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 could not even be a priority and was not considered a practical use of money, which was scarce. Can you learn anything about a cemetery without any tombstones? At first glance, the answer might seem to be “no”. But I have discovered there are actually some helpful things that can be learned, especially with some newer technology things I’ve been trying with mapping and GPS. The majority of my ancestors in Mecklenburg County, Virginia did not have tombstones. Burials at churches (or with tombstones) did not really start for my family before World War I; often not that common until after World War II when the economy started improving. Tombstones were often put up much later by descendants, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Daughters of the Revolution. I talked to Stephen Lambert Jr & 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.
When I first started visiting Mecklenburg, in January 2003, I printed every tombstone picture I took and put it in a photo album. Of course I was teased about that. But I wanted the few stones I found to be in a book, so that each time I visited, I could show my book to people and ask questions; about the person, where they lived, who were they related to etc. Some pictures, relatives didn’t know a headstone had been put up until they saw my book. When they saw the cemetery as a young child, it was just field stones. Each visit to Mecklenburg, I’ve asked everyone if they knew about family cemeteries. I also visited whatever I could find marked on 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 a tombstone. The churches are a marked by a cross, same color if there’s a cemetery there. Each cemetery symbol on this screen shot above, I have personally visited and taken GPS coordinates; except for one, which we are still trying to find. That cemetery is marked based on an old phone interview I did, and notated on the map as an “estimate pin”. The cemetery next to the red letter “J” is where Frederick Jones & Nellie Brooks are buried. A “Jones cemetery”, and the person Nellie Jones Road is named after. None of these cemeteries are visible from the road. Many cemeteries are in areas that haven’t been farmed for at least 20 years, so there are often many briars, small trees and brush to get through. I visit Mecklenburg more frequently in the winter to look for cemeteries.
This is John B. Kidd’s lower plat, south of Nellie Jones Rd. I drew this plat onto my map, (see screen shot above) so that when I get GPS pins, I can see which property the cemetery used to belong to. This summer (2019), I went to a cemetery relatively close to old Robert Joyce, Kidd and Cannon lands. I took a picture with GPS coordinates (an app on my phone), typed those coordinates into the map, and saw that this cemetery is on land which John B. Kidd gave to his daughter Julia Kidd, who was married to Robert Massenburg Thomas. Does this cemetery date back earlier than when John B. Kidd owned it? Are John or Julia buried there? I have no idea, and I don’t know anyone who can tell me any old family stories about this land. There were fence posts and a fence still visible in some places. This cemetery was marked on the map above with a red “T” on it, for Thomas.
These are 2 GPS pictures I took of this cemetery with what we estimate to be about 45 graves. Some places we could see head and foot markers for 6 burials in a row. I only found this cemetery because someone knew about it, knew I was asking about cemeteries and took me to see it. There were rocks (field stones) marking head and foot areas. Some land depressions. No names or carved information anywhere.
What can a cemetery without tombstones tell us? If there was a family of 12 children, but only 3 burials, I know I haven’t found the whole family yet. If John B. Kidd had 7 parcels in this plat south of Nellie Jones Rd which he gave to his children, but I have only found cemeteries on 3 parcels (Julia, Arimenta & Frederick Jones was buried on what became Bartlette Kidd’s parcel) then I expect to find cemeteries on 4 other parcels. If I get a GPS coordinate and don’t know who used to live there pre-1900, then I start looking through deeds. If I go look up the deed of John and Julia, I might find mention of a cemetery. If I hear about a cemetery of field stones, I want to see if possibly any descendants added tombstones or heard anything. I have found mentions of cemeteries, in both deeds and chancery cases. Twice I’ve seen someone buried in the cemetery mentioned by name in the land record. One cemetery I’m trying to find mentions an acre lot for the cemetery in a deed, which is larger than any of the cemeteries I’ve visited so far. I have only heard reference to one slave cemetery, because the man’s mother showed him where it was, to protect it. That’s another cemetery I hope to visit soon. If you know of any cemeteries, whether marked or unmarked, please let me know.
**Site info: I have put a link to this post under the cemetery section near the top of the website. I will write posts to tell what I know about each cemetery I have visited, and include any charts I made to try to trace land history, family relationships or anything else relevant to each cemetery lot.
***If you are looking for cemeteries in Brunswick County Virginia, check out this site (also listed under sites I recommend): http://www.brunswickcemeteries.org/HTML/home.htm