Sunday, October 29, 2017

Along the Way--the Graveyard Search

Puzzles can be hindrance for me. In frustration I often say enough is enough, but the last few years of genealogy searches, becoming acquainted with new and equally curious relatives, and constantly sorting notes, has pushed me out of my small comfort zone.  Inquiring mode is not my strength, but perseverance is.

John Clendening, about 1885

Luckily, the two combined to finally give me an answer to a family member lost over time: What ever happened to my grandmother's father, who left his two baby daughters to be raised by his sister after his wife died in childbirth? Did he intend to leave them only for a short time? Did he plan to send money or return one day? Did they ever see him again? Where did he go?

During a cold winter in Kansas a few years ago, I began sorting every picture and letter that my mother and grandmother had saved. Somehow in the hundred years that had passed, my mother managed to save her mother, Pearl's, few written letters from her father, John, written in the 1890's.

The few letters carried sad and somber tones:

 August 25, 1895 Denison, Texas
    I halve had beter health this summer than yoursal. I could not brag any fefor few 2 years. People ses that I look beter than yousal. We halve had now rain for a munth and it is getting very dry hear. The worms took to the cotton and hurt it right smart but we wil make some and I guess that it will be worth just as much as it would have bin.

Septemeber the 13, 1896
Dear Children, 
     I halve received to letters from Pearley sinse I halve ritin last....
     I don't hear much bout Christmas this year. Times are prety hard out in the country because the people did not rais much last year.
     We had our picture taken when we wer hunting and will send it to you. it is only tolerable good wane. It was taken down at the forks of the bagey river in the Indian territory. 

My mother and grandmother never spoke of John, and his letters stayed hidden in my mother's underwear drawer until her death.  Last year research done by our cousin, David Peters, found out that J.C. Clendening was buried in the Grayson County Poor Farm in Sherman, Texas. David notes, "John C. Clendening has the definition of a tragic character: losing both of his older brothers in the Civil War; his first child dying as in infant; then losing his wife at the age of 37 in childbirth leaving him with two little girls to raise alone. It is hard to imagine what the weight of the world must have felt like to him. Moving to Texas and starting over must have been his thought at the time he left." 

Jack and I decided it was time to find my great grandfather's grave. On our first trip to Sherman, physically searching for the Poor Farm Cemetery we looked for help and direction from the libraries, courthouse, and a postman delivering mail in the area where we thought we might find the cemetery. No luck.

Six months later and with more information than our maps, we drove to Sherman. Still after several hours of driving and searching we found nothing but a park, which we walked from East to West and North to South. Nothing.  

At last, and with the perseverance given to me by my father, I politely asked a crew of city workers if they knew anything about this lost cemetery.  Immediately, one man looked at me with a smile of curiosity. "Yes, Mme, I know right where it is. If you can wait till 4:30 I can take you right to it."  

Across the street from the park stood a row of Honey Locust trees guarding one cock-eyed gate. Like Sleeping Beauty, the fence row of gnarled trees protected the view of the long forgotten cemetery. 

Inside the gate, like the book had explained were more unmarked graves than marked.  We walked, searched, and read what we could and then realized that my great grandfather's grave
The Grayson County Poor Farm Cemetery
would never be found.  The records at the home had been lost in a fire decades ago. Our hearts broke as the man helping us pointed to a piece of old wood. "That is what most of the cemetery markers of these folks looks like.  I do my best to cut around them so people can find them, 
but the weather and the lands have covered most of them."

The resting place of each unfortunate is marked by a head and foot board, each made of well planked bois' d-arc, painted white with the number of the burial, which is kept in the "dead book" at the superintendent's office.

The city worker and gentleman who helped us find the lost cemetery. 

Now we know that my great grandfather was laid to rest December 5, 1925 somewhere on this hillside in Sherman, Texas.   

We don't think he ever returned to see his family again. How long he continued to "rite" is unknown. His daughter, Pearl, lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma from 1914-1920, so she may have been able to find her father in Denison or Sherman, but we will never know. More mysterious abound than were solved, but at least he is at rest in my heart.   


  1. So nice that the gentleman reached out to help you. You may help others find this cemetery by posting this story.

    1. Thank you Michelle. I'd like to think it might help others in the years to come. Actually, it was an intriguing story of how these original families kept the Poor Farm going and helping the destitute.

  2. Enjoyed your story today, I to have come to many searches, trips that end in with lots of WHY. Why didn’t I ask more questions and identify all these these pictures that I have now.l have been lucky with my mother’s family and able to go back into the 17’s, but dead ends with my fathers searches. Martha’s search was pretty well done for me on her dads Native American family do to the Cherokee Dawes Roll. Her dead ends are on her mother’s side.
    Just be careful what you find on the internet now for what they say is correct maybe to 1 relative with a little search you can prove they not correct. So just double check what you find on the net today.
    Good luck in all your searches. rj

  3. Very nice post, Letty. It’s a shame that most of us have little interest in our ancestors while we are young adults and there was a better chance of finding our lost stories. ts

  4. Really enjoyed reading this. I have spent many hours in cemeteries myself researching my many lines; Stapp being one of them. My brick wall is Allice Austin Stapp (George Washington's first wife and mother of my great grandmother Martha). I wondered if you had any information on her?? I know she died on trip to Texas because she was sick and that is where she wanted to die and be buried. They just made it to the border when she passed. I have no idea who her parents were. dsg

  5. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am glad that we were able to help you find the County Poor Farm Cemetery. The City staff pictured in the photo is Jeff McKinney. He is the Senior Parks Foreman with the City of Sherman. With over 25 years of experience, Jeff is very knowledgeable of the entire park system and is also always very willing to help people. Again, thanks for sharing your story. T city of Sherman