Finding More Than Headstones on Find A Grave

Cheri Branca's Underground Railroad Quilt

Over a year ago, I became a contributor to Find A Grave.  For those of you unfamiliar with this website, Find A Grave is a forum in which volunteers from all over the world transcribe the headstones in their local cemeteries.  The transcriptions, and often photos of the headstones, are placed on Find A Grave where they are accessible to everyone. 

 This worthwhile endeavor serves many purposes, as it allows descendants to view the headstones of their ancestors that they may never have been able to find or to which they may have not been able to travel.  As an historian, one of the purposes I find most helpful is that the headstone photographs serve as a guide to the past.  As the years go by, headstones become eroded by sun, snow and wind.  The writing becomes faint.  Vandals do their dirty work by destroying headstone after headstone all over the world.  The information on Find A Grave preserves the history found on a headstone.

Underground Railroad Quilt Book

 After becoming a contributor, I began to see the names of other local people and the work they were doing on Find A Grave.  One contributor’s name, Cheri Branca, kept popping up.  We began corresponding by email and met in person last June when Cheri attended a tour I gave at Greenvale Cemetery. 

 Cheri began her work on Find A Grave at the urging of her cousin, who had set to work entering the names of his family members.  After finding some ancestors on Find A Grave that volunteers had already transcribed, Cheri “decided I should pay back that favor and do some volunteering and help out other people who can’t get to the cemeteries near me. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating and when I did an index to 3500 obituaries from the first 50 years of the Victor Herald in 1989, I tromped through almost all the local cemeteries trying to locate those people to add to the data”. 

 Cheri has been a Find A Grave contributor for nearly two years.  At this writing, she has transcribed and photographed over 3,100 graves with the help of her husband.  In addition to grave photos, Cheri takes the time to research the people whose headstones she memorializes on Find A Grave.  As she says, “I feel it is important to not only post the information and the photo, but to research all I can, so I can connect the families back together after all this time has passed. That means checking lots of sources, from the County websites, Rootsweb, the census records, family genealogies, anything I can find…and then I sift through it and try to get as accurate an outline as I can.”   Can you imagine the excitement of finding your ancestor’s memorial with these additional nuggets of information included?

A new side of Cheri recently emerged when she emailed me photos of some quilts she has created.  Who would have known that there were such things as Civil War quilts?  One of Cheri’s creations was for a friend who had a Civil War themed wedding.  Another was an “Underground Railroad” quilt.  Some people believe that slaves created a special code and pieced it into quilts in order to give directions to the Underground Railroad.  Many quilt historians have

Civil War Diary Quilt book

disputed this idea, but the lore has survived.  Additional information about the Underground Railroad Quilt Code can be found on Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman’s website, www. barbarabrackman.com. 

Find A Grave has been a real source of inspiration for me.  Not only has it given me the opportunity to preserve history by transcribing and photographing graves, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people such as Cheri Branca.  I’ve found more than headstones on Find A Grave.  I’ve also found friends.

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3 Comments on “Finding More Than Headstones on Find A Grave”

  1. Liz Says:

    Cheri is a jewel. In researching my family of the Monroe Co. area I found tombstones on Find a grave that Cheri had placed there. I wrote and we have continued our email exchanges for some time now. She has taken and sent me over 160 pictures of three of my families in the Mendon area. She is paying back for all the help she has gotten. I’m trying to do the same in Colorado west of Denver with Foothillsgenealogy.org. Thanks Cheri and all the other great volunteers who are contributing.


    • I agree, Liz. Cheri is an amazing woman. Her work on Find A Grave has helped so many people discover their loved ones. She volunteers thousands of hours to photographing and transcribing graves, in addition to being a wife, mother, quilter, and assisting with donations to the local food cupboard. She is an extraordinary woman. Thank you for taking the time to recognize Cheri’s many talents.

  2. Deb Root Howie Says:

    I also met Cheri through Find A Grave. Now we keep in contact through emails AND through quilting. She has taught me some of her skilled techniques and I can’t get enough of it.! I have ‘listened’ to some of Cheri’s Find A Grave treasured researches and it is amazing what she comes up with…and so fast she finds it. She pours her heart and soul into her images and her research. I for one (and for all the people who have found ancestors’) thank you one hundred times over Cheri, for all the work you do and for your valued quilting lessons.


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