Most of the cemeteries in our county have been canvassed more than once and logged, some on Internet, some on personal computers, some in books and some in handwritten notes. Our mission was to locate, with the help of a guide and map reader, the individual graves or small burial areas in rural areas. We accepted this mission with all the zeal of normal genealogists.
Because all three of us had visited many cemeteries, we knew what to pack. We had all the necessary emergency supplies, as well as maps. Almost all of the graves, however, are not shown on any of the county maps or plat maps that traditionally show cemeteries. If you are looking for abandoned cemeteries or individual graves on private property, you will need to ask questions of old timers or people in the area who are interested in genealogy and history.
The key word is private property. You will need permission to go on private property. In our case we had made arrangements with a man who knew of many of the individual or abandoned cemeteries on private property. He knew the owners and there were no questions about what we were doing. Once he left our excursion we stopped at farm houses to ask permission and sometimes directions.
With each grave we made photographs with digital cameras, wrote down inscriptions exactly as they appear on the stone, including information relating to foot-stones and epitaphs. Locations were noted according to section, township and range as well as GPS readings. These will all eventually be logged into cemetery information for the entire county. Almost all of them had never been located in the past and recorded. At the same time we mused as to why they were buried in that location, and what it probably looked like when they were living there. We also took witching sticks and used them on stones that had no carvings on them. Each time we logged a grave or abandoned cemetery it was marked on a large map.
Unfortunately some of the farmers have removed stones in order to put down water pivots or to plow fields. Some choose to plow around them, such as little Georgie's grave in the middle of a wheat field. During growing season some of the stones located in crop fields would be difficult to see from a road.
Before making such an excursion, plan your day as to distance and how many areas you can logically cover in the available time. You cannot control the weather, but you can create a plan. Our plan was slightly altered when we could see a stone on a hill, but could not reach it. We had boards to place across a narrow creek, but was told by two farmers that we could drive to it. After a good deal of driving (4 wheel drive necessary in this situation) across two fields and up and down hills, we were never able to reach the grave. That stone will be saved for another excursion and then we will probably have to use the boards to cross the creek.
The plan was to eat lunch in the country out of our packs. Be sure to take plenty of water and snacks. Attire is very important. I had two pairs of shoes in case one pair became wet. We had layers of clothing, caps, ear muffs and gloves because it is November. As a precaution because it is deer season one of the members of our group wore a bright orange vest so we could be seen by hunters.
Because we are over zealous genealogists, we pushed our luck and found a small, abandoned cemetery that could not be put on the to-do later list. It was dusk, but we cautiously opened the farm gate, crossed the corn field and entered the cemetery. Fortunately one person in the group had a flashlight. As the sun was setting in the west, the stones were impossible to read and we could not log them in the inventory. It was then we discovered if we held the flashlight off to the side of the stone at an angle the inscriptions were vivid, actually better than in true daylight. I would not recommend going to cemeteries at night, but it was a big discovery that saved the day ... rather night.
Not every excursion will be dictated by set plans or formulas for success. Time can be wasted when you do not have sufficient directions, but as we did, you can always go on to another stone. Probably the best part of the day was being with Genie-Pals and enjoying our chats about genealogy and history, asking each other questions and laughing about our grave excursion.
Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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