New life springs from old cemeteries

Old cemeteries, often overgrown and forgotten, are bringing new life to the spirit of family history and temple work in the Latham Ward, Albany New York Stake.

Don Radz, high priests group leader, discovered that as he hiked and enjoyed the streams and trees of the countryside."I am an outdoors man," he said. "I spend a lot of time in the country, and I kept coming across small cemeteries in the woods. Some of them I felt were forgotten, and that concerned me.

"I talked to my wife, and we became concerned that valuable information would be lost. We started locating cemeteries and copying information as we rode in the back woods of Ransselaer County."

Intrigued by the ambitious idea that old cemeteries dotted all of New England, and that the information should be saved, they started a project to do just that. While they are far from finished, they have drawn considerable interest among ward members and made significant contributions in preserving vital information.

To begin, they found that county planning boards had maps that gave the location of cemeteries. In some cases historians had documented the cemeteries. Still, some small cemeteries, perhaps family plots, were overgrown and hidden.

"Stevenstown historians felt that they had located all the cemeteries in their county. There were 60," Brother Radz said.

"We got their records and started doing some work. We met Elder Warner A. and Sister Valena Klemm, who were missionaries doing microfilm work, and they did some work with us. We began to realize the tremendous undertaking we were involved in.

"The cities and towns along the Hudson River date back to the time Henry Hudson came up the river. (In 1609 Henry Hudson, in search for the northwest passage, sailed up the Hudson River and anchored in the vicinity of modern Albany. The Dutch established a fur-trading post near Albany in 1614.) Fort Orange was a trading post and there were traders living there prior to the landing of the Pilgrims. It is a very historic area. Troy is well known, but towns like Grafton, Cropseyville, and Poestenkill and dozens of others up in the mountains had cemeteries."

Realizing that they needed help, Brother Radz spoke to Bishop Stuart Preece, who suggested that it be discussed in ward council meeting. The response was enthusiasm. The youth would be involved, families would be invited to make trips to the country cemeteries. The goal was to copy all the headstones that could be found in Rensselaer County, which was named after Steven Rensselaer, a Dutch patron.

The activities committee headed the project, targeting the town of Poestenkill for a beginning, and members went to work.

A kit of instructions and forms has been developed to aid the recording process. Records are transferred to a computer so copies may be provided to the community involved, and the Family History Library.

"We feel this is an inspired project," Bishop Preece said. "It has already generated a lot of interest among the citizens of the communities. We put a small ad in the paper asking people to notify us where cemeteries are situated. There has been a large response. We are involving many people, and see this as a step to friendship to the community.

"It is a good family history activity and a great benefit. Many people enjoy participating, and soon they get the feeling and spirit that it is important. They get acquainted with families of the past, and they start thinking of these people as real families, and the Spirit tells them that this is important and somehow these people need to have their temple work done.

"The project has inspired us in our temple work. On one excursion to the Washington D. C. Temple, we had more people in attendance than we have ever had before."

Rich experiences have resulted from the cemetery project. James Maxwell of the activities committee was working in the Postenkill cemetery when he found a very strange name and was having difficulty determining the complete name. As he puzzled over it, a truck stopped and a man and his son came to inquire what he was doing.

After hearing Brother Maxwell's explanation, the man replied, "I can help you. That is my grandfather. It is a Norwegian name, and part was dropped when the family came to America."

"As my wife, Klare, and I were going through the back woods looking for cemeteries we kept coming to forks in the road, and not knowing which way to go we offered a prayer for inspiration," Bishop Preece explained. "We followed that inspiration and found a small cemetery. We walked from stone to stone and discovered the family name of Klare's grandmother. That sparked our interest.

"This is a program that people everywhere would enjoy."

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