This was a great oak tree.

It stood for ages above the graves of my great (2nd) grandparents, Polly Miranda Mabry and Joseph Lafayette Stiles and my great grandfather, William Chase Whitmarsh and his three year old daughter, Ada Elizabeth. Ada Elizabeth died on Christmas Day from diptheria, leaving her mother devastated and unwilling to ever celebrate Christmas again. This sad tale was related to me by my grandmother when I was young.

In the shadow of the tree my ancestors rested and I always knew where to find them because of the great and mighty Oak.

I remember going with my grandmother, Hazel Alabama Whitmarsh Webster to Oak Cemetery to visit the graves of my ancestors and my grandfather, Guy Smith Webster when I was young. She told me stories about her father, William Chase Whitmarsh, a native of New Hampshire and her little sister, Ada. Her grandparents, Polly Miranda Mabry and Joseph Lafayette Stiles and her late husband, Guy S. Webster were also very important stops in the cemetery.

I listened raptly as Mamaw told me about her proud, grandmother, Polly, whose real name was Mary. The nickname for Mary was “Polly” during this long ago generation. I never understood that. Polly Miranda Mabry was born on September 6th, 1836. I always felt a kinship with her because September 6th is also my birthday.


This past Friday in our city there was a fierce thunderstorm (some say a possible funnel cloud) and the old Oak Tree met its demise. The tree fell to the ground, uprooted by a great wind. It shook the stable rest of three gravestones that marked the ground where four of my ancestors was buried. I was driving past Oak Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in our city this past Saturday. I was shocked to discover that the tree above the Whitmarsh/ Mabry and Stiles graves was uprooted.


According to my grandmother, Polly Miranda Mabry was native American or at least was in part. This photo is of poor quality but it is obvious that Polly was a native American. Through my genealogical research I have discovered that Polly’s mother, Nancy Caroline Payne was the daughter of Mathew Payne and Amelia Cooper. Her father was Parham Poole Mabry, a son of colonists who originally settled in the Bermuda Hundred in Virginia. Somewhere along the way our English roots melded with our native American roots. Strange that my interest in family roots was in part inspired by my girlhood visits to the cemetery with my melancholy grandmother and now an oak tree has been actually uprooted above them.

But as a wise man said, my ancestors are not there. The souls of William, Polly, Ada Elizabeth and Joseph have flown beyond our lowly atmospheric grief. They are in a much better place.



This gravestone for William Chase Whitmarsh and his three year old daughter, Ada Elizabeth is on the other side of the uprooted tree. There were older very simple gravestone/markers marking the graves but they were replaced by my great Aunt Ivy years ago.


There are a lot of other graves in Oak Cemetery that were damaged by the felling of the oak but our ancestors’ graves were right under the tree and its roots. There were four graves that I know of that were affected. William Chase Whitmarsh was buried beside his three year old daughter, Ada Elizabeth. Polly Miranda Mabry Stiles and her husband Joseph Lafayette Stiles were right beside each other. They were all in a row.


I fear that these gravestones will not be treated right when the tree is taken away and that Polly Miranda’s stone is destroyed. When I stopped by the cemetery this past Saturday I could not find her gravestone anywhere. There was a deep chasm directly under the roots of the tree. I tried to avoid looking in the pit, fearful that I might see something disturbing.

Our eyes avert from what we need not see.

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