Uncovering lost history: Simpson County historian uses new technology to locate 100+ unmarked graves

Long-lost Confederate burial ground among discoveries

FRANKLIN, Ky. –  One Simpson County historian is using new technology to uncover the literal remains of the county’s history.

“It’s very intense because you’re finding stuff that’s been lost throughout the generation. And it’s kind of heartbreaking, also.”

For the past year, Billy Wilkerson used the Simpson County Historical Society’s new Ground Penetrating Radar unit, GPR, to find unmarked graves.

The GPR works by displaying waves to indicate disturbance in the ground.

When Wilkerson passes over a body, the detailed data shows how deeply a person is buried, and it can even differentiate between whether there’s a casket or just a body buried underground.

“We’ve actually got six documented cemeteries that are missing from our records,” Wilkerson explained. “We basically know who was there, but we have no idea where the actual location is. Most of these graves are being missing for 20-plus years. And then we have been been able to research and recover a lot of documented graves that have been destroyed by farmers.”

Wilkerson approximates he’s already found around 100 people lost to Simpson County’s history, including a long-lost Confederate burial ground.

“We actually found nine unmarked graves right next to the family cemetery. We believe it goes along with the history of Confederate soldiers retreating from Bowling Green to Nashville, and they were caught up into an ambush there by the Union. We know that after the Confederates retreated from that location, the wounded were dispatched and placed in the backyard. And I believe we have found that.”

Despite the growing amount of requests, Wilkerson has decided to keep his service free of charge.

“We’re looking forward to these projects,” said Wilkerson. “It’s going to bring our history back.”

You can help the Simpson County Historical Society keep preserving SoKY’s history by making a donation.