CLARKSTON, Wash. — People the world around may benefit from the Lewiston Idaho Stake’s Day of Service.
On a cold, blustery O ct. 20, members of the stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were joined by volunteers from the Twin Rivers Genealogical Society, 129 in all, to check nearly 10,000 tombstone inscriptions against the sexton's records at Vineland Cemetery in Clarkston, Wash. They contributed an aggregate 548 hours.
It was the second such cemetery project for the Lewiston Stake.
In 2011, 206 members of the stake contributed an aggregate 555 hours and checked 40,000 inscriptions in Lewiston’s Normal Hill Cemetery. Will Godrey said sextons have meager budgets and are short staffed. If sexton were to undertake such a project, “They couldn’t finish that in 12 lifetimes,” he said.
Godrey was called by Stake President William J. Perez to organize the service-day projects. "Several members of the stake told me how fun it was to be involved in service as a stake,” Perez said. "I also heard comments from community members complimenting the church on our involvement in important community issues.
"Many members of our stake are involved with community service, but I now see how important it is for us to do organized service as a stake. Our community needs to be aware that we practice what we preach. We are people who render service, and that service is not just for our ward and stake members."
Godfrey divided the cemeteries into five units. He appointed a leader for each of the sections and the leader helped recruit members in their wards. Volunteers worked in pairs, one to read inscriptions and the other to record the data on computer printouts on clipboards.
The day of service at Vineland was scheduled for Sept. 15, but it was rescheduled because of a funeral for a child in the stake. As Oct. 20 neared, Godrey said the stake considered canceling the project because of threatening weather and the fact that organizing volunteers after school begins each fall is difficult.
“We were right down to the last moment whether we were going to be able to do it,” Godrey said, “but I decided it would be good if I came back and kept my word to Kathy” Renggli, the sexton at Vineyard. Although a bit on the cold, breezy side, the weather cooperated.
Organizing these cemetery projects requires a lot of planning. Godrey said about half the time goes into mapping and organizing volunteers into crews. He arranged for a nurse to be on hand in case of injuries or medical emergencies and provided water. The stake also provided baby sitters for volunteers who needed them.
Twin Rivers Geneology Society's Jill Nock said genealogy society members eagerly accepted the invitation to participate in the service project. “It is so worthy a project and benefits so many people,” she said. “Our hope is that the data will be computerized and people will be able to access it either online or through a phone call.”
Godfrey hopes one day the data will be accessible from a kiosk at the cemetery so families can find loved one’s graves even when the sexton's office is closed, adding, “but that looks to be down the road a long time.”
Renggli said her office receives telephone calls from all over the United States, and even from foreign countries, seeking information about people buried there.
“I give praise to the Lord for introducing me to Will,” she said.
Additions and corrections to cemetery data eventually will be entered into the cemetery’s spreadsheet database.
Volunteers found a lot of errors and additional information that can be added to the sexton's records. They found conflicting dates — often burial dates are on office records, but death dates are on tombstones. Sometimes middle names are engraved on the markers, but are either missing or only represented by initials on office records.
Renggli is excited about the prospect of the project adding a lot of new information to her database because Washington state didn’t require cemetery records to be kept prior to the 1930s. Vineland has markers going back over 100 years.
She also is eager to record military service information found on stones, but missing in office records. Thanks to the service project she will be able to add many veterans to the list of graves that will receive flags on Memorial Day.
It will take time for Renggli to input data from the service project, as she has no staff to help, but she plans to devote personal time to data entry, staying late or working on weekends. “It’s a project I’m willing to devote time to,” she said.
Godfrey has high praise for Vineland grounds keepers who assisted with the project.
“They jumped on this like raspberry jam on toast,” Godrfey said.
Terence L. Day lives in Pullman, Wash., and welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org