November 07, 2010

I photograph dead people

When my wife got into genealogical research about 20 years ago I never expected that I would end up photographing grave stones of people we’re not even related to. But that’s exactly what we did yesterday. And it was a lot of fun.

Twenty years ago my wife spent many hours at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., pouring over census reports. She hung out in libraries, researching records compiled and published by the Church of the Latter Day Saints. And from time to time she made a discovery that pushed our knowledge of our ancestry back another generation.

One of the graves related to a request we responded to

But times have changed. With the advent of the Internet, a world-wide community of genealogy researchers has formed—and along with it, a new spirit of cooperation and mutual help. It was the spirit of cooperation that took us to Front Royal’s Prospect Hill Cemetery to photograph tombs of people we don’t know who lived and died more than a century ago. produces an unspoken cooperation, and it has proven quite useful from time to time. But recently my wife came across a new genealogy collaboration site called Find a Grave. Among other things, this site allows you to request help in locating a grave. Researchers are able to post what they know about the burial location of a relative and then people who live in that area, if they are so inclined, may go to the cemetery and try to find the actual grave site. They can then post any new information that has been discovered, descriptions of the site in question, photographs, and even tomb stone rubbing facsimiles. It’s a great service and could be quite helpful for researching relatives from long ago who lived in a location a little too far away for a quick jaunt on a Saturday afternoon.

Another grave we photographed by request

So yesterday we headed up to Front Royal’s Prospect Hill Cemetery to take photographs of grave stones that had been requested through Find a Grave. With the help of one of the cemetery workers, we were able to locate the general area of quite a few different graves and then we headed out, map in hand, to try to locate the actual individual graves markers.

We managed to locate only a few of them. We took a photo of one stone that had the correct name and the correct death date, but the date of birth was off by 11 years from what had been requested. We’re quite sure that this was the correct grave marker, but that at some stage in the process some incorrect information had been recorded. The photograph of this grave stone, with its different birth date, may prove to be of great value to the researcher who may be having trouble finding more information due to the discrepancy.

Boy scouts placing flags on the veteran’s graves for Veteran’s Day 2010

I really love being a photographer. And I love being able to help people out in this unique and interesting way.


1 comment:

  1. Remember that time we were in Savannah and went to a Civil war cemetary---and it was covered with cockroaches? These pictures are lovely, though, and I think history can be found here.


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