Archive center continues work documenting county's cemeteries

Monday, August 9, 2010

Last month the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center completed work for two more cemeteries in its ongoing cemetery cleaning and documenting program.

The program, which started in April 2009, was originally going to take a year or two to complete, however the center keeps discovering additional cemeteries.

"The number keeps going up," said Drew Blattner, the center's assistant director. "At first one of the books we were using had 191 [cemeteries], then we started looking and started pulling these together. Now we've got over 230 that we know are in the county."

He said the center has completed work on about 30 cemeteries.

The project started in response to community requests for a complete cemetery listing.

"It's kind of up to us to update it," Blattner said. "We keep all of the county's records. To us those tombstones are no different from a death certificate."

There are several steps in the process. Blattner said the most important thing is to thoroughly clean the stone with well water and a brush. Blattner said chemicals in tap water can further corrode the aging stones. After they are clean, the stones are photographed for future generations.

"Those stones aren't going to be here forever," he said. "Lightning could strike them, or they can go from acid rain, a vandal, who knows."

Another thing crews do is map out the cemeteries. Blattner said the center receives visitors from all over the country and abroad to research their lineage and they do not always have the luxury of looking through several locations to find their ancestors.

Blattner said the process is time consuming and the center is fortunate to have dedicated volunteers. Some volunteers help regularly, while others assist at their family cemeteries and at the graves of their ancestors.

One of the cemetery project's volunteers, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the archive center a gift Friday: four historic tombstones.

Blattner said the volunteer found the stones on her family's property where they were being used as sidewalk stones. Luckily for posterity's sake, the stones had been placed inscription side down, preserving their carvings.

The stones are from the graves of children of the same family. Blattner and center director Steven Pledger think they were originally at the city cemetery in Jackson. Pledger said the children's names are not listed in the cemetery's registry, but their parents are listed. The center will continue to research the stones and once it is determined where they belong, they will be returned.

While it is illegal to desecrate a cemetery, Blattner and Pledger said they will accept any tombstones, no questions asked. It is more important that the stones are respectfully cared for and placed in their proper location so that future generations may honor their ancestors.

"I have heard that you die three times," Pledger said. "The first is when your heart stops beating. The second is when you are buried. The third is when your name is spoken for the last time."

Pledger said anyone wanting to volunteer with the cemetery project can contact the archive center at 204-2331.


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