In Search of Lost Graves

Edmund Perry Brown died as an infant in 1870 (grave at left) and is buried in the family plot on private property in western Lancaster County.

Tombstones are not usual garage sale fare. But when locating stolen headstones and forgotten gravesites, Nebraska State Historical Society employees and volunteers often encounter strange circumstances.

Volunteer Cynthia Monroe reunites stolen tombstones with their owners. Tombstones have been thrown in road ditches, used as stepping stones in backyards, and have even adorned dorm rooms. One stolen stone was five feet high and about eight feet square. It required a front loader to return to its original location.

“We don’t understand that one,” Monroe said.

Monroe has returned approximately twenty-five stones over the past fifteen years. Some are returned right away, but other searches take as long as ten years. It takes persistence and a zealous search of cemetery records.

Read the rest of Kylie Kinley’s article on p. 3 of the latest issue of Nebraska History News. (Available as a PDF file. Go here for help if you can’t open it.)

The full article describes a stone that Monroe has been unable to return even after five years. But thanks to the article, a reader recently contacted her with burial information for the person named on the stone, which can now be returned to its proper cemetery.

Brown family cemetery, one of many isolated cemeteries in rural Nebraska.

Little-known and even lost rural cemeteries exist throughout the state. Some are only family plots or overland trail graves. Pat Churray of the NSHS staff has been compiling the Nebraska Statewide Cemetery Registry.

“It’s very important for people to register if they have a grave on their farm or property so people can find their family members,” Churray said. “People need to report it. And now we have the registry they can report to.” (Contact her at [email protected].)

Harve Andrews and family by the grave of “Willie,” photographed by Solomon Butcher, Victoria Creek Canyon, Custer County, 1887. NSHS RG2608-2360 (left).

 

—David Bristow, Associate Director for Research & Publications

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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