The Cemeteries of Somerset County
About the ProjectA primary interest of many genealogy researchers is to discover where their ancestors are buried and, if possible, to visit the cemetery. Large, easy-to-locate cemeteries are a more recent development; cemeteries from earlier times tended to be smaller and often were in out-of-the-way locations on family farms or near churches and communities which have now disappeared. In the mid-1930s, the WPA conducted a county-wide cemetery inventory project for Somerset County which included over 500 cemeteries. The directions to various cemeteries often read like this one for the Miller Cemetery in Allegheny Township: "Situated in Allegheny Twp., Somerset Co., Pa. on the farm of Ralph Miller west of the buildings in the field next to the orchard and about 60 rods from the buildings." Many things have changed in the intervening years: land owners, buildings, physical features.
USGS topographic maps and PennDOT road maps include locations for some cemeteries, but this coverage is sporadic at best. Likewise, the 1876 Beers Atlas for Somerset County notes some cemeteries; this source is sometimes helpful when attempting to locate older cemeteries but it is also far from complete. The Somerset County Planning Commission has a list of nearly 550 cemeteries either currently known to exist or referenced in various source materials. Location information was provided for 365 of these, some of which was precise and some of which was quite vague. The location of more than 180 cemeteries was described as "unknown."
Therefore, a need existed to provide genealogy patrons with information on the location of cemeteries for which they are searching. No comprehensive source for such information was readily available, especially for older and smaller cemeteries. Creation of a comprehensive and accessible cemetery location resource signals to genealogy researchers that Somerset County is a savvy, helpful and welcoming destination for genealogy researchers.
The project hired two independent contractors to accomplish the following:
- research available resources pertaining to cemeteries within the county and create a comprehensive list of these cemeteries
- locate all cemeteries which still have identifiable features, to obtain GPS coordinates, photos, and directions from the nearest road
- produce a CD with the GPS coordinates, site photo, and written directions for each located cemetery
Carolyn McKinney did an outstanding job of locating and documenting 579 cemeteries in the county. She waded through brambles up to her neck and mud up to her knees. She was persistent and very successful in contacting local informants to assist with her searches. She located cemeteries and burial grounds that had been forgotten or overlooked in previous cemetery inventories. The majority of documented cemeteries are the smaller ones, often in obscure locations, from the first century of the county's history. Starting in the late 1800s, community union cemeteries and expanded church cemeteries became the norm. The sheer numbers of cemeteries in the county are a testament to the long history of the region's population.
Barry Christy was equally dedicated and tenacious in working with the data to create a user friendly, compact and complete resource for the use of genealogy researchers. He transferred the field data gathered by Carolyn to Word documents, and then did a conversion to .pdf format. The CD has cemetery names, locations, photos, driving and walking directions, GPS coordinates, alternate names if available, and additional comments where provided. The CD has both a comprehensive alphabetical index, with links to each cemetery, and an index alphabetized by township which can be accessed from the bookmark tab.
The targeted audience is genealogy researchers with ties to Somerset County. Copies of the CD have been distributed to appropriate agencies and organizations that have contact with and provide information to genealogy researchers, such as the Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds offices, the Chamber of Commerce, libraries and historical societies. Information about the availability of this resource will be provided for appropriate Internet venues such as the home pages of the above-mentioned entities and the Somerset County GenWeb, Pennsylvania GenWeb and USGenWeb host sites.
One of the project products in the original grant application was to be a set of 1-50,000 topographic maps for the county with cemetery locations indicated by color- and-number coded markers; hence the topo numbers for each cemetery. The project staff members have decided to seek future additional funding to accomplish this in digital format using the latest version of Google Earth. This will result in a product that will be more compact, user-friendly and user available, and more durable than paper maps.
Thanks are extended to the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and the Somerset County Federated Library Systems for project funding. The project was conducted under the auspices of the Meyersdale Public Library. The information on this CD is to be made freely available to the public. It is not to be copied or reproduced for profit. Any use must credit the Meyersdale Public Library, the Somerset County Federated Library System, and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. Corrections and supplemental information may be sent to the Meyersdale Public Library at firstname.lastname@example.org. CDs may be purchased by contacting the library at the same address.
GPS coordinates taken in the field have been converted to standard DD MM SSN, DD MM SSW format for the Latitude and Longitude entries. This format has proven most helpful when locating cemeteries using Google Earth. Notations about variations in street names between Google Earth and MapQuest have been included.
To minimize potential confusion with punctuation, periods have been eliminated after standard directions (N S E W) after measurement units (mi, yd, ft), and after abbreviations such as Rd, Ave, Hwy, Ln and St (Street). Periods are used after Mt. for Mount and St. for Saint. Measurement units in tenths are preceded by 0, as in 0.2 mi.
The only comprehensive cemetery inventories done in the county were conducted by the WPA in the mid-1930s. Transcriptions of those inventories are available at the following website: http://www.usgwarchives.org/pa/somerset/. Thanks go to the Somerset GenWeb team and volunteers for this online resource. Some updates have been done, primarily by Brian J. Ensley; his publications are available from Clossen Press.
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