Saturday, June 21, 2008

Documenting Process

So how did the Beallsville Cemetery website evolve and what did I do to collect the information? The first thing I did was to scan all the cemetery records. Starting about 10 years ago the cemetery started putting it's records on computer. Until then everything was recorded in ledgers. These ledgers consisted of Interment Listings, Lot Owner Books, Little Black Interment List.

The Interment Listings consist of three books that have burials listed in chronological order. Some of the information in the listings included person's name, age, last residence, birth date and sometime location, death date, burial date, burial location, cause of death, nearest relative, type of coffin. Many of the earlier entries do not have much of this information filled in. As time progressed more care was given to filling things in. The more I have come to work with these ledgers, the more I think the earliest entries were copied from another source. Possibly earlier records were getting worn and they were transferred to a ledger which was then carried on and updated. Many of the death dates that are recorded seem to be burial dates as they differ by a few days from the dates on tombstones. However, I have seen tombstones with incorrect dates as well so just because it is "written in stone" doesn't mean it is right.

The next set of ledgers consists of Lot Owner Books. These are very large and some of them are in very bad shape. Pages have come loose from the bindings, corners and edges of pages have started to flake off. These books are divided into lot numbers. It lists the owner of the lot, the burials that have taken place (sometimes with the names and sometimes only a notion that it was an adult or child), costs incurred and date of burial.

The last book is nicknamed the "Little Black Interment Book" and no one is quite sure what prompted its creation. It seems to concentrate mostly on the section of the cemetery called the "Jungle" (for the large number of trees that are located in that section)although other burials are in the book as well. Most of these burials are also in the interment books as well. This part of the cemetery seems to hold many of the immigrant burials, people that worked in the coal mines and most likely didn't have the money to buy a family plot. The burials in this section are in rows, mostly in the order of death. Many of the causes of death were from mining related injuries or contagious illness that would run through the coal mine towns.

For months I would pack up my laptop and scanner and go to the cemetery office and scan all of the ledgers. This took about 5 months. Once that process was done I began to walk the cemetery photographing the tombstones and transcribing them and drawing maps of each lot. Originally the lots were set up to hold 8 burials and these were mostly family owned. If someone didn't need the whole lot it was subdivided into halves or quarters - halves holding 4 and quarters holding 2 burials. If the burials were for children or infants or were cremations, then more people could be accommodated.

Just recently we located minute books and I'm in the process of scanning them and will be posting more of those pages later.

Once I had all of the information gathered I created a database from the interment listings, cross-referenced that to the tombstones and plot maps, and to the lot owner books. What I found was that there were some interments missing from the books as I found tombstones but no listing. There are also many interment listing for which there are no tombstones. There was also information in the lot owner books that was not found anywhere else. What I also found was that there were often many different spellings of names. I included all variations. That is why you will find several different columns of names in the indexes - the name as listed in the interment books, the one found on the tombstone and then the alphabetic listing.

Hopefully with the combination of all of the sources of information, I have been able to come up with as complete a listing as possible of the burials in Beallsville. I'm sure there are some still missing, and there are probably errors but I'm hoping the information is still helpful to people researching their families.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Something New

Since I started the Beallsville Cemetery website ( I have received so many wonderful emails. I wanted to try something new to see if I could add this same type of interactive element to the website so anyone can participate. Therefore I'm experimenting with a blog. I am relatively new to blogging so I guess I'll learn as I go.

First I thought I'd give you a little background into what inspired this ongoing project. In 2001 I sold a business that I had owned for 10 years and decided to take some time and just have fun. Researching my family tree had been on my to-do list for a long time so that is the project I started on. Little did I know how addictive genealogy could become. I now actually teach a beginning genealogy class at CCAC near Pittsburgh (next session is this October).

I grew up thinking my Hill family (my dad's side of the family) was very small. I knew my grandparents, my Dad's brother and his wife and 3 kids and that was about it. I knew that my Grandparents were buried in Beallsville Cemetery so I thought I'd start there on the off chance that any other relatives were buried there. I paid a visit and talked to the caretaker. I asked if there were any other Hills buried in Beallsville or nearby. He just started laughing at me. Turns out there are more Hills buried in Beallsville than any other surname (and everyone of them is a "relative"). It also turns out that the caretaker's father owned a farm in nearby Scenery Hill (more about Scenery Hill later) and adjacent to his property was a Hill Cemetery with approximately 100 or so Hill family burials. As I found out later, this was indeed a branch of my family. And so my involvement with Beallsville Cemetery began and that was 7 years ago. I have now identified approximately 600 people buried in Beallsville that are directly or indirectly related to me in some way. Through my family research I discovered many living relatives and in 2002 we had a great family reunion which we held in Scenery Hill with people from all over the country. The reunion included a tour of 4 cemeteries in the Beallsville area where family is buried. So much for the small family that I thought I was a part of!!

Many people wonder what the attraction is to researching dead people. Some of the best fun that I've had is connecting with the living descendants and helping people find their ancestors. Many people in the past have transcribed and recorded some of the smaller cemeteries in this particular part of Washington Co but I think because Beallsville Cemetery is so large, no one ever wanted to tackle the project. As I stated earlier, I have received so many wonderful emails from people who have been able to find ancestors and relatives by looking through this website and that is what makes all the effort worthwhile. People have taken the time to send me wonderful photos of their ancestors and to include genealogical information, obituaries, etc. This interaction and collaboration is what is making the site so special and that is what the inspiration was for this blog. Hopefully we can help each other with family research, share family files, ask questions, etc. I will try to add some genealogy tips that I have learned over the years - especially about Washington PA. I will post a bibliography of about 200 - 250 research resources for Southwestern PA, interesting books that I've read, websites that I've found, local research resources, etc. I urge everyone to be active in participating and posting as well.

I hope this will be as much fun as building the website has been and continues to be.