An abandoned cemetery, with its cracked tombstones and unmarked graves, sits hidden among the trees on isolated land between Longview and Kilgore.
The cemetery recently caught the attention and interest of Longview resident and historian Gene McWhorter, who immediately started trying to locate descendants of the prominent black family buried there.
McWhorter became aware of the cemetery a few months ago during a mountain bike ride with friend Roger Johnson, who asked if McWhorter wanted to see old gravestones in the woods near Johnson’s property.
McWhorter said the only family he knew that used to live in the area was that of Richard Jones. The names on the tombstones are Richard Jones (1843-1910) and Mary L. Jones (1844-1920).
“He was very fascinated with this old gravesite,” Johnson said. “He started doing research to find out more about that family.”
McWhorter said: “I was especially interested because my family knows Richard Jones’ family, or has in the past. My father bought a 75-acre tract where Richard Jones Jr. lived, and the ruins of the house are still there.”
In his research, McWhorter learned as of 1884, the 75-acre tract where the graves are located belonged to Richard Jones. He also owned the 75-acre tract where Richard Jones Jr.’s 1916 house was located and another 75-acre tract about a quarter mile south of it. The last known descendants of the couple were their granddaughters, Sclena Jones Lee and Beatrice Jones Holland, who grew up on the 75 acres now owned by the McWhorter family.
The owner of the land where the graves are located, who did not wish to be identified because of trespassing and vandalism concerns, said he believes the family knows about the cemetery. However, he said in the 40 years his family has owned the property, only one person has contacted them to request burial space.
DescendantsAs McWhorter continued his research into the gravesite, his persistence paid off, and with help from others, he was able to locate Jones family descendants Benjamin Woods and his son, Adrain Woods.
“My father’s mother was Theresia Woods, maiden name Jones,” Adrain Woods said. “My dad has a picture of Richard Jones, his great-grandfather, and he is familiar with some of the other graves out there.”
Benjamin Woods, 91, said when he recently visited the gravesite at the request of McWhorter, it was the first time he had been there in 60 years.
“My mother’s daddy, Grandpa Richard Jones, and my Uncle Raymond are buried there,” Adrain Woods said.
He said he has notified other relatives to see what they want to do concerning the graves.
McWhorter was told about a state law that requires anyone who discovers an unknown or abandoned cemetery to file a record of its location in the county clerk’s office and to notify the property owner.
“Texas law says you are required to record in the courthouse within a certain time after you become aware of or discover what appears to be an unknown or abandoned cemetery,” McWhorter said. “They specify what information you should provide — the location, who owns the property, their address — and you’re also supposed to send a notice to this property owner that you are recording this information at the courthouse.”
McWhorter filed the notice of existence of the graves Oct. 1 in the county clerk’s office.
Jeanne Collins, board member of the Gregg County Historical Commission, said cemeteries are protected by the state, and no one is allowed to desecrate the area where they are located.
“Several years ago, the state of Texas sent out a notice to all of the counties in Texas to the historical commission in each county and we are putting an emphasis on cemetery preservation,” she said. “When you find a cemetery that is not already recorded, you file a notice of existence and that puts it into the deed records.”
Collins said once a notice of existence is filed, whomever buys the property is immediately made aware that a cemetery is included with the land.
She also is chair of the commission’s Cemetery Preservation Committee.
“Since I have been the chair I have located — with the help of many other people — and recorded five cemeteries that were not of knowledge to the deed records,” Collins said.
Unmarked gravesJohnson said after he purchased his property around 1990, he had asked an elderly man in the area to help with baling hay.
“He was probably close to 90 years old, and he was amazingly fit, energetic and had a wonderful personality,” Johnson said. “I can’t recall his name, but he was married to one of the Jones descendants.”
Johnson mentioned to the man that he had seen a gravesite that was hidden in the trees on the other side of the hill.
“I asked him if he knew anything about it as he was from the area, and he said absolutely, his wife was a descendant of that family and that they had farmed the land,” Johnson said. “This was a family gravesite, and he mentioned to me there were a number of graves in there, a lot of which were unmarked.”
Johnson said the man told him the unmarked graves and those marked only with rocks were used for the children in times when they couldn’t afford a tombstone.
“I didn’t have any follow-up with him after that, but over the years, I kind of watched out for the site and did some cleaning up around some of the tombstones,” Johnson said. “There are large trees that have grown up in the middle of several of the gravesites and tombstones and broken them.”
Johnson said according to the history he has, several of the children died during the flu epidemic of 1918.
“So, some of the gravesites that are just marked with stones are probably children’s gravesites and probably from that time period,” he said. “There’s no identification or any way to know who’s buried there or when they were interred.”
More researchMelvin Snoddy, a member of a nearby church, said McWhorter contacted him a few months ago and told him about the gravesite.
“I was unaware of it, but when he told me about it, I was able to direct him to some of the people I went to church with whose last name is Jones,” Snoddy said. “They spoke to Mr. McWhorter, but I don’t think they were directly related to them.”
Snoddy said he has been doing genealogical research off and on for about 40 years.
“I was able to look up some information about Richard Jones, and it seems that they came from Alabama to Texas somewhere around 1878, after the Civil War,” Snoddy said. “It seems that he and his wife, Mary Slaughter, didn’t start having children until their 30s. Of course, they were married about 1870. That was five years after the Civil War was over.”
Snoddy said he found it interesting that the Joneses would leave Alabama at that time and go to Texas.
“Most people from this area came here after slavery or were bought here before slavery ended in the 1840s, after Texas was taken from Mexico,” Snoddy said.
McWhorter, a member of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, said cemeteries play an important role in remembering ancestors and honoring their memories.
“I thought the descendants of these people would want to know where their ancestors are buried and maybe help take care of the graves,” he said.
Collins said cemeteries are sources of information for anyone trying to research their heritage, their genealogy, their family or a particular name.
“Our current lives are results of the past history that we come from,” she said. “So, it’s very important to preserve these cemeteries.”