In a previous post, I shared pictures of the Baker family that our great grandmother, Cora (Walling) Baker Walling, kept for the rest of her life – even though her marriage to Jesse W. Baker ended with his death within three years.
There’s another piece of physical evidence — an ivory diary typical of the period. Among many early mistakes I made in family history endeavors was not keeping track of provenance, which is just a fancy way of recording who-in-the-heck-gave-me-this. But my sense was always that that the diary and the Baker family pictures were a package. Unfortunately, there’s no one left now to verify that. [Let that be a lesson to you all.] There are several pictures of the diary below – one closed and one open. There is also a picture of young Cora – about the time her courtship began.
The handwriting on the diary is similar to the handwriting on the pictures, although the key comparison of the capital “B” is disappointing. I can’t be absolutely certain they were written by the same person.
Here’s the best transcript I can do of the faded pencil markings:
[Sunday] recd ring May 4 1873
MONDAY – Got hair Ring March 8 1875
TUESDAY – [illegible] 1870 was my first meeting with [illegible]
WEDNESDAY – Give to Katie [?] of Dec 1874
THURSDAY – completely faded or erased
FRIDAY – completely faded or erased
SATURDAY – Became Engaged Dec – 1872
Cora Walling and Jesse Baker were married on 18 November 1873. “Became Engaged December 1872” and “recd ring May 4 1873” match up well with the November marriage. And the event recorded on the 20th of December 1874 tied to the name Katie just thirteen months after the marriage strongly suggests the birth of a daughter. On the other hand, the notation is anything but clear and Cora did, in fact, have a younger sister named Katie, to whom she could have been referring.
“Got hair ring March 1875” suggests the loss of a loved one. Hair rings, with a lock of hair of the departed, were common signs of mourning in the late 19th century, although they were also exchanged to show great affection. Either way, a hair ring was a significant emotional symbol. We know that Katie outlived Cora and that Jesse died in 1876, so the hair ring was not associated with either her sister or her husband. (1)
How can we determine if there was indeed a baby named Katie who perhaps was born in December 1874 and died before March 1875? There were no vital public records kept at that time. Church records are one possibility. A more accessible information source is cemetery records; more and more inscriptions are being published online, sometimes even with photographs. Having recently learned that the Bakers were substantial citizens of Plantersville, Texas, and owners of a plantation, I thought there must be a family cemetery. (2) I located a Grimes County, Texas, message board and posted a request for information on the possible location of Baker family graves in that county.
Within fifteen minutes, I had an email from a fellow researcher with information from a series of books that she had on her bookshelf. Not only that, she generously scanned pages from the book and emailed them within another 15 minutes. Talk about immediate gratification…..
Indeed, the Baker Cemetery is on the family property known as “Cedars.” (3) There are 27 graves there. According to Grimes County Cemeteries, Book 4, Jesse W. Baker’s inscription reads this way:
Jesse W. Baker
Son of Isaac and Aurelia Baker
Born Washington Co, Alabama
Aug. 2, 1830 – Died April 18, 1876
Just two lines above his entry is this unnamed one:
Our Darling Daughter
Born and Died _______25, 18__
Unfortunately, the ivory diary entry is missing the day and the cemetery marker is missing the month and year. There are many other couples in the cemetery that could have lost a baby daughter. But if the marker and the diary do refer to the same person, Katie would have been born and died on Christmas Day in 1874. I hope that’s not it. Several leaps were made in the preceding paragraphs and there’s a good chance I got it wrong.
What’s next? At some point, I will try to identify a church affiliation and look for records. I plan to contact the person who read the inscription (the book is a fairly recent publication) for more information about the placement of the marker.
For now, though, the story of Cora and her first marriage, one that I believe was an important part of her life, will be put away.——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
(1) Texas State Library. Official Death Certificates from the Texas State Board Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics for the years 1890-1976, digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com: accessed 2 May 2010); certificate #72680 for Katherine F. Wells, Travis County, 1936. Maxwell, John R. and Grimes County Historical Commission. Grimes County Cemeteries, Book 4. Iola, Texas: J. R. Maxwell, 2000: p. 2.
(2) Texas State Historical Association. “The Handbook of Texas Online,” online edition of print publication with corrections and additions, TSHA Online: A Digital Gateway to Texas History (http//www.tshaonline.org: accessed 1 May 2010), entry for Plantersville at http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/PP/hnp43.html.
(3) Maxwell and Grimes County Historical Commission. Grimes County Cemeteries, Book 4, 1-2.