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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stony Fork Report

For a birthday present, I opted for a trip to Wilkes County, North Carolina. We started out at 7:30 the morning of June 10 for the 2 ½ hour drive to Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  My focus for this research trip was on the Tripletts and Fergusons.  I was, also, happy to find some West information along the way. After spending about 4 hours searching through deeds and wills in the Wilkes County Court House, we made our way to Stony Fork.
Mt. Zion Adventist
Church Cemetery
Needless to say, the beauty and serenity of the area remains the same. Our first stop was at the cemetery often called the Triplett Cemetery but was apparently known as the Mt. Zion Adventist Church Cemetery where Franklin West and his wife Cynthia Holder are buried.  Franklin was the brother of my 2nd great grandfather, Alexander Balus West.  I hoped to find the graves of my 3rd great grandparents, John Balus West and Mary Ann Swanson in this cemetery.  Since his son and daughter-in-law, Franklin and Cynthia Holder West, are buried there, it seemed logical that I would.   However, I could not find a marker with their names among the many small, unmarked fieldstones.  I still believe that John Balus and Mary Ann are buried near Franklin and Cynthia beneath one of those unmarked fieldstones.  Thus far, the location of their burial is unknown.
While we were meandering among the tombstones and fieldstones, a lovely, sweet lady, Marie, came from her home, which is behind the cemetery, and talked with us.  I gained significant information from Marie. 
Marie and her husband, who died in the 1970s, purchased the property and built their home on it at some earlier time.  Since the cemetery is on the front part of her property, she later purchased it from a man named Jordan who told her the land where they both lived had been Carlton property.
Possibly the Old Carlton Home
The Carltons were my ancestors.  Charlotte “Lottie” Carlton (b 1814) and Braxton Barlow (1812-1880) were my 3rd great grandparents. Charlotte’s parents, Thomas Carlton (1756-1844) and Catherine Livingston (1778-1837), were my 4th great grandparents.   At this point in time, I don’t know which Carlton family would have been the last owner of the property and the family from whom the man named Jordan purchased it.  However, this information confirms the fact that the Carltons lived “down the road” east of the Land and West families.
Marie said that the church, the Mt. Zion Adventist Church, had burned years ago, and the congregation moved “down the road.”  The building had stood in front of where her home is located.  When my cousin, Joanne, and I were there a few years ago, we speculated that it may have been in the clearing to the left of Marie’s house.  Marie indicated that baptisms occurred, as Joanne and I surmised, in the creek which is on the property.   Marie said that Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Mt. Zion Road, currently maintains the cemetery.
According to Marie, at one time a now-deceased resident of the community knew who was buried beneath every tombstone, including those unmarked fieldstones.  Unfortunately, he never made a record of these graves before he died.  How sad.
Marie told the story of the death of a Charlie Albert West who is buried in the cemetery.  This event happened in 1920 before she moved to the property.  Charlie, who was about 15 at the time, was going hunting with one of the Carlton sons.  As Charlie was coming across the field on the Carlton property to meet him, the Carlton boy mistook him for an animal and accidently shot and killed Charlie.  The tombstone indicates that Charlie was the son of M. L. West and V. A. West.
We greatly enjoyed meeting and talking with Marie.  She said that many people come from “all over” to visit the well-kept cemetery.  I asked if I could take her picture, but she declined indicating that she was not presentable.  She had a bucket of pea shells that she was taking across the road to give to the cattle, who, she said, really enjoyed them.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
and Cemetery
After our pleasant visit with Marie, we drove west “on down the road” to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Cemetery where we spent some time revisiting those graves.  Not many of my ancestors or relatives are buried there. 
While at this cemetery, we had the opportunity to talk with Chris who was spraying weeds in the church parking lot.  Chris recalled that the George Wellborn family had lived in the house that we believe to be the old West home.  He said that the house burned sometime in the 1960s.  Again, his memories reinforce the idea that the location of this home across from the old Mt. Zion Post Office was where my great grandparents, Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil, lived for many years prior to their removal to Banner Elk about 1902 or 1903.  Also, I think that the home may have been that of Alexander Balus West and Nancy Land, my 2nd great grandparents.  Alexander Balus West was killed in the Third Battle of Winchester of the Civil War, in 1864.  Nancy Land West lived with Thomas Harvey and America McNeil West and moved with them to Banner Elk were she died in 1903.
When we came to the Thomas Land Family plot, which is on the property owned by the Mingo Tribal
Thomas Land Family Plot
Preservation Trust, we found the cemetery to be in no better condition and possibly worse condition than it had been in 2011.  The weeds are so high and thick that it would be impossible for anyone to enter it and find tombstones.  The split-rail fence continues to deteriorate and fall.  Likewise, the Tuscarora Ranch does not appear to be operational.  I was amused that the few cattle that were in the barn came out to inspect “their intruders” and lined up in a row in their corral staring at us as we got into our car to leave.  Even though the grounds and fields were well-maintained, the ranch appears to be mostly abandoned and in disrepair with much of the fencing deteriorating and in need of paint. 
View of Tuscarora Ranch
I continue to have concerns about the future of this small plot of graves.  I certainly hope that it will not be bull-dozed and obliterated.  In order to try to guarantee its preservation, in September 2012, I registered it with the North Carolina Cemetery Survey Project which is part of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History.  In March 2012, I received acknowledgement from an archivist at the North Carolina State Archives indicating that my information about the Thomas Land Family Cemetery has become part of the permanent records of the North Carolina Cemetery Survey Project.  In addition, George and Joyce McNeil recorded this grave in 1989 when the heirs of G. W. Wellborn owned the land.  The McNeils, who rendered an outstanding service with their cemetery transcriptions, later published them. Copies are located in the Wilkes Community College Library and in other genealogical libraries.
Even though it was the day before my actual birthday, I did something that I love to do—visit courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries!  What a great day!
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