Finding More Than Headstones on Find A Grave
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.
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
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.