FamilySearch Helps Identify Graves in Historic Cemetery

A historic cemetery located in Houston’s Fifth Ward was in need of a cleanup. In 1995, a non-profit group called Project RESPECT began working on it.

On October 17, 2020, several young service missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with their families and leaders, participated in an the ongoing cleanup of the Historic Evergreen Negro Cemetery. FamilySearch has started a pilot project to identify those who were buried in these cemeteries.

The Evergreen Negro Cemetery is believed to be the third oldest African American cemetery in Houston. The cemetery burials date from approximately 1887 to 1950. Those interred in the cemetery include former slaves, Buffalo soldiers, World War I veterans, and other residents of the Fifth Ward.

The cemetery was once owned by one of the founders, Fifth Ward resident, businessman, and former slave A.K. Kelley. He established the cemetery with Reverend Edward Lee and W.B. Zinkey. After Kelley died, he was buried in a family plot in the Evergreen Negro Cemetery.

In 1960, the city of Houston expanded a road and split the cemetery. This caused the bodies of 490 persons to be moved and re-interred in other cemeteries. By the 1970’s the cemetery was overgrown with vegetation. In 2009, the Texas Historical Society declared the Evergreen Negro Cemetery a Historic Texas Cemetery.

FamilySearch, working with Brigham Young University’s Record Linking Lab, is using automated tools to pull information from Texas death records previously digitized and indexed by FamilySearch. This is important because some of the gravestones have become unreadable.

After a list of names is populated for a specific cemetery, FamilySearch will work with the community. They might be able to tell people which cemetery their ancestors are buried in. FamilySearch will also share that information with the people who have responsibility for the cemetery.

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