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Look Back: Remembering, recovering our rural cemeteries

The family grave plot of a Revolutionary War veteran. Unfortunately it is an example of what nature, and modern times, have allowed many rural cemeteries to become. Though this cemetery has been “cleared” several times, it is the lack of help with routine maintenance that allows Mother Nature to quickly reclaim what should be sacred grounds. The photo will be identified next week. (Photo Provided)

May is Remember a Rural Cemetery Month.

In 2013, in an effort to help the Wood County Rural Cemetery Alliance and the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society preserve and restore rural cemeteries, the Wood County Commission resolved that the month of May would be “Rural Cemetery Remembrance Month.” We will again use items in Look Back to draw attention to the scores of “forgotten” cemeteries that dot the countryside throughout Wood County, most of which are unkempt. Unfortunately, those interred in these neglected cemeteries, have, for the most part, been forgotten.

The works of John A. House (1854-1938), will again often be cited. House’s works of recording cemeteries are in many cases history lessons about many of the pioneer families buried in Jackson, Roane, Wirt, and Wood counties. In the preface to his recording of “Some Early City, Village and Country Burying Grounds,” he writes: “Since a child, I have had a fancy for visiting the Silent Cities of the departed ‘where heaves the turf in many a moldering heap’ and where from time to time, are gathered back to the bosom of Mother Earth, the tenantless forms, so recently the abode of vigorous life.” We encourage readers of Look Back to follow Mr. House’s lead, and seek out the sacred grounds where their ancestors might be buried. Should assistance be needed in finding where an ancestor might be interred, members of the historical society will be most happy to help.

When desiring to visit a cemetery it is always good practice to notify the property owner, or advise them that you wish to visit the cemetery. A law passed by the WV Legislature in 2000 guarantees “the right of ingress and egress for the purpose of visiting graves, maintaining the grave site or cemetery, or [legally] burying a deceased person.” This would also cover visiting a cemetery for genealogy purposes. This right of access does have limitations. Another law was passed later that offers liability protection for the property owner.

Since the next few issues of Look Back may reflect poorly on some cemeteries, I will use the c.1901 words of Wood County historian Alviro F. Gibbens as a disclaimer against offending anyone: “It is not intended by [these] descriptions, to reflect personally upon anyone who bears the names of or are collaterally related to these pioneers. Doubtless other districts and private burial places, by scores over Wood county, are in worse neglect. But is it not time for action to remedy these conditions? Will not some one of the residents near every family entombment gather their neighbors together and devote a few days to the memory of the pioneers in a decorative as well as a practical way?”

I am happy to say that there are many “neighbors” to these rural burying grounds who are following Mr. Gibbens’ request of helping maintain rural cemeteries. There just aren’t enough. Would you like to help? Evan Frees is the WCHPS Cemetery Committee Chairman. Call him at 304-489-2745.

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Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.

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