By Robert M. Jones
A few years ago I wanted to find a way to assist people in locating information on their ancestors buried in the Le Claire, Iowa area. My wife and I decided to photograph some of the headstones in the Glendale Cemetery which is pretty good size for a small town like ours.
The first step was to gain access to the cemetery records. This took a while since I didn’t know anyone that was associated with the cemetery. Once I found the right person I found out that their records were on hand written file cards. The information was taken from old hand written records dating back into the 1800’s. There was also a book that someone had put together using the file cards as a source. I was sure that errors would have been made copying information from one source to another a couple of times. I later found out that I was correct.
The first step was to get permission to photograph the file cards so I could work on them at home. After I photographed all the file cards, which took the better part of three days, I asked if I could borrow the book. Armed with both the book and the photos of the file cards I started creating an index in Excel. This took a number of weeks. I found a number of differences between them, not to mention the typos I made. The cemetery is broken down into sections so I followed suite with my data file.
Once the data file was completed my wife and I headed for Glendale Cemetery on a very hot day in July if I remember right. Let me give you a little advice here. If you are working with someone and they are a little slower than you think they should be, keep your mouth shut. I didn’t and my wife quit and went home the first day. A few hours later with the sweat pouring off my body I begged her to come back and I will never say another thing about working faster. That Beautiful Lady came through for me and we were ready to get some work done.
My wife would clean the headstone by first brushing it with a dry whisk broom then using another whisk broom and some soapy water in a milk jug she would scrub the stone until it was clean. After a rinse with clean water it would be ready for me to photograph. I found on headstones with the smooth surface and the letters etched in they would photograph better if you wet the letters. We actually crawled from headstone to headstone washing, rinsing and photographing for weeks.
Now that I have all the headstones photographed and the photo numbers written on the hard copy of the data file I was ready to start correcting some of the data I received from the cemetery records. This was probably the worst part of the job. I had taken at least three photos of each headstone to try to catch the light just right so I could read everything. Some of the stones were very old. I thought I would go blind staring at the computer screen for about ten hours a day for weeks on end.
I finally had the data file ready. How long did it take? I have no idea. I lost all track of time after the first couple of weeks. If I had to guess I would say close to a month to get the completed data file. I found lot’s of mistakes.
Now that the photos and the data file are ready it’s time to get the information to people. I made stacks of DVDs with all the photos and the data files. I provided a copy to two genealogy clubs, the cemetery, two libraries and the local Family History Center of the LDS Church.
After we completed the Glendale cemetery we went on to complete ten more small cemeteries and get select information from three more.
All in all, the total project took about two years of our spare time.
About three years later we contacted the cemetery office and got a list of new graves, located them and added that information as an update to the file.
My genealogy site/blog is Le Claire Cemeteries. I am creating new genealogy blog posts and will have far more detailed information on the cemeteries we indexed as soon as possible. Currently the post about photographing and indexing the Glendale Cemetery is completed so stop on over and check it out.
Robert (Bob) Jones