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Volunteers identify headstone's owner

LAWRENCEVILLE - For nearly six months, a faded tombstone sat in the Gwinnett County Police Department's property room, awaiting an uncertain fate.

Friday, some of the mystery surrounding the grave marker was solved, as volunteers at the Gwinnett Historical Society took advantage of the research material available to them.

After spending a couple of hours searching through cemetery listings and census books, Rick Johnson, 70, of Lilburn said he found a match in the "Gwinnett County, Georgia: Families, 1818-2005" book: Reuben Irving Ball, who was born Jan. 14, 1877, and died Jan. 24, 1919.

"I saw an article in the Post, and I decided to look up some stuff," Johnson said.

Although most of the words on the stone were faded, police originally said the headstone appeared to be inscribed with the name "Ball" and the dates Jan. 14, 1873, and Jan. 24, 1919. Pictures show what looks to be a "R" and an "I" carved into the stone.

Johnson said he started with a book that lists people buried in Gwinnett County cemeteries. When he didn't find a match, he said he extended his search to cemeteries in Walton County and the former Milton County.

With no matches, Johnson said he turned to census records. Finally, he said he checked a book published by the Historical Society, and he found an entry that could match the man referenced on the headstone.

According to information submitted by Burton L. Terrell and published in the book, Ball is buried "in the John W. Ball Family Cemetery on Roswell Road near Dunwoody, immediately adjacent to the Big Trees Forest Preserve."

Ball, of the Beaver Ruin community, married Hattie Ione Martin of Norcross on Jan. 11, 1903, the book says. After they married, the two lived with Ball's parents on the John W. Ball farm outside of Dunwoody.

In 1910, the couple relocated to Gwinnett County, settling outside of Norcross near the Chattahoochee River. They moved again a few years later to the Beaver Ruin community, the book says.

When Ball died in 1919, 36-year-old Hattie was left to raise five children between the ages of 3 and 14, the book says. She lived for many years in Norcross, working as a practical nurse and as a clerk in Johnson's Store before her death in 1965.

Terrell's family is connected to Ball's through a marriage to Ball's daughter, according to the book.

Terrell, of Dunwoody, said in a telephone interview Monday the family has not yet decided what to do with the headstone.

"The family has the responsibility to decide something," he said. "We're waiting for opinions."

He declined to comment on how long the tombstone had been missing or how it ended up in the shrubs at the intersection of Buford Highway and Pittman Circle near Norcross.

Police have been in contact with family members, who have a week to decide what to do with the headstone, said Cpl. Darren Moloney, Gwinnett police spokesman.