Appalachia Graves

Comb Graves


Jay A Clark left a comment about comb graves on my recent post “Mounded up Graves in Appalachia.” I had read about the unique graves before, but had forgotten them until Jay left his comment.

In a serendipitous way, my friend let me borrow her book on the subject just after Jay left his comment.

Tennessee Folklore Society BULLETIN
Volume LXX, Numbers 1 & 2
Spring and Fall 2014

“The Tennesse Comb Grave Tradition” by Richard C. Finch

A “comb grave” is a burial that features a grave cover made, normally, of two rectangular slabs of stone leaned together to form a gable roof over the grave. The term “comb” signifies “the crest or ridge of a roof.” (OED, 1971). Combs have also been likened to pup tents and persons unfamiliar with the correct name commonly call them “tent graves.” However, “comb grave” is the name used by stonecutters and known users of this traditional style of grave cover, and its essential form is that of a gable roof set directly on the grave, with no supporting walls, The above-ground space beneath the “roof” is normally empty, not filled.”

Jay’s comment contained a link to The Grave Walkers website. You can jump over and click through the many photos of comb graves. Most are made from varying types of stones, but a few are made with sheets of metal.


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  • Reply
    Ric Finch
    July 5, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    If you want information (and images) about comb graves, I recommend you visit my homepage (and yes, you need to spell it “grate”) where I have several papers, data lists for several states, and lots of images.

    I’d be happy to correspond with anyone interested in this subject.

    Ric Finch

  • Reply
    Norma W Drake
    January 26, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    Someone was talking about graves built up with stone and having a flat stone covering as a roof. Those are called “cairns” and are different from Comb graves.

  • Reply
    November 16, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    I visited that website when Jay left the link on your earlier post – really interesting! I’ve never seen nor heard of that type of grave before.

  • Reply
    November 16, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    I didn’t know they were call comb graves. Where i was raised , my dad and i would go hunting and we went by the grave yard up on top of the mountain. He showed it to me. He said he thought i would be scared. I wasn’t at all. Next time im up there Tipper, i will take a pic. Of them and send you. Some of them has fallen down. Some of my people are buried there from long ago. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Jane W Bolden
    November 16, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    I’ve seen several comb graves. Some that have collapsed. My George grgrgr grandfather’s has collapsed.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 16, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks Ed for reminding me about the ‘comb’ of a roof. I had totally forgotten that usage but my Dad would say that.

    Incidentally Jay connects the conb grave with the Hartsell sandstone. Quite a few of the TN counties he mentions lie along the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau but in the valleys and to the west is limestone. So the comb grave form may be in some measure just due to being able to get native stone slabs.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

    The “comb” of a roof. I hadn’t heard that terminology used in a while. I have visited many graveyards during my genealogical life and have see all kinds of different ways of marking gravesites but never a Comb Grave. Interesting!

  • Reply
    November 16, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Looking at the picture you have I thought well I have seen many old pioneer grave sites like that just identified by a huge rock or rocks with no names in MS. I clicked on your link and realized what tent graves actually looked like. I was surprised to see so many. Unique. Made me wonder if one of my great-grandmother’s grave was a tent grave in the beginning because it was the only one in the cemetery that had its outline built up in rock and later cement and I wonder if at one time it was covered. No one left to ask now. Then I remembered a pioneer grave yard that has been reclaimed by the forest. Only way I was able to get to it was after a tract of timber had been clear cut. It had about 10 graves. Those graves outlines were built up with rocks and later the top had been replaced with a slab of concrete. In MS too. I remember asking my Mother why that grave yard was way out in the forest. She said that was a thriving community at one time and now all the people had passed away or left that area.
    I was also surprised when I clicked on the different cemetery sites, the second picture Lawrence County, Morris Chapel, AL., and there was one related to me – a Haynes. My Pipes family also comes in from AL to Hardin Co., TN. Saw pictures of Amory, MS., Saltillo, right by Tupelo, MS., and Tishomingo, MS. Been to all of them. Thanks for showing the links, it was really interesting.

  • Reply
    November 16, 2018 at 10:17 am

    My great, great grandfather Thomas Tipton, who is buried at Miller’s Creek in Estill County, Kentucky, declared that he never wanted to rain to fall on his grave. So when he died a little shed was build over his grave. It still stands, keeping his grave dry.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 16, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Very interesting. Right off I don’t remember every seeing a comb grave. While grouse hunting in Elliot Co. Ky. I came across 2 of the type that has stone slab sides and a one piece large stone slab on top. Although the graves are separated by 2 high ridges they are made the same way.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 16, 2018 at 8:13 am

    I have never seen one of these nor even heard the term “comb grave” before. That surprises me somewhat because I have worked, camped and/or hiked in rural areas of KY, TN, VA and GA. I wonder if comb graves are connected with a specific ethnicity or some other commonality of a population group. Or could it have been related with an historic era such as being a protection from animals back in the 1700’s or so.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 16, 2018 at 7:18 am

    I have seen this type of grave but never knew anything about their history. I guess it’s a protection but with the top open so the spirit can leave.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    November 16, 2018 at 6:11 am

    I jave seen quite a few of these comb graves. Interesting

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