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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Remembering Ruth...a journey to find the ancestor for a friend in August 2010

     Exhausted after hours in the city archives pouring through microfilm for records,  I fought the beginning of a headache and suddenly realized I hadn't stopped to eat all day.  Earlier that day I had used my new smartphone and followed Google Maps for the first time.  Using the data gleaned from death certificates I toured the city looking for family sites from the ancestry of a friend.  What I needed were sustenance and some relaxation, so I did an online search for a nice restaurant in Knoxville. I sat in a large padded circular booth with tea candles flickering in the darkened restaurant and ordered a special dinner with all the fixings. The quiet elegance set the mood for reflection on all my discoveries that day and I began to brainstorm on the paper napkin in front of me...

     On the Northern heights of Knoxville, looking down over the city and the Tennessee River is a neighborhood called Mechanicsville tucked in between Knoxville College and the interstate.  The street names and some of the buildings have changed over the years, homes razed for public parks and factories turned into parking lots, but families still sit on the front porches and call out to one another while boys play ball in the street.  It was into this working-class neighborhood that the Clark family moved in 1917 from Lancaster County, South Carolina.   They made a new life getting work as laborers and renting a home on Maria Street just a block from the Knoxville College grounds. 

The extended Clark family all set about the chores of daily life, joining local churches, sending the children to school, and all the adults to labor in nearby factories.  They struggled together through misfortunes that would test the fabric of any family.  From 1918 until 1929 at least 3 of William Clark’s grandchildren died along with his wife and daughter-in-law. William never owned his own home, did not have enough personal property for probate or will when he died, and suffered much loss, but he worked hard at his various jobs and lived throughout the years putting a roof over the heads of several generations of the Clark family often living in the Maria Street house at the same time.

From the Mechanicsville neighborhood, Western Ave turns south towards downtown Knoxville and then west through increasingly rural scenery. Turning west again onto Keith Road the houses move further apart and the road narrows.  On the right, a pair of tumbling-down pillars marks an old entranceway with no sign.  A rutted, dirt road covered with oyster shells that crunch under car tires winds uphill around unkempt grounds and drooping trees through the neglected Longview cemetery. 

There is no record of a headstone, but one of William Clark’s grandchildren, Ruth, was buried there.  She died soon after the family moved to Tennessee.  The graveyard is in a quiet section of Western Knoxville across from a small tree-filled park where children play on a new playground.  The voices of youngsters nearby remind us that 3-year-old Ruth Clark was buried here in 1918 all alone several miles west of her neighborhood.  During the decade after Ruth died, several more Clark children died as did their mother, Ola, and they were buried to the East of Knoxville in the Knoxville County Cemetery for Paupers without headstones to mark their graves.  Then Grandmother, Mariah, died in 1929.  The remaining Clark children looked to extended family for mentors and care while their father and grandfather continued to labor hard for their family.
Longview Cemetery, Knoxville

       The setting sun sent shadows across the uneven ground which highlighted the tilt of many tombstones, broken tree branches, and potholes in the driveway.  But the birds sang sweet songs and the air was still, the crape myrtle bloomed in yards nearby, and God watches over Ruth, and we remember her…