30 July 2011

Jonesville Cemetery (photography by Dunerat)

Reposted from One Day at a Time.

This is the blog post I've been looking forward to writing all week!

Since we were on vacation in the Atlanta area last week, I couldn't resist the lure of some of the area's great historical cemeteries. We had a ton of sightseeing planned already, and the primary focus of the trip was visiting family, so I knew I couldn't actually spend the entire week dragging my poor husband around a bunch of cemeteries, no matter how excited I was about them, which meant I needed to pick one I that was really excited about.

Unfortunately for Greg, he can't resist my jumping-up-and-down excitement any more than I can resist his, which is not at all.

I borrowed my father-in-law's computer to hop on Find-A-Grave (which launched some interesting conversations because he is a genealogy enthusiast himself) and searched for photo requests in the area. There were several open, and I picked out a few likely prospects from among the cemeteries listed; my particular interest is older graves. The iconography fascinates me, as it has since I first read about it as an example for applying a battleship curve to typological seriation back in my undergraduate archaeology classes (. I'm perfectly happy to fulfill photo requests for more recent interments, of course, but I get especially excited about historical ones.

The notes on the Find-A-Grave page for Jonesville Cemetery grabbed my attention. "This cemetery was recently uncovered. It contains the graves of freed slaves. The Mt Sinai Baptist Church is clearing the land for the cemetery." The page listed only four interments in the cemetery, none of which had photos. I was instantly thrilled by the prospect of tackling this project- a very historically interesting, mostly undocumented cemetery belonging to an often-overlooked segment of the population. As an added bonus, it sounded small enough to make a manageable morning outing, which was a selling point in presenting the idea to my husband.

A quick Google search turned up a couple of local news articles which provided some further information and heightened my interest. The cemetery is located on Dobbins Air Reserve Base, not far inside the gate.

The helpful duty staffer at Dobbins gave us good, clear directions, and despite his insistence that the cemetery was "pretty hard to find," we walked right to it and wondered what on earth he was talking about when he said that. It was a bit secluded, but the fenceline was readily visible from the path we had been directed to, and the gate was standing open when we arrived, giving us our first glimpse of a sparse handful of gravestones half-hidden among brush and overgrowth.

We were both surprised at the sheer amount of overgrowth in the cemetery, given the enthusiastic news articles about clearing, cleanup, and more planned work days. Only the northern portion of the cemetery was clear enough to walk through. The southern end of the fenced property was still too densely overgrown to penetrate at all, or to glimpse any gravestones in, if any were there. I haven't yet spoken to anyone at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church to find out what stage their cleanup effort is in and what activity has taken place since the first round of news articles in early 2011, but my best guess is that their efforts this past winter focused on the northern end of the cemetery for one reason or another, and that those efforts could not prevent spring and summer's growth of dense foliage.

The cemetery was alive with swarms of mosquitoes and yellowjackets, and within minutes I was regretting having packed only my favorite pair fo flip-flops for our entire trip; I had itchy feet the whole way home. Even my usually bug-immune husband was swatting at mosquitoes and went home with a few itchy bites, though thankfully we avoided any repeats of the yellowjacket incident at our wedding- not for lack of recklessly stomping where I pleased without regard to where the silly things were buzzing around. The whole experience definitely felt more like a crazy wilderness adventure than the sedate stroll through a historical cemetery that I had been expecting earlier in the week. Fortunately, I like that kind of thing.

In the accessible northern section of the cemetery, the plant growth was still daunting, and we found ourselves wading through tall weeds and occasional thorns and burrs to make our way from grave to grave, and getting a photograph of most of the markers meant clearing away varying amounts of foliage first; we made sure to get before- and after-clearing images, partially because, thanks to having been an archaeology student in a former life, I believe in documenting any changes made to the site, and partially just to illustrate the overgrown state of the cemetery.

The photo request that drew us to Jonesville Cemetery in the first place was for Rebecca Bedford (1865-1908) whose children touchingly memorialized her as simply "OUR MOTHER." Sadly, we found her marker lying under a tree, broken and lying on its own base.

