Spring Hill Cemetery always has been a special, sacred place to me. Its wooded hills and gently twisting lanes often lead me to the graves of four great-great-grandparents, three great-grandparents, three grandparents, several great-aunts and great-uncles, plus dear old Mom and Dad.
I stop by several times each year to visit the family plots, refresh old memories, and soak up the natural beauty of the place. Someday, my wife and I will be buried there, beside my Grandmother Cullen, a.k.a. “Mo.”
Spring Hill has been on my mind a lot in recent days, mainly because of a Christmas present that our daughter, Elizabeth, purchased for me: a six-month subscription to the genealogy website, Ancestry.com.
Ancestry.com is an amazing resource. You can type in a name, and instantly find yourself reading digitized copies of old death certificates, census records, military records, cemetery documents and research done by distant relatives who share the same ancestors.
I always have been the “family historian,” so I quickly put my new subscription to good use. Now, if I only had a spare $10,000 to buy some tombstones …
The family graves at Spring Hill are simple. Each person has a nice little gray granite block inscribed with his name, birth year and death year. My father has a bronze veteran’s marker; my Grandfather Dawless, longtime scoutmaster of Troop 8 at Edison School, has a stone with a Boy Scout emblem.
Sadly, I learned, that’s not the case on my dad’s side of the family. They lived and died in Louisville, Ky., but many lie in unmarked graves. I don’t know why. Someone could have, should have, bought them headstones.
For instance, my Grandmother Cullen was one of eight children. She sometimes spoke of her baby brother, John Courtney Clifford, who died in 1898 when he was 17 months old.
Courtney has no marker, and neither do six of the other seven Clifford family members buried together between 1885 and 1969. I’m planning to buy a single stone for all seven, including my great-great-grandparents, John and Sarah Clifford, who were born in the 1820s.
Thanks to Ancestry.com, I figured out why my great-grandfather was named Lithgow Clifford. His father worked for Wallace Lithgow & Company. The sons were named Lithgow and Wallace.
I have often visited another family plot in Louisville’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, where Colonel Harland Sanders, George Rogers Clark, and Muhammad Ali are also buried. Thanks to Ancestry.com, I learned that another great-great-grandfather, Richard Cullen, is buried there, too. He was a carpenter who served in the Confederate cavalry before deserting and returning to Kentucky.
His daughter, Fannie, bought two lots when he died in 1912. Fannie died in 1933 and lies in an unmarked grave next to her dad. When Richard Cullen’s widow died in 1936, she ended up across town in Schardein Cemetery, now abandoned, vandalized and overgrown. It’s unlikely that her grave is marked.
I’m looking forward to more surprises — both happy and sad — thanks to Ancestry.com.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.