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Madison County Commission looks into forming Cemetery Rehabilitation Board

The goal of the board would be to help identify and maintain old, private cemeteries that the public may not know even exist.

Posted: Sep 18, 2019 9:16 PM
Updated: Sep 18, 2019 10:43 PM

Unidentified and neglected cemeteries are scattered across Madison County. The Madison County Commission is trying to change that as they look into creating a "Cemetery Rehabilitation Authority Board."

On Wednesday, the commission revisited the topic and said the board would be made up of seven volunteers. The goal of the board would be to help identify and maintain old, private cemeteries that the public may not know even exist.

"People are awakening to who their ancestors are, and as more people realize their ancestors passed through here and some died here, they want to find those graves and go make the picture of the tombstone," John Rankin, a historian, said.

John Rankin calls himself a "Cemetery Finder" in Madison County. He tells WAAY 31 he's been documenting old, rundown cemeteries for generations. Soon, help could be on the way.

"This cemetery committee that was being discussed is serving to go map out cemeteries throughout the county," Rankin said.

Rankin has documented plenty of private cemeteries that are overgrown, with damaged tombstones. District Four Commissioner Phil Vandiver tells WAAY 31 he does not want to spend county funds on this board.

"Let's evaluate where we are right now before we start saying we are going to put county money, county equipment, county personnel in it," Vandiver said.

The Madison County Commission cannot directly spend money on private cemeteries. They can however, give money to the Cemetery Authority Board, if created, to help maintain the sacred grounds. District Six Commissioner JesHenry Malone, likes the idea.

"That we are able to catalog the cemeteries in the county, not only for historical purposes but to make sure we aren't disturbing the sacred ground," Malone said.

Just a week ago, Huntsville police started investigating one of Huntsville's oldest cemeteries, Richard's Cemetery. The man who owns the property could face criminal charges for removing or damaging graves on the land.

As the county continues to grow, more developers could come in and make a similar mistake. Rankin hopes it never happens again.

"But it's all developed now, and that happens all the time. We can't do anything about what has already happened. We'd like to prevent that from happening where it shouldn't," Rankin said.

The Madison County Commission has not voted on creating this cemetery board yet. They say more meetings are needed before a vote on the topic.

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