If you read my posts, you know I’m writing my second novel, and you know I enjoy searching for forgotten graves. It’s what I do.
Last week, though my husband seldom accompanies me on my explorations, he decided to tag along since I would be searching in Turner County. He’d grown up in the area, yet had never heard of the overgrown cemetery I planned to explore.
Tucked inside my purse were directions I’d found online as we drove through downtown Ashburn. To be sure we were on the right path, my husband called his sister, a Turner County resident. Her husband confirmed we were on the right track. I chatted with enthusiasm as my husband drove the truck down a lovely dirt road not far from the interstate.
Henderson Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Turner County, is located in an overgrown wooded area surrounded by fields. A fence, topped with barbed-wire, surrounds three sides of the cemetery. I read that the farmer who owned some of the land bordering the cemetery had used a backhoe to push up dirt on one side, and in doing so, pushed forward and broke several of the headstones from the 1800s.
We had to park on a dirt road, jump a ditch, walk through high grass, and then cut our way through hanging limbs, broken branches, and oversize bushes to reach the cemetery. Once inside, a canopy of overgrowth protected us from the sun, hiding us from the outside world. Pine needles, leaves, and other dirt served as a mat beneath our feet. Gnats swarmed us.
I soon discovered spider webs connected tree limbs, and it was nearly impossible to explore the area without walking into silk spun between trees. Most webs sported a large spider surrounded by its dead victims, unfortunate insects. Spider webs stuck to my face and tangled in my hair, and I had no way of knowing if a spider was crawling on me. It was terrifying. Still, I was determined to search.
Several of my ancestors had led me to this place. I needed to find the area where they had been buried; I needed to touch their headstones. William Jackson Story, my 4th great uncle, born in 1827, and his wife, Susan Adeline Royal, born in 1829, were said to be buried in the neglected cemetery. Samuel Story, born in 1795, my 4th great grandfather and one of the pioneer families of Irwin County, later Worth County, and his mistress, Annie Brown, born in 1800, had buried an infant son in the peaceful area. Another 4th great uncle, M.T. Nipper, and his wife Mary E. Nipper had laid their twin infant sons to rest in that Turner County dirt.
Bees had built a hive in the cracks of a crumbling vault, and we stayed clear of it. Bees buzzed, coming and going, gathering in numbers, as though they new intruders were nearby, as though warning us to keep our distance.
If I’d been using my brain, I would have gone prepared to rake, clear the debris, and clean headstones. But I arrived with a camera and little else. Richard had a small tool of some sort and a walking stick, but those items weren’t enough. I needed gloves for my hands and a car broom so I could sweep dirt from the slabs. I should have brought some aluminum for the headstones I couldn’t read. By placing a thin sheet of aluminum foil against the stone, or by wrapping it around the stone, and brushing the area with a clean makeup brush, it is often possible read the words left impressed in the foil. But I arrived unprepared and unorganized.
In spite of my lack of planning, my husband and I discovered many headstones and slabs, most of those on my list. But I failed to find the grave of Samuel Story’s and Anna Brown’s infant son. With so many headstones broken and swallowed by the earth, it is possible the missing grave of Samuel Story’s son will never be found.
Pieces of history are lost to us every day. I love discovering the broken pieces before they are gone forever.