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Historical society researches lost gravestone

by Michael Shine | March 25, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

For the members of the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, it provides an opportunity to learn more about the area.

The society grew in recent years to include a research center in downtown Fulton. So far, it's been successful. One goal of the historical society is to share historical information with the community, and the research center is an extension of that to help people find information they're looking for.

Bryce Gordon, Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society research assistant, said at Thursday's Kiwanis meeting he mostly helps people with genealogy research.

The research center first opened in 2019 and is located on 4th Street in Fulton.

Gordon said one project he recently worked on came as a request from a California woman doing research in a St. Charles County cemetery.

She noticed a headstone from 1908 for a man named Earl Jefferson that didn't belong there.

"It's nowhere on the list," Gordon said. "It wasn't in the inventory of that cemetery anywhere and so they set out to find out who was this guy named Earl Jefferson."

In his research, Gordon said, Jefferson's name was spelled multiple ways and it appears he didn't know how to read or write.

Jefferson was a slave owned by Robert Craighead before he died. In 1859, Jefferson was sold. Craighead lived in Callaway County for much of his life.

The research was interesting, Gordon said, because there was a lot of questions about how Jefferson was.

"I just found out today that he was also a Civil War veteran," Gordon said. "How did that happen? They're trying to figure out where was his family buried? Where did they live? He ended up being a landowner in that immediate vicinity by 1886. How did that happen?"

Gordon said he hasn't found the transfer of land to Jefferson, but from his research it sounds like Jefferson's wife and brother were buried in what was called New Haven Cemetery.

The cemetery is now longer there, but it was just north of Middle River, he said, which runs through Callaway County. The land where New Haven Church and Cemetery was located sold and bulldozed in the 1950s, Gordon said, and a dance hall built on the property.

"A recent owner discovered this stuff on the back edge of his lot," he said. "It's this pile of rubble that used to be tombstones and you cane make out some of the inscriptions. This was something that none of us knew about and we hadn't heard of it."

Through his research, along with some done by the New Bloomfield Historical Society and the family that discovered Jefferson's tombstone, Gordon said, they now have a good idea of where his stone should be.

However, due to the condition of the New Haven cemetery, namely it not really existing anymore, he said, it's unclear whether Jefferson's tombstone can be united with his wife and brother.

"It's just been a fascinating discovery," he said.

This is one example of the kind of work done at the historical research center. Gordon said he's also done research into properties and people around Callaway County.

"There's a rich history," he said. "What we try not to do, though, in the historical society is be too Fulton centric, because that's easy for all of us to do. We try to look for opportunities to pull in information from the county."

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