What in the World? Sterling Cooper HERE?

Robin and I work on a variety of historic preservation projects related to cemeteries. Our latest adventure took us to Fuquay-Varina, NC's Piney Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. We knew no one buried there but that did not matter in our quest to document and preserve their memory and provide information to assist others with their family research.

We discovered that although most of the FindAGrave memorials for the cemetery had photographs, none had been GPS'd. The storing of GPS coordinates for each grave in the cemetery allows users of the FindAGrave app on their phone to walk within 15' of the grave. This is particularly helpful when a cemetery contains 1000s of plots.

Robin with Sterling S Cooper, Jr. at the Piney Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Fuquay-Varina, NC
Robin with Sterling S Cooper, Jr. at the Piney Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Fuquay-Varina, NC

The day was sunny but cool. It was early enough that fire ants weren't out in full force, making it easier to avoid their painful bites.

Our usual attack plan for a cemetery is that each of us takes a row of stones. We verify the information on the grave with what is already logged into the memorial. We check the photo to make sure it is readable, if not we upload a better image. Finally, we GPS the grave and move on.

Robin had completed about half of row five in the cemetery when she stopped dead in her tracks – no pun intended. She started jumping up and down, waving her arms frantically and yelling “Cindy, Cindy come here” at the top of her lungs!

I simply looked up, raised my hand to signal, “just a minute” finished capturing the GPS coordinates, and headed her way. Perhaps she needed help reading a stone.

“What is it,” I asked.

Robin, standing next to a four-foot-tall obelisk, had found Sterling Steven Cooper, the brother of her 2nd great-grandfather!  Why was he and his entire family here when all the rest of the Coopers were in Pittsylvania County, Virginia?

Later Robin reflected, "As I think back on this, I could have been bitten by a snake or a fire ant and would have gotten quicker help from a Chinese weather balloon than Cindy."

Oops... I need to work on my response time and priorities!

Sterling Joab Cooper and his wife Della Mills gravestone
Sterling Joab Cooper and his wife Della Mills gravestone
Alma C Matthews Cooper gravestone
Alma C Matthews Cooper, 1st wife of Jacob M. Cooper and daughter-n-law of S. S. Cooper

Looking around, we saw two additional Cooper graves. To Sterling's left is Sterling Joab Cooper and his wife Della. A quick Ancestry.com search results in identifying him as Sterling Steven's son. To the right is Alma C Cooper, wife of J. M.

Cooper plot at Piney Grove Cemetery
Cooper plot at Piney Grove Cemetery

Giving the area a broader view, we saw six unmarked graves on either side of the senior Sterling. Two were rusted funeral home markers, with names and dates unreadable. The remaining graves had rock headers and footers. Curiosity led to further investigation over the following days. North Carolina Death Certificates on the Ancestry website revealed the identity of four additional Cooper family members buried in the cemetery. Most likely they are in unmarked graves. Included is Jacob Moses (J. M.) Cooper, Alma's husband, another son of Sterling, Sr., and their son Craven Pierce Cooper.

Craven died tragically in a 1938 train accident in Morrisville, NC. Two years previous Craven's infant son was buried at Piney Grove. Their wife and mother Thelma Pearl White Cooper never remarried and is buried near her birthplace in Webster Springs, WV.

A death certificate for the second wife of Jacob Moses Cooper was discovered. He married Eldie Agnes Perry Cooper between 1920-1930. She died in 1952 and is buried in the cemetery as well.

Although we've not discovered why the Coopers settled in Wake County, NC, we do know that they arrived between 1880 and 1900. They lived and farmed both in Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs. Jacob farmed in neighboring Harnett County, a few miles south Fuquay Springs, the precursor to Fuquay-Varina.

For more of our stories about cemeteries searches, check out Cemetery Sorties. If you're interested in reading about other genealogy-related adventures and family discoveries, jump to the I Hunt Dead People Blog. If you don't want to miss a single musing, subscribe to our newsletter.


  1. Laurie Chamberlain on March 26, 2023 at 7:23 AM

    Great story!

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