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A resting place of peace

The Oakwood Cemetery Annex in Austin, Texas, is the last resting place of one of The Legal Genealogist‘s great granduncles.

OakwoodAnd it wasn’t a place I was entirely sure I ever wanted to see.

But yesterday I spent some time there, thanks to Inez Eppright, a member of the Austin Genealogical Society.

And I’m so glad I did.

This great granduncle’s full name was John Elijah Robertson, and he was born in Mississippi in February 1850, the second son and second child of my second great grandparents, Gustavus and Isabella (Gentry) Robertson.

You can track him through census and vital records throughout his lifetime:

• He’s the infant Elijah on the 1850 census of Winston County, Mississippi, in the household of his very young parents. His older brother William and grandfather William Robertson rounded out that enumerated family.1

• In 1860, he was enumerated as 10-year-old Elijha in the household of his parents in Attala County, Mississippi.2

• In 1870, he was shown as 20-year-old John E., still living with his parents, but in Lamar County, Texas.3

• On 7 April 1876, John married Martha Jane Ellis in Delta County, Texas.4

• In 1880, John, Martha and two children — Marshal, born around 1877, and Gertrude, born in August 1879 — were all living there in Delta County, Texas.5

• By 1900, things had changed — terribly. John was enumerated alone in Austin, Travis County, Texas.6

• In 1910, he was still enumerated far from his family, alone, in Austin.7

• In 1920, the same was true: still alone, still far from his family, in Austin.8

• The last record of John Elijah Robertson is his death certificate, dated 30 December 1923, in Austin. It records his burial, on 1 January 1924, there at Oakwood.9

So… why was I not sure I wanted to see where John was buried?

Because John spent all of those last years of his life — the years he was not with his family — living in what came to be known as the Texas State Hospital but was then called the Texas State Lunatic Asylum.

He had suffered a total breakdown in 1884, and was committed to the asylum by the Delta County Court on an application filed by his own father and brother.10

Think about it. And do the math. John spent nearly four decades as a patient — an inmate — at that asylum.

And though I knew John wasn’t buried in the asylum cemetery, I wasn’t at all sure John’s grave wouldn’t have been part of a mass pauper’s grave somewhere on the Oakwood cemetery grounds. Read the description of the cemetery at Find-A-Grave and it sure seems like a reasonable concern: “Paupers were historically buried in unmarked graves on the cemetery’s south side. Graves without permanent markers were subject to reburial after a given period.”11

When Inez picked me up yesterday morning, to change hotels from the one where I had stayed as a speaker for the Austin Genealogical Society seminar this past weekend to the one where I’ll stay to do some family research, I asked her if she thought we might be able to find anything about John’s burial at Oakwood.

She was able to guide me, first, to information on the website of the Austin Genealogical Society, identifying John’s exact gravesite — section C, row 21, plot 5, of the Oakwood Cemetery Annex. Unmarked, yes, but according to that information it didn’t sound like it was a mass grave.

Then she drove me to the cemetery where we found that location on the cemetery map.

And then she drove me right to that part of the cemetery… which wasn’t a mass pauper’s grave area at all.

I don’t know whether John’s family made special arrangements. I don’t know if perhaps things were just different in 1924. But — as you can see in the image above (click on it to see it larger) — where John is buried is a quiet, lovely, peaceful corner of this very old, very stately cemetery in Austin.

Thank you, Inez, for the guided tour.

Thank you, Austin Genealogical Society, for the work to make data about the burials of so many members of so many families accessible.

And thank you, Austin, for having this quiet, lovely, peaceful corner in which my so very troubled great granduncle can rest.

Rest in peace, Uncle John.


SOURCES

  1. See 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 372 (stamped), dwelling 809, family 816, Elijah “Robinson”; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 382.
  2. 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 76 (penned), dwelling 455, family 494, “Elijha” Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 June 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 577.
  3. 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, Texas, Paris Post Office, population schedule, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 307, John E. Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  4. Delta County, Texas, Marriage Book 1: 148, J E Robertson and Martha Jane Ellis (4 Apr 1876), marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Cooper.
  5. 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, Texas , Preciinct 3, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 402(C) (stamped), dwelling 111, family 112, John E Robertson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300.
  6. 1900 U.S. census, Travis County, Texas, Austin, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 141, p. 102(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 1, John E Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1673.
  7. 1910 U.S. census, Travis County, Texas, Austin, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 136, p. 111(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 1, J E Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1595.
  8. 1920 U.S. census, Travis County, Texas, Austin, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 106, p. 267(A) (stamped), dwellin/family not given, J E Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1852.
  9. Texas State Board of Health, death certificate no. 638255, J E Robertson (30 Dec 1923); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  10. Delta County, Texas, Probate Court Minute Book E: 263-265 (1 Aug 1884); Court Clerk’s office, Cooper.
  11. Find A Grave.com, “Oakwood Cemetery Annex” (http://www.findagrave.com/ : accessed 31 May 2015).
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