A Family's Quest to Find Loved Ones
By David K. Sylvester
[Published in Daily Journal, Oct. 9, 2007]
David Sylvester's family and friends take time for a
opportunity following a work day to clean a
After 103 years of resting in an open
field since the last burial, the William C. and Mary Gaines Haile
family was located by a few of their numerous descendants.
Outside of Farmington on Turley Mill Road,
which is actually in Ste. Genevieve County, sitting at the crest of a
small hill about 200 yards off the road nestled in a small grove of
trees, lies this small family cemetery, left essentially untouched and
forgotten for more than a century.
The following is taken from an obituary in a
Farmington newspaper in 1904: “William Cornelious Haile was born in
St. Francois County, Mo., March 3, 1823, and died at the home of his
son-in-law, Clarence L. Norwine, in Bonne Terre, May 17, 1904, aged 81
years, 2 months and 14 days. Mrs. Mary Gaines Haile died eleven years
previous to him and six of their ten children also preceded him to the
Three of the ten children are known to be
buried with them in the small cemetery mentioned.
How did all of this start? Several years ago
I received an e-mail from a Bettye Warner from Farmington, telling me
of a small cemetery that had been located containing these graves. To
find out how she learned of its whereabouts, we will have to reach her
and ask. This e-mail however to me was of great importance. For years
I have worked on family history, and have had somewhat of an
insatiable appetite to learn of my family that preceded me. Being
myself the fifth of five children, and born late in the lives of my
parents, I didn’t have the chance to meet but one grandmother and a
few other aunts and uncles. Not having the benefit of family reunions
or gatherings, I have felt drawn to know who came before we did. Mrs.
Warner’s e-mail fueled the fire of wanting to know more.
I am embarrassed to admit in the same breath
that although this news struck me as important, my life’s daily
schedule sends me to the St. Louis area every day and not south to the
Farmington region at all. Weekends are busy, raising a family and
having many duties as do so many others in our modern life.
In July of 2007, on a warm Saturday
afternoon, finally a day without 100 things to do, I asked my
86-year-old mother to ride with me to locate these graves in this
small cemetery. It was a warm mid-afternoon July 14th when we began
our adventure. Using just the written directions provided a long time
ago, we set out. Following to the ‘T’, we arrived in the region of
the cemetery. Looking for a grove of trees that might contain that
cemetery was daunting since there were many small groves of trees as
we gazed over the potential site. We drove to the home of a Vernon
Clubb, and he and Mrs. Clubb were gracious to allow me to enter their
home and tell them of my quest. He was aware of the cemetery but
mentioned that it was in disrepair. He suggested and I readily agreed
that we should contact the owner of the property. We called a Roy
Berghaus, but were unable to reach him by phone. Mrs. Clubb gave us
directions to his home. We were off and driving again. We arrived at
the home of Roy Berghaus, and got there just before he did. He was so
kind. I explained to him what I was doing and asked his permission to
enter the property to see the graves of my great-great-grandparents.
This good man and his wife were so kind and quickly granted us that
permission with a hand drawn map to locate the cemetery on the farm.
What a gracious gesture!
My mother and I drove back to the
location, and met the neighbors across the street. The Ruth Yaeger
family was so very kind. One family member when they learned of what
we wanted to do pointed directly to the grove of trees where the
cemetery was located. She had ridden horses over in that area years
ago. She said in all the years her family had lived there, (50 or
more) no one to their knowledge had ever come to visit those graves.
Bettye Warner had been there years before to document its location.
Since the cemetery had been forgotten by family, actually lost to the
knowledge of any of their descendants, it had fallen into disrepair.
With the years of cattle in the area seeking relief from the heat, the
cemetery had become a refuge from the heat. As such the cattle had
knocked over the tombstones.
My mother could not
make it that far into the property, so the Yaegers entertained her on
their back patio with a cold glass of lemonade while I made my way
across a large open field with grass higher than my waist. As I entered
the grove of trees, I felt that I walked on sacred ground. For more than
100 years, no one to my knowledge had walked those grounds. I could see
the graves covered in brush, knocked over, etc. As I stood there, I
decided that out of respect for those that have gone before, we owed them
better than this. I decided that when my kids came home for a summer
visit, that we would converge on the cemetery, clean it all up, cut away
the brush, and reset the stones.
The day arrived. It was a hot August 18, 2007.
The Sylvester family including my wife and three of my four children
were there. We were accompanied by some dear friends, the Mike and Linda
Polansky family of Barnhart. With the ten of us, we made the journey
from our home in Herculaneum. Our first stop was to load up on a serious
We arrived at about 10 a.m. or so at our location.
The Yaegers had been gracious to invite us to park at their house. We
got out all of our tools, including a chain saw, two weed whackers,
rakes, hoes and snippers. We made our way across the field, now with
grass and other vegetation exceeding five feet in height. We got to the
site, made a detailed plan of attack and in an hour and a half (15 total
man hours) we transformed what had been a forgotten cemetery into a
beautiful cemetery with the headstones reset and everything. We cut away
some dense foliage, cut off some branches of some low hanging trees to
allow sunshine to again fall on the cemetery.
As we walked away, we vowed
that it would be an annual check up on the site to make sure it is in
good repair. It would not be 100 years between visits. No more would it
be an abandoned family site. It was a time to pause and give thanks and
to remember those that had lived before, who had sacrificed and paved a way
for us today!