Mrs. Bedford's marker was in otherwise in good condition, only slightly weatherworn; the clasped-hands engraving was still clearly visible, and the epitaph was legible (except for the last line being partially obscured by the stone's breakage).

Mrs. Bedford's gravestone was one of the last we found, though; we found ten interments during our morning's exploration, including the double-interment of L.B. and Rosa Moore. Their double headstone was lying flat on the ground, though it did not appear damaged; it was almost totally obscured by weeds and underbush when we noticed it after the pair of footstones bearing the initials L.B.M. and R.M. caught our attention.

Upon clearing, only the surname "MOORE" was visible in capital letters. Lifting the marker to see if anything was engraved on the other side wasn't really an option with just the two of us there, so we were left with only a pair of initials and no birthdates, deathdates, epitaphs, or other information about the couple interred there.

Only later, when we found a small gravestone mostly hidden by a bush, did we have any clue to the Moores' identity. Hidden among the leaves of the bush growing wild next to the mostly cleared grave of Annie Roberson (1823-1892), Greg spotted a tiny bright glimpse of stone.

With the foliage carefully cleared away, we discovered a small gravestone with a lamb engraved above the epitaph- traditionally, but not always (as I learned at McBryde Cemetery earlier this week) an indicator of a child's grave. We had found the grave of little Janie Moore (1891-1893), whose epitaph identifies her as the "DAU. OF L.B. AND ROSA MOORE." We suddenly had names and a family connection for the Moores.

The verse reads:

"Asleep in Jesus
Oh, how sweet.
To be with such a
blessing meet."

This seems to be a modified version of an excerpt from the hymn "Asleep in Jesus":

"Asleep in Jesus!
O how sweet
To be with such a slumber meet."

Some interesting background and theological commentary on this hymn can be found here.

It is unclear why Janie Moore was buried separately from her parents, alongside Annie Roberson. Perhaps she was some relation.

In trying to find further information on the burials at Jonesville, the best source my internet research turned up was a publication by the Cobb County Genealogical Society which purported to include a listing of burials in several cemeteries including Jonesville. According to the Cobb County Library, which is very kindly sending me scans of the relevant pages, the list contains 27 marked burials.

According to an official of the Cobb Cemetery Commission, cited in this article in the Marietta Daily Journal, "at least 36 graves" were located during cleanup efforts in February 2011; the article notes that "Most are unmarked, but a few have headstones or fieldstones [...]." We did notice numerous orange marker flags placed in the ground throughout the cemetery during our visit, which we supposed to be indicators of important features such as burials or section markers (only in retrospect did I realize they must all be marker burials), but we did not think to count them at the time.

In the absence of markers, I'm curious about how the volunteers identified burial locations. Most of the orange flags we noticed were either obviously associated with a marker, or placed in or near a depression in the ground, which is a characteristic visual indicator of a possible burial but not definite proof. Ground-penetrating radar is a common tool for locating unmarked burials, but it doesn't seem likely that the Jonesville volunteers would have used that; I say this partially because the effort didn't seem well-funded enough to have access to that kind of resource, but mostly because none of the media reports mentioned it, and shiny technology usually makes such good copy that it draws most of the focus, so the odds of its omission are pretty small.

That's a question I'm planning to ask Mt. Sinai and the Cemetery Commission.

We did notice several unengraved fieldstones, like this one, several of which had orange flags nearby. I made a mistake in assuming at the time that they were section or lot markers, since other cemeteries do use similar stones for the purpose.

For the gravestones that we were able to locate, the iconography of Jonesville Cemetery is an interesting but not especially unusual assemblage. 3 of the 10 gravestones featured a clasping-hands motif. Henry Middlebrooks (d. 1917)'s gravestone features this motif in the form of a pair of clasping hands in the foreground over a heart in the background.

My current favorite gravestone iconography resource, Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister, notes that clasped hands are traditionally a matrimonial symbol, especially if the sleeve attached to one hand appears to belong to a woman's clothing and the other to a man's; otherwise, the symbolism "can represent a heavenly welcome or an earthly farewell" (p. 108). The sleeves on both hands in Mr. Middlebrooks' engraving appear very similar and therefore probably belong to the same gender's clothing, or else the engraving is insufficiently preserved to reveal any details to the contrary. However, Keister also notes that the heart is a common matrimonial symbol in "modern tombstones," so it is difficult to draw a firm conclusion.

