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Sunday, July 17, 2016

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Part 3: Finding Burials for Formerly Enslaved People

Ellis McClure reading inscription at Fairview Cemetery, 2014

This is the last of a three part series highlighting resources that can help you identify the burial site for Emancipated ancestors and their children. In Part 2: Finding burials for formerly enslaved people, you learned about different types of historic cemeteries and how to use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to find cemeteries using property records. Below you will learn about three more resources to discover burial sites.

Local history
Many cemeteries that no longer exist have been documented, and cemetery books are found among the local history and genealogy collections of the public library. Check out the library catalog of the library located in the area where your ancestor lived. County or parish cemetery books have indexes containing cemetery names or surnames of individuals buried in a cemetery. Librarians are also good resources for locating cemeteries or the history of families from a particular area.
Other places to check to learn more about local history are:
  1. Local historical society
  2. Local genealogical society
  3. Local archives
The book, "Greenwood County Sketches," a local history book by Margaret Watson, proved to be quite helpful in learning about early cemeteries in Abbeville and Greenwood Counties, SC. It provides the histories of local families, early churches, and cemetery information. One early family mentioned descended from John Partlow. John Partlow was a large plantation owner and a devout Universalist. At the time he and his family attended worship services in Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

When John Partlow died, his family was not allowed to hold his funeral service at Mount Moriah because Universalists believed all people would be saved. His sons had a new church built in four weeks in 1844 and sent for a minister to deliver his eulogy. The name of this new church was Save All as given by Thomas Coleman Lipscomb who purchased the property when the Universalists eventually left the area. Coleman sold the property which became a burial ground for people of color from the mid 1800's to about 1966 according to surviving cemetery markers.

Probate records
Many times the final expenses for burying a loved one were paid from the proceeds of the estate. Chances are that you may find records showing payments for a plot, funeral home, clothing, or transportation. If the funeral home is mentioned, find out how to access those records to see if the burial site is mentioned. If the funeral home is no longer in business, ask funeral home directors who are currently in business to see if they know who is storing the records from the older funeral home. Also check the local library, historical society, or genealogical society.

A very productive way to learn about burial sites is to search old newspapers. Create a timeline of newspapers in a locality while accounting for boundary changes. Search for the most recent obituaries in the most recent editions of the newspapers. Use the U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America, 1690 to Present to discover all the various titles of newspapers to search in a given area.
As you move back in time, make note of the earlier cemeteries that are named. Figure out what burial sites people traditionally used for early burials. Search the following to glean what you can from the newspaper:
  • obituaries for specific people to identify burial sites
  • funeral homes for where they buried people
  • early probate notices that may lead to maps and estate records
  • early real estate sales transactions where cemeteries might have been
  • articles naming early churches that may have had adjoining cemeteries


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