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Old Family Tales

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society

Old family stories are not only fun, they enrich us and tell us about our ancestors and their lives back in the old days. If you have an old family story or biography that you would like to share (almost everyone has a either a character or a very interesting individual in their family tree!), please write it in your own words and email it to Sibyl and it will be placed on this page.

The story and photos on this page are wonderful and we thank Jeanene Van Zandt of Tennessee for giving us permission to post this part of her journey on this website. Keep up the good work, Jeanene!

Grave Hunting for Van Zandts

Submitted by: Jeanene Van Zandt of Tennessee


I have been grave hunting for the TN branch of the Van Zandt family for years.

My Late husband Townes Van Zandt always said that the Van Zandt's came to Texas from Tennessee and he would say they came from Franklin.

Isaac Van Zandt was such a showstopper that you were all worn out just learning about him! And then there were the Townes' on Townes' mother's side. Townes was her maiden name. They were no shrinking violets either and were some pretty amazing people!

I started working with Townes' favorite Aunt "Sudi" sometime after Will was born. She was the family genealogist and she knew where the goods were. We both shared the desire for the next generation to remember where they came from.

Almost every time Townes played a gig in Ft. Worth or Houston, we'd go see Aunt Sudi and take her to lunch and then she would take us History Hunting. Townes loved history. Especially American History. When Will and I were on the road with him all those years, crossing this country over and over again, he always made time for history. We'd stop at every historical marker, most of which he knew by heart. He'd been down that road before. We stopped at places like the "Greasy Grass" and he'd walk the grounds describing the whole battle in graphic detail. Will was too young to remember all this, which is too bad, but I loved it. He was such a kind and generous teacher. A regular walkin' encyclopedia.

One of the places Sudi would take us was this bookstore in Ft. Worth that she had an "in" with and we would get to go to the "back room" where the heavy stuff was. On one trip, they showed me a several volumes of books titled "Annual Report of the American Historical Association" from the dawn of the 1900's. I started looking at the index and it was like, "OH MY GOD! I HAVE to have these! They were the diplomatic correspondences during the annexation of Texas when Isaac Van Zandt was the first Diplomat to the United States of America for the Republic of Texas under President Sam Houston. These were letters being carted around on horseback, by boat, covered wagon. Letters between Isaac and men like Anson Jones, Daniel Webster & Sam Houston. Pretty fascinating stuff. That got me hooked.

So anyway, back to the graves.

I live pretty close to Franklin TN., which I always assumed was where Townes was referring to when he talked about the Tennessee clan. Then from the information I had gotten from Sudi, I knew that Jacob & Jacob Jr. and their wives were buried in Salem , TN. I couldn't find a Salem, TN but I live near Franklin, TN and there was a "Old Salem" highway. I thought HUMMM, and started going out on pretty days and knocking on old farmers doors asking about hidden gravesites they might know about and started hunting and trespassing. I found lots of forgotten families, but no Van Zandts. I mentioned my quest to my friend CJ, and she said, "You're talkin' about Franklin County. I have a friend that grew up there around Old Salem." I thought, O.K., wow. This is a zeroing in point. Not Franklin, the town. Franklin County. Salem would have been Salem to people 150 years ago, but to us, it would be "Old Salem". Ok, things are making sense.

About ten minutes later she called back and said that her friend has a sister who has a frame shop on the square in Winchester, about 5 miles from Old Salem. She knows everybody! She's waiting for you to call. Her name is Linda. So I call Linda. Turns out that Linda knows an 89-year-old guy named Haurice Van Zandt who knows where all the bodies are buried in these parts. It's 8:48 PM. Is it to late to call? He's pretty old. Probably in bed. Well! I'm callin'!

Ring, Ring... Sounds like his daughter. Hello. My name is Jeanene Van Zandt... and Linda at the frame shop gave me Mr. Van Zandt's number and said that he might be able to help me in finding the burial plot for some ancestors. Is he up. I hope I'm not disturbing him. Old man Haurice comes to the phone and again I have to explain myself and at long last, he says, "Yeah, I know where there's some Van Zandts. Don't know how you're gonna get in there though. It's awful growed up." I assured him I would wear my hiking boot, take my dogs, wear long sleeves,
carry a pistol... and pack a lunch.

I told him I would be coming and would it be all right to call him for directions when I did. He said that would be all right. I apologized for disturbing him and I hope I hadn't gotten him out of bed, but that I really appreciated his help. He sounded tired. He said he wasn't feeling very well. I apologized again and said goodbye, and then my first thought was, "This guy might not live through the night! I have to go tomorrow!"

O.K., This Is It! I know I've found them! Everything fits!

I get up early... around 9:45. I'd stoked Katie Belle up about going with me on this adventure and she was game. We'll stop at Hobby Lobby on our way and pick up some poster paper rolls and some charcoal and get some etchings. Come morning, she was sick and I was on my own. I packed some dry dog food, leashes and a long cable lead for them. I knew they'd have to be tied while I did my thing. Did the Hobby Lobby stop, got some coffee and I was on my way.

