There are many reasons why I couldn’t do any of these projects without the internet. For one… well, hi, you’re reading a blog! But beyond that alone, technology makes this an exciting time for grave hunters. Because while it’s often easy to find the really famous graves, there are others that are somewhat more difficult.
My most frequent resource, and usually my first stop when trying to locate any grave, is the wonderful Findagrave.com, a mostly volunteer-led and crowd-sourced cemetery photography and record keeping site. Through the tireless efforts of many people (including myself) over the years, Find a Grave is the most complete cemetery resource on the web. But there are still graves that fall through even its cracks. Case in point is former Massachusetts Governor John Quincy Adams Brackett (whose parents really rolled the dice, I’d say). While Find a Grave did have an entry on Governor Brackett, there was no image, and the ‘address’ of the grave in the venerable Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge MA was for a tomb marked with two names, neither of them his. Initially, I assumed there was an error in Find a Grave – not all that uncommon, even with notable burials. So I checked a couple other sources, such as The Political Graveyard, but they had the same spot listed. So, too, did Mount Auburn’s own grave location tool.
Curious, I emailed Mount Auburn’s office to inquire. Quite quickly, I got a reply informing me that, sure enough, the Governor was in there; he’d been interred with his wife’s family, and they evidently decided that a Governor wasn’t good enough to get his name on the door. Happily, I returned to Mount Auburn and was able to check another name off my Governors list.
Okay fine, it’s not exactly a great detective story. But it’s worth pointing out how much more difficult every step of the process would have been without the web. From the simple act of even knowing what cemetery to seek out, to being able to check multiple sources for a site, to emailing a cemetery and having them respond after checking digitized records: all of this was impossible just a couple decades ago, and many of the resources used didn’t even exist ten years ago.
I’ve been reminded several times recently what a boon digital communication has been for the teaching and learning of history, and it’s true – there’s an explosion of great and public history out there today that simply wasn’t possible when I was in high school. But it also matters for nerd hobbyists like me – as fun as it is to wander the weeds of an old graveyard looking for clues (and no matter how much info I get I still have to do that regularly), my myriad projects and lists could barely have even been compiled without modern technology.