Friday, January 22, 2010

Grave Sightings

In the summer of 1980 my mother and I took a genealogy trip to hunt for our Cole and Hager lines. We traveled through Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, the very states where our ancestors thrived from the 1800s to the present.

One stop in Carrollton, Georgia was particularly memorable. Mom and I were discouraged because we had searched an abundance of cemeteries for my fourth great grandparents, Jeremiah and Charlotte Martin Cole, but had never found them. We knew they had lived somewhere in Carrollton, and one morning we set out in our rental car to a remote part of community to see if we had missed other cemeteries. About four miles north of town, along Highway 113, we stopped and scoured another cemetery, but, again, came away without finding anything.

And then we spotted a small country store with all the flavor of the backwoods nearby. A man was sitting in a rocking chair on the long porch, and I had to laugh. The sight reminded me of a scene from Mayberry RFD. I was pregnant and ailing with morning sickness, so I stayed in the car while Mom got out to see if the man knew of any Coles buried in the area. He pointed her down the road and gave her some landmarks that led the way to a local’s home and backyard.

When we arrived no one answered the door. We didn’t want to invade the people’s privacy and walk their property without permission, but we desperately wanted to see who was buried behind the house. Down the road several children were playing ball, so we went to talk with them. One of the older boys, Jerry, was quite friendly and assured us the children went back there all the time. He offered to guide us to the cemetery with the admonition to check our “breeches for ticks” when we came out again.

He led us through knee and waist-high grass to a grouping of graves. As I tread through the underbrush, I was mortified, fearing a snake would slither out from beneath a rock at any moment. The cemetery was in poor condition, many markers were broken in half and lying in the dirt. Parts of the ground had sunken in, and it was difficult to see what lay under the carpet of weeds. But in the midst of our examination, we found our treasure: Jeremiah and Charlotte’s graves.

Mom and I could hardly contain our excitement. We chalked the worn stones and took photos of the ancient markers. We found other members of the family nearby too. We floated out of the cemetery that day, and, luckily, there were no snakes to surprise us or ticks to infest our breeches.

Later we discovered the cemetery had been part of the old Primitive Baptist Church where Jeremiah’s family attended. Someone had even documented and printed a list of the graves found in that cemetery. It wasn’t until recent years that a preservation association went in and cleaned up the grounds after a feisty battle with the home owners to assure others could access the cemetery. I will always remember our day in Carrollton, Georgia. It was the day we discovered Jeremiah and Charlotte Cole actually lived and breathed in that part of Georgia.