Suffolk, Virginia: Historical Marker, Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885)

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 5, 2019. All rights reserved.

I finally had a chance to swing by and see the historical marker for Oak Lawn Cemetery. I first pitched the idea to the other members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation late last year, and once approved by the existing members (3), quickly got to work on writing the text for the marker. With the assistance of the representative from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), a working text was hammered out over the early months of this year. It’s wonderful to see this project come to fruition, with the added bonus of the marker being located just across the way from Suffolk’s City Hall (read: lots of traffic!)

She Promised to Honor Her Ancestors. First She Had to Find Them. The State of Things, WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio

Nadia Orton stands with the replacement gravestone she secured for African American Civil War veteran Sgt. Ashley H. Lewis (1842-1890), 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry. She has replaced 20 gravestones for African American Civil War veterans, most from various counties in North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December, 2018. All rights reserved
Warren County NC Rosenwald Orton
Mayflower Rosenwald School (ca. 1924), Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.
The gravestone of Cherry Williams Sutton (1860-1911), Nadia Orton’s maternal great-great-grandmother, located in a slave cemetery. Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.

When Nadia Orton’s kidneys were failing, she sent letters to friends and relatives in the hopes that someone could be a donor or help defray the cost. Orton’s great-aunt Philgrador responded with money from her church. So a few years later, when Aunt Phil asked on her deathbed that her family not be forgotten, Orton knew she had to find a way to honor her ancestors. The problem was that she didn’t know who they were, or where to find them.
 
As she started tracing her lineage and locating her ancestors’ final resting places in North Carolina and Virginia, Orton began to notice the state of black cemeteries. Many were overgrown, unprotected and unmapped. Seeing the condition of these sacred spaces sparked a passion for protecting them.
 
Orton has since visited hundreds of cemeteries, and helps other families identify their ancestors’ plots. Host Frank Stasio talks with Nadia Orton, a public historian and professional genealogist, about how she uncovers the past and how it feels to find who came before you

Continue to interview

Portsmouth, Virginia: Disappointments and Discoveries

Sgt. Williams Lincoln Cemetery Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
The recently (re)discovered grave of Sgt. George Williams, Company F, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

Update May 31, 2018: This blog was featured in an article by the Virginian-Pilot. “Segregation followed people to the grave. But a new bill provides funding for black cemeteries.

On March 22, 2018, we visited Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912), in Portsmouth, Virginia. Our family has long ties to the sacred ground, with ancestors from North Carolina and various areas of Tidewater, Virginia, being buried there for decades.

So, it was no surprise that, after a week of snow and rainstorms, we encountered major flooding in the cemetery. It happens often, as the grounds are low-lying with exceedingly poor drainage. But this flooding was horrible, perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. It was present in the front of the cemetery…

Lincoln Memorial Flooding 2018 Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
Waterlogged graves of Dr. William E. Reid and wife Cornelia, and Dr. Frank G. Elliott and wife Laura Carr Elliott. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

the center of the cemetery…

Flood Graves Lincoln Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
Submerged graves of Korean War veteran Leonard Walker, and Vietnam War veteran William McKentry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

and the rear…

Flooding in a rear section of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, March 22, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton