Brenda & Nadia Orton 1

Nadia K. Orton, public historian and professional genealogist. Graduate of Duke University, with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science, and African/African American Studies; Certificate in Markets and Management Sciences. Researching and documenting the African-American communities and historic cemeteries of Tidewater, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia, and other areas throughout the American South. President of the Sacred Grounds Project, Inc., and member of the following organizations:

African American Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia (Descendant; Chronicling Evergreen Cemetery interments, beginning 2013)

Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS – Greater Richmond) (member)

Association for Gravestone Studies (member)

Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) (member)

Association of Professional Genealogists (member)

Association of Professional Genealogists – North Carolina (member)

Duke University Alumni Association (member)

Executive Planning and Review Team – Evergreen Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Friends of Oak Lawn Cemetery – Suffolk, Virginia

Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery – Suffolk, Virginia

National Genealogical Society (member)

Oak Lawn Cemetery – Suffolk, Virginia

Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina (member)

Preservation North Carolina (member)

Sacred Grounds Project, Inc. (President)

Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society (member)

Tidewater Genealogical Society (member)

Warren County (NC) African American History Collective (member)

Web: Sacred Ground, Sacred History

Web: Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia

Web: African American Cemeteries of Suffolk, Virginia

Web: African American Cemeteries of Richmond Virginia

Web: North Carolina Roots – African American Regional Heritage of the Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain

Facebook: African American Cemeteries of Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina

Facebook: African American Historic Cemeteries of Portsmouth, Virginia

Facebook: African American Cemeteries of Norfolk, Virginia

Facebook: African American Cemeteries of Suffolk, Virginia

Facebook: Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia

Facebook: Sacred Grounds Project, Inc.

Letter from President Barack Obama regarding the Mt Calvary Cemetery Complex (est. 1879), Portsmouth, Virginia. November 10, 2016

Historical highway marker approval letter for Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia — June 20, 2019

24 thoughts on “About

  • Hello, Ms. Orton,

    I am a (Black) Coston Descendant and noticed that you have photographed grave stones/markers at the Canaan Temple AME Zion Church in Edenton, NC. I have a few photographs of some of the graves of my Coston relatives, but am missing others. I am sure you charge a fee for your services. . . . It has been many many years since I’ve been to Edenton, and realize I need to return in order to get past the wall of slavery. Do you have any tips I can use or direct me to so that I can get additional information not available on Ancestry?

    Your direction is most appreciated.

    Linda A. White
    Coston Descendant

  • Lynn Handy Taylor

    June 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm Reply

    Ms Orton,
    I have just recently started the genealogy search for our family (Goldman-Cuffee of Norfolk/Princess Anne counties) but I love and am inspired by your work. Thank you for being a guide. We will be visiting local cemeteries to help write these stories. Your work is appreciated.

    • Thanks so much for the kind and supportive words, Lynn. Small world, I’ve researched the family of Giles Cuffee of Princess Anne Co., who is buried in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Va. Good luck in your genealogy journey!

  • Hello. I am researching my family. I recently found a death certificate of my great grandmother who is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in portsmouth virginia. I would like to know how to get in touch with someone there to see if I can get her birthdate off her tombstone, and see if other family members are there.

  • Nadia,

    We are in the process of gearing up to restore a Union fort in Western Branch that is remarkably well -preserved. It is located near where Jolliffe Road crosses Goose Creek. No definitive name exists for it as we can find in the records. Our question is were any USCT units stationed there at any time. It was near a mill referred to as David’s Mill or Wright’s mill at the time of the war.

    I know you have done a great deal of work in the area on USCT soldiers. Any help you could lend to answer this question would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Sam Leary 757-362-2499

  • Thank you Ms. Orton for this wonderful blog and info. My husband and I own a masonry restoration company in Norfolk and are learning cemetery preservation. We have started a volunteer group to bring training and work sessions to support cemeteries who need our services.We have volunteered our services to Mt. Calvary complex and would like to connect with you. Thanks again for all you do for the ancestors and those searching for them!

  • Nice to find this. My twice great grandfather fought with Co B of the 36 USCT at Chaffin’s Farm and the other campaigns. Gaston Becton is his name. I’d love to find a company photo of him. Any way i can try?

