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Since the early 1990s, Buford Wilson has spent hours upon hours trudging through cemeteries, researching court records and obituaries in an attempt to discover his roots.
And with the help of the Grayson County Heritage Foundation, he has compiled the book “Those Who Sleep Here: Cemeteries of Galax, Virginia,” which lists all 16 Galax cemeteries and more than 6,000 people buried within the city limits.
“I didn’t even know who my grandparents were,” Wilson said of why he began the genealogical journey. “I realized how little I knew about my heritage.”
The Grayson County Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in June 2007, and committed to preserving local history. The foundation has about 102 members locally, nationally and internationally. Some, Wilson says, are quite knowledgeable of local history.
Wilson’s family is branched all over Galax and the Twin Counties. Since he began his research, he has learned the names of his grandparents and knows the family tree, as well of the roots of many others.
“When researching your family, and you don’t know who they are, it’s all interesting,” said Wilson, who found out that one of his ancestors was an early sheriff of Grayson County, and a representative for Grayson County in the state legislature.
He couldn’t even venture a guess at how many hours he spent compiling research on cemeteries. Just one cemetery could have taken months.
Many would get discouraged with the effort required. Wilson went from gravestone to gravestone, taking down each name. He visited The Gazette constantly to look up obituaries, and the court house for marriage, birth and death records.
“Buford spent hundreds and hundreds of hours doing this,” said Ginger Ballard, a member of the foundation who helped format the book. “And [the weather] was usually hot or cold.”
“I just got the satisfaction of doing it,” Wilson said. “And I picked up some information about my family I didn’t know about before.”
In researching for his own benefit, he never had an intention of compiling a book until he came across the Web site newrivernotes.com, a historical resource operated by historian, librarian, foundation member and author Jeff Weaver of Saltville.
Weaver’s site has more than 445 historical photos, cemetery listings and thousands of text files on local families and history.
Weaver said the Grayson County Historical Society started an effort to put a book together to list all Grayson cemeteries, but the plan fell apart. So, he listed online all of the information he had gathered himself.
“When I started New River Notes, I thought it would be a good idea to include cemetery information,” said Weaver. “Putting a book together seemed like the logical thing to do. I want to help folks understand their heritage.”
The Civil War buff has written many books about the war. Weaver said he became interested in finding out his past when a fatal disease killed off his father and grandparents. He wanted to know how they died. He also enjoyed learning about his ancestors in the Confederate army.
With Weaver’s listings, the two men put their heads together and Wilson began sending information on Galax and Grayson cemeteries, and Weaver provided the incentive to create a book. While many other localities have cemetery listing compiled, this is the first book for Galax.
“A lot of people are not able to go through cemeteries, but if it’s in a book like this, they don’t need to,” said Wilson. “In early years, you couldn’t find many books like this, but things have improved, like the Internet, and there are more books.”
As part of the challenge, some gravestones are without names and some burials contained enough depression in the ground to let him know someone was buried there. Wilson said he learned a lot by talking to people.
“Trying to figure where all the cemeteries are [is difficult],” said Weaver. “Some were destroyed.”
Wilson said it took him as much as a year to find the Larrowe family cemetery in a barnyard. Most early cemeteries sat on high spots.
A global positioning system can be used to find map coordinates to zero in on cemeteries.
And while some Galax cemeteries had only two or three people buried in them, the biggest is Felts Memorial Cemetery.
Volunteers such as Weaver, Wilson and Ballard are working to put out a book about Grayson County cemeteries. Weaver has put in a lot of time into researching those.
Although they wanted to put out a book of Grayson cemeteries first, they discovered there were more than 500 cemeteries in the county. They’ve covered just 125 so far.
Wilson said when they realized they weren’t ready to publish that book, they decided to cover and complete the cemetery listings in Galax instead.
Their goal is to get the Grayson County cemetery book completed in 2008.
The Galax book segregates cemeteries by rows and offers a cemetery map and index of every person named in the book. While most listings tell the name, years of birth and death and provide a snippet of brief information about the individual, some are left as unknown.
The foundation is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday and has four volunteer members on staff during those hours. Appointments are available for assistance with local family history.
The book is on sale for $25, plus tax and shipping and handling if purchased online. To order a book, see lulu.com or http://graysonheritage.com; send mail to Grayson County, Virginia Heritage Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box, 679, Independence, Va. 24348; or contact Wilson at 236-2755.
Proceeds from the book will go toward maintaining the foundation. As another fundraiser, the foundation is selling T-shirts that are specialized to include a family tree of names.
“This book is a joint effort,” said Wilson, who acknowledged Weaver for providing the incentive to publish it, and Ginger and Rich Ballard for the format and editing.