A grave undertaking – Web site offers help in finding burial sites

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 10, 2007

Barbara Tanner and Betty Jane Taylor have been all over the arealooking for graves to photograph.

The two sisters from Gallman enjoy the hobby, but they also havea purpose. They spend some of their free time finding graves for”Find A Grave,” a society that operates through a Web site thathelps people find pictures of the graves of relatives, friends, andsometimes complete strangers.

“I was surfing the Internet one night to see if the GallmanCemetery was listed, and I found this Find A Grave site,” saidTanner. “You can join for free and take pictures within a certainarea. Once you join, you just wait for the requests for graves thenyou photograph them and send them in.”

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While the sisters acknowledge the hobby isn’t yourrun-of-the-mill pastime, they said it proves entertaining andexciting sometimes.

“It gives me something to do,” said Tanner, who receives nocompensation for her efforts. “And it keeps me out of trouble.”

The more soft-spoken Taylor said she is there for the moralsupport.

“I just tag along,” she said.

Tanner, who is always accompanied either by Taylor or by herLabrador mix, Luther, said she has pursued requests for people fromall over the country. She said she has dealt with requests from asfar away as Washington, California, Arizona, and Virginia, as wellas grave sites as old as one from 1892.

Part of the fun, she said, is learning where all the graveyardsare, but also finding the graves once you get to the graveyard.

The two were in the Riverwood Cemetery in Brookhaven onWednesday looking for the grave site of Devon Alexander. Theycircled the graveyard once and then went to the office for betterdirections.

“I told him ‘Apparently, Devon left. Do you know when he’sexpected back?'” Tanner said, laughing.

Sometimes the cemeteries don’t have an office to stop at,though, and the two are on their own with the sometimes-murkynavigation steps given by the Web site.

“Usually we’re back among the trees,” said Taylor.

And each grave has its stories, just like the familiesassociated with them. Tanner tells of a time she even helpedreconstruct a shattered tombstone in Lincoln County.

“A wild cow had broken her headstone,” she said. “It had justrun it down, I guess. We got the pieces and put them backtogether.”

The sisters said they had grave-searched for one Arizona familywho had 17 children who were searching for a younger sister theyhad lost track of.

“I found that she had died of appendicitis and I was able totell the family what had become of her,” Tanner said.

Some of the stories may never be told, though.

“There was one little boy, he had to be 6 or 7,” said Taylor.”He had all these little Hot Wheels cars on his grave. You find allsorts of things on the markers.”

They said besides learning things about the departed and theirfamilies, there are also techniques to the art of “graving.”

“The ideal time to go is spring and fall, because of theweather,” said Tanner. “And when you get requests, they’re notalways all correct, sometimes there’s a name that’s wrong orsomething. And sometimes the directions aren’t great.”

She said also the best time to go is before noon since mostgraves face east, and the sun shining straight on the headstonemakes for better pictures of the graves.

There is also tough competition among the Find A Gravefamily.

“There’s a lady in Jackson who, if I’m not Johnny-on-the-spot,she beats me,” said Tanner. “I don’t even know her name, but she’sfast.”

On the Net:

For more information on the Find A Grave society, visitwww.findagrave.com.