Remember back in November when I told you about the mystery grave at Pine Log Cemetery? Well the mystery has been solved by Cassie Sanford Clark form The Sanford Family Misfit.
Cassie is a genealogist and was so intrigued by the mystery that she couldn't rest till it was solved. 2 Blind Pig readers, George Long and Ed Ammons, started her on the trail of R.A. Rickman and M.J. Coffey. After those first few leads, Cassie dug in deeper and deeper till she figured out most of the mystery-then with the help of a descendant of Rickman and Coffey she solved the rest of it as well.
Solved: Mystery at Pine Log Cemetary written by Cassie Sanford Clark.
About a week ago I was browsing through Blind Pig & the Acorn (as I’m known to do whenever I’m fighting off a nasty case of homesickness), when I ran across a post that caught my attention and sparked my curiosity. Tipper of Blind Pig had run across an interesting burial site at Pine Log Baptist Church Cemetery in Clay County, North Carolina and mused about the oddities of the site and occupants of the grave. The grave features two concrete slabs indicating two burials and is completely enclosed with a stone border that features a pipe in one corner that cuts completely through the stone. Tipper wondered if this site had once been enclosed by a burial house that had rotted away over the years. She also discussed why there may have been two people with different last names buried beneath the same stone. At the end of her post, Mystery at Pine Log Cemetery, she listed off several questions that made my inner genealogist hungry for answers:
- Why one stone for 2 graves? Someone said they were probably married-but I don’t think so since their last names are different. Maybe the families chipped in and bought one stone together?
- Why were they buried together? Were they related or maybe best friends?
- Did they die in a freak accident-with R.A. living 3 days longer? Or maybe they died in the flu epidemic?
- The block foundation looks newer than the date of the stone-so does that mean someone built the house or foundation at a much later date?
Being that I can’t fully rest until I have at least partially satisfied my curiosity, I shot off an email to Tipper and asked for permission to research her mystery and write a follow up. Tipper is always such a sweetheart – she not only said yes, but also forwarded me emails from others who were trying to solve the mystery and gave me permission to use the photos from her post! I adore that woman!
I was too excited to put my research off, so with Tipper’s permission I kicked off my research by taking notes on her post and all the emails she had received. According to a few of the emails, M. J. Coffey and R. A. Rickman were sisters who died within days of one another in Cobb County, Georgia. I started my research with this information alone and here is what I learned:
According to the Georgia Death index available on Ancestry.com, there was one Jane Coffey and one Rozalia Aveline Coffey Rickman who died in Cobb County, Georgia within days of one another in 1924. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not have copies of the actual death certificates, so I needed another avenue to prove the two were sisters. Thanks to all of my great friends on Facebook, particularly Tarah Marissa Thomas, I was able to get my hands on obituaries for the sisters:
The obituaries alone cleared up the question of who M. J. Coffey and R. A. Rickman were and why they were buried in one site. To me the evidence seems to suggest that Jane was a spinster who lived near (if not with) her sister, Rosie. The two fell ill together and died within days of each other. The bodies were transported back to their hometown to be buried in what I’m guessing is the cemetery of choice for their family. I would also speculate that the family decided to save money by having just one stone mark the burial for both of the sisters – especially since they already carried the burden of paying for the transport of two bodies and two funerals all at once.
I still needed to know more. How had the sisters died? The paper would have mentioned if some freak accident had occurred and I could find no mention of any epidemics hitting Georgia in 1924. In order to answer this question, I had to track down Jane and Rosie’s Cobb County death certificates.
Finding the death certificates was no easy task, but I did eventually find them. The certificates proved beyond a doubt that Jane and Rosie were sisters. They were born to John Coffey and Mollie McDorce/McDearce in North Carolina (which I further proved by tracking down Cherokee and Clay County census records). The death certificates also gave me the cause for the sisters’ deaths, which are cited as being the direct result of the flu. This confused me since I hadn’t been able to turn up any information on a flu epidemic in Cobb County, Georgia during 1924. I did a little more research into this and discovered some historians say La Grippe or the Spanish Influenza epidemic lasted from around 1918 – 1924.
