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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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1908 headstone discovered under stump
Search is now under way for family of deceased
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This headstone was dug up from the base of an old apple tree stump. It dates back to 1908 and clearly shows the deceased’s name and date of birth. (Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston)
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Monday, July 22, 2013

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

A lightning strike from 20 years ago has led a Callaway woman to an interesting discovery and left her with a lot of unanswered questions.

Joyce Ann Jamison discovered a headstone buried beneath an old apple tree stump in the backyard of the home, where she has lived since 1976.

"Lightning struck the tree about 20 or 25 years ago," she said. "It split the tree in half."

Jamison and her husband cut the dead tree down over two decades ago, but a foot-high stump had remained.

"Over time, the stump would start to grow sprouts," said Jamison, "and we grew tired of having to mow and weed around that stump."

So last month, Jamison called Noel Ivan Gonzalez of Southern Grass in Ferrum to dig the stump out of the ground."

"Ivan does my yard work," said Jamison. "I knew he would do a good job getting the stump out of the ground."

When Gonzalez began digging, he hit something hard.

"I started trying to pry the 'rock' out of the ground and pulled out the top half of a headstone," said Gonzalez. "I was very surprised to find out that it was a headstone, so I kept digging about another two feet until I found the bottom half."

Gonzalez placed the two halves together and saw that the engraving was still legible.

"I guess being underground protected it from the weather and kept it in good shape," he said. "Only the death month and date is missing. That was inscribed on the part where the two pieces were separated, so it is illegible."

The stone belongs to Sparrell T. Thomas, who was born May 21, 1866, and died in 1908.

"My daughter looked online to see if the man was from Franklin County, and he was," said Jamison.

Ancestry.com, a genealogy website, shows Thomas as a white male, who lived in the Endicott section of Franklin County.

According to the website, which gives limited access to the 1880 United States Federal Census, Thomas' parents were Peter J. and Mary J. Thomas. He had two older siblings, George and Virginia, and two younger siblings, William E. and Michael A.

Thomas' father was born around 1830.

"I think this is very interesting," said Jamison. "I am hoping someone will find out about this story and claim the man as their ancestor."

Gonzalez said he can only imagine what else is under the ground in the area of the apple tree.

"If the man was married, are his wife and children buried there, too?" he asked. "Who knows? There could be a whole cemetery down there."

"Joe Ben (Jamison's late husband) loved books and history," said Jamison. "If he were alive, he would be all over this."

Gonzalez and Jamison are assuming that the apple tree was planted at Thomas' headstone by his family when he died. They also assume the stone was buried as a result of the ground washing down and over the stone as the years passed.

"The stone was located at the bottom of a hill," said Gonzalez. "It would make sense that gradual erosion could have occurred over a century's time."

"It would be nice to find out more about the man or to meet his family members," said Jamison.

The bottom of the headstone reads, "Gone But Not Forgotten."

Anyone with information about Thomas should write to Jamison, C/O The Franklin News-Post, P.O. Box 250, Rocky Mount, VA 24151.

 
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