My Grandpa Verner Price lived to be 94 years old. Even into old age he loved to get out and ginseng hunt in the mountains around his farm.
I was walking with him one day when he stopped and pointed at the ground and said, “There’s a baby buried there.” He could do that. He could walk all over those hills near his farm and point out where he remembered people being buried. There were never any markers though sometimes you could still see a low place in the ground.
In the early days the graves were up on hills which are where a lot of the settlers put their homes up away from low land flooding. When someone in the family died they were buried on the family property usually with just a wooden marker. It never occurred to them that someday the farm would pass out of the family and the woods and briars would take the land back leaving the grave to disappear.
Tombstones often provide valuable information in naming the person buried there along with their dates of birth and death. Often, they will be beside other family members and if it’s in a church graveyard you can also gather what faith they were and where they might have attended services.
In the 1935 the Works Progress Administration was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of the projects carried out in N.C. was the surveying and recording of tombstone inscriptions by WPA workers under direction of the North Carolina Historical Commission. The project began in 1936 and continued until 1939 when it was terminated as a Federal project and continued on at the State level.
By 1941 the WPA Cemetery Surveys covered approximately 8,000 cemeteries and over 268,000 tombstones transcribed. These records would be invaluable for researchers as within just a few years the condition of some of these old tombstones had made them unreadable. The Daughter s of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the American Revolution also become involved in cleaning up and surveying cemeteries to honor those who served our country.
In Iredell County in 1971 the Historical Room Committee of the Prospect Presbyterian Church published, “Prospect Presbyterian Church, Mooresville, North Carolina, Cemetery Directory, 1803-1970” listing the graves in their church cemetery. Rubie Ross Queen published a compilation of local cemetery records in a project of the Iredell County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. Her five-volume work was called, “Family and Church Cemetery Records in Iredell County, N.C. 1753-1975: Being an Alphabetical Identification of the Grave Plots in Each Cemetery with a Brief History of Many of the Churches and Directions for Locating the Sites.” Mrs. Queen’s was a group project with many clubs and volunteers working to survey and gather the information which was published in 1976.
In 1990 the Iredell County Genealogical Society published Mildred J. Miller’s “Time Is, Time Was: Gravestone Art, Burial Customs, and History Iredell County, North Carolina.” This study of graveyard art and epitaphs also included listings for some of the rarer church and family cemeteries in Iredell County. Lois M.P. Schneider released a three-volume set of cemetery indexes in the early 90s. She published “Church and Family Cemeteries of Iredell County, N.C.”, “Older Church Cemeteries of Iredell County, N.C.”, and “Iredell County, N.C. Cemetery Records: Early Lutheran Churches.” She also published “Centre Presbyterian Church Cemetery” with Russell C. Black, Jr. Irene Clanton Black published “Hebron Baptist Church Cemetery Inscriptions and Obituaries, 1909-June 30, 1996: A Memorial” in 1996.
The last major survey of Iredell County Cemeteries was conducted by Russell C. Black Jr. and wife, Irene Clanton Black in the late 1990s. Their seven-volume series of books covered most of the cemeteries in Iredell County. Volume four also included 71 cemeteries listed under “Abandoned” which in most cases were family cemeteries. It should be noted that while Russell and Irene managed to survey most of the white cemeteries in Iredell County they did not survey the black cemeteries as they had originally intended to do. The couple simply felt burnt out from the work they had already done and lacked the connections needed to find and survey the black church and family cemeteries. It would be wonderful if every black church in Iredell County could survey their cemetery and then place the results at the library.
Another source for cemetery information is on the Internet at www.findagrave.com. This is an ongoing online cemetery survey being carried out around the world by researchers who not only inventory cemeteries, but often take and display pictures of the actual graves.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “A Wealth of local cemetery records” on Dec. 24, 2013