Scouts use geometry to trace rural resting places

Sunday, November 19, 2006
Ken Hainsworth, 16, right, copied headstone information with help from his friends David and Christi Bergin at the Walnut Grove Church Cemetery near Columbia, Mo., on Nov. 4. (Don Shrubsell ~ Columbia Daily Tribune)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- When it comes to popular spots for grandmother-grandson bonding, cemeteries probably aren't high on the list. But on a recent morning, Sonja Nordyke and Ken Hainsworth stomped around Walnut Grove Church Cemetery in rural Boone County.

"Ten-point-zero-three," Ken said, jotting down the figure with his ungloved right hand.

"Did you get it, hon?" Nordyke asked her grandson.

"Yeah, .03," Ken said.

"Are you asking, or are you stating?" Nordyke asked.

Nordyke was one of about a dozen family members, friends and Boy Scouts who went to the small cemetery near Rocheport Gravel Road and Route J to help Ken survey the graveyard.

A 16-year-old Scout in Troop 233, Ken chose to make a map of the cemetery to help him qualify to become an Eagle Scout.

"I thought it sounded kind of cool because it's not really a run-of-the-mill Eagle Scout project," the Rock Bridge High School junior said. "There's just a big list of names right now. I'll be able to make a map of that, and people will be able to find" grave sites "that way."

More than 320 graves are known to be in the cemetery, and Mary Helen Allen, a member of the Walnut Grove Church Cemetery board, said more resting places are waiting to found.

"We are continually finding out about more people that are there that we don't know about," Allen said. "I've been working on this, grave by grave, for the last four years. ... It's very tedious."

After being put in touch with Allen by a friend, Ken recruited Mark Child, a Yale University graduate with a doctorate in archaeology, to help with the survey. Ken knew Child from church.

"All you need is just geometry," Child said while retrieving a few spools of measuring tape. "This is old-form archaeology."

To create a map with tape measures, pencils and paper, Child and Ken reached the cemetery at about 6:30 on a recent morning and set up stakes every 20 meters on the perimeter, along a chain-link fence, to act as data points.

Tape measures were then stretched from two different data points to the same headstone, the distances were recorded, the stone's information was documented and the surveyors moved to another stone -- all 320 -- to take similar measurements.

"We should be able to get all the measurements today," Child said, as his footsteps sank into moist ground. "I'm hoping."

Walnut Grove Church was founded in 1835 after a group of parishioners broke away from a neighboring house of worship over a disagreement on the future of their missionary work.

The history Allen has been able to uncover since then has been limited, but she does know the church gave away its pews in the 1920s.

"We're kind of guessing that's about the time they disbanded," she said with a laugh.

Allen, 64, said she was drawn to get involved with the cemetery association because of her connection to the plot and because she is interested in history.

Allen's grandmother, a member of the McQuitty family, is well represented in the nearly 3-acre cemetery. Allen is working on a book about the occupants of Walnut Grove and can recount tales of respected ministers, murders and area tragedies.

"You kind of start living back there," Allen said. "You just never know what you're going to find."

As Ken studied his purple folder crammed with numbers, Child stood back, observing. The 37-year-old archaeologist said it would take time to compile the numbers onto a map to scale, but he was happy to help Ken because they share the same goal.

"We want to be able to print out a large map so anyone who ever came here could find their ancestors," he said. "We're trying to provide a service for the public."

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