Well this is it!!!

Here it is. The big day. The chance to present my project in front of my friends, family, and community members. I’m very excited about this and I hope you all are too.

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Please join us on Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 at 12:00pm. The presentation will be held at the Dorchester County Historical Society at 1003 Greenway Drive, in Cambridge, Maryland, 21613.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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TUgis Here We Come!

I am thrilled to announce that the Dorchester Graves Project was selected to be presented at the TUgis Conference in March. TUgis is Maryland’s Geospatial Conference and is held annually at Towson University. Those who aren’t familiar can learn more here. The conference highlights GIS Projects and Initiatives from around the State and it is a great honor to be selected to present.

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Also I would like to let everyone know that I have been picking away at posting photos, and all pages, alphabetically, up to the letter “G” are up to date. I am still looking for new sites to map when we start collecting again at the end of March so keep the tips coming.

A Huge Thank You to everyone who has helped out so far!!! Your support has taken us from the fields and marshes of Dorchester County, to the classrooms of Salisbury University, to the event halls of a major state Conference! And none of it would have been possible without you!

Where to start…?

Our last blog post tackled the big question of why we are working on this mapping project. The next most common question is “where do you even start?” Getting started is actually very easy. Living in the county for 30 years has given me enough of a head start to know where to find the large cemeteries and the church yards. Once these larger properties are marked however, is when things get tricky. After that it’s all family plots, and these can be anything from dozens of graves to one single tombstone all by itself.

How do you know where to look for these you ask? Well I started with the locals. They are the experts on the area after all. The same families have been living and working here for hundreds of years. This is evident when you read the last names on the tombstones. You instantly recognize the surnames of friends, classmates, coworkers, etc.

So after asking around and talking to quite a few people I marked a paper map with all of the locations where people told me I could find graves.  This was especially helpful in the southern part of the county where practically everyone has a family plot either in their own yard, or knows of someone who has one near them. Also some of the larger burial grounds, church or public, were already marked on the paper map.

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After local “questioning” my next step was interviewing some of the older folks in the community. A friend’s grandfather is very interested in genealogy and his family tree, so he invited me to come spend an afternoon with him and he showed me the locations on my map of even more grave sites, and directed me towards the owners or caretakers of the properties so I could gain access to those sites.

After people, one of the best resources I have for locating as many sites as possible is Google Earth. I use it to try and verify the tips received from people around the county. The biggest trouble I have run into is that some are so grown over you can’t really tell that they are even there without actually going to the site!

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There really are graves there! I promise!

Another method we’ve used is simply driving down the back country roads, places off the beaten track, and just looking around. Mostly it’s just enjoying the beautiful scenery, but sometimes we get lucky and find a great location. Additionally I would like to thank the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office for keeping mental notes and telling me of the all the places they’ve spotted grave sites while out on their patrols.

Google Earth can also be used to try and find plots that no one has pointed out to us yet. This is the most time consuming part. Zooming in to a part of the county and then panning around, looking for something, anything that might mean grave sites.  Sometimes we are fortunate and can actually see the rows of stones on a property.

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  Spedden GE

Sometimes however we are simply panning around, looking for changes in agricultural patterns and then questioning the farmers on whether this is just an irrigation stop or perhaps something that warrants more investigation.

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As it happens, there actually were graves in the field shown above. That small circle in the middle of a soy bean field is someone’s final resting place.

As always, check back for more updates, but for now I’ll leave you with an interesting fact:

We have located 90 burial sites already, and haven’t even been south of
Church Creek yet!

Why are we here…?

The question I get from people most often when talking about this project is “Why?”. Apparently graveyards are not something people think about often. We go to a funeral, bury a loved one, and then move on with our lives, rarely thinking about that small stone in the ground. If you are lucky this cycle doesn’t happen often, If you are like me, it happens far more frequently than you would wish.

The answer is simple. Because. Because we are losing these sites to time and tide. Because some have no one to take care of them, because some are already past all hope of help. Because this is our heritage, our history.  Because there are so many stories out there to be told. Because these sites, no matter how small, or how old deserve the same respect and dignity of any of the large, for profit, cemeteries. Because I don’t believe anyone even knows where they are all anymore. And finally, Because if we don’t do it, who will?

Some are easy to find. They can be right in someones front yard.

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Some take more time and effort to find and then get to…

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When strangers happen upon us at a burial site we get some of the strangest looks; surprise, disgust, suspicion… Cars slow down and creep by, I guess wondering why there are a handful of people in the cemetery taking pictures and holding strange electronics. After all nothing says mischief like a pair of rainbow polka dot rain boots…

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However we have been fortunate in our travels that there are many more people fascinated by what we are doing than repulsed by it. I was able to speak with a man who was volunteering his time to help rebuild one of the more historic churches in the county down on Taylor’s Island. In addition to a quick history of that church, he was also able to guide me to another grave site nearby and gave me a brief history of that one as well.

