By Jeri Talbott
One never knows what mysteries may lie under the weeds and dead tree branches of a very old family graveyard, or the circumstances of the lives and deaths of those who rest there. But occasionally we who are among the living get the chance to piece it together like a puzzle and reveal a bigger picture of who they were and their significance in this world. Such is the story I uncovered on January 25, 2017 at the old Cheatham Cemetery, located on privately owned land in Ava, IL. But this story is not the only thing I uncovered that day… I also uncovered a tombstone that was buried under about two inches of dirt and weeds.
My husband Tom and I live in Southern California. We were on vacation there at the time and were lucky enough to make the acquaintance of the owner of the land, who so graciously agreed to take us in his old jeep to the location of the graves. Our mission was to find the resting place of Tom’s great-great-great grandfather, Robertson Cheatham. That mission was easily accomplished, as his headstone was still standing and legible and prominently displayed in front. However, I noticed that there were several stones that were cracked, fallen, and crumbling to the point they were almost illegible, leading to the eventual loss of those memorials forever. As I walked through the weeds, dodging tree branches and avoiding pitfalls, a small corner of a stone caught a ray of the sun as well as my eye and my curiosity. I was unprepared to dig that day, having no tools with me, but I was compelled and I started to hand-dig with my good gloves on and I didn’t even care. It wasn’t long before I realized I was uncovering a headstone and I wasn’t going to stop until I could read it. It wasn’t that easy to read, but with some effort I could decipher, “Eliza J” and “wife of __ R Carr” and “Died Oct 25 1872”. This is a name I had never heard before and did not recognize from anywhere on Tom’s family tree.
After we returned home, and unable to get her off my mind, I went online to Ancestry.com and see if I could figure out who she was. I learned that she was the first wife of William R Carr, and her name was Eliza Jane Massey Carr. There are very few records of her short life, and therefore we know very little about her. We do know for a fact that she married William R Carr nearly 160 years ago, on 28 Dec 1857. I could not positively conclude the following… but I could not help but to believe she must be somehow related to my husband’s 2x great grandmother, Polly Xenia Massey. One can only speculate when there are not enough records to source, however it is true that Polly Xenia named her first born daughter Elizabeth Jane, who came into the world while Eliza Jane was still alive… could it be she was named as a tribute to Eliza Jane? It also makes sense, as Polly Xenia Massey married Henry Cheatham, who was the son of Robertson Cheatham, the man whose grave we were seeking to begin with.
It’s not so much the life of Mrs. Eliza Jane Carr that fascinates me, as it is the family connections I could learn because of her. Not only were Henry and Polly Xenia Cheatham the 2x great grandparents of my husband Tom, but their daughter Elizabeth Jane Cheatham mentioned above, was Tom’s great grandmother, who married Tom’s great grandfather, John Easterly.
Besides all that, I became a bit curious about William R Carr, and started researching him. I discovered that three years after the death of his first wife, Eliza Jane, he married Mahulda Williamson Stout on 22 Dec 1875. Mahulda was the widow of George W Stout, who died a year before Eliza Jane Carr. George and Mahulda Stout were the grandparents of George Stout, who married Burch Carrie Easterly, a daughter of Tom’s great grandparents, John and Elizabeth Jane (Cheatham) Easterly, mentioned above.
All the people mentioned thus far are on the family tree of Tom’s father… Now let me introduce you to Tom’s great grandmother on his mother’s branch of the tree… Jane Throop Nisbet. She was the mother of Tom’s maternal grandmother. There has always been some mystery about her life, as Jane was orphaned at 4 years old, her mother and father both dying within months of each other in 1878. Members of the family had previously told me that Jane was raised in a foster home, although I never exactly knew what happened to her as a child… that is, until I found William Carr’s obituary which reads…
William Riley Carr was born in St. Clair County, Illinois, September 24th 1834, and died at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Thos. Nisbet at Sato, Illinois, January 14th 1920, aged 85 years, 3 months and 20 days. He was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Gideon Carr and a brother of the late Leonard Carr and the late Mrs. Noah Cheatham of this city. He was united in marriage with Eliza Massey in St. Clair County many years ago, she dying before he came to this county. Then in 1875, he was again united in marriage with, Mrs. Hulda Stout, a widow, and mother of the late Newt Stout, who died some 15 years ago. After her death, he came to live with his foster daughter, Mrs. Thos. Nisbet, at Sato, Illinois, with whom he has resided for the past thirteen years, and where he was living when he died.
So, we know that William R Carr raised Jane Throop at some point during her young years. However, she is not listed as a member of his household in the 1880 census, so we can only speculate that she was probably living somewhere else from the time of the death of her parents in 1878 until sometime after 1880 when she became the foster daughter of William and Mahulda Carr. She probably would have been listed as a member of their household on the 1890 census, but most of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire in 1921, and that record does not exist. If not for her early death, perhaps Eliza Jane Carr would have been the foster mother of Jane Throop along with her husband William Carr… or perhaps it was Hulda Carr who was the one who wanted to take Jane in to raise as her own, which may not have happened if not for her marriage to William Carr and the course of God’s great master plan.
The family ties-that-bind are strong and sometimes tangled, as we see in this complicated story. Some of the missing puzzle pieces finally fit together for me and the picture is becoming more clear. I call this journey a success… and all because of a small corner of a headstone immersed in the ground, which may have gone unnoticed if not for the kindness of a stranger and a small ray of sun…
Planning your own trip to Southern Illinois? Visit http://southernillinoistourism.org for information on events, outdoor activities, attractions, and lodging. Ava is home to craft brewers Scratch Brewing Company and Little Egypt Beer and is also home of The Bluff’s Vineyard & Winery.
Jeri Talbott has been researching her family genealogy since the mid-1970’s. She has made many ancestral trips to the Midwest to retrace her family’s footsteps. This is her first article for Population 91. She and her husband, Tom, reside in Rancho Cucamonga, California with their cats, Gilman and Oreo. They enjoy fishing and gardening. Jeri has been a high producing career Realtor since 1989.