Thursday, October 6, 2016

Two Unmarked Graves in Smithland Cemetery

When someone dies, at least three records are usually generated - a death certificate, a cemetery record and an obituary. There are times, however, when one or more of those records is missing.  Smithland Cemetery has a number of burials without tombstones so, in order to tell the story of those buried there, we must rely on other records.  For example, we can learn about the death of little Lena Hodge, the 10-year-old daughter of Harriet Hodge of Smithland, even though she has no tombstone. The story of what happened to her can be found in the Paducah newspaper.[1]

Lena and her mother Harriet Hodge went to Paducah on the steamer Golconda to celebrate the 8th of August emancipation celebration. After celebrating all day, Harriet and Lena returned to the boat to return home. The girl went to sleep, but soon  was missed. Her hat was found floating in the river, indicating she had probably gone overboard.

Lena's body was found near the wharf boat. "Evidence showed that no one saw the girl fall go into the water but several people heard the splash and there was a cry of 'Somebody Overboard! The remains will probably be taken to Smithland for burial. "[2]     It makes sense that she was buried in Smithland Cemetery as she and her mother lived in Smithland and a number of years later when her mother died, she was also buried in Smithland Cemetery. Unfortunately, Lena's grave was never marked with a tombstone, but our best guess is she is buried there.

Another person thought to be buried in Smithland Cemetery without a tombstone is Sterling Barner Taylor.  Sterling was born in 1869, just a week before his mother, Pattie Barner Taylor, died of complications of childbirth in Nashville, Tennessee. She had recently separated from her husband, B. Waller Taylor, and the child, who was named for his grandfather, Sterling M. Barner, was reared by his grandmother, Sarah Jane (West) Barner,  in  Logan County, Kentucky. In fact, Sterling B. Taylor was the heir to the combined estates of Benjamin Barner, Sterling Barner, Sarah Jane Barner and Pattie Barner Taylor.

As an adult, Sterling B. Taylor took his medical training at Bethel College in Russellville, Kentucky and  Ohio State University College of Medicine. Later he became chief surgeon of the N.Y. Central R.R. and was a fellow in the American College of Surgeons.

Most of his professional life was spent in Columbus, Ohio before he retired to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he died 21 September 1944. It seems strange that he would be buried in Smithland Cemetery since he only lived in Smithland for a very brief time after his mother's death, but two different, undated obituaries from the Columbus, Ohio newspapers stated that burial was to be in "the family burial plot in Smithland, Ky." One obituary also says that the burial will be "by the Isadore Branstetter funeral home." In addition, his death certificate[3]  states the body was to be removed 24 September 1944 to Smithland, Kentucky. To date, nothing has been found that there was ever a tombstone marking Sterling's grave or a newspaper notice of his funeral.

These are only two of the unmarked graves in Smithland Cemetery. There are many more that need to be identified and the decedents' stories told.

[1] "Child Drowned," Paducah Evening Sun, Tuesday, 8 August 1899, p. 1.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Pinellas County, Florida Certificate of Death #18971 of Sterling Barner Taylor shows the body to be removed 24 September 1944 to Smithland, Kentucky.

Published 6 October 2016, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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