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University lecturer hopes to save a piece of Hall's past

Cemetery focus of group's efforts

POSTED: August 4, 2014 1:15 a.m.

University of North Georgia lecturer Zac Miller photographs a marker Friday in Timber Ridge Cemetery in northeast Hall County. His camera has GPS, but for the grave-mapping project he hired out the job to a third party with more precision.

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Zac Miller can’t be certain exactly how long Timber Ridge Cemetery has been in use, but he is sure of one thing: It holds the keys to a treasure trove of local history.

Miller, a lecturer of geographic information science at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, said the northeast Hall County cemetery dates at least to the early 19th century, and includes burial sites of Civil War and possibly Revolutionary War veterans. Miller said it is among the oldest cemeteries in the county.

The age of the cemetery, which is on Timber Ridge Road next to Timber Ridge Baptist Church, presents a problem. Centuries of erosion are making some marble markers difficult to read, and many of the oldest markers in the cemetery are “basically just stone,” with no visible inscription.

Miller said marble is particularly prone to erosion, and the marble markers will only become more difficult to read — but he has a plan to preserve the wealth of historical data they hold.

Miller and his student, Crystal Lyliston, are working to create a detailed database of the inscriptions and have created a website with a high-resolution aerial map, which makes the markers easy to find.

The project is designed to help uncover local history by connecting the information on the grave markers to historical documents such as World War I draft cards, which are public record and contain details like occupation, birthplace, immigration status and physical appearance. The information on the markers is a central point that can be used to piece together a history.

“We can see things like, based on the birthdays and death days of people in the cemetery, we can see who should have been eligible for the WWI draft,” he said. “By connecting the cemetery to these historical documents, we can learn about the people in this area: Who they were, where they lived, what they did, those kinds of things.”

Miller said the public can use the website to create a more complete picture of someone who lived in the past.

“For example, maybe someone has an old letter that is all they know about an ancestor,” he said. “If they can connect the letter to the data from the cemetery marker, then they can connect it to other historical records about that person. Suddenly they can paint a picture of this person’s life that they didn’t know anything about.”

Along with the grave markers, the cemetery includes a memorial for a Revolutionary War veteran who is thought to be buried there. The bronze memorial was placed in 1947 by the

Col. William Candler Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Miller said he has not confirmed whether the person buried there was actually a veteran of the Revolutionary War, but making the information from the markers available online opens the door for further research.

The database project is part of the University of North Georgia’s Faculty-Undergraduate Summer Enrichment program, which funds summer research projects with undergraduate students. The program provided the funding that allowed Lyliston to assist with the project.

Though the Timber Ridge project has taken place over this summer, Miller said he hopes to continue the project, expanding it to include 10 historic cemeteries in Hall County.

It is unclear how an expansion might be funded. Miller said he has just begun looking at options such as creating a nonprofit foundation for the project, working with an existing nonprofit or using the fundraising website Kickstarter.

“(The) scale we’re talking about, with nine more cemeteries, it’s going to be roughly $25,000 to get it all set up,” Miller said. 

A portion of the funding has come out of Miller’s pocket. He said one of the significant costs is the high-resolution aerial photos, which allow users to explore the cemetery online.

Miller and Lyliston have gathered data for most of the markers at Timber Ridge and posted them online. He said the next step is to take a photo of each grave marker, which will appear on the website alongside the data.

Users navigate the site by clicking a link at a point on the aerial map, each of which is labeled with the last name of the person buried there. The link takes users to an individual grave marker page with detailed information about the inscription and the condition of the marker.

Miller said his vision for the project is a more accessible and more complete local history for Hall County.

“We’re using the cemetery as a starting point for connecting to other information and understanding history,” he said — and once the planned expansion is complete, “you could search multiple cemeteries and explore how WWI and other events in history affected this area.”


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