to outline history, one story at a time.
She fights to keep history alive.
In the case of John and Alizia Brown, it paid off. Several days after she heard about the destruction of the cemetery, McCorkle spoke with Sumner, who owned the land.
He explained he never knew the cemetery was there and had hired someone to clear the brush, which had overgrown with honeysuckle and sassafras sprouts. The bulldozer driver apparently didn’t see the old headstone that resembled a large rock, she said.
Sumner promised to help restore the cemetery.
Case closed … almost.
On Thursday, two weeks after the first phone call about the cemetery, another ring echoes in McCorkle’s apartment.
She answers. Her voice is a combination of girlish laughter and excitement.
“We had to follow Mary Jane Brown and Samuel Durham down to you,” McCorkle tells the caller. “Six generations.”
On the phone is Gayle Wilder, of Ramona, Calif. — a descendant of John and Alizia Brown.
McCorkle’s day — or year, as she says on the phone — is made.
McCorkle and Wilder speak for nearly half an hour. Wilder is thrilled with the discovery. She had no idea the cemetery existed.
She tells McCorkle of the days her parents spent roller skating in the halls of Western State Hospital. Her grandfather had been a doctor there. Of course, McCorkle already knew that.
McCorkle scribbles notes as Wilder asks her to find out if there was a baby buried in Christian County that may have been her sibling. McCorkle promises to start the search immediately.
Then she hangs up, and standing, jumps up and down like a teenager, throwing her head back with laughter.
“This thing is getting better all the time. And all I started with was a scraped off headstone.
“It’s strange. We go out there, we know two people buried in that thing and now we’re down six generations. Incredible.”
JULIA HUNTER can be reached at 270-887-3262 or by e-mail at email@example.com.