19 August 2010

Name That Cemetery!

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber August 2010

No this isn't a quizz show. I had a call from California and the caller was confused by the names of the cemeteries in Boyd County, Kentucky.

The caller was working on a Stephens family which means she also had to look at Stevens spellings. She had a death certificate for a Stephens showing one of her ancestors in Stevens Graveyard but when she utilized the Boyd County Master Cemetery Database it stated he was in Stevens/Marcum Cemetery. When she looked at the Boyd County, Kentucky Cemeteries Location Guide she found four cemetery listings utilizing both spellings at different locations. Could "the cemetery lady" please help her?

Working with genealogy every day it is easy to assume that everyone knows genealogical abbreviations and lingo. Working with the Boyd County Cemetery Master Database is also easy interpretation for those of us that utilize it every day. There is a nice introduction on the history of the database in the Location Guide. Since one file is .pdf and the other a searchable dbase not every online user gets to the introduction.

Cemeteries have a history of changing names with land ownership, not just here in Eastern Kentucky but across our nation. A good example is the history of our own Klaiber Cemetery which has had at least four different names over the years & geological survey maps incorrectly spelled it Clyber. Coroners and undertakers many times either incorrectly spelled the cemetery name or named the cemetery after the person being buried there compounding the name problem.

Thus when the Kentucky Historical Society Cemetery Grant began in 1968, volunteers needed to be very careful when submitting data, especially since there may be more than one cemetery with the same name in any given county. The volunteers needed to distinguish any two with the same name. KHS required that each cemetery have a name and some cemeteries were unnamed. It was up to the volunteers to provide a name for each cemetery while distinguishing them individually.

KHS required latitude and longitude as the only form of direction. This only added to the problems. First, unlike today, only a few professionals had anything like a GPS with them and secondly the volunteers had to manually figure the coordinates which left room for error [we found one directional placing the cemetery in the Ohio River]. The KHS form did not give route numbers.

The reality of the KHS Grant program was that it failed on several levels and was a huge success at the same time. Yes I know that statement does not seem to make sense. So let me explain. First it failed on the state level simply because early computers could not handle all the data from all the counties. Next because of computer limitations each cemetery was assigned a number instead of utilizing the assigned names causing even more confusion. Thus the failure. But the grant required that a copy of the typed material be left in each county and that was and is a huge success.

The more I worked with my beloved Boyd County cemeteries the more I became aware of the "name game" and all the limitations it caused for researchers. I began keeping a notebook with notations on each cemetery which developed into The Boyd County, Kentucky Cemeteries Location Guide. Far from a publication, it is simply a collection of historical notations and directions to cemeteries within the county. Because of the various name changes or "AKA" [also know as] each entry is cross referenced.

As my notes on cemetery names grew so did my notebooks with information on who was buried in each. I collected the KHS typed forms and then compared them with the available handwritten entries that, coordinator volunteer, Evelyn Jackson kept for Boyd County. A few of the readings never made it KHS. It became apparent that a master index for Boyd County was a must and new computer technology allowed me to develop a template.

When creating the columns I knew instantly that the KHS numbering system did not work and a column would have to allow for the cemetery name. With the "name game" I soon realized the column needed to be large enough to include some description. Thus we have "Stevens on Durbin", "Stevens/Marcum", "Stevens, Otis" and simply Stevens. If you look in the Location guide you will get directions and information on each. Stevens/Marcum has an AKA Marcum and is cross referenced in the guide as Marcum because some death certificates listed it as Marcum Cemetery.

With the template in place our newly created "Boyd County Master Cemetery Database" was on the way. A column for the source was marked KHS as all the typed grant forms were entered. Another column tells the viewer the year the entry was created. When step #1 was completed Jackson's hand written notations were added with any entries that had not made it to KHS. The source column is marked ESJ telling the reader that it was from her files.

Step #3 was the addition of any older readings that I had found scattered throughout publications and in the vertical files. If an entry differed it was added to the database.

Step #4 was the addition of entries from death certificates 1911 - 1916. The source column then says Dcert. By adding these we know of people that are buried in unmarked graves.

The database at this point still had and has limitations. We knew that not all Ashland Cemetery was in the KHS readings nor did we have Rose Hill entries completed from a separate book. The older entries from Rose Hill have now been completed thanks to Jim Kettel and Ashland Cemetery has supplied the library with additional information which is online as well. Still far from complete the Master database continued and continues to grow.

Step #5 developed with the creation of the Boyd County Fiscal Court Cemetery Board. Again new technology made "reading" a cemetery a thing of the past and "digitizing" the cemetery the new lingo. Joyce Whitlock and I set out on a two year journey across Boyd County to photograph tombstones. Once the tombstone was uploaded to the computer, a split screen view of the actual stone allowed less mistakes in entries into the dbase. While a majority of the cemeteries are digitized it is still an ongoing process. The digitized photographs are available at the Boyd County Public Library.

We have been working with the Boyd County PVA office who is also digitally mapping the county and the cemeteries. During one of our first meetings I asked about a particular cemetery and was told since they did not have the name they just called it whatever came "closest to the location." Oh the haunting "name game" again. The PVA office now utilizes the Location Guide and we hopefully have resolved creating yet another "AKA."

The database has proven to be extremely beneficial for researchers as it continues to grow. It has answered some interesting questions over the past few years. In one example we knew from the KHS reading that a stone existed in 1977 but was not standing when digitized for the followup a couple of years ago. By following research leads with help from the database we were able to determine when the grave and stone had been moved and where it now is.

In the case of the caller from California she was able to determine gps and driving directions to Stevens/Marcum Cemetery. She quickly had the site up on Google Maps and now knows where her ancestor is interred.

The database entry shows that it was from the KHS reading and in the comments line was typed "unmarked." Since no additional comments or entries were made when we digitized the cemetery in 2005 no stone was located at that time either. Additionally the caller says she has the death certificate and an obituary stating that her ancestor is buried next to his wife. That information adds another unmarked burial in Stevens/Marcum Cemetery.

Thanks to the collective efforts of the Boyd County Fiscal Court Cemetery Board, the cemeteries of Boyd County now have road signs giving an added aide for drivers to locate those tucked in the foliage on the hill and hopefully solidifying the question of the name of each cemetery in our county.

It has been an honor to share the database template with our neighboring Greenup County. The template is designed so that other counties with data can be added or merged with Boyd County. The dream of the original KHS project so many years ago has become a local reality. Greenup County and Carter County all have cemetery road signs as well. Seeing the road signs makes me hope that the "name game" is no longer like a quizz show.


  1. Thank You! I so appriciate your help. The name game and spelling changes were starting to make me feel lost and that the Stevens/Stephens family buried in KY might have been lost too. With your help and patience I have found them. I was also able to learn more about researching cemeteries and how to use databases. I could not have done so without you, so again Thanks You. I have entered all the info from database, death certs and the notes from Evelyn Jackson into Find a Grave under the name Stevens Marcum Cemetery. So anyone searching will hopefully have an easier time finding the cemetery. God Bless you and thanks for your help. Kristina Poole Stevens

  2. I think your adding the information to Find a Grave is a wonderful service as well. I have enjoyed talking with you.