Reaching first milestone
Katherine Reece, known by many simply as “Kat,” got interested in genealogy as a teenager. Her grandmother and great aunt would take her to the family cemetery in Walker County where they “introduced” Reece to her ancestors.
“I don’t remember ever not having a love for cemeteries, and I don’t remember ever not being a history geek,” says Reece, secretary/treasurer of the Chilton Cemetery Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of cemeteries in Chilton County.
Reece’s husband, Jeff, an Ohio native, is president of the association, which formed just over a year ago.
“When I met my husband, I infected him with my genealogy bug,” Reece joked.
With her background and his ignited interest in history and genealogy, the couple started going into old family cemeteries in Chilton County and were disappointed with what they found.
“It was pretty depressing to go out and see the state of the cemeteries,” Reece said, adding that often, cemetery headstones are the only birth and death records for long-dead ancestors. In fact, many early census records would include only one’s first two initials and last name.
With a desire to give something back to the community, the couple joined the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance alongside Ricky Mims, who was the ACPA county coordinator for Chilton County.
“Ricky had wanted to do something about the cemeteries for a long time,” Reece said. “Together, we decided to form the Chilton Cemetery Association.”
In effect, Jeff Reece became the assistant county coordinator for the ACPA, a group that encourages people to go out and work in cemeteries on an individual basis. Upon further exploration, the CCA found that many old, historic cemeteries in the county had not been surveyed in 25 or 30 years.
“A lot of them had been lost again,” Reece said.
One of these was Caviness Gardens, which contains one of just two known graves of Revolutionary War soldiers in Chilton County, that of veteran Jonathan Clower.
With the help of David Dennis, president of the Chilton Historical Society, and Scott Martin, a descendant of Clower and member of the Sons of the American Revolution, they located the cemetery.
“Our first goal was to get out, locate and survey the cemeteries,” Reece explained.
Upon locating many of the sites, they found much destruction and vandalism. One example of this was at the grave of Sarah Crockett Goodgame, the rumored relative of legendary Davey Crockett, located at the Williams-Goodgame Cemetery in old Jumbo (northeastern Chilton County).
What really shocked Reece was that this particular cemetery is located near a road, which made the acts of vandalism seem even more outrageous.
“To me it was really brazen (of the vandals) to be that close to the road and be up in there,” she said. “Every headstone was broken into pieces, and half the wrought iron fence was torn up and gone. The other half was damaged.”
To make the situation even worse, among the vandalized graves was that of a 4-year-old boy.
“I can’t understand destroying a headstone,” Reece said. “I can’t get my head into the mind of a vandal that would do that.”
Despite the awful condition of the grave sites, CCA was able to accomplish much in its first year. The following are the most significant of these accomplishments:
Placed 10 veterans’ headstones and have two more to be placed
Held dedication ceremony at Ellison Cemetery (northeast Chilton) for the three veterans’ stones placed there
Assisted in the cleanup and dedication at Caviness Gardens where Revolutionary veteran Jonathan Clower is buried
Assisted in a workday at Mt. Springs Cemetery
Organized the major cleanup at Mullins Cemetery (located in Jumbo).
Registered 12 cemeteries with the Alabama Historical Commission
Raised funds for and placed the Sarah Crockett Goodgame granite slab monument
Assisted Hunter Bennett in his Eagle Scout project, a historical marker for Mullins Cemetery.
Among CCA’s plans for its second year are:
A second workday at Mullins on April 25
A cleanup day March 28 at Moore Cemetery near Cooper
Placing new headstones in Williams-Goodgame Cemetery
Organizing volunteers to help clean up the Klinner/Fuller Cemetery southwest of Maplesville.
Anyone interested in joining CCA should contact Reece at (205) 294-2197 or visit www.chiltoncemeteries.org. Annual member dues are $25 for a family, $15 for individuals, and $50 for businesses. Reece is also available to speak to church or civic groups.
CCA’s Board of Directors includes Jeff Reece, president; Ricky Mims, vice president; Kat Reece, secretary/treasurer; Candy Masters, board member; and Ted Urquhart, board member. Tim Mims of Mims Memorials and Troy Cleckler of Chilton Memorial Gardens also have been instrumental in helping the organization achieve its goals.