George Washington McMurry: Distinctive Grave Marker at the Cemetery

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is At the Cemetery.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


I grew up visiting Ogden Cemetery — the burial place of many of my family members — often. It was just down the hill from my grandparents’ home, and I sometimes went with my dad to place flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day. I even did a special school project on gravestone rubbings in sixth grade.

George Washington McMurry Grave Marker – Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana
(photo by Ron Manley)

From a young age, I was always enamored by my great-grandfather’s grave — probably because the marker was so distinctive and easy to identify. It was located under a cedar tree near the curve in the gravel road, and it was shaped like a tree trunk!

Now that I’m a genealogist, I know much more about these “tree trunk” grave markers issued by the Woodmen of the World. I also know more about my great-grandfather George Washington McMurry, father of my grandmother Ethel. And even though the cedar tree was removed several years ago, I can still find this grave marker easily, a memory ingrained from childhood.


George Washington McMurry was born December 10, 1888, in Gaar’s Mill, Winn Parish, Louisiana.¹ He was the youngest of three sons born to John McMurry and Mary Smart.²

George experienced the loss of his parents at a young age. His mother Mary died sometime before 1900,³ when George was 11 years old or younger. His father John died in 1908,⁴ when George was age 19. John’s death probably led to his three sons moving from Gaar’s Mill to Franklin Parish. By the 1910 census, George and oldest brother Robert were working as hired hands for different families in Ward 7 of Franklin Parish.⁵ Middle brother James was renting a farm with his wife and family in Ward 8, Liddieville.⁶

George married Lula McKaskle on December 27, 1912, in Franklin Parish.⁷ They soon welcomed three children: Morgan in 1914, Ethel (my grandmother) in 1916, and John in 1918.⁸ George worked as a farmer and was employed by Mrs. Cora Buie of Fort Necessity.⁹ By the 1920 census, George and his family were living on a rented farm in Ward 8, Liddieville, Franklin Parish.¹⁰ The family appears two households away from Andrew Johnston and his wife Martille, who was Lula’s sister.¹¹ Andrew owned the property near the present-day address of 240 Dilly Road, Winnsboro; therefore, George and his family must have lived nearby.¹²

George died November 24, 1920, after a four-day illness with pneumonia.¹³ He was just 32 years old.

But George’s grave marker tells us another important fact about him: he was a member of the Woodmen of the World. For some reason, George decided to purchase life insurance from this fraternal benefit society. Was it a financial stretch for a rural farmer? Maybe. But because he had a Woodmen policy with tombstone rider, his policy paid for his grave marker.¹⁴ Woodman tombstones are very distinctive and were constructed in the shape of a tree stump to symbolize a life cut short¹⁵ — definitely true for young George.

The policyholder or his family were allowed to select the tombstone design and make some customizations, which were then carved by a local stonemason.¹⁶ The tombstones sometimes had symbolic features.¹⁷ George’s tombstone has four cut branches near the top. I’m unsure if these branches were part of the standard design or if they are meant to symbolize the wife and three children he left behind. However, George or his family likely selected the epitaph of “resting in hope of a glorious resurrection.”¹⁸

Unfortunately, this beautiful tombstone has some mistakes. George’s surname is misspelled as “McMurray” instead of “McMurry.” His date of death should read November 24, per his death certificate. And — maybe worst of all — it’s facing the wrong direction! The inscription is facing west instead of east.

But despite these problems, I’m thankful for this Woodmen of the World tombstone. Several of my ancestors were too poor to afford a grave marker, but George’s life insurance policy ensured his final resting place was marked. This young farmer may not have been able to afford a monument otherwise, and the remaining life insurance benefit likely cared for his widow and young children for several years until Lula remarried.


¹”U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6482/005152033_02851 : accessed 31 May 2019), card for George McMurray, serial no. 35, Precinct 9, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll 1684674.

²John as George’s father is named on 1900 census:

1900 U.S. census, Winn Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, enumeration district (ED) 119, sheet 3-B, dwelling 50, family 50, John McMurry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4119813_01131/20025011 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 586.

The only known record showing Mary’s maiden name is the Social Security application of George’s brother Robert:

Social Security Administration, “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry.com (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60901&h=9218984&ssrc=pt&tid=49495569&pid=20220265807&usePUB=true : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entry for Robert Frank McMurray, SS no. 435-28-0010.

³John is listed as widowed on the 1900 census:

1900 U.S. census, Winn Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, enumeration district (ED) 119, sheet 3-B, dwelling 50, family 50, John McMurry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4119813_01131/20025011 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 586.

⁴B. Jo Branch, “Harmony Grove Baptist Church Records; Winn Par., Louisiana”, extract, The USGenWeb Project: Louisiana Archives Index
of Winn Parish Records
(http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/winn/churches/hargrove-records.txt : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entries for J. Mack Murry, Robt McMurry, and James McMurry; citing List of Members Harmony Grove Baptist Church, Record Book 1 (1877-1912).

⁵ 1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, p. 105 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 51, sheet 28-B, dwelling 391, family 433, Robert F McMurry in the Thomas Ragan household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00681 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514.

1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, p. 94 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 51, sheet 16-A, dwelling 208, family 233, George McMurry in the Elmer E Wiggins household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00656 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514.

⁶1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 8, p. 130 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 52, sheet 18-A, dwelling 340, family 340, Jim Murry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00730 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514. 

⁷Franklin Parish, Louisiana, marriage certificate, unnumbered (1912), G.W. McMurry and Lula McKaskle; Franklin Parish Clerk of Court, Winnsboro.

⁸1920 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 8, p. 2-A, dwelling 27, family 27, George Murrie household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6061/4300967_00921 : accessed 31 May 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 612.

⁹”U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6482/005152033_02851 : accessed 31 May 2019), card for George McMurray, serial no. 35, Precinct 9, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll 1684674.

¹⁰1920 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 8, p. 2-A, dwelling 27, family 27, George Murrie household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6061/4300967_00921 : accessed 31 May 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 612.

¹¹1920 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 8, p. 2-A, dwelling 25, family 25, Andrew Johnston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6061/4300967_00921 : accessed 31 May 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 612.

¹²Location of Andrew Johnston home identified by author’s father, John Dewey Horne, who lived in the home as a child. Address estimated from Google Maps.

¹³“Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960,” database with images; FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QLHZ-BLDQ : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing Louisiana State Department of Health, death certificate 13374 (1920), George McMurray, Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.

¹⁴Joy Neighbors, A Grave Interest (http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2011/06/woodmen-of-world-and-tree-stone-grave.html : accessed 31 May 2019), “Woodmen of the World and the Tree Stone Grave Markers.”

¹⁵Angela Nelson, MNN Galleries: What Do Those Cemetery Symbols Mean? (https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/photos/meaning-cemetery-symbols/tree-trunk : accessed 31 May 2019), “Tree trunk.”

¹⁶Joy Neighbors, A Grave Interest (http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2011/06/woodmen-of-world-and-tree-stone-grave.html : accessed 31 May 2019), “Woodmen of the World and the Tree Stone Grave Markers.”

¹⁷Ibid.

¹⁸Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13324056/george-washington-mcmurray : accessed 31 May 2019), memorial 13324056, George Washington McMurray (1888-1920), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.

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