Cemetery Restoration

Cemetery restoration project reveals
natural museum in Switzerland County

Old stones in need of cleaning,
repair, says expert Campbell

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (May 2003) – Genealogy is a hobby shared by millions of people who search diligently for clues to their ancestors. Matt Campbell is making the job a little easier for many researchers through his business, Cemetery Restoration Professionals.

Matt Campbell

Matt Campbell at
Brushy Fork Cemetery

Every day, Campbell practices his detective skills while beefing up on local history as he restores cemetery stones that have fallen into disrepair. While some might think it lonely or gristly to visit with the dead on a daily basis, Campbell envisions it as a learning experience.
Pleasant Township trustee Carolyn Griffin has hired Campbell with riverboat revenue from Belterra Casino Resort to restore broken stones in seven Switzerland County cemeteries. Griffin said the list is comprised of three large, three small and an old German cemetery dating back to the 1700s. So far, Campbell has completed work on two cemeteries, Pleasant Grove and the Brushy Fork cemetery.
Campbell struck out on his own in the cemetery restoration business in 1997. He was trained by professionals in the field and attended various workshops. He said that in the past he has helped his brother-in-law mow cemeteries and was affected by the sight of many deteriorating monuments.
Campbell said his grandfather, a minister, also influenced him in his career choice. With his grandfather he would often visit the cemetery behind the church where his grandfather preached. “I always had respect for it,” he said.
This began a quest to find his own ancestors. “The more I would hear, the more I would want to know,” he said.
Campbell takes notice of the stones he repairs. Many of the descendants in the Pleasant Grove cemetery were from Scotland and Ireland, he said.
“A natural museum” is how Campbell described cemeteries. He said a visit to the cemetery is “like finding history.”
Genealogists Margaret and Al Spiry of Cincinnati agree with Campbell in that there is much to be learned from the past. “Headstones can be a great source of information when a primary source is not available,” said Al Spiry.
Spiry, who has been involved in the field of genealogy for 30 years, noted that a headstone might give a wife’s maiden name as well as denoting her parentage. It might also reveal the birth and death of an infant, who was buried with its mother, who may also have died at the same time.
Campbell documents his work, recording such details as names, sizes and type of material the stones are made of, birth-death dates, and the date of the actual repair work.
Griffin said she felt it was important to restore these cemetery stones. One reason she cited was that if headstones had chipped off or fallen over, they might be hit with a mower. When searching for ancestors, it is difficult for relatives to locate exact graves if they are not standing upright, she said.
In addition to neglect, another reason for disrepair may be accredited to vandalism. Two years ago, Glenn Huntington was involved in a case of cemetery vandalism where 146 stones were disturbed in Versailles, Ind.
His grandparents and great-grandparents, who were born in Europe, were interred in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Ripley County, Ind. He said it was important to him to have the stones restored out of respect for his grandparents.
Huntington said he first read about the vandalism in a county newspaper. The damage was extensive, amounting to a total repair cost of $30,000.
Most Switzerland County cemeteries were established before 1850. “Vandalism is a factor, but hasn’t been a big issue for the most part here,” said Ellyn Kern. Kern is the Switzerland County contact for the Indiana Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project (IPCRP).
Scott Sattertwaite began the IPCRP in 1997 as an effort to generate public awareness about neglected pioneer cemeteries in Indiana. According to the IPCRP website, their goal is “to identify, protect, restore and preserve as many cemeteries as possible.”
Kern acts as an information source in regard to Switzerland County cemeteries. She became involved with the IPCRP after writing the “Switzerland County Cemetery Locator.” Kern sits on the board of the Slawson Cemetery, one of the cemeteries Campbell will be restoring.
She has participated in lobbying for improved cemetery laws and has presented a program for the Switzerland County Historical Society about what individuals can do to help preserve pioneer cemeteries.
Unbeknownst to them, many researchers may have a Revolutionary or Civil War veteran in their family tree. “The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) is probably the most accessible and perhaps the most visible in placing monuments on Revolutionary veteran graves,” said Spiry.
Responsibility for the research of such an ancestor falls on the descendant, since each step must be carefully proven and documented. For the DAR to construct a gravesite monument, it is necessary for the researcher to track down the gravesite. With the present condition of most of these cemeteries, this is no easy task.
Spiry also pointed out that family graveyard deeds need to be researched to pinpoint the original cemetery size and location.
Kern said that township trustees have a cemetery care budget for cemeteries not on private property, unless an association maintains the cemetery. Grants are rarely available for repair work. “There are County Cemetery Commissions, but the one in Switzerland County is not funded adequately, if at all. Most cemetery restoration is volunteer.”
Spiry said that while the state of Indiana has passed legislation regarding the care and maintenance of cemeteries, the laws are long and lengthy and rather hard to digest.
“Out of site, out of mind,” is not the rule of thumb for genealogists. Preserving the past is a way to envision the future. “I love the work I do,” said Campbell.

To learn more about Matt Campbell’s craft, contact him at (812) 667-4103 or 1-877-478-9706.

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