John B. Francis died in 1884 in Grayson County, but it took almost a whole community to find his broken grave marker that had disappeared unnoticed from Holloway Cemetery near Luella.
The story begins in the area where a massive pipeline is being built from Lake Texoma near White Mound out of Luella off Red Road. A workman on the pipeline, Jerry Parrish, who was working for Garney Construction out of Kansas City, found a broken tombstone on private property near the pipeline about a foot from the right of way.
A roadway was to be built there and fill dirt was going to be hauled in that would have buried the stone forever. So Parrish put stakes and pink, danger tape around it so no one would mess with the find.
In early May the land owner’s granddaughter, and one of her friends, Amanda Mayhue, both friends of Lea Head who lives between Whitewright and Tom Bean, saw the marked spot and called Lea because they knew of her interest in genealogy. After meeting them that very afternoon and seeing the marker, Lea got on the computer and began digging around to find what she could about John B. Francis.
She knew David Franklin, who is from a family that has been in the area for a long time, so she contacted him to see if he was familiar with the Francis family. He wasn’t, so Lea got in contact with Beverly Martin, regent of the Martha Jefferson Randolph Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Chapter in Sherman, who also is interested in genealogy. Beverly and David’s wife, Barbara, went out for a look, and Beverly took the tombstone home for safe keeping after Amanda photographed it.
Lea’s search on the Internet didn’t show any Francis descendants. Ancestry.com, however, did show a John B. Francis. But it was the Master Cemetery Index on the Grayson County GenWeb where Lea found that Francis, his wife, son and daughter were buried in Holloway Cemetery on Luella Road between Luella and Highway 902.
John Holloway, president of the Holloway Cemetery Association, told Lea that Judy Low was named historian of the cemetery last year. Judy was familiar with the Frances name but didn’t know that any stones were missing. At last the graves sites were located. A piece of the limestone marker was still in the ground that matched the epitaph on Francis’ stone. The daughter’s stone also was broken, but was still on the site.
Once Lea and the others had a chance to view the stone close up, they found that the engraver had put his signature at the bottom. John Hackett Hilger was the stonemason who prepared the tombstones back in the mid 1850s when the family died. This knowledge sent Lea on another search that told her that Hilger, who was born in 1849, had seven daughters and one son and came to Sherman in 1876-77 as a marble cutter. He was the son of German immigrants and is buried in West Hill Cemetery.
Beverly gave Lea the name of Jim Vandagriff, who owns Vandagriff Monument Company southwest of Sherman. After a phone call from Lea, Jim met her at the cemetery to see what needed to be done and to give her an estimate for repairing and replacing the tombstones as well as straightening the son’s stone that was leaning.
Lea said she has already received one contribution to help pay for the repairs and the family’s stones all to be straightened and repaired. Several more have been promised and any others’ contributions will be welcome. She said since Vandagriff volunteered his labor on the repairs, any amount received over his estimate of material costs, will go to him and his helper, Guillermo (William in English) Navarro Campos, better known as “Memo” (Bill in English) or “Mo,” who has been with Vandagriff for eight years.
I’m sure there will be any number of people who are happy with Lea’s persistence in restoring this Francis grave site. Among these are Charley and Nona Frances of Shamrock, Texas, and Joe and Joyce Frances of Mineola, who were contacted by Lea.
Joe told her in an email that John was a descendant of Captain Henry and Leah Francis of what now is Cripple Creek, Va. Their sons, John and his brother Henry Jr., left Virginia after serving in the Revolutionary War. Their dad was killed in a battle in North Carolina in which all three were involved. John and Henry settled in Kentucky and both were prominent in the development of Wayne and Pulaski counties.
Eventually some descendants of Henry and John, including John B., settled in Texas, and there are supposed to be some descendants in Bells and possibly elsewhere in Grayson County.
Lea is associated with the Lucile Teague Library in Tom Bean as a volunteer on Tuesday as acting librarian. It is here that she assists anyone with family research and building/maintaining the genealogy collection there. She is vice president of the Tom Bean Friends of the Library and four years ago organized and became the mentor for the First Saturday Genealogy Group that is open to the public and meets from 2 until 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month.
Two things that haven’t been learned are how the stone got broken and how it ended up so far from the cemetery.
It’s lucky, however, that Lea got put on the trail of the Francis stone. The search for an answer was right up her alley and fortunately she was able to find the solution. Once the repair on the stone is completed, it will be reseated in the Holloway Cemetery.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.