We Washed a Lot of Tombstones'
Florida Couple Records Burials at 19 Clarke County Cemeteries in Second Book
By Val Van Meter
The Winchester Star
BERRYVILLE - It's not every woman who is willing to spend her wedding anniversary in a
But this was the case recently for Mary Royston, along with her husband, Don, who were
The couple completed a second book, cataloging burials at 19 cemeteries in Clarke County
and incorporating information for 63 others.
"I would not have had the patience to do this," said Mary Morris, archivist for
the Clarke County Historical Association.
But Morris was the spur that led the Roystons to the project.
It was Donald Royston's interest in his family tree that first brought the Ocala,
Fla., residents to Clarke County's Green Hill Cemetery four years ago.
Royston is a Clarke County native, while his wife hails from Winchester.
Many of Don Royston's ancestors were moved to Green Hill after the widening of U.S. 50
destroyed the family graveyard above Berry's Ferry.
But finding a grave in that cemetery was difficult.
So the Roystons dedicated two years to recording the almost 7,000 names they could
decipher on the cemetery's tombstones that date back to 1873.
When they offered a copy of the book they created to Morris, she mentioned the need for
similar research at the many other cemeteries in the county.
Last summer, the Roystons dug into the new project.
"We had to," Don Royston explained, "because that's when we were
Cooler weather is a better time for cemetery research, the couple agreed: less vegetation
and less chance of encountering a snake as Mary Royston did at Green Hill. But, they
didn't have that luxury in their schedule.
The Roystons said Morris provided part of the book's information, from an index of old
cemeteries which was printed in the proceedings over 60 years ago.
She also helped to update the references to the locations of the old cemeteries. Many were
listed as being on a certain farm, but the ownership has changed since then.
The Roystons said they also got invaluable help from people who continue to care for the
"Dorothy Davis was very helpful with the Milton Valley Cemetery," Don Royston
said. They worked closely with her, trying to align their findings in the cemetery with
her work on records of burials.
"We washed a lot of tombstones," Don noted.
Their work cataloging the names of those buried in Clarke has given them many insights
into the county's history.
"I was amazed that so many of them had served in the armed forces," Mary said.
Although their efforts have yielded thousands of names, and some information on those
buried in the county, there are still plenty of gaps, Don said.
For instance, many of the cemeteries have sunken places indicating a grave, but no
tombstone, according to Don.
And, he said, there are probably many old family cemeteries that no one now can locate.
The cemetery lists, he added, are not "a complete work. There's a lot of
information that isn't in there."
That search for information is the spark that got Don started on these projects.
"I love history, any kind," he said.
He's written a history of his family in Clarke. The first Royston, Peter, may have
come from the Tidewater area. Four of his sons signed the petition to split Clarke from
Frederick County in 1836.
Although he knows where Peter lived on the Blue Ridge, Don said he has yet to discover
exactly where Peter sprang from.
But he hasn't given up. Every so often, he stumbles over a new piece of information
that raises hope there may be a trail back to Royston's beginnings.
For instance, he said, he recently read a young woman's Civil War journal that
mentioned an artillery shelling on the Blue Ridge. One person was injured, she wrote, at
the Matthew Royston home.
"That was Matthew Whiting Royston," a brother to my great grandfather," he
At a meeting of the Genealogical Exchange, Don was shown a piece of metal that may have
been the actual shell. It was dug out of the ground when that old Royston homestead was
He's found many stories of his ancestors, things "I never knew, until I started
The Roystons' two books have made quite a contribution to the research of others,
Now, she said, genealogists "won't have to walk through the whole cemetery,"
trying to find a name.
And, maybe someday, someone will offer the Roystons Peter's name, from the place where
he was born.
Copies of the Roystons' latest book, "Cemeteries of Clarke County Virginia,"
can be purchased at the Clarke County Historical Association museum in Berryville for
$19.95. The book is also available from New Papyrus Publishing. The museum also has copies
of the Roystons' catalogue of burials in Green Hill for $29.95
RETIRED P. I. , FAMILY GENEALOGIST