Beginning in the 1930s the Tennessee Valley Authority began building dams on the Tennessee River to provide hydroelectricity, irrigation, flood control, and navigation for the region. The rising waters in the affected states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee meant the relocation of about 15,000 families. Not all members of those families were alive.

A 1933 article from Fortune Magazine stated: "From ninety-two cemeteries to drier territory, tactful TVA will transfer the occupants of 4,260 historic graves, “with signal honor to the dead and with due deference to the living.”"1

As additional dams were built, more graves would be inundated. According to TVA's website, from 1933 to 1990 they conducted surveys of all known cemeteries impacted and relocated over 20,000 graves of the more than 69,000 which were investigated, moving them to "comparable burial places nearby."2

Of course, being a government operation, documentation of all activities was done--no doubt in triplicate. These physical records are stored at the National Archives, and the TVA website has a link to PDF and Excel versions of a database which provide quite a lot of basic "who and where" information about the graves relocated.

Since these records contain much data of interest to genealogists,, in cooperation with the National Archives, provides online access to scanned copies of the actual forms to its subscribers. These include the rather gruesome "Disinterment Report" forms which state the condition of the container and the container's remains, as well as an inventory and disposition of the articles in the grave.

After almost 90 years, all that remained of great-great-great Uncle Charles' remains was "Parts of large bones, large amount of black dirt, parts of skull." After 40 years distant cousin Enos fared little better: "traces of black dirt, skull parts, suspender parts, parts of brains petrified." (I don't care if it was the Great Depression--I would not have taken this job, no matter how much you paid me.)

You may recall that only 20,000 of the 69,000 graves were located? Some relatives did not want their loved ones' remains disturbed, so many bodies still lie beneath the waters of the TVA.

~ earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust ~

  1. Where did the Tennessee Valley Authority Come from? (1933 Article from Fortune Magazine)
  2. TVA website: Our History
  3. Wikipedia: Tennessee Valley Authority

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