Young men who want to become an Eagle Scout must perform a service-leadership project that totals 80 to 150 hours. A service project of that size is no small task, and Ben Freed, a 17-year-old Boy Scout from Wisconsin, wanted to come up with a great idea for his Eagle Scout Service Project that would have a lot of meaning.
After two project ideas that didn't pan out, Ben became interested in doing something for a local cemetery that would help preserve the records and make them available for others to research.
Ben's mother, Deborah, suggested he do a project for the White Creek Cemetery in Wisconsin. This cemetery has special significance for Ben and his family, because at least 1/3 of the burials in the cemetery are somehow related to them--including Ben's grandfather.
Ben's father did some online research and learned that they could create their own online digital cemetery map on Names In Stone, and that those records would be linked with FamilySearch, the world's largest genealogical database. That project sounded ideal.
Ben's Eagle Scout Service Project
The White Creek Cemetery is located in Adams, Wisconsin. It is an older cemetery, with tombstones dating from the late 1850s, some with barely legible inscriptions. The cemetery is still in use, with newer monuments along the north and west edges of the cemetery. In 2002, an acre of land was donated to the White Creek Cemetery Association, which will allow the cemetery to be enlarged and a new fence added.
The Cemetery is a wonderful American memorial, with many veterans buried there, including veterans from the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Gulf War.
Ben was excited about mapping the White Creek Cemetery for his Eagle Project because he felt it was an enduring project that could be built upon, would be useful into the future, and could be used by many people.
Ben divided his project into two parts:
- Data Collection
- Data Entry
The first step was accomplished at the White Creek Cemetery on April 28, 2012.
Ben divided a group of 33 volunteers into two-man teams, who took photos of each headstone, or photos of a rubbing of a headstone if the inscription was illegible. They marked each photo with a label that identified where in the cemetery the headstone is located. The teams also used a data collection form to record information including: name of deceased, birth date, death date, and all other information found on the headstone.
After the data collection was complete, Ben recruited 12 people to work on computers and enter the data on an online map he created on the Names in Stone website. During one data entry session, scout leaders were able to provide enough laptops to have four groups enter data simultaneously.
Ben learned quickly how important it was to standardize their methods--and he put himself in charge of quality control. That's one bit of advice he would give to any other Scout who wants to map a cemetery: include "Quality Control" as one of the steps of the project. "I would recommend to anyone who wishes to complete a similar project to use a standard format for all data both in recording and in data upload--as well as standard equipment on the collection end."
When Ben was finished, he had created an online digital cemetery with 524 graves! Users from anywhere in the world are able to click on any grave on Ben's map and see a photo of the headstone and all the data linked with that grave.
How do Ben and his family feel about this project now that it's complete?
Ben says, “Doing this project felt like…ROOTS. I was connecting back to my past. When I was entering names in the computer, it hit me—how these people lived and how they were connected to ME.”
Ben's mother, Deborah, helped on the project by entering headstone information on the computer. She says, "This project was near and dear to our hearts, because my husband’s family is buried there. It was a profound spiritual experience for me. It was almost like I felt them say to me, ‘Thank you. Now I can be found, and I am not forgotten.’”
Ben gives special thanks to all the volunteers who donated their time and efforts to make his cemetery mapping project a big success!