When the Tennessee Valley Authority came to Loyston, they knew they had to do two things. They had to relocate families and relocate graves. To do so, the TVA developed two departments. One group was responsible for interviewing families and taking inventory. (I’ll talk about that later this week.) The other group was responsible for documenting graves and contacting family members to ask permission to move their loved ones. Needless to say, the business of moving graves was not an enviable task.
Finding the Families
The first step to moving the graves in Loyston, was to find the heirs of those who were buried. Remember, it was the 1930s and some of the graves were marked with years from the 1800s. Finding the next of kin was no easy matter. The best course of action was to reach out the community to find family members. For that reason, it worked to the TVA’s advantage that Loyston, and the surrounding communities, were close-knit. Usually someone knew someone who was related to the person the TVA was looking for.
Once found, each heir had to sign off on the grave removal contract to give the TVA permission to dig up the remains and relocate them to a different cemetery. The TVA had a few cemeteries established for this reason. For example, New Loyston Cemetery would become home to a vast majority of the graves. Other remains were moved to the cemeteries requested by the family members.
As you can see in the above example, Rachel Loy Irwin’s son gave permission for the grave to be relocated. While these documents do not deal with the most pleasant information, a genealogist can find some important information. We know that Rachel had a son named Harvey Irwin. She learn when she died and her cause of death. The original cemetery, and where she is being moved to, is also listed. In this case, Rachel was buried at Anna Irwin Cemetery and is being relocated to Sinking Springs Cemetery.
Moving the Graves
After the TVA located the next of kin, the next step was to actually move the graves. To do so, either the named family member in the contract (or a family appointed representative) had to accompany the TVA to the original grave. Each excavation required a witness. At each disinterment, the TVA was required to fill out a Grave Removal Record. This was an accurate report of where exactly the original grave was and what was found in the grave. It also stated who the remains were transported to the new site. Once at the new cemetery, a “foreman of reinternment” reviewed the document and signed off that everything was handled accordingly. I don’t envy anyone who had to deal with the disinterment and reinternment of the graves.
By looking at Rachel Loy Irwin’s Grave Removal Record, you discover just how specific the disinterment team had to be. The form asks for the condition of the container and the condition of the body. They were also required to state what was found in the casket (or box in many cases). In Rachel’s the only items listed were skeletal bones. Notice in the inventory line, it states that shoes were found with the remains. In other reports, you may find pieces of cloth or hair barrettes mentioned. The inventory items makes this feel a bit more personal then just the movement of bones from one place to another.
How to Find the Records
The TVA documents also included a follow up sheet that restated where the remains were reinterred. This document also includes the inscription found on the tombstone (if any). In some cases, pictures of the tombstones were included.
I have found the easiest way to locate the TVA Grave Removal documents is on Ancestry.com. To find these specific records, you will need to go under “card catalog” under the search category. Once there, type in “Tennessee Valley” in the keyword(s) box. This will pull up several results but you should see “U.S., Tennessee Valley Cemetery Relocation Files”. This will allow you to specifically search for your ancestor.
If you missed the first part of this series, “The History of Loyston”, make sure to go check it out!