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East Texas Research Center (Winning Essay)

When I was in ninth grade, I went on a family trip to New Orleans and visited St. Louis Cemetery 1. I was fascinated by the architecture, the history, and the simultaneous eeriness and peacefulness of the cemetery. Since then I have studied cemeteries in graduate school and that is how I was introduced to the Cason-Monk Funeral Home logbooks. The logs are not only records of a business, but also a prequel to my own studies of how the individuals came to be in the cemetery.

Like gravestones, the logbooks list details about the deceased, including their name and birthdays, but unlike most stones, the logs sometimes also list the cause of death, family members, race, religion, burial location, and the costs of the funeral. This gives information about the individual's life as well as what life and death were like in days passed. The cause of death was a surprising category. Though many records that I reviewed were from the twentieth century, it was stunning how common childhood death, death during childbirth, and trampling by horses remained.

Though Nacogdoches remains a small, rural town, it claims to be the oldest in the state, so it is difficult to imagine such a rough, Wild West-type atmosphere in a town that had been around for one hundred-plus years.

What fascinated me the most is that although a cemetery and date may be listed in the log, that did not necessarily mean that the individual was interred there at that particular time. Weather events such as floods meant that the chosen cemetery may have been inaccessible to the funeral procession, while freezing or drought conditions may have prevented undertakers from being able to dig the grave as soon as planned. This explains why in my study of gravestones, some individuals are buried away from their family's plot. The rest of the details such as religion, race, and family names give more of an identity to the individuals. This information is helpful because in working with gravestones these details are usually only evidenced through the location in the cemetery, iconography, and epitaphs, if at all.

My work with the Cason-Monk logbooks has opened a new and unexpected wealth of information about the lives and deaths of the citizens of Nacogdoches, information that I will be able to use in my thesis to teach about life in Nacogdoches through death.

—MISTY HURLEY