Honoring the past for the future
By ANNE PYBURN CRAIG
The Friends of Gamaliel Cemetery would like to see to it that every human being buried there has a marked grave for their descendants to find, and they’re offering the community an opportunity to help.
“There are 2058 stones, and a lot of them are just field stones — plain limestone markers with no name or information,” says organizer Chad Comer. “In many cemeteries, those would remain unknown graves, but we have a record book that goes way back. We know who and where everyone is with the exception of five people.
“The cemetery goes back to not long after Gamaliel sprung up, around 1836. Several families got together to start a school in 1840, and this was where the original schoolyard was; the schoolhouse was at the cemetery gate. The young people would hang around, play baseball and whatever. A young man named John Welch was injured in 1844 and had a premonition he was going to die, and he asked to be buried there.”
Begun in the 1990s by Judy Downing, the Grave Marking Project adds 5 by 10-inch granite markers with three lines of text to a couple of dozen graves each year at a cost of $35 each. “Judy made a book and sold it to raise money to get this going,” says Comer, “and she got markers for people who didn’t even have a fieldstone. We’ve got about seven rows done, about 120 stones so far. We mark them with exactly what’s recorded in the book.” Stones are crafted by the Lafayette Monument Company over the winter, and placed in the spring.
Comer serves as a trustee and board member with the Friends, and says it’s satisfying work for someone who’s into genealogy. “Some people go fishing when they get time off, I go to the cemetery,” he says. “I’m kin to just about everyone in the old section.”
Once the stones are marked, they’re photographed and uploaded to the website Find a Grave.
“There were migrations from here to Missouri, Texas, California, Washington…We’ve got followers all over the country that have traced family roots back to Gamaliel,” Comer says. “We’ve gotten acquainted with several just over Facebook. ‘That’s my great-great-grandfather, thanks for sharing.’ We try to connect people to their ancestors. A lot of people don’t know past their grandparents, but they’d get their great-great-grandparents a marker if they knew.”
This year’s goal is to mark 24 graves; a handful have already been adopted, including “Hugh Parker” and “Nancy Harlin and Infant.” Another stone will be marked “Known Only to God” and placed on one of the five unknown graves. “It’s a cemetery full of nameless infants and expecting mothers — birth was risky back then,” says Comer.
To find out more about the Friends of Gamaliel Cemetery, you can visit their Facebook page.
To sponsor a stone, mail your donation to PO Box 99, Gamaliel, KY 42140 or drop it in the donation box located near the cemetery exit with a note specifying that your donation is for the headstone project.