Taking Back What Was Once Lost

A Cemetery Adventure in Enfield, North Carolina

I have been meaning to blog about this for some time but have just gotten some mental space and all the pictures together. I truly wanted to do it for the previous Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt #25 about cemetery visits, so even though this is a little late I humbly submit it here for all to see;)

I blogged about the pleasant drive down to Raleigh, NC in May for the NGS Conference. On the way down, Carole and I decided to stop in Enfield, NC (Halifax County) and meet our friends Alice and Bill who were going cemetery searching. We decided to join in for the fun. I’m so glad we did.

Carole had gotten them connected up with the Clark Funeral Home, and they were told someone there could help them on their search in Enfield for ancestors in cemeteries. Instantly, when I walked inside Clark, it conjured up thoughts and memories of rural funeral homes with their unique brand of tending to the deceased: the antique parlor furniture, the crimson carpets, the mahogany writing desk for signing the guest book, the portrait of Jesus, the quaint chapel and the smell of…I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a very distinct smell;)

Clark Funeral Home

Clark Funeral Home

We went inside and were introduced to a man named Eddie. When Alice and Bill arrived, the real fun began. Eddie commenced to giving us all what can only rightfully be described as the history of blacks in Enfield, NC. We all sat enraptured for at least the next 45 minutes as he ran down the ownership of this and other funeral homes, families he knew, little known facts about the town, race relations…you name it and this man knew it. He was brilliant and funny at the same time. He had this thick and wonderful Southern drawl, and a vivacious energy that was just totally unexpected. He looked at us and would say, before pronouncing some fact,“I’m not tellin’ ya somethun’ I heard…I’m tellin’ you somethun’ I know.” Alice got her pad out & started writing like any good genealogist. This is the kinda stuff that isn’t written in any history book and needs to be, and when you have a chance encounter with one of these folks, you have to be ready to capture it.

You see, Eddie had been in the funeral home business for more than 40 years. Not only did he have a firm grasp of local history, but he was a political and social activist with a long resume on a national scale. He regaled in showing us his picture with Obama, from the Democratic National Convention. I just found him to be a fascinating gentleman. After some time, a man named Shirra, the current owner of Clark Funeral Home (whose name I am probably not spelling correctly) arrived and we were off to hunt down ancestors. He took us all in the limousine. Yes, it was the funeral home limousine, but it was still a limousine!

Enfield is a small rural town that does not seem to have a large population and is filled with the requisite winding, two-lane dirt roads, outside dog pens, abandoned fields and dilapidated sharecropper’s houses. Still, there’s something I love about places like this.  It’s a different energy than you find in large cities, where I grew up. An enhanced sense of nature. Everything is magnified: the birds sing louder, the flowers are brighter, I don’t know. As we drove, Shirra and Eddie were now a two-man history lesson, pointing out churches and giving us “the run-down”. It was incredible. If my family was from Enfield, I probably would have just exploded on the spot out of sheer and utter excitement.

We stopped at the former plantation home of John Branch, a former state governor in the years 1817-1820 and U.S. Senator. I can imagine this place was a marvel back in the early 1800s. Heck, it’s still for the most part standing. I don’t know why that home isn’t being preserved.

Home of John Branch

Home of John Branch

Back of Branch House

Back of Branch House

Shirra suspected that some of Branch’s slaves were buried in the back, in the family cemetery.  I checked John Branch’s 1860 Slave census and he had lots of slaves. The family cemetery sat underneath what can only be described as the biggest magnolia tree I have ever seen in my life. It surely needs to be winning some sort of botany award. Look at the size of the blossom!

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Bloom

Magnolia Bloom

Guess what else? The family cemetery was underneath the magnolia tree! It was really something to see. In this 90+ degree heat, the cemetery (which was enclosed by a metal fence) was cooling under a canopy of enormous blooms and branches. I have never seen anything like it. I kept thinking, I bet this tree has some stories to tell.

Cemetery

Cemetery

More headstones

More headstones

Caught in the Tree

Caught in the Tree

I was extremely paranoid about snakes in the tall grass and also poison ivy, but notwithstanding all that, we all did a fair amount of looking around.

After that, Shirra and Eddie rode us around to at least two other cemeteries, taking a good 3 hours out of their day to help out this group of total strangers. They were gracious and kind and extremely knowledgeable. Southern Hospitality is real. I felt very fortunate that the spirits led us to these two men. It was a great afternoon and completely in line with the kinds of things that happen in genealogy. This town, in my mind, was representative of so many small towns: just bursting at the seams with history and somebody in town who probably knows it. It’s up to us to find that person (or group of persons), record it and write it down. That’s something I feel really passionate about.

