The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Genealogy Source Book Available

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: December, 1984

Mr. O. E. Pilson of Ridgeway, Virginia has just published a book. This book is the culmination of information that has taken him the last eight years to compile.

Mr. Pilson's family came from the Elamsville section of Patrick County, Virginia and he describes himself as, "An old codger born on Patsy's Branch at the foot of Abners Ridge." He was born there on May 11, 1910. Ever since he was a kid he has always been interested in history. He graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky and has a Master's in Education from the University of Virginia. He served many years as high school principal at schools in both Patrick and Henry Counties. As a matter of fact, he was the last high school principal at Red Bank School in Patrick County before it became an elementary school. His last five years were spent as principal of Ridgeway Elementary School and he has been retired for the last fifteen years.

When Mr. Pilson retired, he took up genealogy as a hobby and began tracing back many branches of his family tree, including Pilsons, Harbours, Vias, Houchins, the James Ingrum (Ingram) and Shadrack Turner families. He has extensive information on these Patrick County families and is happy to share it with anyone interested.

This genealogy quest is what led him to the contents of his new book. Mr. Pilson found that much of his information was gathered from old tombstones and that many of these old family cemeteries were in hard to find locations. Many had been untended for many years and barely recognizable. Realizing if something was not done soon, a few years from now it would be impossible to locate many of them. So, O.E. Pilson started the task of finding and recording the names and dates from every grave site in Patrick County. In the eight years he devoted to this project, he has been on every road and talked to numerous people all over Patrick and in the edges of Floyd, Carroll, Henry and Franklin Counties in Virginia and in Stokes and Surry Counties in North Carolina. People everywhere were most helpful and Mr. Pilson is thankful to everyone of them. In the last eight years, he has crawled through underbrush, took many a scratch from briars and was dog bitten twice.

The result of his labors is a 435 page hardback book titled, "Tombstone Inscriptions Of The Cemeteries Of Patrick County." It contains approximately 20,000 inscriptions taken from 935 cemeteries and burial plots.

The oldest one is that of William Letcher, grandfather of General J.E.B. Stuart, who died in 1780.

The most unusual is an unmarked grave of an unknown man buried in a log. The story surrounding it is that the man was a peddler in these parts. No one knew his name or where he came from, but found him dead one day inside a huge hollow log. He must have crawled in there to spend the night in its shelter. There was no evidence of foul play. The people didn't know what to do, but cut off that section of log, rolled it down the hillside and buried him there. This was to have taken place sometime around the turn of the century. Oh yes, the only clue to the man's identity is that he had a cane that looked like it was hollow and may have contained something valuable. You can't help but wonder if there is someone working on a family tree right now who is completely stumped as to what became of Grandpa and it might be this very man! No one will ever know.

I know of some pretty remote burial plots here on top of the mountain, so I looked them up in the book to see if Mr. Pilson had listed them. Sure enough, they were all there complete with the location of each one. The book is very thorough.

For those interested in obtaining a copy of this book, it is $20.00 postpaid from O.E. Pilson, Route 2, Box 6, Ridgeway, Virginia 24148.