Cry Uncle—Journal of a Genealogy Trip

by Dae Powell, 17 June 1992

 

Memorial Day, 1992

I had planned a trip to Alvarado and Kilgore, Texas. The towns are in Johnson county and Gregg county, respectively. Alvarado is about due south of me in Grand Prairie and Kilgore is east northeast. My great-great-grand uncle, Reverend John Powell, died in Alvarado in 1900. He was a Methodist Minister born in England, reared in Ohio and traveled extensively throughout Louisiana and Texas for the Methodist Episcopal Church. My great-grand uncle, John Edwin Polk, died in Kilgore in 1946. He worked for the Tidewater Oil Company as a switcher. I wanted to learn more about them.

It started raining about 3 a.m. Sunday night. It rained hard and awakened me with thunderclaps and lightning. I felt surely with the rain coming in such quantity that it would dissipate before I needed to leave in the morning. Not so. At 8 a.m. Monday morning it was still battering my house with continued fervor.

I considered working around the house. {Choke!} I considered a matinee at a local theater. I even considered a trip out for waffles. I went to the garage to start sorting things out and was almost getting into the spirit of spring cleaning when the rain suddenly abated about 9 a.m. It was like a cleaning reprieve from God! I felt that I could at least venture down to Alvarado.

I loaded the car with sodas and munchies and hurriedly left the community so that the neighbors would retain their image of the dude who only sleeps here. Perfect driving weather! And negligible traffic. I arrived in Alvarado at about 10:30 a.m.

I stopped in a local food market to ask directions and purchase a couple of items. They were friendly and helpful. Within minutes I was at the oldest cemetery which had a title over the gate in wrought iron, "Balch Cemetary, established 1855." Yes, "Cemetary." It was unkempt and weed infested. It was worse than my neighbor's backyard at home.

Alvarado Baptist Church

There was a Baptist church parking lot across the street where I parked the car. I ventured inside the cemetery fence without much notice from the folks who lived nearby. It was Memorial Day, right? They glanced my way, but drove on to their destinations without hesitation. The first thing that I saw was a large headstone which read "SANSOM." "Aha!" thought I, "here it is!"

John Powell had a daughter, Eliza J., who married Marion Sansom from Alvarado. "There should be some information here," I mused aloud. I found the Sansom family gravesite to be full of wives and daughters of R. P. Sansom. He was married at least three times and most of the others buried there were female children of R. P. and one or another of his wives. No sign of John Powell, Marion Sansom, or his wife Eliza.

The week before I had visited the Dallas Public Library and learned through the Texas Death Indices that both Marion and Eliza Powell Sansom died in Tarrant County. I live in Tarrant county, so I later researched their information more thoroughly through obituaries and city directories. But I had really expected to find John Powell here.

Undaunted, I trudged my way through the weeds and ant hills (more about these later) to other areas of this hallowed ground. I was determined to find John Powell. I found an area where someone had taken a lawn mower in the last few days to clear a path to an area of recently interred guests. I believe the newest addition to this cemetery was in 1988.

I found more POWELLs there, but their names were unfamiliar to me. There was Elizabeth, wife of John H. Powell, who died January 17, 1884, aged 96 years 2 months and 20 days. I calculated her birthdate as 26-Oct-1787. Another marker was hard to get to because it had fallen and the weeds and the dratted ants had claimed it. I brushed the dirt and vicious ants from it to find it belonged to "Sarah, consort of J. M. Powell, born Sept 11 1815 and died Jan 6 1869." Consort? Well!

I had seen most of the cemetery and hadn't found what I came for. I headed for the gate and my car and then I saw a small monument to

"Georgie, wife of T. J. Powell,
born Nov 6 1855, died Apr 30 1894.
A precious one from us has gone,
A voice we love is stilled.
A place is vacant in our home,
Which can never be filled."

The mildew (or whatever corrupts headstones and such) had worn away most of the bottom line, making it nearly impossible for me to read. Thomas James Powell was John Powell's first son and Georgie was his wife.

I did not encounter John Powell's gravesite. I felt it was likely there, but many stones were totally unreadable. Much vandalism had occurred and much neglect. I wept inwardly for this forgotten uncle. He once owned a store farther north of here. A town ordinance tried to force him to sell alcoholic beverages. He favored temperance. After years of dispute and boycotting, he finally sold his concern and left for Alvarado never having compromised his position.

On to Kilgore, Texas

Next I headed northeast to Kilgore. Kilgore is an oil town. Kilgore Pump The Petroleum Museum is there. Nearly every other corner has an oil pump on it. Most of them are still running, too. There is also a university there which focuses primarily on geology, not surprisingly.

Not finding anything more interesting, I stopped at Chili's for lunch. I asked for directions to the cemetery and found it without difficulty. There was an old, moderately cared for set of gravesites as I rounded the corner. You can imagine what I thought! (More ants!)

