Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meet: Ruth Stephens, "The Graveyard Rabbit of Cowtown"

The twenty second in a series
featuring a member of
The Graveyard Rabbit Association


“Mom, you’re going to a cemetery? No, I don’t even want to go with you!”

That was my daughter Sarah’s reaction as I prepared for my first cemetery research trip! That was 6 years ago…
I got my first real computer (remember Tandy computers?) in October, 2002. As I knew just about nothing about computers or the Internet, my oldest daughter Sarah helped me get it set up and running. I knew even less about anything “online”. She showed me how to get around a bit and find a few things, how to set-up an email account, contact my Dad online, that sort of thing. Well, it wasn’t long before I was sitting up half the night, surfing the ‘net! Actually a good thing, because that’s really how I learned to find things online, to search. That’s also how I learned to handle my computer. Strictly trial and error. Fortunately for me, Sarah also set up the anti-virus software, so I didn’t catch any “social diseases” while I experimented.
This endless surfing and learning went on for several more months, until one day… I decided to look for information online about my Dad’s “Cherokee Grammaw”. I don’t remember why I decided to go looking on that beautiful morning in May, 2003. Maybe I saw something advertised online or on the TV. Who knows? I searched a bit and didn’t find anything. That evening, my daughter Sarah again came to my rescue:
“Here Mom, get out of my way! I’ll show you…”
To make a long story short, Sarah found a listing for my step-grandmother Agnes Amanda (Schadd) Hall on, in one of the free family tree databases.
Well, let me tell you, that really lit me on fire! I immediately signed up for Ancestry’s free trial, and downloaded the free Ancestry Family Tree program. And I started adding names. No sources or documentation, but lots and lots of names. I started calling family members and began picking their brains.
I remembered that my Aunt Kathy had researched our Turner line back in the 1980s and had given us all a copy of her findings. At the time she gave everyone a copy, I couldn’t have cared less about genealogy, so those papers went into File 13. But I got another copy from my Aunt Jan and started adding those names into my database. Still no documentation or sources. But was I having blast! I was hooked, but good!
I continued searching online and pestering my relatives. My aunts both had lots of old photos and documents, and I dutifully photographed them with my newly-purchased digital camera. (I bought the camera to document my granddaughter Stacie’s Adventures in T-Ball. Really.)
Several of my more recently-deceased ancestors are buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth, only a few miles from my house. And the staff at Greenwood is wonderful and very helpful. I got lots of photos and information from Greenwood. It’s a very nice cemetery.
I had learned from my Aunt Kathy that many of our Turner ancestors are buried at a tiny cemetery in Hill County, Texas, about 60 miles away. So I got directions and off to Hill County I went.
As I’m not terribly talented at following said directions, I took me a while to find said cemetery. Eventually I found myself driving down a dusty country road in my once-bright-red-Honda-now-covered-with-red-dust, and there on the left was finally my cemetery. Chatt-Jessie Cemetery near Hillsboro, Texas. What an absolutely enchanting place!
Wait a minute… Am I talking about a cemetery?
Oh, yes, I certainly am! As I pulled my car over to the side of that dusty dirt road and glanced about the cemetery, I was transfixed. It was quiet, peaceful, serene, lovely. I walked about those old headstones, many from the late 1800’s, and suddenly went back in time, wondering…who were these people? What were their lives like? I saw many headstones for children. How terrible it must have been, losing a child. The inscriptions were so heartfelt, so touching.
I also saw a couple of stones for Civil War veterans. Below my feet were the men who were actually involved in that great conflict. And I was so close…
I suddenly realized what a wonderful place a graveyard is! Sorrow, yes. Loss and sadness, true.
But so much more! So much history. All around I saw not chipped and aged pieces of granite and marble, surrounded by weeds and the occasional unexpected movement as a rabbit bounced past me.
I saw a kind of living history. The names, dates and places noted on the headstones around me were the names, dates and places of people. My people. My people and my past.
I have always been fascinated by history. I can’t explain it, but it is such an overwhelming feeling of… “I JUST LOVE IT!”
And here in this tiny rural cemetery, down a dusty back road, covered with weeds and inhabited by little more than rabbits and birds…HERE IS HISTORY. And I am right in the middle of it!
I made a vow right then and there that I would come back to this Chatt-Jessie Cemetery and take photographs and write notes and tell these people’s stories. Their lives were important and they were important and they must not be forgotten.
And I have done just that. And I continue to do it, as I study my ancestors and visit the graveyards where they rest for all eternity.

I am a Graveyard Rabbit.


Diane Wright said...

Great!! I love reading about other rabbits!! Your excitment is mine too!!!!

Cheryl Palmer said...

Nice to meet you Ruth! Enjoyed your story!