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Local ‘cemetery detective’ honored for service to Christian County

Joe Craver stands next to the headstone of Episcopal minister A.H. McNeil in February 2020 at the UBS Cemetery on Vine Street.
Jennifer P. Brown
Hoptown Chronicle
Joe Craver stands next to the headstone of Episcopal minister A.H. McNeil in February 2020 at the UBS Cemetery on Vine Street.

As cemeteries age and gravestones fade, burial sites — and stories of those who came before us — can be lost to history. This is especially true in the case of African Americans, for which historical records are often scarce.

Thanks to the work of former Hopkinsville resident Joe Craver, who spent countless hours preserving the cemetery records of veterans and others, that won’t be the case for 9,780 individuals buried in Christian County.

Craver will be honored by the Kentucky Historical Society next month for his efforts. He’s been named the 2023 recipient of the Kentucky Historical Society’s Award of Distinction, which will be presented on Saturday, Jun. 3, during the Kentucky History Awards ceremony at the Thomas D. Clark Center in Frankfort.

Despite living in Hopkinsville for a relatively brief period of time — from 2014 to 2021, when he moved to North Carolina — Craver made an unprecedented contribution to Christian County’s historical archive by walking local cemeteries to collect names and dates on headstones. He then added the information, along with biographical details he discovered through research to Find-A-Grave, an online database of burial information frequently used by genealogists, historians and other researchers.

Craver was co-nominated by local historian and scholar Wynn Radford and journalist Jennifer P. Brown.

“What makes Joe so remarkable is the fact that no one ever asked him to do this work when he arrived in Hopkinsville,” Brown wrote in her nomination letter. “Joe was well into his daily ritual of trudging through dozens of cemeteries in Hopkinsville and Christian County before anyone understood the significance of what he was accomplishing.”

In addition to documenting thousands of local graves, Craver helped spur the reclamation of a long-neglected African-American cemetery — Union Benevolent Society Cemetery No. 5 (better known as Vine Street Cemetery). After the fraternal organization disbanded, the property fell into a state of disrepair for several decades. In 2016, Hopkinsville City Council voted to establish ownership of the cemetery and now devotes city resources to its ongoing maintenance.

“Thanks to Joe, a part of our community’s individual and collective history can now be accessed by anyone in the world, hopefully forever,” Radford wrote in his nomination letter.

During the June 3 ceremony in Frankfort, KHS will also recognize the authors of a bicentennial book on Trigg County history. “On This Date: Historical Facts of Trigg County, Kentucky, 1820-2020.” by Kim Fortner and Paul Fourshee is the recipient of a Special Projects award.

The public is invited to attend the ceremony. There is no charge to attend, but everyone is asked to register in advance.

Editor’s note: Brown is editor and co-founder of Hoptown Chronicle. She also serves as president of the Kentucky Historical Society governing board.

This article was originally published by The Hoptown Chronicle.

Julia Hunter is the engagement editor for Hoptown Chronicle.
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