Copyright © Janice Tracy, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Mystery of Mary Vanarsdale


This gravestone in Good Hope Baptist Church's Cemetery touched me when I saw it, primarily because of the little lamb gracing the stone's top. At first glance, before I read the dates of birth and death for Mary Vanarsdale, I thought the person buried there might have been a child. I looked for another Vanarsdale family member in the cemetery, but Mary apparently was the only family member buried there. Since the name Vanarsdale was not a common name in Attala County in the 1800's, I decided to see what I could find out about this family.

First, I searched the U. S. Census Records for 1850 and found the only family by this name living in Mississippi was the household enumerated in Beat 3 of Leake County. The head of this household was "L Vanarsdale," born in Kentucky. Leake County, as the crow flies, is not many miles away from Attala County, so I was optimistic that I might have found Mary's family. I became less optimistic when I found that Mary, a 16-year old daughter enumerated in the household, could not have been Mary buried at Good Hope, whose birth date was shown as 1852. I also reviewed the Slave Schedule for 1850 and found that L. Vanarsdale owned 16 slaves. The U. S. Census record taken in 1860 again showed this family still living in the same location, and L. Vanarsdale now owned 26 slaves.

I continued to search the U.S. Census recorded for 1870, 1880, and 1900. First, I found that "L. Vanarsdale" was actually "Lucas Vanarsdale," and his descendants continued for over half a century to live near Carthage, in Leake County. When I examined the U. S. Census for 1870, I also found two Vanarsdale families living near Newport, in Attala County, very near the Good Hope Cemetery. One household was headed by "Drue" Vanarsdale, whose 20-year old wife was named "Mary." A one-year old daughter, Maria, also resided in that household. The racial identity of all individuals enumerated in the two Vanarsdale households living in Attala County in 1870 was shown as "B," a census abbreviation meaning "Black." By 1900, that same family had grown to include a total of 6 children, and they were living in Madison County, in the Camden Community, where Good Hope Baptist Church is actually located.

Was Mary Vanarsdale, the wife of Drue Vanarsdale, the same Mary who is buried in the grave at Good Hope Cemetery? Or was she the wife of another Vanarsdale male, who for some other reason was buried in another cemetery?
Maybe someone who reads this can help solve the mystery of Mary Vanarsdale.




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