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Stones of history: Group's search for cemeteries builds online database for genealogy
By Jackie R. Broach
For more than 10 years, a local group has been helping people trace their roots by cataloging final resting places throughout Georgetown County.
With the aid of hundreds of volunteers, more than 225 cemeteries and grave sites have been visited, and more than 25,000 names have been recorded through the work of the Georgetown Committee of the National Society of Colonial Dames in America in South Carolina. Their work, along with GPS coordinates for the burial sites, can be viewed online.
“So often we romanticize the aristocracy and the rice culture. This is an attempt to reach all across the county and all of the people, not just the romanticized ones,” said Elizabeth Forrester, a coordinator for the project.
“Georgetown, despite the development on Waccamaw Neck, is still relatively rural. You think of stones and cemeteries like the ones at Brookgreen and Hobcaw and relate them to famous people, but these cemeteries are connected to some old Georgetown families that live in out of the way places.”
The project is the first to record black cemeteries in the county, including some burial sites which were used for slaves and continued to be used by their descendents after the Civil War, according to Forrester.
She believes the project is important to families as a part of Georgetown County’s history.
“Our history is not just about the rice culture, but about our farming community and our black communities,” she said.
The project has resulted in Forrester getting calls from all over the nation as people doing genealogical research find the work being done by the local Colonial Dames.
“One lady called when we first started and we were just learning about the GPS and stuff,” Forrester recalled. “She called from Florida and said ‘I’m so glad you listed my ancestor. I’ve been looking for this name for years.’ ”
There was just one problem, the woman added, after issuing her thanks. The GPS coordinates posted showed the woman’s ancestor was buried in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He was actually buried near Santee.
“Of course, we just did the coordinates wrong,” Forrester said.
The group has become much more proficient with GPS coordinates since then.
That’s just one hurdle they’ve had to overcome through the years as they have worked on this project.
“Probably the most difficult part of it was just locating the cemeteries,” Forrester said. “It was like detective work. We would just have to ask people if they knew of any cemeteries. Some were just family burial places.
“That was difficult, I guess you would say, but it was fun.”
The project took Forrester and some others to a cemetery at Greenfield off of Highway 701. There were no grave stones or other clues as to who was buried at the site, so the group started knocking on doors of nearby homes, looking for oral histories about who was buried there.
“We’ve had some encounters with snakes and deep brush and briars,” Forrester said.
On one memorable day, they were searching for a cemetery on Johnson Road when a man, clearly inebriated, suddenly stepped out of the woods. They asked him for directions and he replied he would be happy to help them in exchange for a drink.
Another day while recording graves at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church cemetery, the Dames “very carefully marked the stones they had recorded with a chalk X” to show they had already been catalogued.
“We had done a lot of work that day and were going to come back and finish up,” Forrester said. “We came back the next day and all the marks had been washed away. Someone in the church thought that vandals had come through.”
As a result the group had to redo much of their work.
The Dames are still looking for more burial sites in Georgetown County and would like the public’s help in locating them, including family plots with only one or two people buried there.
Volunteers are also welcome. For information, call 546-9804.
Read more: A final rest, but a start for historians