Bill Blackard and his wife, Jean, have discovered thousands of grave sites in Columbia County.
Bill Blackard sits on a grave in an old family cemetery in Appling. Blackard and his wife, Jean, have been working on a book documenting the cemeteries throughout the county. The couple hope their book will become a valuable resource for people who are interested in researching family history.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Their goal, they say, is to let others know how they can find the same sites.
"We first started on this adventure probably six years ago," Blackard said. "We've just been trying to record the names and help people find their ancestors. One of the biggest pleasures we had was taking a couple to where their ancestors were buried (in the Hardwick Family cemetery near Phinizy). We hope (our research) will make it very easy for people to find them."
The Blackards are working on a book to do just that. One of the sites that will be mentioned is the final resting place of Dr. William A.L. Collins, who, the Blackards say, tended to U.S. Rep. Thomas E. Burnside after he was fatally wounded in a duel in 1828 with George W. Crawford, who later became governor of Georgia and a U.S. secretary of war.
Blackard, 76, said his book also will include a few illustrations and historic photos and a locator map for county burial sites. Though the Blackards have cataloged nearly 7,000 graves, Blackard said the book will not be printed and released until the couple are confident they have located most or all of the county's burial sites.
"I know there are a lot more out there, and we want to get to them before they get torn down," Mrs. Blackard said.
The couple can find old church cemeteries easily enough, but they rely on property owners and, often, hunters to notify them of smaller family burial plots on private property.
Many rural Columbia County families preferred not to travel by horse and buggy to Augusta to bury their loved ones in the 1800s and early 1900s, Blackard said.
"They were buried at home. Back in those days, it was more convenient," he said.
The Blackards found Columbia County's first clerk of court, Peter Crawford, and his wife, buried between two homes in Maple Creek subdivision off Columbia Road.
Finding such burial areas is not always that easy, Mr. and Mrs. Blackard said. Many are in wooded areas no longer frequented by passers-by.
Sometimes, monuments or even headstones mark graves, but the Blackards say they have gotten pretty good at recognizing the simple head- and foot-stones and the ground depression left by old graves.
The Blackards still know of a few important people buried in the county, although they have no idea where their graves might be. Missing graves include those of a Revolutionary War soldier named Robert Reynolds, and Benjamin Andrews, a legislator when Augusta was the state capital.
"He was an important man back then," Mrs. Blackard said.
Blackard said he and his wife are in the final stages of compiling information for the book.
"We have had a lot of fun meeting people we didn't know and making some new friends," he said. "We really enjoy history. It has been very rewarding."
Anyone who has information about existing cemeteries or would like information about locating a grave can call the Blackards at 541-2356.
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