The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mysteries of the Past

Pine Creek Cemetery in Floyd, Image by L. Shelor

Genealogy has been an interest of mine since I was quite young, because of the many family stories I heard over and over since childhood. Thanks to the Internet I have met many relatives that I otherwise probably would never have known. One of these relatives is a cousin named Barb, who came all the way from Wisconsin several years ago to visit when we 'met' on the Internet. We toured the family sites and she promised to come back. In the meantime, genealogy on the Internet boomed, with sites like USGenWeb providing easier access to information about family trees everywhere. Thanks to membership in the Floyd County genealogy mailing list, there is a yearly gathering of descendants of Floyd County citizens that meets every year.

Barb has done some amazing work on the County of Floyd in Virginia and has done studies of the census information available as well as transcriptions of many documents about Floyd County. Much of her work has been posted to the Internet through USGenWeb and it's fascinating, and useful, to prowl through the pages.

Divining graves, image by L. Shelor

In spite of how interesting it is to get on the computer and try to figure out questions about our ancestors, it's even more interesting to go out and visit historical sites in the area. A branch of the Shelor family has developed land connected with an iron smelting furnace into a campground. Although the standing structure is not associated with the family, county records and family history do reveal that Daniel Shelor, the ancestor that came to Floyd County did work with iron ores there. Barb and I had already investigated that site, so we headed to Pine Creek Cemetery, where many of our ancestors are buried. We had lunch on the crumbling steps of the old church, looking out at the weather beaten tables where the congregation once held dinners and at a platform that might have been used for revivals. Barb was here for a reunion of the Floyd County genealogy list and they had some very interesting projects, apparently.

I'm not sure anyone is going to believe this, but I swear it works. At their meeting someone showed the group how to "divine" graves. This works like "witching" water, as people call it here. You take two wires and hold them loosely in your hands and walk across the graves. If the buried person is female the wires cross and if the person was male they spring apart. We tried it at the cemetery and it really does work. I looked at the stones while Barb walked across them and she was right every time, even when I had to get down and peer closely at the stone to determine the name. No way she could have known. I tried it but it didn't work for me. I can't witch water, either, but I know lots of people that can find water with copper rods or a certain type of forked stick.

Our main interest was in an ancestor of Barb's. His wife is buried at Pine Creek but there is no record of where he is buried. Barb has an idea that Daniel, called Daniel Jr. to distinguish him from his father, is buried at Pine Creek as well. We searched for the wife's stone but couldn't find it so we headed back to the hotel to look at some other information Barb had. We found a picture of the stone so we went BACK to Pine Creek, just as the clouds opened up. We got drenched but found the wife's stone. There is a plain fieldstone marked grave beside hers and Barb "witched" it and found that this one is male. We think that Daniel Jr. might be there but really can't prove it unless we can find some other record. The rest of the family that lived in the area is right there.

A stop for a visit with another cousin lasted for quite awhile as we discussed common ancestors, Barb's projects, the house filled with family history where this cousin lives, and the future of all our genealogy projects. Then we headed back to Floyd for a much-needed dinner at the Blue Ridge. Finally we headed home to tend to bunny chores and say our farewells.

My main interest in genealogy is the story. It's interesting to know who married who and what children they had, but I'm far more involved in trying to find out about the lives of the people. How they lived, what they did, their troubles and joys. I'm particularly interested in the women of the family and there is much less information about them. Often we don't even have a maiden name for women who married into the family in the early years. Surrounded by story as I am here in these mountains, it surprises me how little we know about some people in our backgrounds. But as time goes on and determined researchers like Barb uncover the mysteries, these people are revealed in all their human strengths and frailty.

This article was originally posted June 30, 2005,
At the Top of Squirrel Spur in a slightly different form.

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  • At Sunday, 19 March, 2006, Blogger The MacBean Gene said…

    Why is it the long comments always get deleted? Once again.
    The interest in an ancestor who settled in the Wythville area in the late eighteenth century is what brought us to here.
    Funny you should mention the devining of graves. When our friend Randy, who has the Gallery at Orchard Gap, and I were in Becky's the other day we were talking to Ben Harris (I think I remembered his name correctly, he's the unofficial mayor of Meadows of Dan ever since poor Tom was struck by the car) and he was telling how a friend of his had devined the unmarked graves in the slave Meadow between the church and the Parkway. I've thought the slave Meadow would be a good blog subject ever since I heard about it some time ago. You know more about the history of Meadows than I, why don't you do it. Now your taking requests. :) I'm out of town till Friday so it can wait.

  • At Sunday, 19 March, 2006, Blogger Leslie Shelor said…

    The slave cemetery is a great idea! I do know a bit about it, although some of it is heresay. Still, it's a fascinating subject. I'll get to work on that. And yes, Ben Harris is who you mean; we used to call him "Ben Junior".

  • At Monday, 20 March, 2006, Blogger D L Ennis said…

    This is very interesting always!


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