AVON PARK — It would be easy to miss or hard to find Marjorie Curry.
Her small gravestone is about one-third broken off at the top and all that can be found out about her are embedded in a chiseled death date of April, 25, 1821 and, like her name and memory, that is fading away.
Forever at rest at the front of Bougainvillea Cemetery, for the past four years there has been a focused effort to update and digitally preserve her name and location and those of other deceased later generations.
Until 2010, record keeping at the cemetery at U.S. 27 and Taunton Road was not much more than index cards, drafted maps and grids. But about four years ago, the Avon Park Cemetery Association decided it was time to upgrade and update who’s who and who’s where in the venerable graveyard.
The baton of keeping track and plotting markers and interments was passed to Don Polston, superintendent of Bougainvillea and the cemetery association.
At a visit to the cemetery Wednesday, Polston said the previous superintendent, Robert Henderson, kept handwritten ledgers and maps over the 30 years he spent working there until his death Sept. 15, 2010. Polston said he had a photographic memory of the lay of the burial grounds and that process worked until identifying locations became harder as the graveyard grew.
Polston, along with Barbara Harden-Hand — cemetery association board of directors president — began the arduous task of re-mapping the 22 acres of the cemetery using video recorders and modern technology Henderson didn’t have.
“He (Henderson) had an unbelievable memory. You could come in, mention a name and he know where all of each person’s graves were,” he said. “Bobby (Henderson) got ill and before he died, I spoke to him two times about all he knew.”
“When I first started on the board of directors and walked into the office, the mapping of the grave sites looked like some antique drawings from the Civil War,” Harden-Ward said.
Polston, with help from groundskeeper Marcos Garcia and his daughter, Heather, 18, used perimeter markers, fence lines, tape measures for headstone dimensions, high-definition video cameras to identify names and the distance between each headstone that could be seen to begin the process.
Using Henderson’s maps, printed paper sheets and index cards, Polston, who owns a Sebring drafting company, determined how and where the deceased were interred and used the video to compare locations.
One of the main purposes of the project is to give living family members locations of their deceased and an idea of what’s left for other family members once they die.
So far, according to Polston’s statistics, of 5,129 interments, 1,743 plots have been pre-purchased; 381 interments have no markers; and 762 mapped spots are available with 234 possible left after the research concludes. There are still 294 more to research before being mapped; a total of 8,200 plots have been identified; and there are still 3,000 future plots to be mapped.
The effort is admirable, said Randy Jordan, 60. His family goes back four generations at Bougainvillea, from his great-great grandfather to his father, Dale, who died in 1996.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. It will be real significant for future generations to find family members,” he said. “I heard about this a while back and this will simplify the research process at the cemetery,” he said.
Gathering the information is an exercise in persistence, Harden-Ward said. She said Polston’s background in drafting and surveying was what was needed for the undertaking of physically identifying every plot since he started at the end of 2010.
“The average man on the street doesn’t have a clue what it takes to operate and run a cemetery,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than you’d think and we get audited by the state every year.”
The ultimate goal, Polston said, is to identify where everyone is buried and create digitized historical documents and save them in a database. He said hopefully a website for the public to access would be created.
Using interest from a perpetual care account and opening and closing burial fees, the cemetery association has so far spent about $14,000 on the mapping project, which has reaped financial gains. Polston said mapping has identified an additional 250 plots “as possible” or “confirmed” available for purchase. With a total potential value of $250,000, he estimated half could be sold, producing an additional income of $125,000. The cemetery association has been able to release and sell about $40,000 worth of plots since the project was started.
In the meantime, Polston said there’s plenty of work to be done. It’s been a process of patience and persistence, but he would keep at it until every plot is documented.
“I thought I could get this done in a year. I didn’t know how long it would take until I got into the middle of it all,” he said. “But I knew something had to be done.”