Budding historians move cemetery records and maps online
Kesha Williams December 19, 2014
Historians aren't the only people enthralled by genealogy searches. Citizens are
increasingly conducting searches to resolve their curiosity and to resolve old, family
dilemmas. The availability of information in local towns can be invaluable.
One location prolific in historical details is the cemetery. Historians gladly roam
these solemn grounds to find intricate details that reveal pillars of the community,
family lineages, indicators of social class, birth and death dates. Those type details
can connect the deceased to eras current residents may never have witnessed. As some
ECSU students majoring in history have learned, Elizabeth City cemeteries hold those
vital clues and more.
For the last two years, students have kept busy with archival photography, stone rubbing,
researching the town's genealogy and creating a research tool that citizens and visitors
can rely upon. These history students have a partnership with Elizabeth City/Pasquotank
County Parks and Recreation Department to create online records and cemetery maps.
Those cemetery maps will indicate the location of all documented internments at all
public cemeteries in Elizabeth City - to include the dates, the names, nicknames,
birth and death dates, memorial type, and epitaphs. Images might become available
for future online search sites.
Elizabeth City/Pasquotank County Parks and Recreation Department began the project
as a means of providing useful documentation for the city government, local funeral
homes, and the general public. The project will enable people near and far to access
information regarding public cemeteries in Elizabeth City.
The first stage of the project (Spring 2012) involved collaboration between the History
faculty and Parks & Recreation staff to determine the scope of the project. The next
step was to recruit and train students on gathering and uploading data into the Cemetery
Management Information System. One cemetery, Old Hollywood, is virtually complete
and the next targeted cemetery is being prepared (digital mapping) for documentation.
This mapping involves the use of GPS satellite imagery that captures the cemetery
and then digitally draws in patterns of burial sites.
Students involved in the project have been amazed at the wealth of information gleaned
from this local history project. One participant, Corry Isel, a senior majoring in
History, began participating in 2013 and shared some lessons learned with her fellow
"It was my first experience with public history, and I am so glad I took advantage
of the internship opportunity. The project allowed me to use the research skills I
learned in class to learn more about the history of cemeteries including burial customs,
iconography related to monuments, preservation techniques, and genealogy," Isel said.
Christy Davenport, a senior majoring in history, began working on the project this
semester and plans to continue next semester. She applauds ECSU professors who encourage
students to conduct research projects and to look beyond lessons printed in their
"The local cemeteries tell the history of our city, many of the founding fathers are
interred at Hollywood Cemetery also, perhaps more importantly, there are family's
histories there," Davenport said.
"With the cemetery project, we catalog and enter the information into a database that
one day will be searchable and will help with families researching their genealogy."
Dr. Rebecca Seaman, a history professor at ECSU who oversees the students, said these
lessons of preservation and documentation are important lessons for the budding, public
historians she teaches. The students have been surprised by the amount of information
available at area cemeteries.
"The students found headstones for civil war soldiers, including one for a soldier
who served on the famous Merrimac. Members of the United States Colored Troops from
the Civil War are also interned at Oak Grove Cemetery. Whether they were natives or
citizens who migrated into the region is yet to be discovered. These findings and
the burial sites are significant to the population of a coastal town that dates back
to the early 1700s," Seaman said.
When this project is complete, the city will have an up-to-date database that is kept
current with each new deed purchase and/or burial within the public cemeteries. Additionally,
a website will offer historians and genealogists a means of researching family members,
historical figures, war veterans, and a means to gather demographic data relevant
to the Elizabeth City area.