SOUTH JORDAN It all started with one boy's love of genealogy and a desire to preserve records.
Brad Jencks, 15, discovered on a genealogy trip to the Bingham Cemetery things that both fascinated and bothered him names of babies on hundreds of headstones, headstones in many different languages, vandalized and deteriorated headstones and metal markers that couldn't be read at all.
When he was 13, Jencks decided to help out in the form of a 100-hour Eagle Scout service project proposal. His goal was to help the Jordan School District, which inherited the cemetery when Bingham was disincorporated, have a complete and accurate burial database.
With the help of more than 250 volunteers, he spent hours repairing dilapidated and vandalized headstones, taking digital photos of each burial site, recording information about the sites and learning about the diverse community that was Bingham city, a former mining town at the foot of Kennecott's Bingham Copper Mine. The group even set up a GPS map of the eight-acre cemetery so visitors didn't have to spend hours hunting for their ancestors' grave sites.
The project turned out to be much bigger than Jencks first thought, and 2,790 hours into it he met his original goal and obtained his Eagle Scout award.
However, the work wasn't finished.
Jencks discovered that by using Utah death records, he could provide information for additional graves. With his team of volunteers, he spent 1,100 hours researching the state's death records and found 800 burials in unmarked graves. The grave sites now number 1,825.
"It's more people we found than all the people in my school," he said.
Jencks was so dedicated to the project that he convinced his parents, Paul and Lori Jencks, to spend four days and three nights camped out in an RV at the cemetery Memorial Day weekend 2005 to collect stories and information from living relatives visiting ancestors buried there.
With the information collected from his project, Jencks compiled a 1,500-page book of information about the cemetery. The book was donated to the school district, Family History Library and the Utah State Historical Society, which put it on its Web site at history.utah.gov/apps/burials/execute/searchburials. It can also be found at www.rootsweb.com/~utsaltla/Cemeteries/Bingham.
Making the information accessible was important to Jencks.
"Our goal was not just to have this out here but to get it publicized," he said. "The Internet is huge for people around the world, and every little thing helps (the book) become more publicized."
As a result of his service to the cemetery, Jencks was named one of two top high school volunteers for the state of Utah in the 2006 Prudential Spirit of the Community Awards Program. This month he was named one of the top 25 students in the nation for the Save Our History National Honors Awards program. His work will be featured on "Save Our History" and The History Channel within the next year.
Lori Jencks has enjoyed seeing how her son has grown from doing the project.
"I've watched him learn responsibility, solve problems, focus on the different languages," she said. "I just see this young kid learn all these skills and give back to the community."
Brad Jencks said there's still more work to be done. This year he plans to return to Bingham to let those he spoke with last year see his book and the results of his project.
"It's surprising to see awards falling in my lap after the fact and after I gave service," he said. "It's showed me what good things can happen if you do good things in the community."
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