By Marie Meis
Elgin Review staff writer
After two years with nearly 200 hours of work, Ryan Schuchardt has successfully documented and uploaded the 1,400 burials in the West Cedar Valley Cemetery. He took on the project after his father Rick and the cemetery board realized how his work in databases could be applied to cohesively document all grave sites into one database. Once that database was created, which could be then uploaded online.
“I had to go and take pictures of every single gravestone, write down all the details like their name, date they were born, date they died, inscription, whether they were in the military or auxiliary,” Schuchardt told The Elgin Review. He explained how this information was then entered in an Excel sheet which could be transferred into a database. He has since turned this into three different directories. One includes each burial in alphabetical order by the last name. Another goes by section, as the cemetery is split into four sections. And finally, one includes those who were in the military or auxiliary.
This information was then moved to findagrave.com, a website created to document burials through open collaboration. The site has the ability for anyone to add information, Schuchardt said. The website is owned by Ancestry.com and is free for the public to access and use.
“It’s an easy way to find people and remember who they were,” he shared.
While challenges came when working with such old graves such as deciphering a “6” compared to an “8” in 100-year-old sandstone, Schuchardt worked to photograph each individual headstone. While doing this, he discovered the earliest burial was Gile C. Smith, who lived from 1808-1872. He also found that the most common birth month was January and with his database, found the most common last names in the cemetery included Johnson, McKay, Anderson, Hutchinson and Peterson.
Working with funeral director Tony Levander, both were able to use data about plot ownership to discover more about each burial site. Each plot can include eight burials and that information was added to the database.
The printed database will be on display in the building located in the cemetery and all of it will also be included on findagrave.com. Schuchardt noted the value on having this important data on the web, is that anyone will be able to look up information and it will last for many years to come.
On the website, anyone is welcome – and encouraged – to share more information about loved ones or send “virtual flowers” to let others on the site know more about a passed friend or family member.
After many hours of work and lots of collecting data, those with ties to the West Cedar Valley Cemetery now hold a tool to help document those who have gone before.
By Marie Meis