More than 18,000 people are buried in Macon’s Riverside Cemetery, and for the past year a few volunteers have been working to determine just how many are military veterans.
The cemetery has a database of original obituaries for nearly every person buried there, going back to its start in 1887, said Susan Gordon, Riverside’s business manager. While many of the grave markers indicate that the person is a veteran, others do not, she said.
That’s why about a year ago the cemetery started an effort to pinpoint every veteran grave.
One of the volunteers is Cathy Thompson. For a couple of hours each week, she goes through obituaries looking for veterans.
“I’ve been interested in the cemetery since I was a little girl,” she said. “It’s the history.”
Three other volunteers also work at it regularly, she said, including one Vietnam veteran. Another dozen or so work at it from time to time.
At the current rate, they probably have another two years before they get through all of them. Thompson said she would love to have some additional volunteers to help speed it along.
As of May 8 they had gone through 5,768 obituaries, identifying 929 veterans. If it stays at the same rate, that means there would be about 3,000 veterans buried in the cemetery.
Part of the inspiration for identifying the veterans’ graves is the cemetery’s participation in Wreaths Across America, in which Christmas wreaths are placed on veterans’ graves. When the cemetery first participated two years ago, the ceremony drew about 30 people and enough donations for 40 wreaths. This past Christmas the ceremony drew 150 people who laid 407 wreaths.
With that kind of growth, the hope is that organizers of the ceremony will eventually be able to put a wreath on every veteran grave that they can identify.
There may still be some veterans’ graves that can never be identified. The database includes photos of each grave marker, and in some cases the marker indicated the person was a veteran while there was no mention of it in the obituary. So there may be instances when it wasn’t noted either in the obituary or on the marker.
One interesting thing Thompson has learned from reading obituaries from decades ago is that the notices carried much more detail than would generally be seen today. That included the specific cause of death, time of death, and maybe even who was around when it happened.
While identifying the veterans has been the primary mission of the research, Thompson said volunteers are recording any points of interest they see. She recalled one obituary that stated a father had murdered two of his children.
Anyone interested in volunteering to help go through the obituaries can contact the cemetery at 742-5328 or email email@example.com.