Friday, February 11, 2011

Tilmon & Elizabeth O'Neal

On January 4 of this year I published a blog about the return of my great grandfather's wooden grave marker, after it's having gone missing for thirty-five years. You can read that article here: Tilmon W. O'Neal and his wife Elizabeth Gaskins O'Neal are buried near O'Neal Drive in the Trent Woods area of Ocracoke village.

About two weeks ago Joyce Spencer (Tilmon & Elizabeth are also her great grandparents), her sister-in-law, Bobbie Jean Midgette, her son, Jesse Spencer, friend Clifton Garrish, and I gathered at the graveyard to place a new stone marker at the grave site. Joyce remembered exactly where our great grandparents are buried and was instrumental in seeing that the marker was procured and the grave properly identified.

Click on any photo to view a larger image.

The New Marker:

Jesse & Clifton Placing the Marker:

Betty Jean, Philip, & Joyce:

Lachlan & Philip at Lachlan's Great Great Great Grandparents' Grave:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Sam Jones, Island Legend. You can read it here:


  1. Phillip,

    Are people still buried in the grave yards around Ocracoke and, if so, what rules govern who gets buried where? I might want to be buried in my own back yard, although the next owners might find it a bit disturbing!

  2. There are more than 50 cemeteries on Ocracoke, mostly on private land. Traditionally folks were buried near their home. The last I checked there were few laws in North Carolina governing death and burial. Yes, people are still buried in the small family graveyards around the village...but, of course, space is increasingly scarce.

  3. Anonymous11:43 AM

    I'm glad you included this follow-up story (and wonderful photos) about restoring the grave marker for your relative.

    It certainly made for a very special and memorable day. Lachlan is so darn cute, too!

  4. I'm glad you took Lachlan with you. We must pass along our roots to our childen and grandchildren. I was amazed to know there are that many gravesites on Ocrakoke. Thank you Phillips for this wonderful blog.

  5. Anonymous1:55 PM


    I recall you previously answered a question here about death and dying on Ocracoke, addressing the issue of "local" funeral service providers. Your photos beg some new questions, however: What about cemetery services? Who digs the graves? Who provides headstones/markers? Thanks, as always, for graciously fielding all our questions about life--all phases of life--on Ocracoke.

  6. Most funerals nowadays are handled by Twiford's Funeral Home (based in Elizabeth City, and with a facility on Hatteras Island). Generally Twiford's sees to the digging of the graves. When my mother died, in 1989, my family and I insisted in being involved with the process. We helped dig the grave, and remained after the graveside service to cover the grave. Although Twiford's is very professional and sensitive, I think the funeral home folks were a little unnerved. They like to sanitize the entire affair and keep fake grass covering the sand and dirt, and don't feel comfortable knowing that the family sees dirt being shoveled onto the casket. But physically helping with the entire process was helpful for us (not only did we participate in the funeral, but my mother was in her own bed, and I was holding her hand, when she died [I don't like the term "passed away"]).

    Islanders typically purchase headstones and markers from firms in Elizabeth City or Morehead City. The monument companies either bring the markers down and install them, or, as was the case with the smaller stone for my great grandparents, we do that ourselves.

  7. I forgot to answer the question about the funeral services themselves. Most services are held in either the Methodist or Assembly of God church. However, I have been to funeral services on the beach, in the yard at Books to be Red, and at other places. Some folks just have private affairs (often connected with scattering of ashes), or even parties (Don Wood [see and]) always insisted that he wanted his daughters to throw a party after he died, and that's just what they did.

    As a side note, Jim Cornette, who died last year, told his sons that he wanted whoopee cushions on the church pews for his funeral. His was one of Pastor Laura Stern's first island funerals, and she was understandably a bit nervous about that funeral (there were no whoopee cushions)...and more than likely nervous about this whole Ocracoke Island charge also.

  8. Anonymous9:50 AM

    Philip--Thanks for sharing your experiences. My first encounter with death and funerary ritual was back in the early '70s at age 13. The three-day funeral home viewing for my paternal grandmother struck me as odd. In '87, my maternal grandfather opted for cremation--no viewing, a simple church memorial, with ashes scattered on the lawn at his cabin on 10 acres. My last memory of him, he's standing in his driveway waving goodbye after a visit. A lasting image far preferable than those I recall of my grandmother. When my dad passed away, we buried his ashes on the lawn of the cabin, then each drove a golf ball into the woods off the burial mound--a send-off more meaningful to us than the typical sanitized approach, as you described.