Casey Family Association

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A Tribute to the Cop and the Cemetery Lady

This story has its beginning some seven years past. As stories go, this is not a long time, maybe this is why it is so unusual.

The Cemetery Lady, Mary Lea Burlison A lady had become enthralled with the new game called 'Alex Haley' or 'Pursuing Your Roots'. In her zeal to excel at this game she had developed the clever strategy of laminating information notes about Root Bearers, and attaching these note-cards to a flower. She would leave these flowers at the resting places of her Root Bearers. Her plan was that some other game player would come that way in search for their Root Bearers, find the note and fall prey to the trap. The traps were, on occasion, baited with a copy of a rare picture of the Root Bearer. This enticement was added because it is well documented that no worthy player of Pursuing Your Roots can pass by a picture of a treasured Root Bearer.

One summer day, the lady of this story, requested her faithful driver to take her to an unusually isolated location, the resting place of a number of her favorite Root Bearers. Her thinking was that this would be an especially fruitful place to play Pursuing Your Roots. On this day, she had prepared a very special bait for her trap, the treasured photo of a Civil War veteran whose Resting Place was at this location. The resting place was cleaned and prepared to receive the flower with its attached bait. Stepping back to view her efforts, she must have thought, no trap has been better conceived or baited.

She and her driver made the trip back to her home some 300 miles to the west. The days grew into weeks, the weeks into months and not even a single Pursuing Your Roots player fell prey to the trap so skillfully set on that far away mountain. As the time passed, the lady's time was filled with other events common to mothers, care givers, and game players. The remainder of this story must be the truth; no fiction writer could conceive such an ending.

It seems that another Pursuing Your Roots player, a Cop, did make his way to that far away mountain. Yes, the player took the bait, and as the phrase goes, he took it 'Hook, Line and Sinker'. Did he travel to his nearby home and call the lady? No, while that would have been a fitting ending to the game, the cop traveled back to his home; his home some 300 miles to the west. From his home, a mere one and one-half miles from the lady's, he called her upon his arrival. His opening question was, "Are you the lady that leaves notes on graves in Arkansas?" Her response, "Yes, I've done that, on occasion." "Well we have some common ancestors," he stated. From this point the familiar stories begin to flow. They each shared many of the same tales. The conversation went on and on, "Did you know?" "Yes, I've heard that." Following this happy time, other meetings would take place. Soon the discussion would develop that other 'cousins' must be located and share in these momentous findings. They drafted some assistance, spouses and siblings, and began to plan how this could take place. A Reunion was needed; they needed to know more about the 'Family'. Plans began to take shape; a site was located, a date was selected, letters were sent, and the wait began. Does anyone really care? Will they come? What will they say?

The day of the '93 Reunion in Norman, Oklahoma arrived, and so did some 90 'cousins'. They did care and they came. The brought 'Family' scrape books, picture albums, and other heirlooms. The day past quickly, those who came determined to form an organization that would be the center for family research and a repository for family history. The Casey Family Association sprang to life. The best part was saved for last. Many of those who came gathered at a local restaurant for dinner. During the meal, a number of the cousins shared family stories. The history of the Casey Family became a living panorama as we found ourselves in the caves in Boxley canyon warding off Bush Whackers and along the trail with Capt. C. C. Casey from Clarksville to Springfield during the Great Civil War. Many tears were shed as the evening came to a close and good byes were said. While parting was sad, there was great comfort in knowing the 'Clan' would again gather in Harrison, Arkansas in 1994.

During the time between Norman and Harrison; the Casey Family Association was incorporated and many plans formalized for the future. A Newsletter was published on a quarterly basis to keep the 'Clan' members up to date on the events as they transpired. The temporary officers functioned. Michael R. Casey as president directed activities that included a number of Board Meetings for the newly formed organization. Mary Lea Burlison provided the Cemetery Committee with excellent leadership, purchasing and placing the first replacement headstone.

As the 'Clan' gathered for the second reunion, Reunion '96 at Harrison, one thing became obvious, each reunion would reflect fallen Clansmen. This was brought to light in the realization there will be those that will not be at the next reunion that were at the last one. Some will be awaiting the Great Reunion when Christ comes to gather his own. This reflection makes the efforts of the primary subjects of this Tribute, The Cop and the Cemetery Lady, that much more important. It is often we hear the phrase, "I just wish that Grandmother Casey (you supply the name) could have seen this before she died." By starting when they did, many did get to share in the joys of the initial reunions.

