About Buried in Bethlehem
Back in March 2011, my father adressed me about a potential eagle project. Go around cemeteries and just find civil war veterans? Along with that doing a little research? I look back on that now and laugh because I had no clue at all what was going to be in store. It's taken hours upon hours to be nearing the end of this project, but along the way the path has been filled with surprises and experiences that are priceless. It's been a project of ups and downs with many uncertainties, to where the unknown path was going to lead, ending with dozens of previously unknown heroes getting another chance at being recognized for their courageous efforts.
This project actually is broken up into two parts: the work at the cemtery and then the work outside of it. When I initially began to get into this project, my initial estimations for these cemeteries was going to be around 15 veterans. Well there was the first surprise, I walked out of Calvary cemetery with over 60 veterans, and I still had two more cemeteries to go. After finishing at Calvary and spiting my forces, we hit the other two cemeteries at on time. A very small cemetery yielded no results but as I made my way over to the St. Matthews, that's when I realized that there was another about 30 sitting there waiting for me. We had planned for two days to complete all this searching, and were able to complete it all on one day. Another aspect is who exactly you use at the cemetery to find the veterans because I found out too quickly how easily young scouts can be distracted and start fooling around. If using younger scouts, make sure a deep mix of younger and older happens, that would result in better work productivity. Another aspect would be actually prepared, which with our forms for veterans we really were not. Two trips to the local staples had to be made because we need 90 sheets but only had around 30 at the time: be prepared. Equipment can also be an issue when you look at the amount of variables we had, since everyone had different cameras and gps units. Different equipment had different results, and that was clearly evident in the gps calculations because those were a world apart. The final aspect is providing enough guidance while at the cemeteries to result in clearly names and information. That for us was incredibly difficult because only my dad and I were the ones who knew about it, and we can't be everywhere in a cemetery at once. Aldo be prepared to before hand to explain to everyone what you are looking for (tale tale signs like GAR markers), and to warn everyone prior to dangers like dehydration, sunburns, dips and ruts through out the cemetery, and any wild plants that could be an issue. Safety was the number one concern when letting peole just roam free.
Outside of the cemetery, where we needed to rely on the information we got at the cemetery, that's where things started to get difficult with the amount of issues we faced. Each of the forms that we filled out was unique in not only name but the information that we received from the headstone, since each one was different it makes researching each person a little difficult. Information was either missing or incorrect due to many factors, that's why we had to cross check most of the names with the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, that database really helped solidify in shat regiments these men served. After that was established who they were and where they served, we then used the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center to find out our information. At that website all of the regiments of the New York state volunteers are sorted by number order and are arranged in PDF files. You can then look through the desired regiment for the name of the person you're researching. Not everyone could be found, even when we used two resources and checked multiple spellings of names, some people just seemed to not exist. Another issue we came across was error among transferring the correct number from the headstone or not being able to decipher it, that's where the National Park Service database came into play. During this whole process, another one of the steps that we had to take was matching each picture we took of the headstones to their name. Once that was complete and sorted into each category of cemetery along with all the research being done, we then had to focus on the data entry of everyone. Minimizing mistakes is key, but that can be difficult during monotonous work. The more people for this step the better because it eases the individual work load and makes it easier for each person to focus. Again, being neat and meticulous during your research is key because at this point if your information sheet is unclear, then you need to go back to find that information which is unnessecary time wasted. The beauty of taking pictures of each headstone is that if you are unsure about something written down, you have something to fall back on without having to go back to cemetery itself. Being consistent on certain entry points is crucial like the regiment name/number, for that we directly copied the name from the military museum website. Another key aspect of data entry is making sure (if using this option) that the GPS coordinates are smilier. We used many different GPS devices, which resulted in a plethora of different coordinates and each one had to be converted to the proper format for google maps to use. That suggests, if available, that the same type of GPS devices be used. The biggest thing i learned here is to make sure your work during the research is as crisp and clean as it can be, along with being consistent through out the entire project and this step.
This whole project has been a journey into uncharted territories, since this hasn't been done before in at least this area. Everything I learned was just from experience and mistakes, but that's how we learn best. If you are someone who wishes to continue my work, then learn from what I already know and constantly be striving to improve on what I've already done. I think the most valuable thing I got from this project is saying I found a civil war veteran who died at Gettysburg, who if I hadn't found them and wrote down who they were and what they did, then when their headstones become illegible and their grave is lost then we still know who we had and what they have done. To me, I am ensuring that the men who taught bravely in our war towards equality will never be lost to the curse of time.
Thank you to BSA Troop75 for all your help