It was cloudy last Saturday and a good day for driving. My husband and I decided to go cruising and seek out his 3rd and 4th Great Grandfathers’ graves here in East Tennessee.
Unbeknownst to us until a short while ago, TN is where some of our ancestors lie from 270 years ago. That history was lost in time, knowledge never reaching Mike as a child. Ancestors had long ago moved from Tennessee through the midwest and on to Oregon and Eastern Washington.
With the recent passing of his brother Richard “Dick” Davis, we opted to go on a genealogical quest. And, low and behold, The Davis genealogy that is traceably accurate takes us full circle back here, to East Tennessee. We just moved here four years ago never knowing that we were returning to our roots.
We had accurately tracked his ancestry up to James Davis (1789-1876) who was born in Pittsylvania, VA but had settled in Roane County TN here in East Tennessee, along Poplar Creek, with his father, Jonathan and his mother Elizabeth (Chaney) Davis.
With much excitement we set out on a drive to find their graves.
Find-a-grave is an amazing source of information. It was there where we were able to identify the GPS coordinates for the grave stone. With an aerial map with the GPS coordinates, we headed out.
For folks who are interested where the James Davis grave is, it is near Oak Ridge National Laboratory, near the town of Oliver Springs in a small cemetery named “Russell” Cemetery (more on that later.)
The irony of it all, that Poplar Creek, where the Davis family land was located, runs directly through Oak Ridge National Laboratory Land. This was not lost on our family.
Mike’s brother Dick was the project manager responsible for building the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This project is what first brought Dick Davis to Tennessee years ago. We joined Dick here in Tennessee upon Mike’s retirement. SNS produces neutrons with an accelerator-based system that delivers short (microsecond) proton pulses to a steel target filled with liquid mercury through a process called spallation. Those neutrons are then directed toward state-of-the-art instruments that provide a variety of capabilities to researchers across a broad range of disciplines including physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science. The facility allows for measurements of greater sensitivity, higher speed, and higher resolution and in more complex sample environments than have been possible at other neutron facilities around the world.
As you can imagine, when we realized that our ancestors not only lived in Tennessee, but in fact, lived on Poplar Creek, and that creek itself runs directly through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory property, it was truly a shocking “full-circle” for our family. Indeed, Oak Ridge National Laboratory called us all home and we never knew it until one month after Dick passed away. In fact, leaders from Jacobs Engineering, the prime contractor for the SNS project, were at his funeral celebrating this great feat.
We headed through Blount County, the county which we live in, through the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Loudon County, popping out in Roane County. After much wildlife area of mountains and valleys, thickly wooded, we see Poplar Creek. This is the creek the Davis land was on. We turn right on Old Harriman Hwy. and head a ways down the road. We take a right on Orchard View Road and get lost. We end up at a Southern gentleman’s farm who was an old timer of these parts and tell him our story. “We are seeking out old graves!”
The Lord must have wanted us to find those graves last Saturday because he knew of some graves behind a family’s house right up the road. He graciously drove us to the exact location and pointed to a gravel drive and said, “Go up there and ask the family if you can go in their backyard.” We thanked him and proceeded up the drive.
Low and behold a young gentleman was sitting outside and we introduced ourselves and asked if there were some old graves around we could look at as we believed they were our ancestors. He smiled and pointed, “that’a way…be careful….there are some holes around from caved in graves. That’s an awfully old cemetery.”
We looked in the distance and inside of a stand of old oak we saw the outcroppings of old head stones. From here I will show you through pictures as words can not do the experience justice.
We began to walk around very aware there were indeed indentations in the ground from sunken graves. Many of the graves had the name Russell on them. This graveyard includes the descendants of James Davis’ daughter who married a Russell. We searched and finally found the grave we were looking for. Here it is.
As the Lord would have it since we had no real plan for the day, we see this marker behind James’ grave. It truly made Mike and I smile knowing that Mikes’ big bro. Dick (Richard Davis), whom Mike always called “R.D.” appears to have been present with us in this very old cemetery.
I went back to the county seat this week to learn more and I can confirm that Jonathan Davis, James’ father, was also buried at this cemetery with a simple rock to mark his burial. It is likely this one that rests next to James and Rebecca’s grave.
There is so much more to write about this amazing journey to Russell Cemetery as we had the opportunity to see the area and learn more about our ancestors. That will be done in the next blog I write on touring Orchard View area, where our ancestors lived.
In closing we would like to show you a few more of these graves that to us were so beautiful. We spoke with the home owner and he stated that a couple comes each summer to tend to this graveyard. He was going to get them in touch with us and we have committed to tending to this graveyard ourselves, in partnership with this other couple. We look forward to meeting them. They obviously care enough to drive from New England every year to tend to this very special spot where some of our ancestors rest.