Genealogy Group documenting the past to benefit the future

Ruckman Cemetery on Stephen Hole Road
Ruckman Cemetery on Stephen Hole Road

A dedicated group of volunteers is on a mission to document every burial site in the county. The Pocahontas County Genealogy Group already has indexed 143 cemeteries and published information on 118 of those burial grounds. The group is continuing its task and hopes to eventually document the remaining 179 known cemeteries in the county.

Founding members of the group included Gail Hyer, Mike Hill, Doug Jackson, Mary Jo Fisher, Nancy Smithson, Pam Johnson Hoover, Ruth Taylor, Elma and Moffett McNeel and Allen Johnson. Since the group’s founding in 2004, others have joined the project, including Jan and Roger Orndorff, Ruth Horner, Pat Gatens, Bill and Denise McNeel and B.J. Gudmundsson.

The group has no elected officers but Jan Orndorff performs the duties of treasurer and secretary.

“We’re trying to make a record for future generations,” she said. “We’re looking for our ancestors or we’re looking for relatives. Some of the cemeteries that Grandma told us about, if it’s an old home place cemetery, a lot of times they’re not taken care of anymore, there’s no family left to take care of them. They just disappear. People that knew about them, once they’re gone, the new generation may not know about them.”

Similar to military planners, the Genealogy Group divided the county into geographical sectors. One sector at a time is searched, researched and inventoried. Once the group is satisfied

McNeel Cemetery
McNeel Cemetery

that an area is complete, it publishes the information.

“We break it up into sections, so that we have books that cover geographical areas,” said Hyer. “Because when you’re looking for your kin, if you know they were up in the Green Bank area, for example, you’re going to look at cemeteries there. We have a big county map that we mark with what’s in what section.”

Seven volumes of “In Loving Memory,” cemetery indexes in completed areas, have been published, listing 10,466 names of those interred. Oak Grove Cemetery, in Hillsboro, and Mountain View Cemetery, in Marlinton, have their own books. Other areas with books include Back Mountain Road from Durbin to Cass; Frost to Dunmore; Mace to Brush Country and Little Levels. A volume on Northern Pocahontas County is planned for revision and will not be reprinted.

Taylor said many people visit the county specifically to research family histories.

“A lot of people are doing genealogy and this is a way for them to get names, dates and things to fill in the blanks,” she said. “It’s been a real plus for tourism because of people coming here to research their families.”

Prior to the formation of the Genealogy Group, a Green Bank woman spearheaded an important effort to save genealogical data. According to a Genealogy Group handout:

“Mrs. Ruth (Wilfong) Horner contributed to the genealogical record of Pocahontas County by sharing the records she has compiled over many years of research, thus preserving much local genealogical information that may have been lost otherwise. Of specific importance were the cemetery records Ruth compiled over the past 40 years. Ruth, with the assistance and companionship of her husband, Neil Horner, and with input from a few others, compiled a detailed record of over 175 cemeteries in central and northeastern Pocahontas County.”

Sharp Cemetery at Stamping Creek
Sharp Cemetery at Stamping Creek

The Orndorffs have searched for and located lost cemeteries.

“You go to the old home places and you can find where the spring and the old cellar were,” said Jan. “Almost always, there’s a cemetery just for that family, or maybe for their neighbors.”

“More often than not, the graves are on a piece of high ground, either a plateau on the side of a mountain or on the summit of a small hill overlooking the home place, facing east,” said Roger.

The number of known cemeteries in Pocahontas County, currently 322, could increase as more unknown cemeteries are discovered. Roger explained why there are so many.

“Church congregations often had their own cemeteries,” he said. “Prior to churches having their own cemeteries, the early pioneer settlers had family burial plots. For the most part, burials that occurred outside of a village, such as Hillsboro or places like that, were in small family plots.”

In addition to Horner’s work, earlier gravesite documentation includes a 1930s economic stimulus project to provide jobs for writers.

“As part of the WPA [Works Progress Administration] project in the 1930s, that occurred during the Depression, one of their efforts was to record cemeteries,” said Roger. “So there are cemetery records that we can go back and draw from. It was hit and miss. When they did it, they did it well. But they didn’t bother with a lot of the family plots.”

A state effort to document veterans’ burial plots was also helpful.

“We just learned at the archives in Charleston that there is an Adjutant General’s cemetery report, that was done for West Virginia,” said Jan. “They have it on microfilm. That’s how we learned of other cemeteries in Pocahontas County that we were not aware of, when we were working on the Mace book.”

The Adjutant General’s report helped the group locate an unmarked veteran’s grave just seven feet from the Andrew Price Memorial on Brush County Road near Marlinton.

“We think we know where there’s a lot of cemeteries, but we don’t know how many are out there,” said Hyer. “Part of this project is to make sure, down the road, that historians, researchers, grandkids – they know where their grandparents and people are buried, that there’s some record of it, even if there’s no stone there.

The largest active cemetery in Pocahontas County is Mountain View Cemetery in Marlinton. The largest inactive cemetery is the Hill Cemetery at Bruffey’s Creek, with 125 interred.

Anyone interested participating with the Genealogy Group can contact Gail Hyer at 304-799-4636, or Jan Orndorff at 540-468-3153. The group meets every fourth Tuesday of the month at McClintic Library in Marlinton and welcomes interested persons to attend.

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