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Historical Preservation Youth Service Project yields priceless treasures

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Youth from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, greater Loudoun County area cleaning headstones at the Ketoctin Baptist Church Cemetery. Photo Courtesy/Rona Scott
As part of a three-day Youth Conference from June 30 to July 1, at least 300 teens between the ages of 14 to 18 from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints performed service at two western Loudoun cemeteries: Ketoctin Baptist Church Cemetery and the Lovettsville Union Cemetery. Each project provided opportunities to discover history and link it to the present.

At the Ketoctin Baptist Church Cemetery, located just north of Purcellville, the youth cleaned headstones covered in lichen, moss, mold and dirt from years of exposure to the sun and weather.

"This is a very old cemetery, many of the graves dating back to the 1700s. Because of years of exposure to the sun and weather the headstones were covered with harmful substances making it difficult to read the inscriptions." said Ryan Berringer, one of the managers overseeing the project.

The youth carefully cleaned the headstones with water and a little ammonia so that future visitors to the cemetery can more easily read the headstones, and gather vital information for genealogical research.

For Gail Smith of Purcellville, this cemetery held the discovery of a priceless family link. A novice genealogist, Smith enjoys working on her family history.
She discovered that cemeteries often provide valuable names and dates. One year, she, her son and fellow Boy Scouts were participating in the Historic Fauquier County Scavenger Hunt: A Family History Exploration in Northern Virginia's Mosby Heritage Area. One of their scavenger hunt clues took them to the Ketoctin Baptist Church Cemetery.

As the search narrowed, it led them to a secluded area of the cemetery. The tombstones were worn, weathered and covered with moss and lichen. However, there was one small tombstone that had part of a name that was somewhat readable. As she approached it, she recognized it. She started to clean it off and discovered her great-great-grandmother on her father's side.

"In our family history, we didn't know where my great-great-grandmother died. We didn't know she was here. It was by chance that I found her," said Smith.

At another cemetery, the Lovettsville Union Cemetery, located just south of the town of Lovettsville, there have been over 3,600 people buried there over the course of the last 250 years.

The youth used a mobile app on their cellphones, known as BillionGraves, to photograph the inscriptions on the headstones. With the cameras on their phones, they immediately transcribed the written information on the headstones. This information will automatically be uploaded to a website known as FamilySearch.org, which has one of the largest collection of genealogical information in the world. It is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is open for anyone to access for free.

In addition to this important family history information, a GPS marker will also be uploaded, so that the exact location of each grave can be easily found by researchers who would like to visit their ancestor's graves in person.

In addition, in the Hamilton building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there will be an indexing project occurring in another location. Indexing is the process of gathering important vital statistical information from old records such as death certificates, and census records, and inputting that information into a program on FamilySearch.org that will allow future family history researchers to search these records easily, and be able to find within seconds a digital photo copy of the original document. Because many of these old records are hand-written, it requires individuals to properly decipher the information, often requiring knowledge of foreign languages.

Lastly, the youth attended classes that will teach them skills in such things as writing personal journals, life history, blogging and social media to preserve family history and the importance of photography in preserving family memories.

Lonny and Dorothy Grimmer, organizers of these family history events hoped these hands-on activities will impress on the youth that everyone is important and everyone had a life.

"These names on these headstones are more than just names and dates. They lived a full life and have a history to share. Cleaning headstones and documenting names can help others find priceless links to their family history," said Lonny Grimmer.

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