Jim Holcomb's Preservation Efforts Result In Cemetery Guardian Award

Thursday, October 24, 2019
Hamilton County resident and local historian Jim Holcomb researches the past in his own way and it seldom includes trips to the library. Holcomb walks the hills and forested trails throughout this region and he discovers and catalogues history, one grave at a time. His quest to find forgotten graves and photograph and record vital information about the individuals buried in often neglected family cemeteries began in 1993 and during the last 26 years, Mr. Holcomb has transcribed more than 60,000 names.
Explaining his love of cemeteries, Mr. Holcomb noted, “Pages rip, ink fades and memories disappear. Cemeteries are better about standing the test of time - - but they don’t last forever.”

Mr. Holcomb was recently honored by the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR and the Hamilton County 200th Birthday Committee with a special award, the Cemetery Guardian Award. “For those of us who love local history and dabble, sometimes seriously, in genealogy, cemetery records are a treasure. Information provided by tombstones and the location of graves and cemeteries often provide clues to residence, possible sources of documentation and potential relationship to others buried in the same cemetery. Providing photographs is an extra gift for those researchers who may not be physically able to access remote locations,” said Hamilton County Official Historian Linda Moss Mines.

Hamilton County records indicate that there are more than 165 documented cemeteries within county borders, but the last official survey of county cemeteries occurred in 1939 as an effort of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression Recovery programs. Larger cemeteries, the Citizens Cemetery, the Chattanooga National Cemetery, Shallowford Memorial Gardens and others, are well-documented. Even previously known cemeteries such as the historic Beck Knob Cemetery, the oldest African-American cemetery in Hamilton County, can slowly disappear from public knowledge and documenting large historic cemeteries such as Pleasant Gardens Cemetery on Missionary Ridge can be a daunting task. But, small family cemeteries are often in danger of becoming overgrown or destroyed, in violation of Tennessee cemetery laws.

Mr. Holcomb’s award was presented during a celebration of Harrison’s historic role as the third seat of Hamilton County government, occurring at the Ruritan Club. 

“Hamilton County and those of us who value historic preservation owe Jim Holcomb our gratitude. He is a volunteer historian who is motivated by the urgency of preserving our tangible stone records of life and death.  He is truly our Hamilton County Cemetery Guardian,” said Ms. Mines.

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