In 1972, Mary Culver Blood, then 24, began searching for her great-great-grandfather.
Armed with the knowledge that his name was Thomas Jefferson Toms and that he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Louisiana woman visited courthouses and cemeteries, read microfilm and toured places he could have been during the war.
At home, she carefully perused genealogy forums.
“I remember being 8 or 9 years old and walking with my grandfather, who was Thomas Jefferson Toms’ grandson, and asking him about our family,” Blood said. “It’s always been something of interest to me, ever since I can remember.”
In 2003, after more than 30 years of fruitless searching, her quest came to an end in Thomson.
Though she had few leads, Blood had planned a trip to Georgia in January 2003 to search for her great-great-grandfather. Her family has roots in east-central Georgia – Thomas Jefferson Toms’ grandparents were married in Columbia County, and his oldest sister was born in Lincoln County.
On the eve of Blood’s visit, she checked the online genealogy forums one more time, more out of habit than the expectation of a sudden revelation as to the whereabouts of her long-lost relation. To her great surprise, a post, written by James Malone, had been added earlier that very day to the Toms Family Genealogy Forum.
“Though there are many local Confederate veterans buried in the city cemetery there is also a small section of five graves belonging to soldiers who died in Thomson during the war far from their home and loved ones,” it reads.
“Is anyone looking for these guys [?] Hope this will help,” wrote Malone, a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.
In the Thomson Memorial Cemetery, five Confederate soldiers are buried in a row. The cryptic headstones mark the graves of Wm Daniels NC Reg, Hill, E.T. Thornton Ala Reg, T.W. Toms Waco Parish LA and Unknown.
As far as Blood knows, she was the first to find a loved one among the graves.
“We were so astonished, to think we’ve been working on this for so long and spent more than 30 years looking for him,” she said.
She believes Thomas Jefferson Toms lies under the headstone labeled “T.W. Toms, Waco Parish, La., Died Oct. 12 1864.”
Blood has a simple explanation for the conflicting middle initials and the fact that Waco Parish never existed. She said the J’s were incorrectly transcribed as W’s, meaning the grave actually marks the final resting place of T.J. Toms of Jackson Parish, La.
“That’s what convinced me,” said Blood’s sister, Nelda Culver, of Queen City, Texas. “Waco Parish doesn’t exist, so you know that’s wrong.”
Blood has had a copy of Toms’ Civil War record for years, but various documents and a widely accepted family story threw her off the trail.
According to his widow’s pension application, a severe case of the measles took his life in a Tennessee hospital in August 1864.
Family legend provides a more scandalous explanation for his disappearance – that a sickly Toms was nursed back to health by a woman in Arkansas City, Ark., and he remained with her after recuperating.
“His wife and his 2-year-old and 4-year-old children spent their entire lives never knowing what happened to him,” Blood said.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Blood made another trip to Thomson from her home in Jonesboro, La. She was accompanied by her granddaughter, Heather Hall, and Culver.
Their original intention was to visit Atlanta and conduct further research into their family history, but the archives were closed for the holiday. Instead, they traveled to Thomson to place rocks and flowers around Toms’ headstone – a correct, updated version provided by Keith Beggs of Beggs Funeral Home.
According to Malone’s post on the genealogy forum, the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy cared for the five-grave plot for many years.
“We appreciate the people of Thomson taking care of the grave these 100 years,” Blood said. “If they hadn’t taken care of these graves, I never would’ve known the truth.”
The headstone lists the highlights and important people in Toms’ life.
The 28 years of Toms’ life and more than 30 years of Blood’s life spent searching are summarized in two lines etched in the gravestone – “He was an Honorable Man, Faithful Husband, Loving Father.”