He was a Christian and a worthy mem
ber of the Marietta Law
and Order League.
W.M. Pack

I haven't yet succeeded in finding any information about the Marietta Law and Order League.

Like Henry Middlebrooks, Rebecca Bedford's 1908 clasped hands, the earliest of the three, bear no clear indicators of their gender, potentially due to weathering of the stone.

Ophelia Jackson (1845-1930) also has a pair of clasping hands on her gravestone, shown below a blank scroll (I have to wonder whether it was ever meant to have anything inscribed in that blank space); these are clearly a man's hand and a woman's hand; the sleeve of the hand on the viewer's left appears distinctly feminine.

The male-female pairing in this engraving may indicate matrimony or it may be a personal touch on the imagery of her farewell to a mortal loved one or her greeting by God. There is no way to be sure of either possibility, but the inscription below the dates of her birth and death reads "Faithful unto death."

BORN JAN. 1845
APR. !7, 1930
"Faithful unto death"

Two of the ten Jonesville stones- Alice Bunyon (1874-1910) and Mollie Owens (1860-1902) feature images of a hand pointing upward, a symbol of the soul's ascension heavenward (Keister p. 108).

Interestingly, both images feature the same scalloped border in the circle around the hands, and the stones themselves are also remarkably similar, indicating that they may have come from the same manufacturer, eight years apart (which may have interesting implications regarding the overall business of gravestone production in the area, and on a smaller scale, may reveal something about at least one business in the community of Jonesville).

Mollie Owens's stone is very weathered, and both the image and the epitaph are very faint:

FEB. 17, 1902

Alice Bunyon's stone is much clearer:

JUNE 29, 1910

Given the formal similarities of the epitaphs, I'm inclined to wonder whether that's the result of the gravestones coming from the same manufacturer, or whether Mrs. Owens and Mrs. Bunyon were part of the same family.

Janie Moore's marker features the lamb iconography already discussed. Beside her, Annie Roberson's gravestone is decorated with a floral motif which is now somewhat faint.

"Write, blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord, from
henceforth, they do rest
from their labors and their
works do follow them."
Good and faithful Servant,
of Zion's travelers.

Annie Roberson's epitaph is from the instruction to John in Revelation 14:13, King James Version.

Of the remaining gravestone, L.B. and Rosa Moore's shared headstone cannot be seen on one side, and A. Beach (1834-1909) bears no iconography and a very simple epitaph.

JAN. 22, 1909

My husband very good-naturedly came along on this trip as my photographer; he is much more serious about photography as a hobby than I am, and as a result he's also much more experienced and knowledgeable, and thus simply better at it. Still, this was both of our first real attempt at photographing gravestones in particular, and the combination of worn and faded gravestones with dappled sunlight and shadow from overhanging trees presented an interesting challenge. Several of our pictures were taken with me looming at some awkward angle over the gravestone to shadow it evenly while Greg took the picture, sometimes standing at an awkward angle himself or shooting between my legs or under my arm to get the correct perspective for the shot.

Overall, it was a much more challenging, but much more interesting, exciting, and rewarding experience than I had planned for, and Greg was wonderfully patient about the project turning out to be larger and more involved than I had briefed him for. He's awesome like that.

So far, I've already contributed some significant documentation and a nice pile of photos to the Find-A-Grave record, which will hopefully help some genealogical researcher with his own project. I am hoping for a chance to revisit the site in December to take some measurements for a proper scale map of the cemetery; hopefully access the southern half of the property once the summer foliage has died off for the winter; pay more attention to those unmarked fieldstones; and make rubbings of the markers, once I have a few months of practice to work with. In the meantime, I have that burial listing on the way from the Cobb County Library, which will hopefully give me some more data to add to the records on Find-A-rave and my own notes; I'm also planning to contact the church and the Cemetery Commission next week for information on what work is still being done at the cemetery, what methods were used for identifying unmarked burials, and any available background information about the community.

10 July 2011

We did not find a grave. Oops.

Reposted from One Day at a Time.

