By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
McCOMB — Kris Martin has spent the past six years making it easier for family historians to fill in the gaps.
Martin, of McComb, is a volunteer photographer for a website called findagrave.com. She photographs headstones in area cemeteries and uploads them to the site’s free online database which contains listings of cemeteries and graves around the world.
“Every stone has a history,” she said. “It’s true, every stone has a story to tell.”
Since 2008, Martin has taken 16,300 pictures and done just over 13,000 memorial pages on the website which includes birth and death dates, photos and biographies.
“I’m on my third camera right now,” she laughed.
Martin’s interest was sparked when her son, Beau, was in eighth grade and had to do a family tree for school. While helping him do research, she typed the name of her great-great-grandfather, Charles Kreh, into an online search engine and a page and photo came up for him on Find a Grave. He is buried in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde.
“I’ve been hooked on it ever since,” she said.
Her son got an A on his project, and Martin discovered her own interest in genealogy and a desire to help others by photographing headstones for the webpage.
She began by taking pictures in McComb Union Cemetery and then created 6,100 memorial pages.
“That took me two years. It’s not something you can do on a whim,” she said.
Martin, 48, tries to do one section of a cemetery at a time, usually spending about an hour at a time there.
“It’s good exercise walking. That’s why I only go about an hour at a time because that’s enough. Then I’ll go home and crop the pictures and upload them,” she said.
She also includes any biographical information she’s able to find.
“I’ll research the person to see if I can find any information on the websites. You can usually find something on everybody,” she said, noting that the websites ancestry.com and familysearch.org are particularly helpful resources.
Martin also uses cemetery books compiled by the Hancock County and Putnam County genealogical societies. The books typically list the person’s name along with the cemetery row and stone numbers for the grave.
“And even if they can’t get to the cemetery, they can still see a picture of their ancestor’s headstone (on Find a Grave),” she said.
Picking cemeteries closest to her home, Martin has also worked in Bethel Cemetery and Old Maplewood Cemetery, North Baltimore; Thomas Cemetery and Pleasant Hill Cemetery, both in Portage Township; and Indian Green Cemetery in Liberty Township.
Martin said she twice uncovered headstones that had been buried in the ground.
“I kept looking for one lady in the McComb cemetery in the old part, and I couldn’t find her,” Martin said.
Using the genealogical society’s cemetery book, Martin knew where to look for the woman’s grave.
“I had one of those little canes from the fair and I took it down there and stuck it in the ground. And I found it and I dug it up all the way around,” she said.
Martin is currently working in Harman Cemetery near Gilboa, a project she started two years ago.
“That cemetery is a little farther from my house, but I was really fascinated with that cemetery because of all the old headstones,” she said.
Martin works during nice weather, usually in the morning.
“You can’t have the sun behind you or you see your shadow in every picture,” she explained.
She spends the winter months transcribing the cemetery books and putting memorials on the website.
As a photo volunteer, Martin also gets requests from researchers asking her to take photographs for them.
“People were requesting them all winter long,” she said. Many of the headstones were buried under snow, and some were too far away for her to get to them.
Martin also gets calls from people seeking information at the village office and the public library in McComb.
Martin said the oldest stone she’s found was in Indian Green Cemetery. The stone, which is still standing, records a birth year of 1790.
“I took my kids down there one time, this was years ago, but they thought it was creepy,” she said.
All three of her children have done work in cemeteries. Daughter Lindsay helped Martin in Pleasant Hill where Martin’s father and grandfather are buried, and daughter Jaymie provided a helping hand in Old Maplewood Cemetery, while son Beau spent time pulling weeds in McComb Union Cemetery for his National Honor Society service hours.
Martin said the volunteer job has been rewarding. Last fall she was able to help a family find their relative buried in Harman Cemetery.
“I just happened to be there and I had my book. I was talking to the grandfather and he told me the name,” she said.
Martin looked the name up and showed them the gravestone.
“I’ve made quite a few friends through hunting tombstones,” she said.
“A lot of people think it’s weird to go wandering around a cemetery, but it’s not, not for me anyway,” she said. “And there’s a lot of people just like me out there.”
Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf
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