For anyone who needs to find a grave in Friendship Cemetery, Mike Anderson — and his newly organized online database of Friendship Cemetery grave sites — can help them find it.
Friendship Cemetery is one of Columbus’s best known locations. The first burial took place there in 1849, when a 17-year-old named Mary Elizabeth Sinclair died during childbirth, Anderson said.
In the years since, others have been buried there or moved there from other burial sites. Families have purchased plots and forgotten about them. Soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 were buried there two-to-a-grave by people who didn’t know their names. The cemetery serves as a final resting place for soldiers and veterans of every armed conflict the United States has seen, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Anderson said. And until recently, there was no sufficiently-organized database to comb through and see who all is there and where they are.
Anderson took over as director of the Trotter in January of 2015. The position gives him authority over maintenance of particular city buildings and locations, Friendship Cemetery being one of them.
Making sense of chaos
At the time, the city had records of who was buried in the cemetery and where they were, Anderson said, but the records were spread between paper copies and computers from the 1980’s. To complicate matters, the records contained inconsistencies, and the plots and grave sites weren’t listed in numerical order. In a 65-acre cemetery with just under 23,000 grave sites, it was difficult to know where to begin when looking for a particular plot or grave.
Anderson got to work consolidating and updating the records, keeping track via spreadsheets and then entering all the information in an online database. The process took about 250 man-hours over six months to complete, Anderson said. He’s still fine-tuning the data and updating it.
The city and several local funeral homes all have access to the database, and Anderson is working to put the database on the City of Columbus’s website so that the public, including non-locals, can access it and find ancestors, forgotten family plots and other historical and genealogical treasures that can be found when researching a cemetery.
Making the cemetery accessible
Often people coming back into town after years or decades away want to find a particular grave site but don’t remember where it is, Anderson said. That’s where the database will come in. Individuals can search by grave site or by family name. The database also contains a map of the cemetery that shows sections and grave sites.
“The objective is to make it readily researchable,” Anderson said.
Friendship Cemetery is currently at about 56 percent occupancy with 12,841 grave sites occupied. Some of these plots are owned by the city and available to sell, he said. In fact, while putting together the database, he learned of several plots in the Old Section, on the south side of the cemetery, that the city hadn’t known could be sold. At least one of these plots has already been snatched up within days of being put up for sale, he said.
Other grave sites are empty because families bought plots years or generations ago and then forgot about them. Anderson pointed out a particular plot in the Old Section which contains the tombstone of a child who died in 1895. There are no other headstones in the plot.
“This family purchased it and then they forgot about it,” Anderson said.
The database can help families who may not realize they own a plot at Friendship find their ancestors, Anderson said. He wants to encourage people to do research and find out whether they have any relatives buried there.
“Hopefully people will have great respect for the cemetery,” Anderson said. “(There is) a lot of history here — a lot of family memories here.”
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