“And who was this person does anyone know?
‘Tis as if his or her life to nothing did amount
As if he or she as a person did not count
Anonymity in life as in death much the same”
Excerpt from An Unmarked Grave – a poem by Francis Duggan
Jackie’s paternal grandfather affectionately known as Papa, was a quiet, hardworking, North Carolina farmer. He lived on a small 30-acre farm near Essex in Halifax County with Jackie’s “Granny” and their two sons, Martin and Edward.
According to Granny, Papa’s father moved his family to Petersburg, Virginia when Papa was a young teenager. No one ever said why he moved, but the move would have very sad consequences for the family. During their years there, Papa’s mother died and her body laid to rest in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg. (Later in my research, I would learn that his brother, Perry, died there as well.). A couple of years later Papa’s father moved back to North Carolina followed later by Papa.
We never really knew too much about Papa’s family, except that his Grandfather was wounded in the War Between the States, until I had the opportunity to look through and scan copies of pictures and newspaper articles Granny had collected during the years her son, Edward (Jackie’s father) was fighting in World War II. I came upon an obituary for an Isham King, who it turns out was Papa’s father. In the article, it stated he was preceded in death by his father, Emealous King, and his first wife. Her name was Annie.
Now that I had information to pursue, Jackie and I had traveled to Blandford Cemetery in search of Annie’s grave but came up empty. For the next year and a half, I searched ancestry.com, find-a-grave, Blandford Cemetery online records, and even reached out to Morrison’s Funeral Home with the hopes of finding her grave. Nothing turned up to help me in my search.
Finally, I decided to take a different approach in my search. I knew that Annie was living in North Carolina based on the 1910 Census and I knew that she did not show up in the 1920 Petersburg City Directory with the family. I started searching for names of people in Petersburg who died during the influenza epidemic. Low and behold, I came across the name of Annie Belle King and I found her death certificate. Her certificate stated she died of pneumonia related to influenza. Still, I was not sure this was Papa’s mother until I saw the name of the informant about her death. It was Bruce E. King and her address listed as 1123 Hinton Street (which was the same as Papa’s in the city directory). At last, I knew when she died and from what! All I needed to do now was go back to the Blandford Cemetery records and I could find her grave.
POP, there went my bubble! Still, no Annie King or Annie Belle King. How could this be? I made a call to the cemetery office and spoke with Iris. I gave Iris the information I had from the death certificate and in a few minutes she told me, she had an Anna Belle King rather than an Annie. She told me a B. E. King purchased the plot and a Perry King was buried there as well. AT LAST, I had found her. I knew Papa had a brother name Perry and my search was over. I looked for and found, that Perry died in December of 1919, a year after Annie.
The next day I traveled to Blandford Cemetery to meet Iris and finally see the resting place of Annie and Perry.
I presented death certificates so both Annie’s name and Perry’s place of birth could be properly recorded. The record book revealed that Annie had originally been buried in a visitor’s grave and her remains transferred to her present resting spot in March 1920, three months after Perry’s death. It looks like after Perry died, Papa decided he needed to buy a plot for the family.
Finally, the time had come to see their graves. I drove under the Confederate Arch, around the curve past the bandstand, to the corner of A.P. Hill Ave. and Virginia Ave. I still did not see any markers, so I parked my truck and walked the area searching for the graves. My heart sank as I stood there thinking I know the location of the five plots, but not the exact spot where Annie and Perry’s remains rested. Iris gladly met me at the site with a grave locator in hand and showed me the exact locations of both graves.
Sadden that no marker identified the graves, but jubilant that my search had ended and I was actually standing there brought joy and satisfaction that is hard to explain. To think, Jackie and I had driven by this very spot on our search for her grave. How many people had passed this spot not knowing the remains of two people rested there?
The excerpt from “An Unmarked Grave” at the beginning of this blog speaks as if their life amounted to nothing and as a person, they did not count. But that does not hold true for Annie or Perry. You see, they had a loving son and brother, who himself still a teenager, saw to their proper burial. Annie Belle King was the wife of Isham King and when she passed from this life into eternity, she left four young sons – Bruce, Perry, Foley, and George, who ranged from nineteen to three years of age.
Earlier this month (March), Jackie and I traveled to Blandford Cemetery. As she stood there quietly looking over the site, I sensed her deep reflection, awe, and questions. With this part of the journey completed, we now embark on another to answer those questions and complete a work that needs to be finished, the proper marking of Annie and Perry’s graves. That will be another story!