Linda had given me pretty good instructions, but I had to stop often to clarify. I never could find her Frame Shop and looked so hard for it when I got to Winchester that I worried about losing daylight, which is short in November in Tennessee. It gets dark by 5 o'clock, so I decided to head down the road to Old Salem and stop when I started to recognize Old Man Haurice's instructions.

Things look familiar. So I stop at the Maxwell General Store. "Can I have a BBQ sandwich, and a jar of picked eggs please? Oh, and do you know about any Van Zandts buried around here?" There was a younger woman holding down the fort but she said, "If the old lady that owned the store was here, she would know."

I went outside and crossing the 4-lane highway was this scrawny obviously dumped or neglected dog. She seemed so sweet. I gave her the dog food I had packed for my dogs and a pig ear for later and called old man Van Zandt. He instructed me to go down to old man Jones' Meat Market just down the road. He could show me where to go.

Inside the meat market, in the big glass room there are a couple of guys hacking up an side of beef with hatchets. I go to the side door and announced that Old Haurice Van Zandt had sent me and that he said ya'll would know where the Van Zandt's are buried and I was hopin' you could tell me. I'm a Van Zandt and I'm looking for our people. Old Man Jones said he would be glad to help, that not many folks knew where the place was.

We went out in the parking lot and he pointed across the road to some woods past a huge hay pasture. "You see that first patch of woods?" Yeah. "Then you see that big green pasture?" Yeah. "Then you see that next patch of woods on the other side of the pasture?" Yeah. "Well, you see that first line of trees?" Uh Huh. "See that one tree that's taller that all the rest?" Right. "Well, you go into the woods right there and you can't miss them. Don't know how you're gonna get back there though, it's pretty growd up back in there." "Hey, I said, I brought my clippers, I got my hiking boots on, got my dogs with me, wearing long sleeves, packin' a pistol for snakes... and I packed a lunch. I'll be fine. Thank you so much." "Well, if you don't find it, I'll take you back there on my 4 wheeler." "Thank you so much! I'm so excited!"

The highway was being worked on right in front of the entrance to the property and all traffic was being diverted and the flagman kept waving me to the left but I wanted to go right. So I stuck my head out of the window and hollered, "My people are buried back there! I gotta get through!" He hollered out to the guy in the dump truck blocking my path, "Move it! She's got people buried back there! She's gotta get through!"

I pulled my truck in as far as I could go and parked. I loaded up my poster paper roll, charcoal, my camera, my clippers, my pistol, my BBQ sandwich, my jar of pickled eggs and some pig ears for the dogs and headed out around the first patch of woods. As I rounded the back I came upon an old hippie in the pasture with his medal detector looking for civil war relics. He had his headphones on, so I let out an Ellie May Clampet whistle so I wouldn't surprise him.

Hello. Is this your land? He said a friend owned it and he had given him permission. I asked if he knew anything about graves in those woods over there. That I was a Van Zandt and I think our people might be back there. "Oh, yeah, there's Van Zandt's back there. Here, I'll walk you over and show you where to go into the woods."

The edge of the woods was pretty much a briar patch, so I tied my dogs to a tree and started clippin'. Once I was in, right away I see a burial plot with old stones. It too was covered in briars and I cleared a path in but there were no Van Zandts. I kept going and I started to realize that the whole hilltop was covered with graves. As I got deeper into the woods, the undergrowth started to clear pretty good and I looked around and saw several family plots.

In between the plots were what I suspected were slave graves. Most of them were just dips in the ground with a rock at the head. The groups of headstones were pretty much worn beyond reading anything on them. I was preparing myself for disappointment but I kept looking. Then in the middle of the hilltop was a large grouping of stones. I walked up to them and there it was. It jumped off the stone at me.

Wow! There's Jacob Jr., Isaac's dad, and there next to him was Isaac's mother. There's sister Elizabeth and probably her husband. They're all here!

I ran back to the edge of the wood to get my dogs, brought them to the spot and tied them close to me and started my work. Some small trees had fallen onto the stones. I moved them and cut whatever briars that were there and got out my charcoal and poster paper and started rubbing Jacob Sr.'s stone. The writing isn't showing up. Well, I'll get the shape of the stone and take a picture. I was going to Catherine's stone when I felt something hard under my feet.

I brushed away the leaves and found the memorial ground marker that some loving soul had put there so these people would not fade away. I rubbed that stone several times and had some trouble because the carvings were full of water which I tried to soak up with my hoodie.

I got some decent copies and took some pictures and then I just sat with them and my dogs wishing that Will, Katie Belle and JT could be here with me. I was wondering if some girl not yet born will be traipsing through the woods 170 years from now looking for my grave. Hoping that she too will have a burning desire for her kids to know where they came from.

Several hours had passed and the sun was headed down and I had forgotten to bring water, so it was time to go. I packed up my treasures and headed home. But, I guarantee you. I'll be back.

Jeanene Van Zandt
copyright 2006

Photo of Jacob Van Zandt and his wife Catherine Moon Van Zandt, Grandparents of Isaac Van Zandt, taken by Jeanene Van Zandt at Old Salem, Franklin County, Tennessee

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This page last updated 29 May 2007

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