A couple of months ago, I took on two new projects. I’m counting heads for the U.S. Census Bureau as a non-response follow-up enumerator, and I’m taking photographs of headstones for Find-A-Grave. The two jobs are remarkably similar; in both cases, I’m verifying that a location is occupied and recording who resides there. I decide which role to fulfill depending on whether or not I am more interested in getting paid or not having to talk to people. You can guess which option goes with which role.
I took an interest in both of these opportunities because I love records. I have used many, many old census records in my research, and was able to reconstruct entire neighborhoods for my Knoblock murder manuscript based on the 1920 census records for Coffey County, Kansas. I felt a sort of time-transcending kinship to the enumerators who recorded – by hand, just as I did – the basic statistics of each household they encountered. And now, for posterity, I record images of the markers of the dead, making them virtually available to anyone on the planet.
I fell in love with cemeteries when I was 24 years old. My fiance and I were strolling through Memorial Lawn/Maplewood Cemetery in Emporia, Kansas, a town with a (living) population of about 22,000 people and a large cemetery with a (dead) population of about 30,000 people. What I loved about that cemetery was the variety of monuments, and the fact that the entire town’s history was buried there. Spending the past few weekends puttering around with a camera, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite monuments. They’re not the biggest, or the grandest, but they speak to me every time I see them.
The doughboy honored by this next marker isn’t even buried here, but ask anyone who has spent time walking around this cemetery which markers they remember, and the doughboy is always on the list. He’s long since lost his rifle, but he remains at attention long after the man he serves to memorialize stood at ease.