Grave Shelters

By , December 7, 2009

Submitted by: Richard Ellington

I saw this query posted on the Family Tree Magazine website. I thought it might be interesting to some of our members, in light of last month’s program on Southern cemetery traditions, presented by John Clauser.

Q. I’ve been trying to find more about the low wooden structures built over some graves in mostly (or only?) Southern cemeteries.

A. Grave houses, also called a grave shelters, were common in the South, especially Appalachian areas, to protect loved ones’ graves from the elements and grave robbers. They usually resemble small houses with peaked roofs, and could be made of logs, lumber, stones or brick. Some grave houses were open sided, like the one in this Melungeon cemetery.

Sometimes a single house may have sheltered more than one grave, such as the Airmount Grave Shelter, built in 1853 in the Airmount Cemetery near Thomasville, Ala.

According to Tennessee GenWeb, a grave house is different from a mausoleum: “The grave house is built over an ‘in earth’ interment, while in the mausoleum the bodies are above ground, often being placed in a alcove in the walls.”

You can see photos and get more information at Tennessee GenWeb, on the Redbone Heritage Foundation website and on the Forum.

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