Friday, October 23, 2009

Grave discovery in endangered cemetery

Recently, I played a small role in protecting an endangered early African American cemetery in Sumpter County, Florida. I commend each individual, local and non-local, who joined together and successfully saved this Hallowed Ground.

Sadly, however, there are many more that also need to be protected from "urban sprawl" and natural encrouchment. As proved during the Sumpter County cemetery project, graves are often unmarked or headstones have been misplaced.

I recently located an unmarked grave within in one of the many cemeteries that I am currently preserving. During one visit I located a fallen headstone (A), Winnie Ellen Marshburn, leaning against the base of a large tree.

At first, a person would believe that someone had placed the grave marker (B&C) along side the large tree after finding it somewhere within the cemetery.

I made an interesting discovery (D), however, when I started to clean the excess mulch, weeds and compost from the base of the tree.

Encased within the thick tree bark (E), along the lower backside of the tree was a grave foot marker. I then calculated an estimated distance between the newly located footstone and the previous mentioned headstone. To my surprise, the distance between the two was consistant to that of a grave.

Winnie Ellen Marshburn, age: eleven months, is buried next to her Mother, Annie, whose grave I also rediscovered under brush and debris.

Extra precautions must be taken when dealing with endangered cemeteries, especially one that has excess foilage, damaged headstones or shows evidence of unmarked graves. Counting visible headstones has proven not to be the most practical method of determining the correct size of a cemetery.

I have provided one sample, unique as it is, of how easy it is to overlook a grave that have been unmarked for decades. When attempting to validate unmarked graves, a detailed survey must be done. Look around bases of trees and shrubs must be done, systematically. You may find a headstone or foot marker that will lead to an unmarked grave.

Along with an expanded search an unmarked grave may be rediscovered. Possibly a Former Slave, forgotten veteran or a local dignitary that your community should pay respect can then be recognized and honored. You will also be helping family members in finding missing pieces of the puzzle to their family genealogy and ancestors.

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