Seeking Cemeteries Without Tombstones

Many people today, assume that a cemetery in rural Virginia without tombstones must be a slave cemetery. But this is a misunderstanding. Most people could barely afford to feed their families and pay their mortgages. The cost of a tombstone would not even be a priority. It was not considered a practical use of money, which was scarce. At first glance, it might seem impossible to learn anything from field stones. Newer tools such as mapping on satellite images and adding GPS coordinates of cemeteries to my map have helped me learn much more about the people and their community. The majority of my ancestors in Mecklenburg County, Virginia did not have tombstones. Burials at churches (or with tombstones) did not happen for most of the people I know about there, before World War I. Tombstones were not very common in this area until after World War II when the economy started improving. Tombstones were also often put up much later by descendants, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Daughters of the Revolution. I talked to Stephen Lambert Jr and Sr in August 2004 about the cemetery with Nellie Brooks and Frederick Jones. Lambert descendants knew which burial plot was Nellie’s and which was Frederick’s because of a drawing of the cemetery that used to be kept in the Family Bible. The tombstones were placed there about the early 1960’s, approximately 145 years after Frederick died.

I printed every tombstone picture I took on my earliest visits and put it in a photo album. Each time I visited, I showed my book to people and asked questions about the person that tombstone memorialized. Some relatives didn’t know a headstones existed until they saw my book. When they last saw the cemetery as a young child, it was just field stones. Each visit to Mecklenburg, I asked everyone if they knew about family cemeteries. I also visited whatever cemeteries I could find marked on 1960’s USGS topographical maps. I have discovered many long forgotten cemeteries with a lot of help from people who live there.

The maroon colored upside down letter “T” is the symbol I use on my map for cemeteries. I thought the symbol looked closest to an upright tombstone. The churches are a marked by a cross, the same color as the tombstone pins. Most of the cemeteries I’ve visited are not visible from the road. Many cemeteries are in areas that haven’t been farmed for at least 20 years, so there are usually briars, vines, small trees and brush to get through. I visit Mecklenburg more frequently in the winter to look for cemeteries.

The summer of 2019, I went to a cemetery close to old Robert Joyce, Kidd and Cannon lands. I took a picture with GPS coordinates, then later typed those coordinates into the map, and saw that this cemetery is on land which used to belong to Samuel McKinney and his wife Elizabeth Newman. I have no idea who is actually buried here, and I don’t know anyone who can tell me any old family stories about this land. But I can theorize, that it is highly likely the people who owned the land were buried on their land at this time. There were fence posts and a fence still visible in some places.

The friends that showed me this cemetery estimate this cemetery has about 45 graves. Some areas we could see head and foot markers for 6 burials in a row. There were rocks (field stones) marking head and foot areas. Some land depressions. No names or carved information anywhere.

Two field stones

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