A passion for the voiceless led volunteer Grady Kelley of Thomaston to the Georgia State Archives to receive an award on October 16. The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board (GHRAB) established the Outstanding Archives Awards Program in 2003 to recognize outstanding efforts in archives and records work in Georgia. By publically recognizing excellent achievements, the Board strives to inspire others.
Grady Kelley is the Chair of the Cemetery Committee on the Upson Historical Society Board and a volunteer at the Thomaston-Upson Archives. It is Grady’s volunteer work that earned him the coveted award. There are 10 award categories; Grady earned an award in the Local History Advocacy category.
Grady exudes a passion for history, a determination to learn, and a mission to find and honor those who have passed on. He devotes his time, money, and energy in helping researchers look for the final burial places of missing ancestors.
“I love Grady,” said Archives Director Penny Cliff. “He has such a heart for what he does. And he helps so many people. Bonnie, Claude and I at the Archives are so happy for him receiving this award. It takes a lot of gas money to go driving around Upson County hunting cemeteries. What does Grady do? He collects cans to raise money for gas so that he can find our “Lost and Found” cemeteries. I would love everyone to not only congratulate Grady for such a great job, but give him your cans.”
Because of his heartfelt desire to be a voice for the voiceless, Grady used an existing cemetery book with its dated information and created a tool to help and direct researchers from all over the United States. Topography changes with the onset of vegetation and changes in the location of roads and their names made the directions in the published cemetery book, at times, difficult to follow.
Grady was up to the challenge. His final product is three large bound cemetery books titled Lost and Found Cemeteries: Two cemetery books alphabetized A-Z complete with names of cemeteries, their photographs, maps on the back of the photographs and sometimes photographs of those interred. He used the 1992 Upson Historical Society cemetery book and efficiently chronicled each of the 116 published cemeteries. Not only does Grady have more accurate information printed on the existing cemeteries, but has found family cemeteries not in the Archives’ records. These are included in Lost and Found Cemeteries.
The creation of the first two cemetery books was not enough. He created a third binder. This binder contains African-American cemeteries, once again filed A-Z. Prior to his work, the Thomaston-Upson Archives did not have a comprehensive list of African-American cemeteries. There were only a few listings donated by a handful of researchers. Grady worked with local African-American history buffs and others familiar with the area, to locate these cemeteries. As there is so much interest in African-American research, Grady made a separate binder with photographs and maps to the locations of these once lost cemeteries.
In addition, Grady is actively trying to find lost cemeteries for patrons who call, email, or visit, the Thomaston-Upson Archives. These patrons visit the Thomaston-Upson Archives from all over the United States. Mr. Kelley volunteers to find the cemeteries and contacts the property owners for permission to drive the visitors to the sought after location of the final resting place of their ancestors.
Grady works with Archivist Assistant Claude Burgess to place his “found” cemeteries and headstones on the website Find-A-Grave with listings of cemeteries and graves from around the world. Despite personal challenges, including recent health problems, Grady never gives up, stays the course, and continues seeking elusive cemeteries. It is because of this one man’s vision that this documented work will continue to benefit generations to come.