Not far back into our fathers family tree my sister and I discovered our Blackwell family line. We approached our dad with this information and it jogged some vague memories of a family pioneer cemetery burial plot that still remained intact. An online search yielded a few hits. The first would be the ever-informative www.findagrave.com where we excitedly found that the town is aptly named after our family line.
Queue excited banter!
We also found a post from a potential Blackwell relative that lived in a neighboring town. We crossed our fingers that his email was still up to date and immediately sent him a message. That step paid off BIG time. The main evidence of its existence was from a few videos of amateur ghost hunting groups traipsing through a dense wooded cemetery looking for the spirits of our ancestors among the gravestones. Sadly, one video showed teenagers vandalizing it. By now we had found and researched several relatives that had lived and were buried there.
The patriarch of this line and family cemetery plot was Jeremiah Blackwell.
Jeremiah is part of the reason we call Missouri home. In the mid 1600’s, the first Blackwell’s came from Europe and settled in New York. This was over a hundred years before America was founded and an exciting family tree for Jenne and I to research. Jeremiah, a veteran of the war of 1812, was given a Bounty Land Warrant to settle, forge and develop in what was The Louisiana Purchase Territory.
Traveling by water and with a small crew, Jeremiah established a homestead and farm in this very remote and rural area.
He opened the Blackwell Post Office shortly after and by all accounts it was a prosperous town. The town grew with plenty of other homesteading families joining but its primary success came with the incoming railroad. With the decline of rail travel and later with railroad diversion, Blackwell is no longer a bustling town.
Few Blackwell Pioneer family remnants remain, but what is left has changed our lives.
With no reply from our email and a free weekend on the horizon, we decided to travel to Blackwell and see if we could find it ourselves. How hard can this be? The town was only an hour away and it was a relatively small city. We were missing one teeny tiny detail: We had no address to the cemetery. We were determined that small issue wasn’t going to stop us.
Not only did we want to see it with our own eyes, but we began to dream of cleaning it up to honor our ancestors and to demystify the plot so that hopefully it would be respected more and be left alone.
We were eager to see their final resting place and to honor them as best we could. With only a general sense of location, we were relying on the townspeople to lead us in the right direction. We soon discovered that Blackwell is very dense with woods, vegetation, hills and valleys. Not all roads are marked and it is easy to get lost. The people of Blackwell were friendly but wary. Many weren’t aware of what we were looking for. A friendly gentleman advised us to talk with his elderly neighbor who knew a lot about the town and its history.
we were excited! What more can some out of town wanna-be genealogists want than to talk to an old history buff? Nothing! Finally, our time has come. Our ship has come in. You get the point.
We knocked on the door and were greeted by his wife who said he (or Old History Buff as we thought of him) was out cutting the grass but she offered for us to come on in. She was super friendly and showed us some of her crafted dollhouses and miniatures she made. They were beautiful and we took the time to look them over.
She made us comfortable and small talk ensued about her, the town and hobbies.
At this time we were well aware that half our day of discovery was over and hopeful we could find the cemetery before we needed to head back. Then Old History Buff came in the back door.
After short introductions were made, the sweet comfortable wife completely shut down and Old History Buff took over for all of us. He started in on a well-practiced spiel about his own history. Don’t consider us rude here. We were well aware we asked for this meeting and we were in his house so respectively we listened. Old History Buff went on and on and on. Not trying to be discourteous we listened and we participated as best we could.
Eventually we interjected some cemetery questions which he avoided answering entirely.
He had a script and an act to play and gosh darn it he was not going to vary from it. He used to be a teacher, and it was very apparent he was happy to have “students” hanging on his every word. Did I mention seated us as such? He did.
He doled out precious info to us painfully slowly. We really needed to get to the cemetery before our time in town was over for the day. Wearily, we glanced at our watches and then to each other, wondering when we can get to our precious cemetery. When his spiel came around to show us his wife’s craft houses, we mistakenly told him we had already seen them and that they were beautiful.
The mood shifted immediately.
His wife looked terrified and the three of us jumped toward each other. Our time with Old History Buff and his sweet shut down wife was apparently over. The horror of horrors that we already saw the dollhouses was off script. He kicked us right out – before we could say Boo, we were out the door. I’m pretty sure our dad partly flew.
We then found that the answers we got from him were not definitive enough and they led us on a wild goose-chase around this town. For going through all that weirdness with this man, we weren’t any closer to finding this cemetery. We didn’t see another soul, no passing cars, and time was running out.
I’m not sure how Jenne found the courage, but she WENT BACK to that maniac who was laughing like a hyena in a Disney movie when he answered the door.
He was having way too much fun with us. We responded with kindness but determination and he invited us back inside where he informed us that the cemetery was on private property and the owner isn’t home but we can get to it via the train tracks. With a drawn map and Old Hyena History Buff’s phone number we were back in action. This man better not be fooling with our emotions again.
We parked near the tracks and started walking. It was hot, it was buggy, it was difficult walking on the awkward track spacing. We walked and walked, looking for a turnoff or an access trail. The spacing of the railroad ties makes it hard to walk naturally as every other step you are off the rail road tie and on gravel.
Also, some of us were not wearing proper shoes for this, though in retrospect I don’t know why I chose flip flops when looking for a cemetery in the backwoods.
We were getting discouraged. A mile on a normal path seems doable but a mile on railroad tracks seemed like forever. Then, Flunkies…a goat appeared on the tracks. Now maybe where y’all are from, goats roam naturally. This has never been the case for me around here. He was friendly though and walked ahead of us.
We named him Marty and he kept pace with us until he sped ahead.
We thought he left us until we rounded a corner and saw him, looking back at and waiting about 75 feet ahead of us. By this time, we were discouraged, hot, hungry and out of time. We decided to try again another day.
Remember that email we sent to the possible Blackwell relative? He emailed us back within the week. He had the information about the property owner and was able to get in touch with them. With permission to access the cemetery via the property roads we were elated. We don’t have to walk the tracks and we can drive to it? Sold.
A month later, the day finally came.
This cemetery was so overgrown you could not see the tombstones unless you whacked your way through it. Trees, weeds, vines, you name it. Even with all the wild brush, we marveled that it was surrounded by the most beautiful, original, ornate wrought-iron fence and gate.
We marveled at what stones we could locate and felt blessed by the fact one of them was Jeremiah’s.
I would be lying if we didn’t think that the job of restoring it all seemed overwhelming. We also discovered that the spot Marty was waiting for us at on the railroad tracks was the location of the cemetery. I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that we were meant to find this place.
Want to know what happened next? Check out my sisters blog post here!
Have any of you discovered a family cemetery in your research? Did you visit? We want to hear your story. Please post about it below!