Greg (who is a wonderfully patient and supportive man and a hell of a good husband, and now you see why I say that) and I headed out to Hillcrest Cemetery this morning with his fancy digital camera and a list of twenty-seven Find-a-Grave photo requests. I was excited about the trip- more so once we were up and moving and I had some caffeine in my system- despite having gotten home from Austin so late last night, and feeling optimistic about getting some good photos.

As it turned out, the only photograph we came home with was of the state historical marker sign near the front office and memorial pavilion, marking Hillcrest Cemetery as a 130-year-old historical site.

The cemetery was much larger than I expected, a sprawling piece of property on gently rolling terrain that we could not actually see the back edge of from the front. It was well-shaded with trees and decorated with shrubbery here and there, apparently free-growing rather than in any ordered pattern, and it was actually quite a pleasant place as cemeteries go. Too many of them, especially newer ones, tend to be rather stark, with green grass and neat rows but little in the way of shade or natural beautification. This one felt peaceful and rather comfortable, which is what a resting place or a place of remembrance should feel like.

Just the same, it was big, which was a bit daunting, especially given the Texas summer heat, and even more so once we realized that we were apparently going to have to wander around and find things on our own.

I was initially rather encouraged by how quickly Greg spotted an apparent section marker, a stone B set into the ground along one of the paths near the front of the cemetery. During our wanderings this afternoon, we found what was apparently Section S, adjacent to that Section B; we also found two other "B" markers in two widely separated areas, one of which was roughly adjacent to an area marked with a "J" and a "C" about three inches from each other.

Perhaps problematically, our photo request list also contained a handful of graves in apparently numbered rather than lettered sections. We didn't manage to find any of those, but it seems decently likely that either those were actually row or lot numbers, or that they are in the half of the cemetery we didn't venture into today.

The best guess we could make is that apparently the section labelling system had been changed at some point during the cemetery's 130-year history. I'm sure the staff can shed some light on that once we actually talk to them.

Having planned this trip about a week in advance, I had intended to call the cemetery during the week and see if they could fax me a map and give me more detailed plot information for any of the names on my list; that was one of several things I had slated to do "during breaks at work" this past week, but we had several services last week, so breaks didn't happen (which is fine with me; I like my job, and I like being there to help people when they need it, so it's been a fulfilling week for me, and I'm thankful that I get to do something worthwhile and meaningful with my time).

Even without that research done in advance, I had honestly been expecting a fairly quick operation- show the list to the people at the front office, get a map, walk at least to the right sections, take some pictures, and head home triumphant. That was a mistake on my part; I underestimated the size of the cemetery and the vagaries of the marking system, and I failed to take into account the likelihood of its being unstaffed on a Sunday.

My initial impulse, as we were leaving the cemetery earlier, was to say that we should start with a smaller cemetery, but Greg convinced me to give this one another shot. I'm not sure exactly when that will be, since we're heading out of here on leave next week, so I'm going to release these photo requests I've claimed on Find-a-Grave in the meantime, but I'll be picking them up again when we get back.

05 July 2011

Find A Grave

Reposted from One Day at a Time.

I joined this thing called Find A Grave a while back, largely thanks to pugbug over at Gravestoned, who runs a really nice blog about gravestones and the photography thereof.

Initially, I wasn't sure how to get started. I signed up as a photo volunteer, thinking it would be a good way to get out of the house a bit and do something fun and interesting outside, as well as a nice combination of my interest in gravestone iconography and Greg's interest in photography.

Unsure how else to proceed, I finally picked one of the larger cemeteries in my vicinity and claimed as many of the photo requests for that cemetery as the system would allow (contributors are apparently limited to claiming twenty requests at a time, and there were twenty-seven for this particular cemetery). For the ones I couldn't claim, I made notes, figuring I can always claim those once I've filled the others, in the event I actually find gravestones for all of them. I now have a handy list in Excel of names, death dates, and as much location data as available for each of these individuals, and the plan is to take that list to the cemetery this weekend to find and photograph as many of them as I can. I'll fill those requests, and unclaim the rest with a note about why I wasn't successful.

If that works out, I'll try another cemetery whenever I can convince my husband to tag along with me or let me borrow the camera.