The Lawrence County Historical Society has always recognized the importance that cemeteries play in the county’s history. In 1976 Irene Black and dedicated band of volunteers walked every county cemetery and published a 1126- page book of county burials. This publication, now out of print, has long been the genealogists ‘bible’ for folks buried in Lawrence County. However, since 1976 many tombstones have been added to the county’s cemeteries, calling for some kind of update.
To republish this massive work by Mrs. Black was too prohibitive in cost as well as too demanding for the Society’s limited volunteers. Additionally, the way genealogical research is conducted today demands on-line databases. So while the Society was pondering how to go about this overwhelming task, Noble Brown, a long time trustee of Centerville Cemetery, an early cemetery still being used, offered his plat maps to aid in the updating process. Then another member, Rose Robeson who has family buried there, agreed to look up obituaries for each and every one of the over 800 burials there. Another member, Kevin Borden offered photographs of every tombstone in the cemetery and set about creating a database that could be used to enter the information as it was gathered. A plan was formulated to begin with this one cemetery, and develop a process wherein other cemeteries could be updated as time allowed.
How the Process Evolved
A dedicated group of volunteers spent early summer mornings at the Centerville cemetery before the heat forced them to quit, plotting the grave sites on graph paper and reading the tombstones. This information was transferred to an Excel program created by Kevin Borden. Volunteers would then check this information with Mrs. Black’s cemetery book. Mistakes, typos and omissions were discovered in her book, which were inevitable in a work of that magnitude, but were now able to be corrected in the database. Many tombstones were unable to be read, because they had weathered so badly. Because of Mrs. Black's book with the inscriptions recorded 40 years prior and with their locations marked, the volunteers were able to identify these now unreadable grave markers. Noble Brown's plat maps also aided in the process when early death records at the court house were found but no tombstones were discovered.
Rose Robeson began collecting obituaries from microfilmed newspapers in local libraries and in the Historical Society’s collection of death notices. Descendants of families offered their funeral cards, Bible pages and also copies of obituaries. One lady drove up from Mississippi with a scrapbook her mother had kept of family deaths. The Society’s researchers checked newspapers archived on-line for deaths that occurred in other places, but with the interment in Centerville Cemetery. At the time of the cemetery tour Rose had collected obituaries for over 90% of the deaths occurring in the last 100 years and an impressive amount of obituaries for deaths occurring in the late 1800’s.
In 1976 Mrs. Black had identified about 400 burials. The earliest grave is dated in 1829 and is the grave of the little 3 year old daughter of David and Elizabeth Phelps. Until the early 1900’s the cemetery was known as the Phelps Cemetery. However based on the number of unmarked graves close to this early grave, and the fact that this area was settled in 1815 by 100 settlers from Kentucky and Tennessee, there are probably as many as 50-100 other graves of earlier settlers that now lie buried and forgotten by all except God.
From death records and obituaries, as well as the graves for those who have died since 1976, the number of graves has increased to over 749 burials that have been identified. But there are only 633 tombstones so there are more than 100 burials for which no stone marks the grave. As any genealogist knows, most cemetery records only record the data from the existing tombstones. By adding all the research that has been found to the database, these additional burials can now be discovered by family researchers. The database can be updated on line as more burials occur there, as well as when more information is found.
(If you find mistakes, please let us know with corresponding evidence. Any data that does not agree with Mrs.Black's cemetery book has been checked for accuracy already. If you have photographs or obituaries for Centerville you would like to contribute email that to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The database not only provides a photograph of every tombstone, but also the actual copy of the obituary or death record if found for the deceased. Veterans are identified as well, to allow veterans’ organizations to mark the graves with flags. The plot map showing the relationships of related individuals has not been placed on line but will be available for viewing at the Lawrence County Historical Society’s genealogy library. J Brunson has also created family trees from the obituaries showing the relationships between families buried at Centerville. That too will be available at the Library.
How to View the Database on Line
The database is best viewed on an updated browser such as Internet Explorer 10, Google Chrome, Safari 6.1.1. (It does not appear to work with Firefox.)
Once on the Cemetery page, find Centerville Cemetery. Click on the photo of the map to enlarge it if you wish to know where Centerville is located. Click on the photo in the center of page to view photos from the cemetery tour. Click on the button that says “click here to see database,” to go to the database.
Once on the database page you will find the directions to the cemetery with GPS coordinates, photographs and two charts: one of surnames and one of veterans buried at Centerville.
By clicking on the word “SURNAMES” that is underlined, an index page will be opened.
From this page you can click on any of the surnames (blue color) and that particular page will open.
On the individual pages, photographs of the tombstone, a copy of the obituary, death record, funeral cards and photographs, if available, will be found. Some pages have more information than others. The quality of the photographs is based on the original that was provided to the researchers. Click on the individual photograph on that page to enlarge it.
Each page can be printed and the previous page or next page viewed by using the button at the top of the individual page. By clicking the index button the viewer will be returned to the index page.
Merrry Christmas to all genealogists! Thanks for the gift Rose, Noble, Kevin, Donna, John and Judy! Good work!
Please note: This on-line database has been donated to the Historical Society for the use of FAMILY RESEARCHERS ONLY. Commercial use is prohibited as well as placing the information in bulk on other sites such as Find- a-Grave without adequate compensation to the Lawrence County Historical Society.