Sometimes curious neighbors come out and speak to me absolutely thrilled that their site will be featured in the project. I had a lovely conversation with a church elder who gave me a brief history of the church, some great facts about the neighboring historical buildings, and discussed with me the sad situation that since the church has recently been renamed, the church elders feel they have lost some of their identity. I wish I had the capability to record some of these conversations, or at least had an anthropologist on my team to know what to do with such cultural knowledge.

Always looking for volunteers.   Email us at dorchestergraves@gmail.com

Collection Continues…

We had a short but successful collection day this week. The Trimble GPS device is fast in collecting the coordinates and very user friendly. I will have to go back and count but I believe we have already located more burial sites than are on the official county list. This is a little like comparing apples to oranges however, because the county does not track all of the small sites on private property but I wanted to emphasize that there are so many more than people realize.

One of the biggest challenges we have encountered when going out and collecting these points is to stay on task. Driving down some of the back roads of the county reminds you how truly beautiful the area is. I find myself stopping to take pictures that are completely unrelated to the project but the scenery is just so captivating.

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Exhibit A…

The second issue we have come across is that there are still many unpaved “official” county roads. That is; these are county roadways, county maintained, and yet they are still just dirt roads. The official field research vehicle for this project does not appreciate us exploring these roads, especially after a heavy rain. Apparently we are not operating an All-Terrain Camry.

And finally, For the time being all the photo pages are named either for the common name for the burial site, the road they were found on, or after any signage located on the property. The “Official” names of the burial sites are used when available, but we will have to do some more research to be sure we get these names exactly right.

Ansel Adams we are not…

In case it has not become abundantly clear by now that this page is not maintained by professional photographers, let me set the record straight; all photography is entirely done by amateurs. I apologize. This site is more a labor of love and less an artistic endeavor.

Geographers, Possibly. Cartographers, Hopefully. Photographers, unlikely.

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Lets hope it doesn’t get this bad…

That being said, we do try to take nice pictures of the grave sites, clear pictures of interesting stones or monuments, and effective documentation of wear, damage, or vandalism to these markers or locations.

Also, since the one thing Dorchester County has an abundance of is water, occasionally I will post pictures of landscapes, in addition to big skies, and sunsets. Additionally some local points of interest or historical sites will be showcased, but as the primary purpose of this project is the burial sites, these photos will only be incidental.

The update for last weeks field collection is as follows;

Bugs.

We went to a location a local had told us might have some stones and we could not even get 10 feet into the field. The insect swarm was so thick the Deep Woods Off couldn’t even keep up. Yet another site that will be waiting until fall after the first frost.

I will leave you with the most interesting find from last weeks collection.

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Check back next week for more progress.

 

The Birds and the Bees…. and Frogs.

As I have mentioned before there is the issue of wildlife to consider while traveling around the county working on this project. I have come across ducks nesting in the cemetery, rabbits munching on the grass, and even frogs bouncing around enjoying the scenery. But yesterday I encountered something I had forgotten to consider. The bees!!! I got my first bee-sting in over 20 years yesterday. I had forgotten how much they hurt. Needless to say I didn’t handle it with the dignity someone my age probably should have. The score currently stands;   Bee – 1    Pride – 0.

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Why can’t I encounter more passive wildlife? This little fella was very friendly.

So yesterdays adventure included the Cambridge and Church Creek areas. We have pretty much finished with Church Creek, there are still 2 sites to record in the City Limits of Cambridge, and there are 2 sites the locals have told us about but we were unable to locate them. Time for more research.

Check back next week for more pictures and more adventures.

 

 

 

GPS Collection Begins!

So last week officially began the GPS data collection portion of this project. I’d like to thank Dr. Harris of the Geography and Geosciences Department at Salisbury University for getting me up and running. Since the county is so large I will be taking readings and photos of the sites by district. I have a collection of maps from 1877 that I found in the Dorchester County Library that has the county broken down into 12 districts and so I will be doing all of my field work based on these divisions.

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After last weeks collection I was convinced I had finished my first district. But then we started receiving tips about small plots on private property and some sites I would need a kayak or canoe to access. I was excited and frustrated all at the same time. Excited that there was so much more than I had first imagined, and frustrated that I had missed so much in my first foray into the field.

The photo above is just one of those tips. This stone is located in Hudson, right on the side of the road, practically in a ditch. I would never have found it without help from the locals. This is a reminder that every bit of help is welcome. If you know of any locations, or have some on your property, please email us at dorchestergraves@gmail.com so we can come document these burial sites.

Hopefully we will finish with the Neck District by the end of the month and then we will move on to Taylor’s Island. Stay Tuned for more updates and photos!