    • Hi, there’s a great book to check out: The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War: A History and Roster,” by James K. Bryant II. There’s an entry for your ancestor (birth, enlistment, discharge, date of death.) Also, have you tried ordering his pension file? Though rare, some pension files include a photo of the soldier, some in uniform, or photos taken later in life for identification purposes. If you haven’t ordered it yet, you’ll need NATF Form 85/NATF 85D from the National Archives. There’s more information here: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/pre-ww-1-records. Happy hunting!

  • Hello. I would like to know if you would be able to help with researching Africans in Virginia with the surname Ruff or if you would be able to point me in the right direction.

  • Hello. I am trying to trace my family to Afrika. I would like to make a definitive connection between the Ruff family found on this site (http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/Roberts_Sawyer.htm) and my family. I would like to know more about the Ruff family found at the website above to continue my search in tracing them to Afrika. I have found that they have been free in the united states for a long time.

    • Good Day to you Orton: A friend shared the article printed in the winter 2018 Duke Magazine. It is a treasure! Thank you many times over for this wonderful work and the determination to continue.
      Your story and work truly resonated with me. In Lexington, KY we too have a historic cemetery that holds the stories of our early generations and my ancestors. It has been a journey to uncover their lives and extraordinary accomplishments. In 2010 a communications director at the Lexington Public Library approached us about doing a documentary. We concurred. The result – Eight Acres of History- can be viewed on YouTube. Hope that you can view and take courage from it. Yvonne Giles

      • Thank you, Yvonne, for your kind words and support. I’ll be sure to view the documentary, and share to our cemetery Facebook page. Thanks again, and take care.


  • Hi Nadia,

    I recently heard your story on NPR in Raleigh/Durham, NC. Although, I am fascinated with your work. I was really in awe that we have virtually the same medical background. I became sick at 13 with ITP and by 17 was diagnosed with Lupus. By age 24, I was in renal failure. I was on dialysis for 7 years. I managed to go to undergraduate and graduate school on dialysis and graduate from NC State in 1997. Somehow, I managed a life with all the ebbs and flows of having Lupus. Married in 2001 and adopted two kids in 2006. They are now 17 and 18. I am now 53 and kidney has been working fine for 21 years although I have other complications. I was a programmer for about 30 years through it all. I tell you all this because this is a sisterhood I never wanted to belong. I wondered if you have fulfilled other parts of your life in spite of Lupus.

  • Hello Nadia, My name is Cheryl and I believe my sister/friend Lashann has written you about me trying to place a plaque on my grandfather’s gravesite at St. Elizabeth’s hospital cemetery in Washington D.C. I am not on Facebook, so l am leaving my email address to get forms you have for me. Thank you. Cheryl Lowry.cheryl@gmail.com

  • Nadia – curious about your thoughts on an abandoned African-American cemetery in Chesapeake, VA. It is the Pinegrove Cemetery in the Glenn Eagle subdivision off Eagle Dr. behind a house in the cul-de-sac. Also referenced as the “Floyd Smith” cemetery as it is on the land he and his wife owned but they are both deceased. The City of Chesapeake does not show a current owner besides the address of the Smiths. I have been told there are veterans buried there I am guessing WWII. Someone in Chesapeake brought this to my attention about a year ago and asked me to locate the owners which I did. I have not been to the site but understand it is quite overgrown with some of the vaults exposed.

    Thank you for any direction in this matter.

    • Hi Irene, thanks for contacting me. Our family had a similar problem with the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex in Portsmouth, Virginia. The last active cemetery trustees on record had all passed on. In that case we lobbied the City of Portsmouth to acquire the cemetery, after providing a title search of the property. The city acquired the cemetery after a lengthy legal process, after contacting all known descendants of the former trustees to clear title. If memory serves, the process took about one year. Ongoing negotiations between the City and Elizabeth River Tunnels about the MLK Highway expansion project, directly behind the cemetery complex, may have been a motivating factor for the city to become the sole owner.

      I tried to visit Pinegrove Cemetery some years ago, but realized I probably needed permission. That, and I didn’t have the right shoes for an overgrown cemetery. There are veterans in the cemetery, as I remember seeing a news story about a young woman trying to visit the grave of an ancestor in Pinegrove, and finding it overgrown.

      I would try contacting any descendants (and in-laws) of the Smiths to see if they have any interest in maintaining the cemetery, or transferring it to a nonprofit/City of Chesapeake for regular upkeep. In the interim, there may be some groups (Boy Scouts/Veterans) that wouldn’t mind lending a hand for an initial cleanup.

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