The Harrison Reunion provided many great moments, Mr. Nagle sharing his experience of making the 50th reunion jump at Normandy was but one. The bus tour to Witts Springs, Moore, Walnut Grove Cemetery at Boxley and Jasper has proved to a very hard act to follow. At the Witts Springs Cemetery those on the tour were able to view the newly set headstone at the grave site of Nancy (Barnes) Wright that had been placed by the Cemetery Committee. It was evident that something great was happening. The CFA Membership adopted the organization's bylaws and approved the slate of officers proposed by the Nominating Committee. This included the election of Michael R. Casey as the first President of the newly formed organization. Mike appointed Mary Lea Burlison to be the Chairman of the Cemetery Committee. Liking the location of their roots, the membership selected Russellville for Reunion '96.

During the time between the '94 and the '96 reunions, Mike continued his vigilance of building a database, using Family Tree Maker, of the Abner Casey descendants. His communications with the CFA Membership and other interested individuals required more and more of his time. Yet many inquiries proved to be rare nuggets, helping with the placement of Casey ancestors into the every expanding database. This soon required an update to his computer system. Mary added the role of editor of the CFA Newsletter, the Casey Clan Tidings, to her task of locating and reporting on the condition of Casey gravesites. The newsletter grew to include 12 to 16 pages of family folklore, obituaries, queries, and CFA announcements. A highlight for the Casey Clan Tidings was the LDS Research Center requesting permission to add the newsletter to their Family History repository. Researchers who use the LDS Family Research Center will now have access to the CFA Newsletter as a resource. This event was viewed as a 'coming of age' happening.

The '96 Reunion in Russellville found the CFA Membership at one of the centers of past family activities during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Once again it was apparent that some of the empty chairs at these reunions would forever be so. This fact enforces the reason for reunions, "Fathers tell your sons…." The CFA Membership determined that it would be appropriate to provide a Membership Category (Provisional) for those who have not, as yet, determined their link to Abner Casey, the immigrant. Once again, the CFA Membership approved the slate of officers proposed by the Nominating Committee. To no one's surprise, this included the election of Michael R. Casey as President. Mike appointed Mary Lea Burlison to continue as Chairman of the Cemetery Committee and Newsletter Editor.

The time between the '96 and '98 reunions found many advances in the structure of the CFA. Foremost, the CFA gained a presence in CyberSpace. The Casey Family Association created its own Web site and the President and the Cemetery Lady both obtained e-mail service from local Internet Service Providers. Soon after this presence was established, queries began to come much more frequent. Letters from all parts of the USA as well as a number of foreign countries became common place. This access was the conduit for a number of new membership applications. Mike continued to respond to a number of requests for assistance from both CFA members and other interested parties. The Newsletter, under the guidance of the editor, grew and expanded to include the many Queries from CyberSpace as well as those using snail mail. The Board of Directors selected Tulsa as the site for Reunion '98.

The Tulsa site provided a number of apprehensions; Will anyone come to a metropolitan location? What will we do on the second day? As the reservations began to come in, slow at first, then a few more, it was evident that Something Great was about to happen! The day arrived and when it was time for the doors to open for registration only four were waiting. It was not long before the numbers swelled to a rather large crowd, by lunchtime well in excess of 180 Clan members had arrived. This truly was Something Great. The efforts of the Cop and the Cemetery Lady have made it so. The act of leaving of a note on an Arkansas mountaintop and the zeal of the two individuals who played the game of Pursuing Your Roots has come to this. Was it worth it? The long days and nights spent recording Family History and preparing the Casey Clan Tidings for print, and responding to inquiries from far and near, was it worth it! YOU BET YOUR LIFE IT WAS, just ask the 180 plus who came to Tulsa.

The CFA Membership owes a great TRIBUTE TO THE COP AND THE CEMETERY LADY. Will they acknowledge it? Yes, just for a moment, and then they will return to their efforts to make future reunions even bigger and better. That's the way it is when you truly PLAY THE GAME.

By Allan Burlison

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