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The Spiker Gazette
Oxford, WVVolume  11Issue  8August 2017
In this Issue:Crowdsourcing - Cemetery Transcription
Cemetery Survey Forms


Crowdsourcing - Cemetery Transcription

Written by:  Bobbi Spiker-Conley

     Crowdsourcing is a relatively new term (coined in 2005-06) for a very old technique (obtaining info for a project by enlisting the services of a large group of people.) One of our favorite genealogy sites, Find-A-Grave, relies on the participation of volunteers to photograph, map and transcribe cemeteries. Our ancestors were "finding graves" by "crowdsourcing" cemeteries many decades before the idea of such a website (or the Internet, for that matter) was even conceived.

     Photos from my mother's albums document trips to clean up or decorate gravesites, to transcribe or install new headstones, and to map many of the cemeteries in and around Ritchie and Doddridge counties.

Gay Spiker cleaning the headstone of Isaac Newton and Sarah Ann (McGee) Collins
at the Gainer Cemetery (aka Shimer Cemetery) in Calhoun County, WV.
Cleaning the headstone of Isaac Sanson and Rachael (Cunningham) Collins
at the Gainer Cemeter (aka Shimer Cemetery) in Calhoun County, WV

     Then there is Uncle Brad's compilation of  "Uncle Sam's Veterans...laid to rest within the Cemeteries of this...Good-Will Community." Of one particular Civil War Veteran he wrote, "WILSON WATSON enlisted at the age of thirty, at Wheeling, W.Va., on September 13, 1862, in Company "G" 14th Regiment West Virginia Infantry. He gave his residence as Ellenboro, W.Va. He was mustered out June 27, 1865 at Cumberland, Maryland, with the Company. He resided on Otter-slide. He lies at rest in the Lowther Cemetry."

        Wilson Watson died April 28, 1903 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In June of 1932, Uncle Brad filed an application for Watson's military headstone.  Pictured here, proudly displaying the marker at the Lowther Cemetery, are Brad Spiker (far left,) his brother Lynn, sisters Kitty and Dorothy, and several other members of the Ritchie County 4-H Club.   

     My grandparents grew up at a time when most of their neighbors farmed the land; fewer held public jobs. Working close to home reinforced a strong sense of community so upon hearing of a death, family and friends immediately came together to start building the casket, hand-digging the grave, and taking food to the home of the bereaved. Later, even the continued care of the deceased's gravesite was a social activity; one that was viewed as a generational responsibility. Our family believed the burying grounds were significant in showing us not only the historic eras through which the communities passed, but in reminding us of our connections to what happened there. Even as some of us moved away from our hometowns, the cemeteries provided a sense of place and belonging, beckoning us to return and to remember.

     Not everyone in the Appalachian region shared that belief. In a quote from Warren Moore's book, Mountain Voices, we are warned, "Taint no use to take on so. Like the leaves on the trees, we all drop off, one by one, and when your time comes, we'll miss you for a spell; then we'll forget."

     That is precisely what we want to avoid -- forgetting. Institutions dissolve, buildings fall into decay, townships are renamed; our ancestral cemeteries are sometimes the last entities left in an area that prove anything ever existed there.

     So we visit. Routinely. Frequently. And we crowdsource to locate, photograph and transcribe as many of our ancestors' burial locations as possible. 

     To track our progress, we recently began using the Cemetery Survey forms shown below. As we complete each form, we will copy the info to this website. But just like Grandma and Uncle Brad and my father needed a little extra help from the crowd, we are asking you to join us in filling them out. (Click here to download the forms in PDF.) 

     Very soon we will be publishing a list of family burial sites, beginning with our direct-line ancestors. We will include as much information as we know about the cemetery, its history, and our kin memorialized there. Then we must rely on volunteers (yep, in other words, YOU) to help us fill in the missing pieces. This project is not intended to be a formal survey (although if you'd like to do that, see Tip #4 at the bottom of this page.) Just let us know stuff like where the cemetery is located, how we can get there, which members of our family are buried there, and how to find their headstones. And we always appreciate knowing where to park, what the terrain is like, what facilities are available, and if we need to make an appointment to gain access. 

     Those of us that cannot visit the sites will appreciate seeing photos. Now that almost everyone has a digital camera (smartphones take really good pics these days,) making "rubbings" of tombstones is no longer necessary. In fact, the practice is now highly discouraged. High-resolution photography of stones can reproduce the same information as a "rubbing" but without stressing the headstones. Even when cleaning a stone, some of the stone's surface is removed in the process. Please...READ THIS BEFORE cleaning a gravestone, monument or sculpture!!!

HELPFUL TIP #1 -- To be certain you've captured at least one good image, take multiple pictures of a single item. Also consider the following:

  • To prevent distortion, hold the camera lens level at the height of the marker's center.
  • For inscriptions that are difficult to read, try angling your camera, using a mirror or reflector, and/or spraying the marker with water (only water.) 
  • Get a close-up of inscriptions.
  • Photograph all sides of the marker where letters, words, carvings or inscriptions appear.
  • Be sure to photograph foot markers and military plaques that are separate from the primary headstone.
  • If a family plot, take a group pic.
  • Take a wide-area shot to include adjacent stones.
  • Photograph signage -- historic signs, informational signs, regulatory signs.
  • Do not forget to get a photo of the main entrance to the cemetery!

    Our free-to-print Cemetery Survey Templates are designed to match the look and layout of our other genealogy forms for use in a personal family history scrapbook. 

  Cemetery Index

A list of every cemetery you visit. 

Cemetery Overview

Details of a single cemetery. Space is provided for map & photo. Includes cemetery access conditions & on-site facilities.
  Cemetery Index of Names

A list of individuals buried in a single cemetery.
  Cemetery Monuments (two pages)

Details of a single monument in a single cemetery. Space is provided for transcription, photos, and plot map.

     HELPFUL TIP #2 -- You'll discover that the "Cemetery Overview" and "Cemetery Monuments" templates have easy-to-use checklists for descriptions of materials, conditions, symbols, etc. If any of the terms are unfamiliar to you, here's a great resource for identifying them -- the Guide to Common Grave Markers. Another resource, GravestonePreservation, lists the most common stones, sorted by the time periods during which they were predominantly used.

     HELPFUL TIP #3 -- The pamphlet Recording Historic Cemeteries, by the Chicora Foundation,  is a MUST-READ for its detailed description of how to carefully, consistently and ACCURATELY record memorial inscriptions

     HELPFUL TIP #4 -- For the truly adventurous -- those that hope to survey an entire cemetery following more precise standards for the purpose of conservation and restoration -- check out the Historic Cemetery Plot and Marker Survey Illustrated Survey Manual AND the Historic Cemeteries Preservation Guide.

     As you share what you've found with usconsider also sharing with other crowdsourcing websites such as Find-A-Grave, BillionGraves, USGenWeb, WVGenWeb, Ancestry, etc. Perhaps you'll inspire others -- as we hope we've inspired you -- to get involved.




Coming soon to our website -- Churches and Cemeteries.