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Column: Stories from the past live on in Hall's cemeteries
Johnny Vardeman

This being the 200th anniversary of Gainesville’s official founding, history is on a lot of minds, and a lot of that history can be found in the city’s Alta Vista Cemetery, as well as other cemeteries in Hall and adjacent counties.

It is well known that two Georgia governors are buried in Alta Vista, as well as Confederate officers James Longstreet and C.C. Sanders, poultry pioneer J.D. Jewell, Dr. E.E. Butler, Dr. Richard Banks and astronaut M.L. “Sonny” Carter. There are other famous people whose tombstones dot the cemetery. But there are numerous other not-as-high-profile graves, too.

For instance, William Pugh Smith, first mayor of Gainesville; H.J. Pearce, later president of what would become Brenau University; and Gen. Sandy Beaver, longtime president of Riverside Military Academy. And the unusual: Harold W. Telford, whose tombstone simply says, “Lost in the Alps,” Joe McDonald Vandiver, “Lost at Sea,” and Maude Mooney, who as “Millie Vortex” was a circus trapeze performer.

There are 194 other cemeteries in Hall County. Alta Vista is the largest with more than 14,800 graves; Memorial Park has more than 12,800. As has been written here before, Theron Rogers of Gainesville is perhaps one of the most foremost authorities on area cemeteries as he is a volunteer with FindAGrave, a part of Ancestry, which is used by millions in genealogy research.

Anyone can use it free by signing on to and searching by name or cemetery location.

How it works

Here’s how Rogers explains FindAGrave:

It is a volunteer-based contributory website helping people record documentation for all deceased people. Volunteers walk cemeteries and photograph every grave marker. They also record obituaries from newspapers if the actual burial location is known. Church listings, historical societies and family information such as found in Bibles are other sources.

One important rule is there must be an actual identifiable grave or cremation to be recorded on FindAGrave. 

Thousands of volunteers have created more than 190 million memorials in 523,587 cemeteries in 244 countries.

Those signing up on FindAGrave can suggest changes, add information or photos, ask questions or communicate with other members about information you might have discovered. Once a person or grave has been located, and the Global Positioning System location developed, anyone can locate that grave and walk up to it by following the map. The GPS location is unique to each grave.

There is no master list of all cemeteries and burials. That’s the goal of FindAGrave volunteers, to develop that list one memorial at a time.

Besides Alta Vista and Memorial Park, other large cemeteries in Hall County are Broadlawn, Memorial Park South and Timberidge. About 75 cemeteries in the county have fewer than 10 graves each. Small, mostly family cemeteries might be hidden in woods, on a hilltop or on an old family homeplace. Many are neglected, overgrown and difficult to locate. 

Rogers is concentrating on the small cemeteries now that he has logged graves in the larger ones. He hopes those who are aware of the smaller ones that are not obvious will contact him so he can record and photograph them. Once a GPS location is affixed, no grave will be lost again. He wants to create a memorial for those not currently on FindAGrave. Those who have found a grave marker that isn’t on FindAGrave can contact Rogers. He can add any person who isn’t currently listed.

Those with questions or information can contact him at or 770-287-4808.

FindAGrave was started by Jim Tipton in 1995 to memorialize famous graves he had visited. It soon expanded to include all deceased people.

More on Alta Vista

Tombstones in Gainesville’s cemetery date back to the 1850s. The Minor Winn Brown cemetery, which was located at the present site of Hall County Library at the corner of Main and West Academy streets, was moved to Alta Vista in the 1920s. Judge A.C. Wheeler had bought the property to create the Wheeler Hotel.

Unknown victims of the 1936 tornado in Gainesville also are buried in Alta Vista.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.

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