Thursday, September 5, 2013

Music in the Graveyard: The Holstein Family Cemetery

 Larry never knew exactly where his family's graveyard was. His parents and brother elected not to be buried there, and instead were interred in a commercial cemetery closer to the main highway. But Larry knew there was a cemetery called the Holstein Cemetery, and he also knew that many relatives were buried there.

When we visited his homeplace last weekend, we hunted up his distant cousin, Junior Holstein. Junior is an old-time musician; we have met up with him from time to time over the years, most recently when he was the Master Fiddler Player at Augusta Heritage last August. He was also honored to be onstage at the Vandalia Festival last year. Finding Junior is a quest: he has a homeplace but he is often out and about. He doesn't drive but has many friends and relatives, and he will go about anywhere to play music.

We found Junior with a group of his friends under a spreading shade tree in the little community of Ashford, WV. He was happy to see us, remembering me from last year, and wanted us to go with him to his home where he could play music and maybe we could sing. On the way there, he mentioned the Holstein cemetery. Would he take us there, we asked? Sure, he said. He'd like to go himself.

The cemetery is located on a little knoll about Bull Creek, where Larry's early ancestors settled when this was still part of Virginia. According to what we could find in family history, they came there around 1770. They lost their homes when the mineral rights were naively sold years ago and strip-mines took their farms. Today Bull Creek is off limits; only mine traffic is allowed. How sad is that?

But the cemetery is still accessible. As we entered, Junior said, "My mother and father are buried here. I want to sing something for them." He pulled out his guitar and began to sing That Home Above, a gospel song (you can here Bill Monroe singing it here). Junior's singing, in his aged, quavering yet true voice, was perfect for the time and place.

Junior's singing, in his aged, quavering yet true voice, was perfect for the time and place.
 What struck me in this place was that although all buried here were related, they spelled their last name at least four different ways! There was Holstein, Holsteen, Holstine, and Holstien. Which is correct? All of them, as well as Holsten, Holston, Holestine, and several other variations.

Many graves were marked only with rough stones, with no names discernable.

This old tree with its gaping opening caught my eye and reminded me of Larry's stories of his father going after bee trees and bringing home "bee gums." He'd cut out the section where the bees were, put a board on top and bottom and bring his bees home.

Larry was touched to see the grave of Dempsey Holstine, who loved to play music. Someone had placed a wreath shaped like a guitar on his grave. How fitting and respectful.

We didn't spend a lot of time here; Junior wanted to get home so we could sing. But we will return, and soon. There is so much history here of hard-working people, many of them coal miners and their families, and here is where his roots first grew.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Lynn said...

again such an interesting post, isn't this wonderful for you and Larry, to get this chance for him to reconnect and you to connect..I look forward to more.

Sue said...

What a wonderful little piece of family history. Thanks for sharing it.


hart said...

Such a pretty place. My family has the journal of an Civil War ear ancestor. Her son's name was Darley, and sometimes she spelled it Darleigh, either way a lovely name I should have used for one of my children.--Jane

Steve Ferendo said...

I enjoyed the story of your visit. My family cemetery is found in Sedalia, Doddridge County. It is probably long neglected and forgotten by most. As long as I am living it will be remembered.

Nance said...

I followed the link and listened to Bill Monroe's group sing while watching Junior play the guitar. I wish I could have been there. I have a great appreciation for old cemeteries and old-time singers. Brings back good memories for me.

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