“Be careful when you step on a grave. With all this rain the ground is soft. You may sink a little bit,” says Joe, “and that’s scary.” Wearing long pants, sturdy shoes and broad rimmed hats, Joe Skamel, a local volunteer for Find A Grave and I begin our field day at the Globe Cemetery which dates back to 1876. Many of the graves here are unmarked and the writing on many headstones is difficult-to-impossible to read. Weeds and high grass make it even more difficult to find what we are looking for. Our task, on this hot August morning is to photograph as many headstones from our list of graves as we can find.
The Find A Grave project has inspired people across America to volunteer their skills and time so that anyone can easily go online and possibly locate their ancestors grave, see a photograph of it and maybe even find a news paper clipping or story. The project uses the internet and an open website that any one can view and become a member of. You can light a virtual candle of remembrance, give virtual flowers and leave a note. Descendants and friends can also request a photograph and Find a Grave volunteers will go out to cemeteries in the attempt to locate and photograph headstones and upload this information to the national website.
Globe and Miami’s leading grave hunters are Joe Skamel and Lee Ann Powers. They have taken on the job of researching local cemetery records, death certificates and obituaries to find the names and stories that might have otherwise been lost.
At the cemetery, Joe explains to me how he prepares the grave search list.
“I go to the museum and I sequence them by location.” The Gila County Historical Museum in Globe collects and preserves local records, and has a good research library, besides interesting historic exhibits. “Then I cross reference them by the two on either side,” Joe explains, pointing to the columns on his list. “That helps find them.”
With a list of names including birth and death dates, general location and names of neighboring graves, we begin to search for graves.
“I’m looking for Adina Whaley in row five,” Joe says.
Once located, joe tries to find the right angle to photograph the headstone which dates back a hundred years. “There’s just nothing on the front of the monument,” he says. “So I’ll take a picture of it and annotate that it belongs here. That’s all I can do.”
“I’m one of those people who do not modify a tombstone,” says Joe. “I have a little brush, I can brush the dirt off. I don’t chalk them. I don’t hit them with water. You don’t want to destroy them. Some of these things are very fragile.”
Digging through a lot of information and loving it
Lee Ann Powers is a research assistant at the Bullion Plaza Museum and Cultural Center in Miami but in her spare time she volunteers her skills to FindaGrave.com by researching old newspaper articles, obituaries, death certificates.
Someone writes to Lee Ann on Facebook.
“I can’t thank you enough for finding my uncle John’s grave and info. I have searched for him for a long time to no avail.”
“YIPPEE!” she answers, “This is what makes the hard work soooo worth it!!”
She asks friends around town what they remember, consults with local historians and sifts through information on line. When she comes across something interesting she shares it.
“Thought you guys would get a kick out of this,” as she posts a photo of a grave on the facebook site. Beside the headstone is a parking meter with the red “Time Expired” tag up and engraved on the headstone “Our Mom. Her Humor Lives On.”
Things were different then
Cemeteries are important not just for the families buried there but as a historical account. In the march of history much of the memories, stories, old photos and family heirlooms were left behind for forgotten. Then, as now, economics played a role in who was recognized in death and who was not. The melting pot of America – and Globe-Miami- includes a rich influx of immigrants from Europe, Mexico, and China to name only a few. Most of their stories are left untold. That is why cemeteries are unique.
Over decades of time much of history can be lost. Memories and stories, old photos and family heirlooms left behind or forgotten. A hundred years ago Globe and Miami had a different flavor. Populated mostly by immigrants from Europe, Mexico, and China. The melting pot of cultures that America is known for. Sometimes the newcomers came alone, sometimes they came as families. The promise of silver created jobs but then the silver ran out. The promise of copper created new jobs again but work was was hard and life a gamble in the rough little mining towns of Arizona. There were floods and fires, disease, mining accidents, saloon brawls and angry Apaches. There was the Mexican Revolution, a world war, an economic depression and then another world war. Every grave has a unique story but not every story got recorded or archived. Find a Grave is helping to fill in the empty spaces of ancestral history.
- Myrtle Byers died of typhoid fever in1909. She was only 28 years old, born in Missouri and married J.J. Byers. The couple lived on Noftsger Hill near downtown Globe.
- 35 year old John Massa, was an immigrant from Italy working in the mines. His death certificate says he committed suicide by dynamite in 1912.
- Roy Charles Bybee, died of malnutrition in 1939 at the age of 4 months and 2 days.
- In 1915 a young, George Raymond Summers, a young 19 year old black man from Kentucky working in the smelter died of Septicemia, an aggressive infection in his lungs.
You can begin to feel just a little of the hardships of the day.
Even without having known the person beneath the stone, those few words carved on a headstone connect us with humanity and the hope that our lives will be remembered. The weathered markings are the haiku of a life no longer living. “Till we meet again” (Joe W. Tatton, age 21, 1907), “Gone but not forgotten” (Annie Kelly 1876 – 1912), and “God needed one more angel” (Ransome Kellner 1903 – 1904). May they rest in peace and may they be remembered.
Joe Skamel manages a Facebook group called, Resting in the Sun, for local Find a Grave enthusiasts. You can check out the local efforts HERE.
Here in Globe the search for headstones has been made easier thanks to the earlier work of six women who walked the old cemeteries and documented each grave using burial records kept by one of the local mortuaries. Their work is meticulously documented in several volumes of hand typed notes, records and maps which the Gila Historical Museum guards under lock and key. The notebooks have been instrumental in helping many families locate a grave of an ancestor and is used in the work that Joe Skammel and Lee Ann Powers are doing today for Find A Grave.
First published in October 2014: Fall issue