Saturday, February 16, 2013

Unmarked Graves

If you know for certain who is buried in an unmarked grave and where, you need to get that information out to as many people as you can before the information is lost forever.

In 1977, one year before my grandfather Houston Simmons died, he took me to the Grantham Family Cemetery in Lamar County, Mississippi and showed me two graves marked only with cement posts flush with the ground.  He said, “This is where my parents are buried.”  That one statement was more valuable than you can imagine.  When I mentioned it to my dad and my uncles years later not one of them had a clue as to where their grandparents were buried.  Their grandmother died in 1910 and grandfather died in 1937.  My dad wasn’t even born until 1937.  If my grandfather hadn’t shown me these two graves that information would have been lost forever.  So what did I do?  I told as many people as I could tell.  I put it in my file so that other researchers would have the information.  I also added the pair to Find-A-Grave with the information that the graves were unmarked.

Here is another example.  In 1998 I interviewed Howard Simmons, now deceased. He stated that in 1936, George Simmons, grandson of Silas and Janet Simmons, took Howard out to the Old Enon Baptist Church Cemetery in Forrest County, Mississippi and showed Howard where Silas and Janet Simmons and their son Thomas were buried.  At that time their graves were still marked with fieldstones, though no inscribed markers.  When I went out to the cemetery, the fieldstones were still there but they were piled up in the corner. Howard was a genealogist so he made sure that he recorded this information and passed it on to as many people as he could and I do the same.  Silas and Janet’s grandson is a credible source for his burial. He told Howard that the family visited the graves often. 

How about an entire unmarked cemetery? I wrote an article for Southern Footprints, Volume 2, Number 2, Apr/Jun 2002 detailing the discovery.  Here is a condensed version:

Family historian Mack Simmons [deceased] authored a genealogy manuscript in the 1950s which included information about a cemetery located on the “Old Frank Simmons Farm.” In an 1990 interview, Mack stated that the graves in this cemetery were marked with hand carved wooden markers and that a woods fire in the 1920s wiped the cemetery out. Mack had visited the cemetery as a child.  We were able to pinpoint the location of the property through Benjamin Franklin Simmons’ land patents.  The land description is as follows:
SW1/2NE1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W
W1/2SE1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W
NE1/4SW1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W

Using a Lamar County Highway Map that has the sections outlined, we knew his property was on Ray Boone Road.  My Uncle Leonard and I went out to take a look.  After talking with some of the elderly local residents, a man stated he knew of such a cemetery and took us down Ray Boone Road and pointed into the woods and said, "I remember it being in there somewhere." After approximately 45 minutes my uncle tripped over a piece of wood. When we examined the wood further we found it to be a partially buried, hand carved, wooden grave marker that also showed signs of fire damage. After searching the area we found 3 such markers as well as bricks that had been used to outline the graves. My uncle contacted the current owners of the property who did not know about the cemetery. They gave permission to re-mark the graves and to fence in the cemetery. We had looked into moving the remains to Grantham Cemetery where other family members are located but it was cost prohibitive. My uncle re-marked the graves, enclosed it with a rail fence and put up a sign stating "Simmons Cemetery."

Frank Simmons Family Cemetery


Here is a close-up of one of the markers we found after my uncle cleaned up the cemetery and remarked the graves.

There are eight known burials in this cemetery including my 2nd great-grandparents.  It breaks my heart to think that they might have been totally forgotten.  These were real people that lived real lives.  They deserve to be remembered. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Such a touching article. I would like to print this out and add to my GG grandparents file that will be marked with a special note UNMARKED GRAVES. This summer when I went back home to do genealogy research I found the exact spot they were buried and to my surprise..NO MARKERS. Thankfully, the gentleman who ran the cemetary double checked the records and when i questioned family members they had no idea. I really doubt it was from a lack of money. It was very shocking and sad. Thanks for bringing back the memory of the folks in the unmarked graves. Maybe in the future you can post how you submitted the info for Find A Grave.

  2. Thanks for the nice comments :) I forgot to mention sexton records. I am so used to dealing with rural cemeteries with no records at all that I didn't think about the sexton records :) I have an example of that too! William Morris is buried in the Magnolia Cemetery (one of the city cemeteries in Augusta, Georgia). He has no marker BUT the cemetery has EXCELLENT burial records :) :) :) Here is what I learned...

    William A Morris
    Age 40
    Buried 23 September 1839
    Born in Ireland
    Died of yellow fever

    WOW! I was so excited to find this when I visited the cemetery office :)

    You are more than welcome to copy the blog post. I will tell you there is a part II coming tomorrow :)

  3. Many Thanks Michelle. Mine are not rural, the one I mentioned is in Newark, NJ.

  4. Michell,
    I would also highly recommended that GPS coordinates be taken and posted as a more exact location of your grandparents graves. You can do this by using the Compass on any Iphone. Not only is it more exact but it will forever be the same and can be readily found with any modern day handheld GPS device.


  5. I agree 100% Charlie. The problem is the last time I was at either cemetery was over 10 years ago, long before I had a GPS. If I get back out there (which I hope I do) you can bet I will be GPSing it :) :) :)

  6. Your comments touch home. This past Thursday I wemt looking for a cemetery that I visited 10 years ago to mark it's GPS Coordinates. I wasn't successful; I didn't find it. I know it's in the pines. I know all tombstome have been knocked down by vandals. And lastly, 10 years of growth in a stand of pines is atrocious.

  7. Keep trying, Charlie! I lost a cemetery like there here in Columbia County, Georgia. It took me three tries to find it again :)

  8. I wonder why a brick or something can't be used to mark the grave? One thought is to use a marker and write on the brick, leave it on their grave, or bury so that it is at ground level, yet readable. I am visiting a cemetery this summer that has many unmarked graves. I want to mark the graves this way.

    1. This would be perfectly fine as long as you have permission from the cemetery, or if it is a rural cemetery, permission from the owner of the land.