by Sandra Stringer
A few weeks ago I could be found walking around the graveyard at St. James Church Cemetery on Camp Road, taking photos to fulfill the requests of people searching for the gravestones of their relatives.
Why take photos of gravestones?
If you’ve ever done an extensive genealogical search of your family tree, you may feel like a lot of people doing the same work do when they see a distant ancestor on their tree: “I wish I had a photo”. Of course, once you go back far enough, there were no photos. Sometimes people are lucky enough to have paintings that have been passed down through the family, but that’s rare.
When I was doing my own family history and setting up our family tree on ancestry.com, I found that a picture of a gravestone did fill that need to a certain extent. It made the person more real and placed them squarely in the history of the world. Find A Grave is a website devoted to helping people get photos of gravestones of their ancestors.
Let’s say you live in Utah, but you know that you’re relative was buried on James Island. You’re not going to be able to take a quick drive and get a photo. That’s where the helpful volunteers of Find A Grave come in. And I decided go on a cemetery mission to show you how it’s done.
I went on the website to find a grave site request that needed to be filled. I chose as my target one Mr. Josiah McLeod, born in 1812 and died in 1852. I walked around the graveyard for a solid hour and couldn’t find it, but graveyards can be tricky. I didn’t find it on that first go round.
Sometimes you have to go the Nancy Drew route
I came into the church’s business office on a Friday and spoke to Berta Puckhaber. She looked through the records she had on hand but couldn’t find the information I was looking for. She recommended that I talk to Croskeys Welch. Yes, that’s his real name. More on that later!
I contacted Croskeys, and he promised to get back to me after doing some research. He then called and we arranged to meet. He knew where the grave was located!
We lucked out and got a beautiful autumn morning for our meeting. He walked with me and showed me the monolith in place for Josiah McLeod. Yeah, if it was a snake, it would have bit me.
He read the passage on the stone to me: “Sacred to the memory of Josiah M. McLeod who departed this life the 4th of November 1852, aged 40 years 4 months and 1 day.” He then showed me the engraving for his wife on an adjacent side of the monolith: “And here’s his wife Mary who died 7th May 1850, Aged 35 years 1 month 11 days”.
Taking care of graves
I got my pictures and talked to Croskeys about his work at St. James and his family history here. He explained that he was on the Cemetery Committee. The committee organizes maintenance of the grounds. Also, when someone passes away and they need to open a grave, members of the committee are responsible for locating the site and directing the funeral home to the location.
I asked him how thorough the records were that the committee used to find older grave sites. He said the records weren’t complete. He pointed out some grave markers made out of cypress wood. You could see that at one time perhaps a brass plaque had been screwed or pressed into them, but those were gone. The wood was disintegrating. One day nothing will be left.
They have no idea who those markers belonged to. Croskeys explained, “During the war between the states, all the records from here were taken up to Winnsboro, South Carolina. Sherman went through Winnsboro and burned everything up there so they lost all records prior to 1860.”
A little family history moment
Croskeys showed me the grave sites of his grandmother and grandfather. His first name is a family last name. I pointed out, “Your name is Croskeys with an “s” but that grave says “Croskey”…” He smiled. “There’s a funny story about that. My Daddy left the “s” off of his name (Croskey Welch, Sr.) and Mr. Willie McLeod from McLeod Plantation was a good friend of the family, so he says “Well, there must not be an “s” on it!” He [McLeod] came out and had the “s” removed…you can see where the “s” was. You can see on my great great grandfather’s stone – 1855 – it has the “s”. I spell mine with the “s” – C-r-o-s-k-e-y-s.”
Looking at the stone, you can’t even tell the “s” was originally there. It’s a great little family story that I would have never known if I hadn’t met the charming Mr. Croskeys Welch in the St. James Episcopal Cemetery.
Making my contribution to Find A Grave
I now had my photo to contribute. I went to www.findagrave.com. I had already set up my login and password when I went hunting for a subject to find. On the main page I clicked on the “Join the Find A Grave Community” and clicked on the “Contributor Tools” link on the left bar. Next, under “Photo Volunteer” you can click on either “Requests near your current location” or search by zip code, just as you do when you’re starting out trying to see what people are looking for. It pulled up a list of all the nearby search requests and my subject, Josiah McLeod at St. James Episcopal on James Island, was near the top. I clicked on “Fulfill”, then clicked on the “Browse” button to then find the file on my computer. Once I had that selected, I clicked on “Add This Photo”.
It took a few minutes to load, and I typed in what the gravestone said, plus my permission for anyone to use the photo freely. It was added to the page already set up for Josiah McLeod. I discovered looking at the page that someone had already loaded a photo of the monolith but apparently the searcher was looking for a close up of the actual text – which I was glad to provide!
I’m not going to lie – it’s not the most user friendly website in the world, but once you have it figured out, it’s not hard. There is probably easier ways to get around on there, but I haven’t explored the site at length.
I strongly recommend that if you’re interested in being a contributor, there are several grave markers being looked for right now that are on James Island and dozens more listed in the Charleston area. If you’re willing to do some detective work, it’s actually a lot of fun. But then, I don’t find cemeteries to be all that creepy, even though I know lots of people who feel that way. But if you’re like me, and you’re interested in history and pondering the mystery of life, plus you like to volunteer, this is a great project.
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