This past month was the annual meet up for findagrave.com. This is where like-minded people can gather to volunteer their time to findagrave.com by taking photographs of local cemeteries and headstones for people researching family history. I saw the notice while I was researching my own history on ancestry.com. I was enticed and immediately created an account on the Find a Grave website.
I had no idea that this was another part of the find a grave website. Sure, I had been on there to research my own history: looking for headstones, family information and of course locations of graves right down to the sections and rows (very helpful when you are lost in a graveyard). So, I explored further and decided to volunteer my time to fulfill some requests.
First, I created my account on findagrave.com. It was quick and easy and probably will come in handy more in the future as I continue to research my family tree. Then, I signed into my ancestry account and looked at the meet up information. The meet up this year took place the weekend of October 7-9th. I searched but did not see any meet ups already in place in my local area. I think the closest to me was somewhere in Tennessee. Seeing as I had never done one of these before, I decided against championing my own gathering…at least this year. This was also the weekend that we were expecting Hurricane Matthew. Even though we did not get a direct hit up here in Hampton Roads, we did feel a lot of the effects. Rain, wind and flooding devastated a lot of our area since we had already such wet lands from all the rain the month before. So, this really put a damper on my wanting to go and explore some graveyards for the weekend.
I signed up anyway to volunteer to take some photographs of headstones at people’s request. I think this is a great idea for volunteers to do. Someone, who may not live here, can request information and a photograph of a headstone of their relative.
You can narrow your field to cemeteries close by to you, go on and see how much of the cemetery has already been photographed and of course claim names of people and headstones to take pictures of. The website gives you about 14 days to fulfill the request before it is released back for anyone to claim. I narrowed my search radius to about ten miles from my home and claimed about five headstones to photograph.
I couldn’t go on the weekend of the meet up since we were hammered with wind and rain but managed to get out of the house the following week to explore some of the local graveyards. My first one, I did not have access to since it was on a local farm and private property. Shoot. The next one, I didn’t feel like I could have explored with two kids in tow because it said it was in the woods behind a neighborhood. So, I went for my final destination that was supposed to be right behind a church. I went over to Deep Creek and plugged the address into my phone’s GPS. I found the church…but no graveyard behind it. Then I noticed it. A small, blue sign off in the distance after the clearing and a dirt driveway the led into the trees. Great.
I made my way across the clearing, wearing a dress and some sandals on this warm October day. Big mistake! The driveway that led into the woods had become over grown with grasses and downed limbs from the storm the week prior. It was hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were the size of my fists! No joke. Every time I look a step forward I had to swat away another bug and hope I wasn’t going to catch the Zika virus. The buzzing in my ears was enough to turn me around but I pressed on a little further. I must have walked over halfway up the dirt path when I saw my first vault sticking up out of the ground. It was covered with weeds and could not be accessed in the get up I was in. I walked a few more steps ahead and could see off in the distance a few more headstones before the tree line. There was also another path that led to the right and one to the left.
I decided to turn around. There was no way I was going to be able to do the job that I wanted to do with the clothing I was in and the amount of grass and mud that was still on the ground. I couldn’t see much of the headstones but the tops of the granite or stone sticking up from the grass. No wonder only seven percent of this graveyard has been photographed. There isn’t good access to it. And the bugs alone would drive anyone out of those woods.
So, out of the 311 headstones said to be back in the woods at Saint Julien Creek, only 21 of them have actually been photographed. I felt like I wanted to make it my mission to actually get as much done as I could. The cemetery had headstones that dated back to the late 1800s there. What a great part of our area’s history just lying in the back of the woods behind a church. I wondered to myself what it may have looked like before. Maybe it wasn’t shrouded with trees and tall grass 100 years ago. I felt like Saint Julien Creek has been forgotten with time. I don’t think any resting place for our dearly departed relatives should be forgotten or unmaintained. How else will people be able to visit and research history?
So, I have decided; I will go back to Saint Julien Creek after the first frost. I will try to go back with a full battery, in boots and covered in bug spray. I will hope to find help to restore the cemetery to its former glory and have it be more accessible for people to visit and explore. To me, graveyards are such a serene place to be and I would want others to see the beauty in them as I do.
Thanks for reading!