About 18 years ago I first visited the cemetery at Red Apple, Alabama. For those of you that don’t know, Red Apple is a tiny dot on the map about five miles or so from Boaz in North Alabama. At that time, I had no idea that it would take me so long to locate the final resting place of my paternal third great-grandfather, Jesse J. Bean.
At the time of my first visit, I had just started breaking the ice in genealogy. My grandfather had taken me there to show me some Bean family graves. I don’t think even he knew how many Beans were actually buried there.
Over time, as I gathered more and more information on the Bean family line, I made my way back in time one generation after another until I hit a wall. That wall was named Jesse J. Bean or J. J. Bean as he sometimes signed his name. Way back in 1991, all my grandfather could tell me was that his great grandfather was known as “Big Jess.” Not much to go on years later when most of those who could remember anything about Jesse had passed on as well.
Originally, all I knew is that Jesse was the father of John L. Bean, my grandfather’s grandfather. He died in 1923, so no one living remembered what he was like, either how tall he was or the color of his hair. The most I could gather from family oral history was that he was most likely illegitimate and that his father was perhaps Cherokee. Other stories stated that he was raised by his “old grandma.” All in all, he was a mysterious character out of the mists of time.
After doing several years worth of research, I was able to piece together most of the facts of Jesse’s life – where he lived, how many children he had, and the number of times he was married. Unfortunately, I was missing a couple of key pieces of information in my growing timeline – the first twenty years of his life, his parentage, and his burial place. Last Friday, with the help of my Dad and a day trip to Etowah County, we were finally able to locate Jesse.
It seems Jesse had been at Red Apple all along. We had walked this cemetery multiple times hoping to stumble upon a clue, never once seeing a small group of old graves near the front of the cemetery. Last Friday, as my Dad climbed out of the car, he walked right to these graves as if being called. Here we found Martha, Jesse’s wife, two of his children – Eli Jack and Nancy Idella, as well as two grandsons. All of these members of the family had a marked grave, all but Jesse. For Jesse all that existed was an unmarked rock sticking out of the cold ground. There was no sign that his name had ever been carved.
Unfortunately I still don’t have the other missing pieces of the puzzle, namely his parentage, but I have theories…more to come later…