Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Discovering family history

October 17, 2012

On a bright, warm early October Saturday afternoon, outside the tiny town of Mulhall, Okla., I met my great-grandfather, William H. Smith. No, of course not in person, we found his final resting place in Roselawn Cemetery.

I couldn’t help but have a feeling of joy mixed with sadness because I didn’t have the chance to know him. Yes, this solved one of the many mysteries of my family history, but on the other hand, finding his grave only opened up a new line of questions. Buried next to him was a John Smith and Lily Smith and I have no idea of how these individuals fit into my family puzzle. According to cemetery records one of his sons, Pinkston (Pink) Smith was buried at the site, but there was no marker.

According to what I learned in a conversation with a Roselawn Cemetery official, possibly the reason was that the cemetery site for Pink was never paid for. As an aside, I doubt that Pink was buried there since he retired as a bank guard in California. But, again that is just another question in my murky family history.

My great-grandfather has always interested and, yes, confused me. In our family keepsakes, we have a number of Grand Army of the Republic memorabilia, so I always thought that he was a Union Army veteran. The GAR was roughly equivalent to the VFW or American Legion and was an organization of Union veterans.

Unfortunately, that was not the case because I found a newspaper clipping celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary and he was a Confederate Army veteran, serving three years in the army. According to the story he was a “proud old rebel” and let his union neighbors know about it. I remember looking up his family when we were in Salt Lake City and found in census records that they weren’t slave owners. So, I have never figured out why he was a Confederate other than he was born and raised in Clay County, Mo.

He married Susan Hulburd of Clay County, Mo., although no wedding date was listed. After he died my great-grandmother remarried and her second husband was a Union veteran. She moved to Garnett and is buried in the cemetery there.

At the time of his 25th wedding anniversary, they were living in Nebraska where he was a farmer. The couple also lived in Coffey County, Kansas. Certainly he lived an exciting life. According to a news article, he crossed the Rocky Mountain six times. Obviously that was what he did for a living since a round trip over the mountains would take nearly a year.

So, how did he get to Mulhall, Okla.? Really, there is no doubt about that, he took part in the land rush. The government opened up land in Oklahoma and they literally raced to claim it. We found among the family treasurers a deed to William H. Smith and filed on November 3, 1895, at 3 p.m. for land in Oklahoma Territory, now Logan County. The deed has a proxy signature of President Grover Cleveland by a secretary M. McKeran. We had the location of his property, but after driving around a bit, we weren’t sure we found it.

Actually, the deed was the first time that I knew my great-grandfather’s first name. Everything else we had, including his obituary, listed him as “W. H. Smith.” I can only assume that he didn’t like the name “William.” I don’t know what the “H” was for, but I would guess “Herbert.” My grandparents had a child who died and he was named “William Herbert.”

Apparently, he did well in Oklahoma. According to his obituary, he made many friends while living in the area and he “had been feeble” for some time and he died at the “advanced age of 65.” The service was performed by a Methodist lay minister, Mr. Harrington.

Let me point out that my wife, Jean, did the research, utilizing the Inter-net and making calls to Oklahoma. Sadly, in 1999 a tornado leveled most of Mulhall and the nearly all the trees and some tombstones were damaged. For his Eagle project a Boy Scout compiled the list of those buried in Roselawn Cemetery and replaced trees. There are approximately 1500 graves in the cemetery. Mulhall is located a short distance west of Stillwater, Okla.

W. H. was born on March 22, 1836, and died on Aug. 15, 1903. Yes, I’m glad that I have found his final resting place and a few notes about his life. I only wish that I had more information. But rest assured, the search is far from over. Who know? I may even have some relatives named Smith. Only time will tell.

I might add that it would be beneficial to future generations if all of us kept notes about our lives. I know, it might not be interesting now, but in a future century it will help family members know the family stories of those who have gone before.

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