Wind and rain can beat away at tombstones over the years, wiping away the history etched there. But a project at Cleveland Historic Cemetery aims to preserve that information in digital records.
The Georgia Mountain Regional Commission has been nationally recognized for its work mapping the 2-acre cemetery that was established in 1866 by Cleveland area churches.
The regional commission, a body that provides support to 13 member counties and cities in North Georgia, received the 2010 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations for its unique project.
Project director Faith Jones said tools like GPS, probing rods and aerial photography were used to create a database of who is buried in the cemetery and identify unmarked graves.
The cemetery's board of trustees was in the process of rehabilitating the cemetery and asked for assistance.
"They didn't have any really good records," Jones said.
"This project enabled them to have the digital records along with a full map of what the cemetery layout is."
Information from each headstone, such as name, dates of birth and death, military or other affiliations, grave site condition and headstone material were recorded along with a digital photograph of each site.
Jones said she was able to record information from all but about 25 headstones.
"Time and rain has washed a lot of the information off," Jones said. "But we knew someone was buried there."
Archaeological assessments showed there were an additional 67 unmarked graves in the cemetery.
Jones said she was very pleased with the results of the project, which she hopes to make available to the public soon.
"It was very interesting. It's kind of like a walk through history when you do a project like that," Jones said.
Bill Black, chairman of the cemetery's board, said he would like to see the records available on the Cleveland Better Hometowns and Cleveland Historical Society websites in one to two months.
"You can actually go in and find out who's there and actually pull up a grave and read the grave marker on the computer," Black said. "This is kind of a unique project, maybe the first in the state. A lot of people call me and wanting to know if their granddad is buried there and want to know if I know where they are. This will be a way for people to research situations like that."
Black said in addition to the digital records, the group has been working to beautify the historic cemetery, which contains the graves of the founding fathers of Cleveland.
They have added columns, fencing and even an arch entryway.
"We're excited about it," Black said.
Ronda Sanders, the genealogy and local history librarian for the Hall County Library System, said the Cleveland Historic Cemetery's digital records will be a great tool for those tracing their ancestors.
"That's really going to help people who have moved out of the White County area," Sanders said. "It's definitely something that is not done nearly as much as it should."
She said the Hall County library is working to get a book of all the cemeteries in the state to help out local genealogists.
"Online is going to be even better," she said. "I'm glad to hear about it."