Friday, June 7, 2013

Roberts Cemetery Restoration Project

Well, the Roberts Cemetery that I talked about in my first post "Cousin Bait" has come full circle.  My Aunt Becky who works for NNI (Northland Neighborhoods, Inc) was talking with members of my neighborhood association about community projects and the cemetery came up in the subject.  Since I had talked to her about it and that I had interest in family history, she passed along information and before long I was nominated to be the Cemetery Project Manager for the Roberts Cemetery Restoration, and now the adventure begins.

Its actually very exciting to do some new research, not family related.  I first started out calling around to the Clay County Historical Society, KC Parks and Rec, KC's Historic Preservation Director, and even the 311 number.  All came back with the same response, "Anything you do would be appreciated, but we have no money to help."  I did however get a name from the Historical Society, a Jay Thorn. 

I got a hold of Jay Thorn and we have spent a few afternoons up in the cemetery.  His first visit we tracked up the hill and without any visible indication of where to look, he pushed his ground probe into the soil and hit pay dirt!  With a few more hits he said, "Next time you're up here bring a shovel".  That didn't make any sense to me as I only live a few houses away, so I ran home and grabbed a shovel from the shed.  Upon my return he pointed out where to dig and way I went, about 12-15 inches later what to our surprise we found a horseshoe.  We continued to probe around without much luck, "even with the lucky horseshoe".  We did find a small handful of stones about a foot underground with flat surfaces but was a jigsaw of pieces that I haven't been able to put together yet. 

Jay has also educated me on a few historical features around the neighborhood, to include visiting Prather Hill, which is where Nancy Robert Prather lived.  She is one of the permanent residence of the cemetery.  After talking with some of the neighbors there on the Hill, I finally got up the courage to knock on the door of Mrs Ann Hodge, and she answered.  She is a living descendant of the Prather/Roberts and was very excited to talk.  It was late, so I didn't stay long but look forward to talking with her more and learning about the family history associated to the residence of the cemetery. 

The last few weeks have been wet and warm and the cemetery has now grown into its natural state of overgrown and almost impenetrable.  The project must move forward and what would really make the cemetery come alive is if we can find a buried tombstone.  So my next move was to contact Mandi Brown from Maryville, MO.  I had attended a class of hers "Reading Cemetery Stones" at the Genealogy KC Conference.  She told us about being able to locate unmarked grave by "Cemetery Witching".  I emailed her and on the Saturday before Memorial Day, she came to KC and taught me a new trick.  We spent hours walking around marking possible site for the burials, we even found a likely base to a memorial back in the woods.  After a wonderful lunch with her, we concluded that this will definitely take some time and after we clear out a lot of the undergrowth we will have to re investigate our findings and do more exploring. 

I also have spent some time at the Clay County Courthouse trying to do some research on who owns the cemetery and how the neighborhood could adopt it.  From what I gathered if the county owns it then they would most likely hand it over pretty freely, however that's where the problem lies.  After finally ending up in the Records of Deeds, which knew nothing about the cemetery, I was able to find the original deed of the cemetery.  There is still some research to be done on the title of the land but it looks like the original purchase was about a $100 for a group of locals back in 1865.  I am still trying to decipher the old handwriting to identify the buyers but it looks like twenty people were in the original donation of land, costing them about $5 each. 

I also had the pleasure of meeting up with Frank Hatton, a descendant of the Craighead family buried at the cemetery and also the first name on the deed.  He was able to share a wealth of knowledge as well as some old photos of the cemetery.  You can view those photos on the Find A Grave web page for Roberts Cemetery.  These were such a gold find, as they are the only photos of the stone while they were still standing. 

Presently I am working on finding a Boy Scout to get involved so that we can turn it into a Eagle Project.  I have been keeping notes all along so that I can write articles about the cemetery and in case I find someone it will be an easy hand off.  I was originally thinking of tackling it this summer but I think with the help of Doug Green the neighborhood Vice President we are going to try a little more campaigning to get everyone aware and interested. 

I will keep you all apprised of the restoration as we move along.  A heartfelt THANK YOU to all those who are helping and mentoring me through this project.  It has been a great experience so far and can't wait to pay it back to those who paved the way forward some many years ago.