Norfolk County Historical Society of Chesapeake, Virginia
Preserving and Sharing Chesapeake, VA History Since October 1963
A Family History Mystery
by Amy Williamson Jonak, Wallace Room Volunteer
Sitting on its little wooden pedestal above my grandmother Evelyn’s desk, surrounded by photos of family members long-gone, you’d hardly notice the glossy white doll head. Her pale face was surrounded by rows of curls, the only color on her, a hint of pink on her cheeks. “We found her at the construction site,” said my father, Porter, “when I took Mother to identify the caskets.”
It was sometime in the 1960s when Porter got the call to take his mother, Evelyn, to the massive construction site of the new interstate. Today we call it I-64. Heavy machinery had dug up several caskets near Highway 168 and Military Highway. Nobody knew what to do with them. I still don’t know if the highway people called my grandmother because she knew the history of the area or because one of the caskets bore some reference to our family name, “Williamson.” It turned out Evelyn knew who was in the graves and she was close enough kin to give permission to move the remains. Boxes and bits were removed from their hundred-year home and the big equipment went back to work.
Telling the story years later, Porter said he saw several caskets of various sizes. One had a small window above the area for the face. At least one was cast iron. Evidently, a large casket belonged to Porter’s great-great uncle, Everett Williamson, a farmer and former Confederate ordinance officer. Who were the others? Where did the highway department rebury them? Sometime in the 1980s, thinking back over the casket episode, Porter decided “we MUST find Everett!” The search was on.