Chilton County, Alabama
The story below was submitted into a Family Tree Magazine contest in May of 2008. It was recognized in the November 2008 issue:
This is the story of a family’s finding, after over one hundred years, the fate and burial area of loved one, Martin Monroe Robinson, and gaining some closure.
In 1896, marshals took Martin from Chilton County, Alabama. Wife, Lucy, and children, including Bennie, 11, never imagined they would desire, forever, to know Martin’s fate, nor pass that desire to their descendants.
Rumors were Martin was sent to prison, in Alabama or Georgia, for horse-thievery or bootlegging, and died enroute. Years later, reports that “Lucy and Manuel” helped found Pate’s Chapel Church, made descendants wonder if Martin had been called Manuel.
By 2006, the Chilton Yahoo genealogy group included two great-great- granddaughters, Melissa Hogan of Birmingham, Alabama, and Laurie Konrad of Bellevue, Nebraska, and possible-fourth-great-grandniece, Edith Robinson, of Verbena, Alabama, searching for months or years for Martin.
Laura searched newspapers, and, visiting home, she and Edith searched at courthouses for Martin.
Melissa, searching numerous databases, narrowed Martin’s death from 1894, when he attended a daughter’s wedding, to 1897, when another daughter’s wedding was “at the home of Mrs. Robinson.”
Edith searched local and state archives, remembering sheriff involvement with bootlegging. After Melissa mentioned federal involvement, Edith traveled to NARA, in Atlanta, and obtained Martin’s court file. It showed that a Chilton man, charged with bootlegging, filed a complaint that Martin had a still. No local, state, or federal official charged or testified against Martin. Testimony was that Martin bought whiskey from the locally-charged man. Nobody questioned: Would Martin buy whiskey, if owning a still?
On December 20, 1896, Albany County Penitentiary, New York, received Martin for an unjust, 14 month sentence. Edith traveled there, getting Martin’s death and prison records, documenting: 47 years old, 5’ 10’’ tall, 170 lbs., black hair; blue eyes. Martin, without heat, contracted pneumonia and died on January 5, 1897. Martin’s body was used by local medical college gross anatomy classes and, later, buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave — recently paved-over by ‘urban development.’
Finally, Edith obtained Pate’s Chapel’s elusive records, showing “Manuel” was actually “Maud,” a daughter-in-law Martin never knew.
Other writings best describe the family’s limited closure. Cathy Blackmon, Bennie’s great-granddaughter, wrote “… the emotions my mother and great aunts and uncles had to go through after reading the truth. Yes, there were tears after all these years.” Melissa reported that, “I can’t express how much this means to me and … the other descendants…. Martin’s granddaughter” (Bennie’s daughter, Gladys, now 87) … “shared how she wished her father had lived to see the day … Martin was ‘found’ – that to the day (Bennie) died … (he) never knew … when his father died or where he was buried. …. (E)very scrap of information is a blessing … - gift to us all … - so precious as … it all speaks for Martin – finally his voice is echoing through time saying:
‘this is where I died, this is what happened, don’t forget.’”
A memorial stone has been placed at Pate’s Chapel where Lucy is buried.