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.

PaperMap

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!

Arrow

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.

Railroad GE

  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.

Stagecoach GE

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!

Advertisements

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.

DSCF3141

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

DSCF1745      DSCF1743

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…

boots

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

Back in Action…

Well it has been a couple weeks since our last post. Apologies, I was on vacation last week so I did not get a chance to post the pictures from the previous weeks collection. Now I am two weeks behind. Sigh….  However I am very excited about the sites located during the last outing!

DSCF3031

 

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the locals in the area who have taken time out of their afternoons to be our field guides on this project. Most of the sites located were on private properties or farmland and we would never have been able to get out to the sites without the permission from the owners, and our field guides knew exactly who to call to get these clearances. So I would like to thank them for their time and efforts in assisting with this project.

Additionally this adventure has been humbling as I have realized that even though I was raised in one of the most rural counties in the state, I am not the well rounded country girl I once believed I was.  As we were trekking through various corn and soybean fields it suddenly occurred to me the very real possibility of running into slugs, spiders, snakes or any other brand of creepy crawly. Just about the time I gave myself a pep talk and was enjoying my new found courage, my field guide pointed out the holes and burrows surrounding the grave sites and told me the groundhogs or foxes would not be too pleased if we stepped on them… Oh, and they bite. So much for courage…

DSCF3006

Exhibit A:  It’s like Whack-a-Mole, if the moles were vicious, man eating, carnivores.

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.

DSCF2339

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!