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Pvt. Harrison Spratley was a member of Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. According to his military pension file, Harrison was born on August 6, 1847, in Surry County, Virginia. His parents, Dawson Spratley (b. ca. 1810), and Nancy Spratley (b. ca. 1805), were free persons of color. In the 1830s, Dawson Spratley is documented on several “free negro” lists in Surry County, Virginia, working on the farm of Angelina “Angie” Edwards (b. ca. 1770).
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