I drove a little further and found a much nicer place and entered, car and all. It was immaculate! Saint Augustine grass, lush and green, carpeted the entire area for acres and acres. The headstones were large, majestic, and, most of all, legible. I had barely entered the cemetery when a headstone on my right caught my eye. I stopped and went over to a large headstone bearing these four letters, "POLK." It was him, alright: John Edwin Polk.

There was no information there that I didn't have already. Two years earlier I'd driven back to Kilgore and visited the university library and looked through microfilm copies of the town newspaper. It was nostalgic looking at the ads for Ronald Coleman movies and the recipes of the town wives. I found John Polk's obituary and copied the information. It mentioned

"Survivors include his wife; a daughter, Mrs. Ester Barrick of St. Louis, Mo; three sons, Lester of Kilgore, Monroe of Oil Center, N.M., and Marvin Polk of Concord, Calif.; six grandchildren and two great grandchildren."

His wife continued after his death, but her name was not printed, which seemed unusual to me.

John's gravesite has an empty space beside it, supposedly for the wife who didn't join him. It is a beautiful place within this average Texas town. I surmise that she left to live with her daughter in St. Louis. She is deceased now, but John still lies alone. No flowers in his vase, no wife at his side. I cry, uncle.

Not content to leave empty handed, I went to a 7-11 store and borrowed a Yellow Pages Telephone Directory and found the listing for Rader Funeral Home at 401 N. Martin. While there, I tried a children's charity fund gimmick where you drop a dime in a jug of water. If it lands in a shot glass positioned at the bottom, you win an Icee, a frozen concoction made of ice, flavoured syrup, and more ice. It was hot now and that Icee sure tasted good. I asked directions and drove over to the funeral home. Being a holiday, I assumed there would be no one there. After circling the building and discovering a couple of vehicles in addition to a hearse, I walked up to try the door.

A gentle giant of a man named Don opened the door and invited me in. I explained that my great-grand uncle died in Kilgore and that the Rader folks had handled the funeral. He went to the files and promptly located the one-page record of John Edwin Polk. He made a photocopy for me (at no charge!) and I discovered that John's widow was named Minnie E., aged 62 at the time of John's death. His son, Lester Polk, provided this and other information. He listed John's father, James K. Polk, correctly, but stated that John's mother was Helen Eliza Delay, born in Missouri. (She was married in Missouri, and my records indicated she was born at Whiteside, IL. Her given name was really Eliza Ellen DeLay and had previously married a man named Higgins in Missouri. Indeed, her other son, Charles Higgins, was born in Missouri.) So I learned that Lester wasn't close to his paternal grandmother.

Don, the funeral attendant, pulled out the file on John Edwin Polk, who died a month earlier. He lived only one day and died of a brain hemorrhage. He was Lester R. Polk and Ann Cottrell's son, named for Lester's father. He was buried at Kilgore Cemetery, although I didn't find it.

It was a successful day. I'd found information I'd sought with a few extras. The weather was excellent and the people I encountered were friendly. It was time to return. I was halfway home when the rain revisited me. The downpour forced me off the highway into a Dairy Queen. As bad as the weather was and although I was tired and hungry, the menu presented there was not palatable. When the rain ceased, I proceeded home. It was a welcome site, even if I don't spend much time there.

I did further research the following weekend at the Dallas Public Library on the POWELLs, SANSOMs, and the POLKs. I learned that Sarah and J. M. Powell were indeed married, but they were from North Carolina and not related to my father's family. R. P. Sansom is the father of at least two sons, one of who married my cousin Eliza. My first cousin-second generation removed, Lester, moved to Dallas county later and died in 1977.


Part Two (written 4 July 1992)

The problem with Do-It-Yourself research is that it is incessant. In May I had traveled to Alvarado in search of John Powell, my great-great-grand uncle, who died there in 1900. Although I found the marker for is daughter-in-law, "Georgie," his own stone eluded me. I could not imagine that his son, T. J., would erect such a monument for his wife, but not his father.

I knew that John's wife, Elizabeth Muse (Hines) Powell, was buried in Jacksboro, Jack county, Texas around 1885. A census showed T. J. Powell and family in Jacksboro, too. I decided Sunday, June 28, 1992 to pay a visit to Jacksboro. I headed up there shortly after noon, thinking that when finished I would have plenty of time to return and visit Wolfe's Nursery for some landscaping advice and look at getting another tree for the front of my property. The distance turned out to be about thirty miles further than I anticipated. I was about 90 miles away. The nursery would have to wait.

The Jacksboro Highway changes names a few times before it actually enters the town. It is also known as highway 199. It is littered with trailer parks, small ranches, cow and goat pastures, and automobile graveyards. Oh yes, and several "establishments" specializing in yard sales. (Junk-heaped lawns and driveways.)

Jacksboro Courthouse The Jack county courthouse is in Jacksboro, yet the population there was only a little above 4,000 people. As I had missed lunch (and breakfast, for that matter!), I first looked for a place to eat. I had barely entered the town and traversed three traffic lights, when I encountered the Oakwood Cemetery at the opposite end of the town. I wheeled around and went to a Texas homestyle diner which seemed converted from a mobile home. The food was very good and not only because I was hungry. I ate a grilled chicken breast with Provolone cheese and mushrooms over rice. I asked if there were any older cemeteries than the Oakwood. I was told there were several smaller ones near farms on the backroads, but the Oakwood Cemetery did have gravesites dating back to the 19th century.

I drove up to the Oakwood Cemetery, which was well tended. I was somewhat dismayed because all the markers that I could see from the car were dated from 1970 to 1989—about a century too late. As I turned a corner, however, I saw a few that were from the 19th century. I pulled over and parked in the shade of an oak tree. I felt that the marker I was seeking would look something like the one I found in Alvarado for "Georgie" Powell, a tall spike stretching upward.

For two hours I traipsed up and down the ranks and files of the deceased without locating Elizabeth Powell. In fact, I found no POWELLs at all. Halfway through the cemetery, I decided to take a break. Frustrated and tired, I drove out of the cemetery and returned about 15 minutes later. This time I examined the East end, which had fewer of the older markers. Where could they have buried Elizabeth Powell? I tried to focus on the older ones, not looking much at anything that was beautifully intact. I was getting pretty discouraged, but I'd come such a distance and I wanted to look at every area just in case. Then I found her! And better yet, John Powell was immediately to her right.

Earlier, when I had driven out to take a break, I drove right past them. Persistence won again, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by finding not only Elizabeth, but her husband as well. The markers were nearly identical to "Georgie" Powell's, although better maintained. On Elizabeth's marker was the following inscription:

"E. M. Powell
born Sept. 15, 1829
died Dec. 20, 1885
In peacefull [sic] repose,
She awaits our coming."

John Powell's stone read:

"Rev. John Powell
born Mar. 27, 1813
in Leuminster, Eng.
died July 12, 1900
in Alvarado, Texas"

His had a bronze medallion on the obverse indicating that he was a Methodist Minister and on the reverse a symbol indicating he was a Grand Mason. On the reverse an inscription read:

"Servant of God, well done.
Rest from thy loved employ.
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Maker's joy."

Behind the two POWELLs were markers for a few Russells. May H. (Powell) Russell was the daughter of John and Elizabeth. Her three children were buried beside her and behind their grandparents.


It was quite a rewarding adventure. Adventure, you ask? Excursion, maybe, but not an adventure, you might think. I'm not finished. My trip home was not uneventful. I listened to the popular songs of the 1960s and recurrent weather reports of storm warnings, heavy winds and hail south of me. Thunderstorm All of these found me at last in Lake Worth, just north of Fort Worth. The hail hit us hard and loudly. Visibility was poor.

I drove up to a Braum's ice cream shop to get off the road and out of danger. It was another 8 to 10 minutes before it lessened enough for me to leave the car. Licking an ice cream cone, I watched my rain-pelted car through the window of the store.

I looked to the south and saw a recently mowed field with water flowing toward what I supposed was a drain. It coursed steadily. Suddenly, the drain overflowed and water and topsoil gushed into the Braum's parking lot. "No problem," I thought, because the parking lot was inclined from the center. There was a drain at the bottom of the center. Not one minute later, however, this drain overflowed, and water and debris rushed over the parking divider into plants and shrubs and onto the cars parked on the other side. One compact car had water gushing up and over its windshield! "That car won't start until tomorrow," I mused, because likely the ignition and carburetor were flooded.

I went outside and held a foot against two pieces of lumber which in turn held back other flotsam, creating a dam and diverting the water away from my car and the van parked next to it. I bought some ice cream to go, and pulled the car away and up to higher ground on the parking lot. The entrances to Braum's were deeply flooded and I felt I would have to tarry further until the waters receded.

I envied the trucks with large tires and higher suspensions as they slowly, but confidently entered and left Braum's parking lot. My Nissan Sentra would drown instantly, I knew. After watching for several minutes and seeing an occasional sedan traverse the swirling waters successfully, I ventured out. Not wanting to toward the Jacksboro highway, I went up a hill which led to Loop 820. I drove gratefully home amidst further rain and hail.

As I pulled off Highway 20 onto the Watson Road exit, the rain and hail came on so heavily that I could barely see the hood of my car. As I crawled down Watson Road and turned onto Claremont I noticed two cars having difficulty navigating an expanse of water engulfing the street. They made it and so did I, but it was a bit daunting. Arriving home, I activated the garage door and drove the car safely inside for the night. Another adventure ended and once again I was in my house at which no one seems able to find me at home.

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