Of course, I couldn’t stop my research for the sisters there… I was too enthralled with their story. I discovered that Jane and Rosie’s mother had died before 1880 and their father had lived to a ripe old age (not passing away until sometime between 1900 – 1910). I also found that Rosie and Jane had lots of half-siblings… some from both their mother and their father. It turned out that at least one of their brothers fought in the Civil War and some of his descendants are buried in Pine Log Baptist Church Cemetery – confirming my suspicion the two sisters were buried in a cemetery with strong links to their family. I completed a decent portion of a public Coffey family tree on Ancestry.com for those who are interested in learning more about the family.
The last of the questions Tipper asked in her post about the grave site concerned the stone border that surrounds it. I talked in great length with Mike Rayburn, Beverly Harper, and Tarah Marissa Thomas on Facebook concerning the various possibilities over why the border was there. We discussed the possibilities of fences, burial houses, and other structures – however, there is no indication in the photos these structures ever existed by looking at the stones. Unfortunately, we couldn’t completely solve the mystery and the best answer I could come up with was a theory I borrowed from Mike: I think the border was placed simply as decoration and the pipe serves as a way of ensuring the closed in grave site does not flood.
For now I am satisfied with my research and feel like the mystery at Pine Log Baptist Church Cemetery has mostly been solved. After solving the mystery I came up with several questions of my own:
- Why wasn’t Rosie’s husband buried in Pine Log Baptist Church Cemetery with his wife (especially considering I found no proof to suggest he ever remarried)?
- Where were Jane and Rosie’s parents buried? Surely one of them were buried in Pine Log Baptist Cemetery too.
- What happened to all of Jane and Rosie’s siblings? Are any of them also buried in Pine Log – perhaps in unmarked graves?
I suppose I could have gone on to answer these questions myself, but I have too many mysteries in my own tree that keep whispering my name and demanding my attention. Hopefully someone will pick up the torch from here and answer these questions while I throw myself back into my own tree.
After I made yesterday’s post, Solved: Mystery at Pine Log Cemetery, I was contacted by a descendant of Rozalia Aveline Coffey Rickman. She was an absolute sweetheart by passing along information she thought I might be interested in and I thought I would share it with all of you today:
Tipper of Blind Pig & the Acorn was right in her assumption that the stone border was newer than the graves themselves. According to Rosie’s granddaughter, one of Rosie’s sons and grandsons built the border and poured the concrete slabs some years after the deaths of Rosie and Jane. They did this because they knew it would be difficult to get back and keep the graves clear of grass and weeds. The concrete slabs were later cemented again by Rosie’s granddaughter and her siblings, who also reset the monument because it had fallen over.
Rosie’s granddaughter also supplied an answer to my question of why Rosie’s husband, Joseph Rickman, had not been buried in the same cemetery as his wife. It turns out that their son, Bob, was working for a funeral home when Joseph died. It is likely that this coupled with the previous deaths and burials of another of Rosie and Joseph’s sons and family (who were buried in Georgia) can explain why the couple were buried apart.
Rosie’s granddaughter didn’t have any information she could share about the burials of the other Coffey family members or the lives of Rosie and Jane’s siblings, but the fact she was able to give me so much information about a grave site from 1924 was purely amazing. She closed her email by telling me thank you for all the information I had posted. It goes without saying that she is more than welcome… it was a pleasure to research her ancestors and I feel like I gained more from the experience than I gave.
All fascinating stuff! I hope you enjoyed Cassie's findings as much as I did-I'm so grateful to her for solving the mystery I found at Pine Log Cemetery-and for sharing the documents she discovered with us too. The story seems especially meaningful to me-since NC is being hard hit with the flu right now. I've never been more thankful for modern medicine-than when I had a the flu several years ago.