In Quest of the Needle

Friday, November 04, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Digging for Roots, Days 3 & 4

BLYTHEVILLE, Arkansas— At last, we made it to the city which might hold the answer to Jeanne's quest for the names of our great great grandparents.  With a surname like Miller and no first names, we would definitely be searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We were also looking for Clara's brother Willie, a teen victim of an accidental gunshot, according to family oral history.

Where to begin?  Unless you've had the need to search for such things, you may not realize that cemeteries are not all listed in the yellow pages.  Nor are they a featured point of interest on most GPS devices.  Our Jeanne-e-ologist, of course, came prepared with a list of cemeteries in the Blytheville area that she had printed from the Internet.  No addresses, but she had GPS coordinates.  There were a dozen or so in the immediate Blytheville area, some of which had hundreds of interments.

Searching Sandy Ridge Cemetery
Then our first lightning bolt of genius struck.  Mother suggested that a local funeral home would know which cemeteries had graves from the late 1800s (our date range) and which were newer.  Bingo!  We stopped at a local mortuary and were advised to try Sandy Ridge in the nearby Luxora community and downtown Blytheville's Maple Grove.

We drove into Sandy Ridge first.  Not being as genealogically inclined and savvy as my sister, I pondered over an efficient way to search for the Miller markers.  I was trying to impress with what I thought might be the day's second stroke of genius.

No Millers on the third row...
I was quickly informed that a more hands-on, or rather feet down, approach would be needed.  Jeanne instructed us to look for an angel or a lamb, which she had heard might be on brother Willie's grave.  If we could find a Willie Miller who died in the right date range, maybe we would be able to access some records that would tell us his parents' names.  No luck at Sandy Ridge on either Willie or Miller candidates in the needed time frame.  On to Maple Grove.

McHaney Monuments on S. Division Street

Before we could reach the downtown graveyard, we passed McHaney Monuments on the main street into the downtown area.  "Stop!"  Sister J exclaimed.  "Aunt Ada's daughter-in-law told me that the mother's grave had a carving of an angel holding an infant.  If anyone would remember seeing something like that in a local cemetery, it would be someone who creates monuments."

Though our question might have seemed a bit odd to some, the avuncular Glen Whitener, a certified memorialist at McHaney, didn't hesitate to dive in and try to help.  With many years experience in this family business that originated when Woodrow Wilson was President, Glen was a wellspring of information about burial places in the area.  Though his records did not go back far enough to include our Millers, his knowledge about local cemetery history was priceless.  He even had a list of interments for a historical cemetery which had become part of an Army air base in the 1940s.  Stopping to visit McHaney was definitely the second stroke of genius for the day.

As we were leaving, Glen gave us what may have been the best advice of our investigation.  As he handed us a business card, he suggested, "If you aren't able to locate the marker you're searching for and you want to keep the family legend alive, I can create that marker for you."

Where are you, Willie?
Without Glen's guidance, we would never have known to look behind the city's public library.  When a small abandoned cemetery from the late 1800s was discovered overgrown with bushes and briars in the 1940s, a group of people cleaned it up and preserved the remnants of the scattered and broken stones.  Eventually the markers were installed on the lawn of the library.

After the old Sawyer markers failed to yield a single Miller, we made our way to Maple Grove Cemetery in downtown Blytheville.  Even though the sign at the graveyard's entrance indicated it was opened after 1900, we spent some time examining the markers there.

Jeanne-e-ologist at work
Calling it a day, we enjoyed a very tasty meal at the local Holiday Inn's Bistro Eleven 21 and rested up to continue combing Blytheville the following day.  We were determined to leave no stone (or headstone) unturned before leaving this town.


The following morning found us in the Arkansas history room of the Blytheville Public Library.  The local newspaper records we were hoping to examine for the late 1800s did not exist, so we scoured other relevant publications in hopes of picking up some thread.  The one profitable lead we uncovered was a reference to Blytheville's LDS Family History Center, the first we had heard of this resource, which was our next destination.

Frances at the LDS Family History Center
In keeping with the renowned Morman dedication to preserving genealogical records, Family History Centers are branch facilities of the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Local centers provide access to most of the microfilms and microfiche in Salt Lake facility as well as assistance to help patrons identify their ancestors.  Everyone is welcome to use these resources, whether church members or not.

Our guiding angel at the LDS center was the very cordial and helpful Frances, who truly put the "genial" in our genealogy search.  With her assistance, we finally made some headway in our quest.  In some of the records she searched, Frances located a family with children having most of the same names as Clara and her siblings.  The dates looked right.  Frances was confident.

Maybe we found our needle after all.  Lewis and Elizabeth Miller, we believe you just may be our great great grandparents.  Welcome to the family.

ROAD NOISE:
  • Political Genius:  Back in the 1980s, Blytheville's then mayor visited the city of Evansville, Indiana.  While there, he observed a steel arch constructed at the entrance to a brick-lined street which led to a renovated, renewed section of the city's downtown area.  The good mayor decided that his town needed not one but several of these arches.  The City Council opposed the expense, but Hizzoner forged ahead, refusing to reveal how deep he dug into the city coffers for his pet project. Unfortunately, the arches on Blytheville's Main Street do not have quite the same effect that the Evansville project seemed to achieve since the Arkansas arches are placed at random street corners.
  • Warning— Don't Take Dining Advice from a Librarian:  Since it was near lunch time when we left the Blytheville library, we asked the librarian who had been helping us to suggest a local restaurant.  He highly recommended the Dixie Pig, a Blytheville institution dating back to 1923.  Sister J had been hoping for an eatery worthy of Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so off we went to meet the local purveyor of "old-fashioned Southern pit barbecue."

    Do not wait for this greasy spoon to appear on television.  The meat was chopped so fine it had the consistency and taste of sawdust.  This was an "add your own sauce" kind of place and there was one bottle of thin, vinegary "barbecue sauce" on the table.  To avoid a dose of straight vinegar, you had to shake the bottle because the other ingredients had settled to the bottom.  Judging by its taste, the sauce had two primary ingredients:  Tabasco sauce and vinegar.  Only as we were departing, having left much of the fiery meal on the table, did Jeanne learn that an actual barbecue sauce was also available.  "And by the way," the cashier informed her, "the more you shake that sauce on the table, the hotter it gets."  Gee, thanks!
More Photos from Blytheville

Love your shirt!  (Jeanne had it first.)
All smiles before lunch was served at the Dixie Pig
Now we know why the pig is winking.
Huge oak at Sandy Ridge Cemetery

Interesting marker at Maple Grove notes time of death.