Eddie, Alice, Robyn, Shirra and Bill

Eddie, Alice, Robyn, Shirra and Bill

13 Comments

  1. July 10, 2009    

    I love this story of your drive through the country and seeing the old house and cemetery and thinking of the slaves that once maintained that old house. The cemetery underneath the magnolia tree!!

    I wonder where the slaves were buried since you found the old family cemetery.

    Any idea why this old house is abandoned?
    Is it for sale?

  2. Johnnie Tucker's Gravatar Johnnie Tucker
    July 19, 2011    

    Sherrod is my wife’s nephew.
    Did you visit the Westray cementary on this visit?

  3. Wesley Anderson's Gravatar Wesley Anderson
    September 12, 2011    

    The Magnolia tree no longer exists, it was struck by lightning recently and taken down. They were in the process of taking down this house before my family bought it. The plan is to eventually restore the house

  4. October 9, 2012    

    My dad,Curtis McWilliams, was born in Enfield but has been living in NJ most of his life. And the times that I went there to visit family, we visited cemeteries where lots of the family had been laid to rest. I don’t recall the name of the cemetery but it was beside a small church and almost the entire graveyard was filled with the McWilliams family. Lots of history there! I want to find out more about my family and reading your article just made me think about that even more. Keep up the great work!!

  5. Pamela McWilliams Gore's Gravatar Pamela McWilliams Gore
    November 3, 2012    

    Wonderful article !!!! I love hearing about Enfield and it’s people, it’s my Dad’s (Herman McWilliams) birthplace. Keep the stories and the pics coming ! :)

  6. Tanya's Gravatar Tanya
    March 17, 2013    

    I absolutely loved reading this article. I am in the process of resourcing my paternal side (Gunters, Shields & Battles). As well as my maternal side (Sneeds & Clarkes). Who knows we may all find that we are intermingled in some way!!,

  7. June 16, 2013    

    Vincent McWilliams the grave site you visited the McWilliams is at Plumline
    church they may have added more to the name but i know its still called Plumline in Enfield NC

  8. Brad Branch's Gravatar Brad Branch
    November 1, 2013    

    My 4 greats grandfather was John Branch. Is the house still standing?

    • December 13, 2013    

      brad I saw your question as to if your relative John Branch’s home it still standing. yes the house is still standing although the house in that picture is not the branch plantation home. the house in the picture is the jesse powell home located outside of enfield-dawson cross-roads. the jesse powell was a licensed baptist minister of the gospel and his home was called ‘healthy grove’. jesse was born 12-5-1772 and died 02-28-1860 and married nancy phillips. the cemetery is in-fact the powell family cemetery.

      the branch plantation built between 1780 & 1803 was called ‘the cellar plantation’ or ‘the cellars’ and is located at 404 sherrod heights st. enfield nc 27823. as you probably know the branch family were quite prominent in halifax county including a colonel in the revoluntionary war, a nc governor buried here in enfield elmwood cemetery as are most branch familys that lived and stayed in enfield. you can goggle ‘the cellar plantation’ or ‘the cellars’ in enfield to see ole and new pictures of the gorgeous home.

      another branch home just north of enfield is ‘branch grove’. this was built for samuel warren branch 1830 ca. his son alpheus p branch born 1843 and served with the scotland neck calvary which was part of nc 3rd regiment. after the civil war he married nancy barnes, moved to wilson nc and later founded branch & company now known as BB&T Bank. :)

  9. January 7, 2014    

    This was a wonderful my family was and still resides in Enfiled. Much of my family history is there. Being part from mom and dad…the Battles, Marshalls and Perrys to name a few…and boy are there many. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Katie Lucille Scott Luck's Gravatar Katie Lucille Scott Luck
    August 23, 2014    

    Katie Scott Luck August 23,2014

    I am a native of Enfield. My family names are
    Scott and Hewlin. We did not live in the town but 12 miles from town in the Eastman School Community. I taught third grade two years at Inborden High School then moved to Va. where I taught in Hampton until retirement. My great-grandfather, grandfather, uncle
    (and now his wife and sons) owned a Sawmill on Hwy 48 near Brinkleyville which is in operation today. I love learning about our past and is trying to find more and more history about my town and family. Please keep researching and publish what your find.

    • Emma's Gravatar Emma
      September 14, 2014    

      My G. G. Grandfather was Kit Hewlin of ENFIELD (my great grandmother’s father), I’m now starting my family search. Would be great if we could connect & complete this search. And Yes, ENFIELD is an interesting place with lots of history.

  11. August 24, 2014    

    Thanks for sharing! My mom was born there and I have been pondering a trip there. Now I know I will.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

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"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
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