What started as a Boy Scout project for Scotland Memorial Library Director Leon Gyles and his son has turned into a long term commitment to locating and documenting area cemeteries.
Gyles said this week that, joined by his son Chase, he persists because the county’s cemetery reference system is outdated.
“People came in one day from Florida, and they were looking for a Gibson cemetery,” Gyles explained. “One book listed five Gibson cemeteries in Scotland County … (and) the cemeteries are still referenced as state roads instead of GPS coordinates, longitude and latitude or roads with names.”
Latitude and longitude for some cemeteries are necessary because they can’t be found with GPS coordinates, according to Gyles.
Eight months into the project, Gyles said more than half of the county’s cemeteries are still left to be documented.
“We list the cemetery, take pictures of the cemetery, what it looks like from the road, some of the grave sites there, and give the street address, if possible, GPS coordinates and GIS map identification along with any references we have to publications or references currently in the library,” he said, describing the documentation process.
Gyles said that he plans to add any new discoveries to what is already known about the county’s distinct black and white cemeteries. “Whenever I find a new cemetery, I add it.”
About 170 cemeteries were already referenced and since then Gyles has located 35 to 40 additional cemeteries — private, public, black, white and Indian — within the county.
Three new Indian cemeteries, heretofore undocumented, have also been discovered.
There are also two cemeteries not in Scotland County that are referenced in the research. “You can’t get to them unless you helicopter in or walk through the woods,” Gyles said. “You can only get to them from Scotland County.”
Gyles added, “Locating some of the more obscure cemeteries has occurred through word of mouth.”
“Obscure,” Gyles explained, sometimes means a half-mile trek through the woods.
When the project is complete, the cemetery references will be printed and bound. They also will be converted to a computer database which, in turn, will hopefully be converted into an overlay for the GIS map.
And while it may seem there is no reason to rush, Gyles said the clock is ticking on his research. “Very few people know where they (Scotland County cemeteries) are so we might as well document it while we’ve still got some memories.”
It is not difficult to appreciate the value of Gyles’ work to historians or amateur genealogists, according to state library officials, who have already asked for copies once it is completed.
“There is historical significance to genealogists and people who are trying to find their roots, find where their families are.” Gyles recalled one time he took a photo of a child’s headstone for a woman who was doing research on the Hasty family. “The woman who wanted a picture of that headstone has the necklace that the little girl had. The little girl died when she was a year and a half as a result of her skirt catching on fire. She died of complications from the burns.”
Helping people, Gyles concluded, is what the entire project has been about.