- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) - Fort Madison resident Dianna Holmes stood confused in Sacred Heart Cemetery last week. The names on the tombstones did not line up with the chart provided by city clerk Melinda Blind. A family had been buried in a different row than the charts showed.

“This is quite the dilemma,” Holmes told the Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/1iaOIWD ) as bugs flew around her. “According to this chart, they’re supposed to be back there.”

Holmes knew prodding, or checking to see if there’s a casket, would need to be done in the portion of the cemetery she was in, and all portions worked on.

In a different part of Sacred Heart, Marlene Barnes was perplexed as she looked at a tombstone in a different language.

“I don’t know Spanish,” Barnes said. “I’m going to have to bring my neighbor to read it for me.”

Barnes noted while walking in other cemeteries across the county, she has come across quite a bit of German on tombstones as well.

Holmes and Barnes are just a few of the volunteers recruited by Blind to take on the Fort Madison Cemetery Project.

The project’s goal is to create a concise and easy-to-search file of who is buried where in Fort Madison’s four city-run cemeteries: Oakland Cemetery, City Cemetery, Sacred Heart Cemetery and Elmwood Cemetery. Blind said so far aggressive work has been done in Sacred Heart and Oakland Cemeteries.

“We’re getting ready to start putting information into the city system,” Blind said. Blind has created packets for each section in the four cemeteries. Packets vary depending on the size of the lots, and she isn’t rushing anyone, just accepting volunteers as they come. Volunteers who go into the cemeteries can work during weekends, but volunteers who help input information must do it during city hall hours.

The project has been a long time coming. Blind hoped for an early spring start, but spring brought heavy rain, so she held off until after the festival season in Fort Madison. Earlier this month, Blind announced she wanted volunteers to come out and take city records to see how accurate they are and to make an easier file to find out where people are buried. Blind said her current system can send her to three different locations before finding out in which section people are buried. She added incomplete index cards also can be a hassle.

“I have a card that says a lot was purchased in the 1960s, but no name written on it of who was ever buried there,” Blind said.

Barnes, Holmes and Carole Ellis were out to get exact locations for Blind over the past week. The women often walk cemeteries throughout Lee County and were prepared for the task ahead of them.

“The records aren’t accurate, and I wasn’t expecting them to be,” Ellis said.

Blind said confusion on lot locations come from years of bad management and paperwork not being handled properly. Cemeteries like Sacred Heart were privately owned before being handed over to the city, and not all of the records made it over to the city.

Some records aren’t correct because sometimes funeral officiators didn’t follow through with burying people in the lots they had purchased.

“You’d have a priest say, ‘Well his brother is buried here, so let’s bury him here,’” Blind said.

Holmes also noticed young children will be buried near parents with only a tiny marker on the lot to denote it.

“It won’t be on the city records, but you’ll see it out here,” Holmes said. “It’s more common than people think.”

Before all the information is put in the city system, Holmes, Ellis and Barnes plan on doing research on lot inaccuracies or lots with no dates on them.

“Some of these people could still be alive,” Holmes said. “We don’t know and we need to research that.”

Blind has no anticipated end date for the project; she just hopes volunteers can work from time to time. She knows work in the cemeteries will slow during the winter months.

“I want to say end of 2016, but that could be unrealistic of me,” Blind said.

The Des Moines County Genealogical Society shares Blind’s goal. Gary Deen of the society said it is working on a similar project on a larger scale, figuring out who is buried where in all 92 cemeteries in the county.

“We’re not even half way done with the county,” Deen said.

He said he’s glad to see Blind and volunteers taking on the challenge

The genealogical society uses information it receives to help outsiders looking for information about their ancestors.

“People call and ask for pictures of tombstones or to see the graves, and we have that information right at our fingertips,” Deen said.

The Des Moines County Genealogical Society also does work in Henry and Louisa counties.

The reason behind projects like this is simple: to honor those who came before.

“We always want to recognize prominent people in communities, but we also recognize those who also helped that weren’t part of the wealthy set,” Deen said.

The Fort Madison volunteers see the project as a way to honor those who passed before them.

“These are someone’s relatives, and people should be able to find their loved ones,” Holmes said.

___

Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide