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Aspiring Eagle Scout preserves Graves family legacy with cemetery restoration project in Hebron


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

What started as a young man’s attempt to learn more about his ancestors turned into a community-wide celebration of a region’s history Sunday.

Joseph Kiley, addresses the crowd at Sunday's Ceremony honoring his ancestors. Kiely restored a family cemetery located in the back yard of a home in Hebron (photos by Mark Hansel).

Joseph Kiely, addresses the crowd at Sunday’s Ceremony honoring his ancestors. Kiely restored a family cemetery located in the back yard of a home in Hebron (photos by Mark Hansel).

The “Dedication Ceremony in honor of  Patriot John Graves, Captain Culpepper County Militia” included the Combined Kentucky Color Guard, members of BSA Troop 727, and dozens from throughout Boone County and well beyond.

The crowd braved the afternoon chill to join event sponsors the Boone County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Kentucky Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), to recognize a local patriot and the efforts of his descendant.

Joseph Kiely knew there was a cemetery in Boone County that contained his ancestors, but a trip to the Boone County Public Library in July revealed details of his family’s legacy.

With the help of Robin Edwards, a local history associate at the library, Kiely found out that his sixth great grandfather, John Graves, was most likely buried in the Graves-Duncan Cemetery in Hebron, along with several other ancestors.

“We believe John is buried here, but we have had no luck finding his headstone,” Kiely said. “His son Joseph Graves, Sarah E. Graves, his granddaughter who died at 16, and their families are all buried here, along with a family friend.”

At left, family members and friends work on restoration of the Graves-Duncan Cemetery in Hebron. At right, family, friends and guests at the dedication ceremony Sunday.

At left, family members and friends work on restoration of the Graves-Duncan Cemetery in Hebron. At right, family, friends and guests at the dedication ceremony Sunday (click to enlarge).

The Graves’ were one of the earlier families to settle in Boone County in the late 1700s and John Graves was a Revolutionary War soldier.

Kiely, 14, was looking for a project to obtain his Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout rank and thought the restoration of the family cemetery would be a great way to fulfill the requirement, while preserving his family’s legacy.

Edwards set up a meeting with Kiely, Matt Becher, rural/open spaces planner with the Boone County Planning Commission and Bridget Striker, the Library’s local history coordinator, to discuss the project.

“They told Joseph how he could go in and clean up the cemetery and put a new fence around without causing any destruction to the graves there,” Edwards said. “I felt like this would also be a good project for the Boone County Daughters of the Revolution to become involved with. I belong to the chapter and we have talked about dedicating a marker for a Boone County Patriot for some time.”

graves-21-gunsFrom there, the project took on a life of its own, with Kiely spearheading the restoration effort.

With the help of family members, Kiely started working on the project in earnest in September, removing the honeysuckle, preserving the periwinkle and identifying grave sites. Along the way, additional markers were located, including some at the edge of the plot that likely were those of slaves.

“We have had very generous donations from the Boone County Historical Society, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Home Depot and so many others,” Kiely said.

Kiely said he also owes a debt of gratitude to Phillip Smith, who owns the house on Sequoia Drive, off of Graves Road, where the cemetery is located.

Smith said he had no reservations when he purchased a home with a cemetery in the back yard in July, or about letting Kiely restore it.

“I was excited. When I first bought the house, I thought it was something I would do sometime down the road,” Smith said. “The fact that it getting done so early is awesome.”

Sunday, the fruits of this Hebron family’s labor of love were unveiled.

The grand ceremony befitting of the Graves family legacy included the dedication of a stone for John Graves, markers from the DAR and SAR, floral tributes and a musket and rifle salute.

john-graves-headstoneHolian Monuments in Florence, donated the stone that the SAR and DAR plaques were mounted on.

There was also a ceremonial folding of the American Flag and presentation to Kiely’s great-grandfather William “Bill” Graves, who is 95 years old.

Several members of the family, including Bill Graves, Kiely, and his mother, Laura Kiely were inducted into the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Laura Kiely said she was proud and humbled by her son’s efforts and the family history lesson revealed during the task.

“I have had the privilege to witness a young man develop a rich appreciation of his heritage, a great respect for his country, and a passion to do his best to honor that history, service, and memory of our ancestors,” she said. “Joseph embraced the challenges as the focus and scope quickly expanded from cleaning up a cemetery in disrepair, to documenting all graves within the cemetery. I am very proud of Joseph, but I think he would agree that the focus is not on him, but rather on his ancestors.”

Family cemeteries are common in Boone County and throughout Kentucky, but the locations of many of them remains unknown.

Joseph Kiely and Phillip Smith during the cemetery restoration. Smith owns the home where the GRaves-Duncan CEmetery is located and gave his blessing to the restoration project.

Joseph Kiely and Phillip Smith during the cemetery restoration. Smith owns the home where the Graves-Duncan Cemetery is located and gave his blessing to the restoration project.

As families have moved away and the landscape has changed, markers have been removed and historical notes have been lost.

Kiley was fortunate that members of his family kept good records.

“Joseph’s great, great uncle Robert Graves, great grandmother Virginia Graves, and grandmother Sue Graves Spalding took excellent notes over the years and enabled him to help put some of the historical pieces of the puzzles together,” Laura Kiely said.

Striker, the local history coordinator said it is estimated that there are more than 300 family cemeteries in Boone County and about 225 have been identified.

“In a situation where there is a field with a lot of trees growing up, we know it’s the possible site of a family cemetery,” Striker said. “We are now finding more as areas are being impacted by development.”

At Sunday’s ceremony, Joseph Kiely admitted he was a bit overwhelmed that so many people had worked so hard to help preserve his family’s legacy.

“This far exceeded any expectations I might have had when I started this project,” he said. “It just really feels great.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com


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2 Comments

  1. Nicole Dyer says:

    Did you mean “ancestors” instead of “descendants” in the first paragraph?

Reply to Judy Clabes Cancel Reply