When Ross Grant was a little boy, he slipped into the woods behind his father's service station on U.S. Highway 41 to where a family burial ground was located.
The Catoosa County resident, now 81, said he found a green stone that looked like an huge emerald. He took it home, but his mama whipped him and made him take it back, he said. "That's the last time I went in there."
For more than 60 years he didn't go back. He finally was beckoned to return to the tiny cemetery off Roach Hollow Road by an interest in his family's roots, Mr. Grant said.
This time, instead of a whipping, a visit to his ancestors' final resting place introduced him to a trove of family history. He also learned some lessons in state law governing graveyards, like the $75 fine for disturbing a grave or the law against a private individual owning a cemetery.
"Here's what I remember about it," Mr. Grant said last week about the family grave site. "It was all pastureland, not grown up like it is now. I know that great-granddaddy William Lafayette Ross is buried there and his wife, Julia Ann Mahan Ross. Then two of their grandchildren are buried there with them, and some of my aunts and uncles."
In the early 1920s the Ross family owned hundreds of acres in Roach Hollow, where today Anderson Road intersects. Over the years, the land passed from family hands, and by the end of World War II, the property had been divided and sold several times, Mr. Grant said. But he never forgot about it.
"I started clearing out the land (in the cemetery) about five years ago, but the owner then stopped me," he said last week. "He was going to build houses on it."
The would-be builder died before he could develop the land, and current owner Wayne Frick gave Mr. Grant and his cousins, Catoosa County residents Mildred O'Donnell and Bob Headrick, access to the family plots, Mr. Grant said.
"Now we're out here clearing it out ourselves," said Mr. Headrick, 77.
Mrs. O'Donnell said she remembers visiting the cemetery as a youngster in the late 1930s and early 1940s, cleaning it up and piling rocks around the graves, which had markers then. There were two separate plots, one with an iron railing and the other with a wood rail fence, she said. Both fences are gone now. So are the rocks and gravemarkers.
An Atlanta-based archeologist will help locate the nine graves known to be on the site, they said.
Mr. Grant has five new granite markers he said the Veterans Administration provided to mark the graves of William L. and Julia Ross and three of their infant children buried there.
William Lafayette Ross was a Civil War soldier, reaching the rank of corporal in the Confederate Army by war's end, which is what merited the federal government-supplied grave stones, Mr. Grant said.
Catoosa County resident Denny Hooper said he was glad to hear the cemetery is being reclaimed. He was part of a group that blocked the destruction of a burial plot off Old Mill and Pine Grove roads a few years ago. A builder was going to develop the land where a Union soldier is buried, Mr. Hooper said.
"I think too many are being dozed out and built over," he said. "I don't think federal or state laws are doing enough to protect them."