Woodruff brothers learn more about their family history
This article is reprinted with permission from the Davie County Enterprise Record.
By Mike Barnhardt
William Woodruff shimmied up the tree ó the one that was pushing the marker for his great-great-great-grandfather from the ground. Sufficiently high, he tied a rope to the tree and came back down. The other end of the rope was tied to brother Ron’s truck.
Then they cut the tree. Their relative’s grave marker stayed intact. And more importantly, so did the other stones in the St. John’s AME Zion cemetery on Milling Road in Mocksville.
It’s a lot of work, but worth it to the retired Navy man and plumber, respectively. The Woodruff family is proud to restore their family’s part of the cemetery ó family they’ve just recently discovered.
The journey started about two years ago with a request from another brother’s daughter to obtain a death certificate. Every discovery led to a question. It was enough to write a book ó something Ron did and just had published.
“We started looking deeper,” Ron said. “The more we looked, the more we wanted to find out. Before I knew it, I had one notebook, then two, then six … We found relatives we didn’t know we had.”
It led them to Mocksville, a place they knew little about. Growing up in Salisbury, visits to relatives there were rare.
A walk through the Mocksville cemetery hadn’t really turned up much until they started looking through the underbrush and trees. They saw the grave marker: Henry and Clementine Woodruff.
“We just happened upon it,” Ron said. They recognized the names from the research they had been doing in the register of deeds offices and libraries in Davie and Rowan counties ó research that eventually led them to 13 states. Her birth and death dates were engraved: 1859-1924. Only his birth date was listed: 1856. “We were exuberant,” William said about the discovery. “Here is a link to start from. We want to find as may people and relatives as possible.” And we knew we had to preserve this tombstone.”
The research led to 1,400 named descendants of Henry and Clementine Woodruff.
William, who is part of a family of 10 children, urges families to keep up with their ancestry. “We looked at the lack of information we knew as a child. We grew up in Salisbury, and knew nothing about Mocksville. It’s not fair to generations down the line not to have this information available. Families that don’t pass on information are doing a great injustice.”Not all of the information on ancestors is good, but it needs to be remembered correctly, he says. “We want to know. That’s where we came from.”
They learned their ancestors were slaves on the Woodruff Plantation, just a couple of miles down Milling Road from the cemetery. Magalene Gaither arranged a visit to the site that helped the brothers. “Reading books and what people tell you about slavery … I got a feeling our family was not treated that way,” Ron said. “I felt good about that. It was an honor for me to get to walk the grounds that they walked on.”
It’s important enough to the Woodruff brothers that they worked through a steady rain to clean the cemetery recently. Brother Wayne joined in helping carry the brush to the back of the lot. As they look around at the names on the tombstones, they realize the names are familiar. They could be more relatives.
The book is published, but Ron Woodruff is still taking information on his family. Call him at 704-636-5652, or write him at 450 Harris Road, Salisbury, NC 28147.