SALISBURY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — What started as a clean-up effort at the historic Dixonville Cemetery eventually turned into a massive research project to discover exactly who is buried there.

At the time the project began in 2009, just 18 graves were visible. Dixonville Cemetery Task Force Chair Emily Perry said she and a group of concerned citizens just wanted to clean up the burial grounds after years of neglect and vandalism.

She said she never expected what they would uncover.

“As we started working, we didn’t know how old the graves were, but we found one from 1851. That was Mary Valentine. It was her grave,” said Perry.

As they continued their work, the team unearthed 530 graves and decided to find out exactly who the people were.

“I didn’t even know I had someone buried here until we started working. And then I realized that I had a little cousin who was an infant,” said Perry.

On Saturday, community leaders and Dixonville neighbors dedicated new memorials that display the names of the buried souls. The gathering also served as a time for people to tell stories about their time growing up in Dixonville.

“I grew up here in Dixonville. I went to Lincoln Elementary School from the first grade through the seventh grade. I walked through this cemetery every day,” said Bill Woodruff. “The one thing that disturbs me most about this cemetery is that so many of the markers that were here are no longer here. And those that are here appear to be damaged.”

The project also served as a reminder of the importance of honoring history, so that it doesn’t become lost like the hundreds of people buried at Dixonville Cemetery.