Sunday, September 09, 2012

Update: Henderson family cemetery; Jacksonville, North Carolina

  Here is a link to some images of the Henderson Cemetery preservation project, as of September 5, 2012:

                      Henderson Cemetery preservation project images

Locating an unmarked grave_ Part II

    In Part I, I gave some examples of the process in clearing and searching for possible unmarked graves within an area of a cemetery that had been encrouched by wild foliage and brush.  In Part II, I will be discussing a more detailed aspect of finding an unmarked grave--searching for artifacts and other signs of possible graves.

Front area of Petteway Family Cemetery before removal of foilage and brush{Review Part I of this post}

     In the front area of the Petteway cemetery is a span of property that is separated from the original early 20th Century railroad tracks and the cemetery as it is seen today.  The car path leading to the cemetery, today,  separates this piece of property and the cemetery.  Sometime, ca. 1970s the land developer "dug a ditch," to ensure loggers would not encrouch upon the cemetery. 

   The Elder of the family, Dalton Odell, Grandson of Former Slaves George and Cecilia Petteway was born in 1925.  His earliest memories of the cemetery starts when he was around ten years old.  The cemetery has been in use since 1888, if not sooner.  How many individuals were buried in the cemetery prior to 1925.  Since at least the 1950s the area in front of the cemetery has never been cared for by the family.  Is this area, between the railroad tracks and the known cemetery empty of graves?

   The only true way of knowing if there are unmarked graves within this particular area of the cemetery is to clear out all of the excess brush and debris.  Under some eight inches of mulch and compost there may be a fallen headstone or other form of grave markers that are within this area.  Special care is needed to identify a metal pipe or large stone as a grave markers or just, discarded.

   In older times, it was not uncommon for African Americans to use pottery, dishware, tools, money or, other items to identify the location of a grave.  Sea Shells is another tradition that is carried on today.  The larger the shell, the more respected the individual was to the family.  One grave located in the Blackwell cemetery has very large sea shells that cover the individual's grave from front to back.  Pvt. James Blackwell is the only known Spanish American War African American Veteren within Onslow County.

   If no unmarked graves are confirmed then, Odell Petteway will remove the majority of small trees to make a parking space for visitors.  At this time, there is only the pathway to the cemetery that has been used for parking.  Many Elders have to walk a long distance to visit the cemetery.  The lack of parking has always been an issue for the Petteway family, especially during a funeral where dozens of cars are used to transport family members to the cemetery.

In either case, as a newly found piece of the Petteway cemetery being rediscovered or, as a much needed parking area for the cemetery, this particular area will be put to good use.  But, before anything can be done, the entire area needs to be carefully and properly cleared, using only hand tools.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Reasons For Sunken Grave Headstones

     One of the most challenging aspects in the preservation of old cemeteries is the need to identify "unmarked" graves.  The term unmarked refers to a grave where the headstone or, any other form of identification, is missing. 

       Sometimes, however, the marker is where it is suppose to be, except it can not be seen.  Broken, fallen or even, sunken may be the reason.  Another explaination, one less thought of, is the accumulation of debris, mulch and compost.

 Broken headstone base. 
Notice the broken metal rods that pertrude from the center of the stone. 
The grove is where the actual headstone rests.

    In the two images below, note the lettering at the base of each visible headstone.  The remaining writing is under the surface.  There are two main reasons for this:  The stone, due to soften ground from rain saturation, sank into the ground.  The second cause is much more reasonable. 

   When a cemetery is left unattended, in this case for over thirty years, fallen debris, leaves and other material accumulate around the stone.  Over time, these things decay and become mulch, also known as compost.  Each yearly amount of mulch adds onto the previous amount. 

  When cemetery preservation work is first started, many headstones appear to have sunken into the ground when in reality, the ground rises up and over the headstone.

Mulch accomulation around two headstones which hides scripture
and other vital information such as, birth and death dates.

     In the case of this particular cemetery there is not less then five inches of mulch laying on top of the "original" ground surface.   Other areas of this cemetery, based on the amount of foliage decay, there is in excess of twelve inches of mulch surrounding or, covering grave headstones. 

    Image a surface grave marker, the ones that lay flat on the ground.  Now, imagine having thirty or, more, years of  mulch debris, covering the grave.

   Cemetery preservation is not a quick process.   Time, research and getting your fingernails dirty is a vital part of the work.

Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to review this post.