Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2005

Lansing resident assists with Missouri tombstone project

August 11, 2005

Former Lansing City Council member John Bennett doesn't have a macabre interest in cemeteries, but his interest in genealogy and the history of Andrew County, Mo., has led him to help coordinate an ambitious project involving cemeteries there.

Bennett is collecting and cataloging pictures of every tombstone that exists in Andrew County and compiling them on CDs for use by genealogists, historical societies and any others interested in the history of Andrew County, which is north of St. Joseph.

Bennett's involvement in the "Tombstone Photography Project" developed through an Internet forum devoted to Andrew County genealogy. Bennett's ancestors had a long history in Andrew County, dating to the 1850s in King City, and he has maintained an avid interest in learning more about them. His interest, naturally, led him to the online forum.

Postings on the forum continued to come up about how tombstones often are a treasure trove of information for genealogists, but over time can succumb to the elements and/or vandalism.

"The question arose, 'Wouldn't it be great to save at least what we now have?'" Bennett recalled. "I opened up my big mouth and said, 'We can.'"

The secret, he said, was to capture an image of each tombstone in a photograph.

With that, the project was begun.

Monica Eshelman, a Lindsborg resident with an interest in Andrew County's history, also is helping coordinate the project. They began in January with pleas to others reading the online forum to get involved by "adopting" a cemetery and taking digital photos of every grave within the cemetery. The response has been overwhelming.

"In the seven or eight months that we've been at work, we have accomplished amazing amounts," Eshelman wrote in a posting earlier this month on the site. "I have something like 25,000 photographs of tombstones in Andrew Co.! Volunteers have photographed about a third of the cemeteries, another third have been started, and much of the remaining third has willing volunteers just waiting to get started for one reason or another."

Volunteers include Eagle Scout candidates, church and civic groups, family members and amateur historians. They've visited sites with as few as two graves to the Savannah, Mo., cemetery, which has an estimated 6,000 tombstones in it.

In addition to preserving the information contained on the tombstones, the project has an added benefit: The CDs that are being developed will pinpoint the location of cemeteries and the tombstones contained in them.

"We realize there are people who live all around the United States who : if they come back want to be able to drive to a cemetery, then know right away where to find a gravestone," Bennett explained.

The project, Bennett estimated, is about 50 percent completed. He's keeping busy in his spare time by adding photos and grave locations to his database, and said he hopes to have the interactive CD ready by the middle of 2006.

"It's an odd hobby," Bennett said.

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