More Family Cemeteries Dying Away in the South

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At the end of Bettis Road, across a padlocked gate and up a grassy hillside lane, generations of James Jordan's ancestors lie buried atop a wooded knoll -- for now.

A rusty fence encircles the cemetery, and tilted headstones point skyward amid the leaves. Walking among the locust trees, Jordan points out graves of long-dead kin, including the Chandler family matriarch who left instructions and money for preserving the cemetery.

Throughout the South, family cemeteries pepper the landscape. But as cities from Atlanta to Memphis radiate rapidly outward, the growth is swallowing rural land that swaddles the graves.

In Tennessee alone, dozens of long-hidden cemeteries appear each year -- sometimes in mid-construction -- creating headaches for builders and heartaches for families of the dead. Some cemeteries are moved at landowners' expense. Those that stay sometimes become forlorn islands of green amid parking lots and suburban developments. Others are paved over or bulldozed.

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