Katie S. Stewart, A Vintage Vignette

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Katie S. Stewart
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
November 16, 2008

One of the first overgrown, neglected family cemeteries that I explored within the Madison city limits is located on the east side of Hughes Road, across from the east end of Plaza Boulevard and south of the Dominoes Pizza restaurant. When I first encountered it based on a tip from friends, I thought I had made a new discovery. Later I learned that it has been “lost” and rediscovered about every 10 years by a number of people through time.

Each such old cemetery of my experience has had a “mystery” involving the graves markers. The mystery of this cemetery was the location of a small tombstone engraved with “Katie S. Stewart; Born Apr. 2, 1897; Died Aug. 28, 1904”. The information was not the mystery. The mystery was in why the stone was located beside that of N. M. Gooch (died 1901) and his wife Susan C. Gooch (died 1912). Obviously, Katie was not a daughter of the Gooch family, since she died before reaching marriage age. Yet, the placement suggested a very close relationship. Furthermore, of the few other markers in the small cemetery, none were close to these three.

I had not researched the Gooch family prior to encountering this cemetery, so that became my next activity. The census records revealed nothing about Katie Stewart, but the Gooch family history in this area is well documented in public records. Even today, I have not conclusively found Katie in the 1900 census files, which are the only ones where she could have been enumerated. The 1900 record for Nathaniel Matson Gooch and his wife Susan Caroline (Litzy) Gooch does not show Katie in their household. After several years of wondering about Katie and her relationship to the Gooch family, I met local Gooch descendants Barbara Ann Gooch Swaim Ciliax, Mary Ann Gooch Power Hamm, and Mary’s daughter Laura Ann Hamm. They visited the cemetery with me and partially explained the mystery of Katie Stewart. According to Mary Ann Hamm, Katie was born with a “growth in her head”, and her parents couldn’t take care of her, so Nathaniel and Susan Gooch “took her in” and kept her until she passed away at age seven. Mary Ann failed to mention that the Gooches were Katie’s maternal grandparents, but that fact was learned through later research. Of course, if Katie was turned over to her grandparents at birth, then it is expected that she would be enumerated in their household in the 1900 census, but she was not. Katie’s parents were Leven Foot Stewart and his wife Beulah Cora Gooch. Beulah was a daughter of Nathaniel and Susan, so they were taking care of their doomed granddaughter.

Initially, I felt that Katie’s parents were less than caring, to have surrendered their daughter even to grandparents. It was only after further research that I realized that Leven (a farmer) and Beulah had many other children to raise, and times were harder then. The 1910 census shows that Beulah had a total of ten children, with seven still living in 1910. Katie was one of those who died. The only Stewart family that I found to possibly fit in the 1900 census showed “Levi” and “Bulah” in Faulkner County, Arkansas, with children John, Henry, and Ora. It may be that these three children were the ones who passed away before the family returned to Alabama. Of course, it is also possible that the Arkansas family was not the same as the Alabama Stewarts. If it is the same family, then the census enumerator must have reported names, ages, and birthplaces from a neighbor’s information rather than talking directly with the Stewart family. Such things occasionally happened in those days, and neighbors rarely got the details correct. The ultimate conclusion is that Nathaniel and Susan Gooch took care of their granddaughter during her short life and then provided a final resting place at their sides. I am thankful that pioneer families such as the Gooches lived here and left evidence of their kind and caring ways of life as they struggled to survive in the hard times under primitive conditions.

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