Graves: lost and found

Graves: lost and found

Photographing graves that family and others have not visited due to time, location, or other factors is currently a focused extension of the Home is History: Dead Tell Tales project. For Graves: Lost and Found, IU East Assistant Archivist Jesse Whitton is visiting cemeteries throughout the counties IU East serves, and fulfilling requests for photographs that are posted at Find a Grave.

The idea for Graves: Lost and Found developed from Jesse’s collaboration with IU East library director and Home is History project coordinator Frances Yates, along with Union County Middle School English teacher Emily Snyder. Jesse assisted 8th grade students with locating graves that have had photo requests via Find-A-Grave. Despite not knowing section numbers and there being 4,647 graves in West Point Cemetery in Liberty, they were able to fulfill several photo requests from family members. This experience inspired Jesse to initiate a new local history project to benefit local communities. In Wayne County alone, there are more than 1200 photo requests. This project documents grave markers as well as helps those who are not geographically close enough to be able to visit their loved ones’ graves.

Why photograph graves?

Image 1: Ellen Elizabeth Crist Dawson at Westpoint cemetery (Liberty, IN)

Each grave has someone’s story and a photo is a visual memory for loved ones. Graves may be in disrepair and can no longer be read or are deteriorated due to age, biological growth, or other types of damage. Documenting them photographically captures them in time. Families often express appreciation for the care and effort the photographer provided in fulfilling their requests. They cherish the images and share thanks such as “for this lovely photo for our family tree” and may provide additional information, such as “At last there will be no confusion as to his first name.”

Who are these deceased?

There is typically plenty of documentation of famous people who have died, but often ordinary lives are not recorded beyond a basic obituary. The Find-a-Grave site serves as an open access repository to which everyone can contribute. It provides a source of information about people who may not be well-known but whose lives are worthwhile and interesting to share.

Image 2: Miles Stallings

An example is Pvt. Miles Stallings in Dublin, Indiana, who is buried in a Quaker cemetery. Nine days after the start of the Civil War, Miles Stallings enlisted with the “A” Company 8th Indiana Infantry as a private. About 3.5 months later on Aug. 6, 1861 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Miles mustered out of the army. On July 31, 1862, Miles re-enlisted as a private with the “B” Company 5th Indiana Calvary. Miles would remain in the army until June 15, 1865 when he was mustered out at Pulaski, TN.

How to participate

The process is simple and free and anyone can register at the Find-a-grave site. It is self-described as the “World’s largest gravesite collection. Over 190 million memorials created by the community since 1995.” It is searchable in many ways, including by location, cemetery, name, dates, and more, with search limiters such as nicknames, maiden names, similar name spellings, and plot information. In addition to uploading photos, volunteers can transcribe photos and add memorials. As is explained at the Find a Grave site, “we all work together to create a virtual cemetery where it’s easy to learn about the final resting place of millions of people from around the world.”

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