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Florida strives to uncover lost history, hidden away in forgotten graveyards

Several tombstones are present in a graveyard.
Tom Flanigan
WFSU Public Media
Every tombstone tells a story. Tallahassee's Old City Cemetery has been the final resting place for many prominent Capital City residents since 1827.

Much of Florida's history is, literally, underfoot. Now there is a major effort to find and preserve the state's many lost cemeteries where that history resides.

Barbara Clark, regional director of the Florida Public Archeology Network, was giving dozens of people a Saturday morning tour of Tallahassee's Old City Cemetery. She stopped at a grave marker for Thomas Brown, who died in 1867.

"He was from Virginia," she said of Brown. "He was our only Whig governor of Florida. While he was in Virginia, he was clerk of the post office there."

Clark told the group Brown was in Virginia when he invented the post office box. He also lent his name to Tallahassee's Tom Brown Park.

Untold numbers of stories like this are lost to history because, as Jonathan Grandage with the Florida Division of Historical Resources noted, most of the state's forgotten graveyards are on private property.

"There may be 7,000 or 8,000 unrecorded cemeteries in the state of Florida. About 1,700 are recorded in the Florida Master Site File. So, we want people to know they can get in touch with us or the Florida Public Archeology Network to help document the location of cemeteries," he said.

Success in that endeavor, Grandage explained, will literally uncover many lost chapters of Florida history.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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