Images Speak: I’m looking for Helena Berryman’s Grave

by Deborah Burkett

I’m continually amazed at the power of the Internet. When you combine that with the desire of descendants wanting to know more about their family history, action is soon taken.

Often family members drive great distances, seeking answers. In this case, both the power of the Internet and the desire to know more came into play.

Months ago, I received an email from Pegi Sanders requesting a copy of my latest book. She told me that after Googling her third great-grandmother’s name, in the hopes of finding more information, my name came up.
Helena Dill Berryman is the very first woman featured in my East Texas Piney Woods Spunky Women 1800s to 1950s. She’s believed to be the first child born of Anglo parents in Spanish Texas. Helena was born in the family home on North Street, near the Old Stone Fort, in Nacogdoches, Sept 8, 1804.

At the time, Nacogdoches was ruled by Spain. The Dill family also had a home in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where in 1824; Miss Helena Dill met Capt. Henry Berryman, a Virginian, at an Officers’ Ball. The couple fell in love and married.
Soon Helena’s descendant (Pegi) and I were talking on the phone.
“I’m looking for Helena Berryman’s grave and the old home place, will you help me?” asked Ms. Sanders.
She and a friend were going to be in Alto and wondered if we could meet. I agreed. When I learned they were driving in from out of state and their time in Alto would be limited to one afternoon; I realized time was of the essence.

I immediately called Virginia Singletary, Director of the Alto Public Library or as I like to call her, “the Queen of all things historical”. I too had wanted to see Helena’s grave and Virginia had told me she’d take me there someday.

So plans were made and as Pegi drove into town on a Sunday afternoon, Virginia and I were waiting for her at the library.

Pegi Sanders had certainly done her homework. She had a huge notebook of genealogical records, old photos and documents. One document contained the following: Georgiana Murdock Berryman Dishman (b. 1835- d.1922) widow of James Ewing Dishman and daughter of Helena Dill and Capt. Henry Berryman. Georgiana had lived just down the road from Forest Hill Planation--built by her father in 1847.
Henry Berryman cleared the land for a cattle ranch and home--a large two-story log house. He named it Forest Hill because of the dense forest in the area and the log home was ‘built over stumps of the great pines felled for the house’...”

The document also noted that Georgiana was the sister of Newton Monroe Berryman and Henry Waters Berryman. And that Georgiana’s home was on the right (when facing their parents’ home at Forest Hill) and Newton had his own home on the left side of Forest Hill and lived with his family. The third child, Henry, made his home at Forest Hill (with his family) and also with his widowed mother, Helena…he eventually inherited the property (Forest Hill).

Georgiana’s husband died of illness in Monroe, Louisiana, during the Civil War and she was left with small children to care for. In 1879, she moved to Kaufman County. Her brother Newton also moved to that area. Their mother, Helena, had deeded them acreage (over 800 acres each) in Kaufman County–these deeds are dated 1881. Georgiana lived on the land in Kaufman County till she died in 1922. She’s buried in the Old Kaufman Cemetery. .

Yes, thanks to Virginia Singletary, Pegi did get to visit Helena’s grave and home place and so did I.

The family burial site is located behind old Forest Hill and the graves are being well kept. There’s a chain-link fence surrounding the cemetery. Since 1969, the state of Texas, the Historical Survey Committee and the Cherokee County Historical Commission have placed several historical markers there—recognizing the contributions made by this family. .
If you have additional information on the Berryman family, or want to suggest a topic for one of my future columns, please contact me at (903) 752-7850 or