COLLIN COUNTY SECURES ITS TEXAS HISTORIC BURIAL GROUNDS
DECEMBER 30, 2013
For sometime volunteers in Collin County have been busy working with the area cemeteries and granting them the Texas Historical Cemetery Markers (THCM), begun in 1998. Doing so helps the community to connect with the historic burial grounds where our pioneers and residents are buried. The Texas State Historical Commission has guidelines to follow before such a designation is granted. It also requires the cemetery be entered into the county deed records.
The volunteers clear the cemetery of overgrowth; inventory the stones and search for information on any of the unmarked graves. Putting all this in a sentence seems simple enough, but it isn’t. Clearing a cemetery is hard work that must be done by able-bodied people. Thankfully, the Sheriff’s department has a policy for helping with this hard work. Stones need to be uncovered, repaired, and cleaned if feasible using specific cleaning guidelines.
The crew inventorying the stones divides the ground into sections and begins adding the information on each stone, in each section, in a database. This must also include any ground depressions that might be an unmarked grave. Include the GPS location of the cemetery and the address or general location of the cemetery in the county.
To prevent further damage to a cemetery, a proper fence is a must. Damaged fencing must be repaired or replaced after careful consideration is given to what is appropriate. If livestock surrounds it, then a stronger fence is needed than one in an urban or suburban location. Gates must be secure but allow for proper visitation during designated hours.
In order for the local law enforcement or sheriff’s department to notify the cemetery owners of any vandalism observed on their regular drives by the burial ground, posting a sign with the cemetery’s name, owner’s name and a 24/7 phone number is a must, as well as a web site if there is one. For the McMillen Cemetery, we use the free Google Voice phone number on the sign, which rings two of our church members. The sheriff’s department patrols cemeteries outside city limits. Cemetery volunteers should also regularly monitor the site. Moderately lighting the area also discourages illegal activities.
To locate all unmarked graves, Ground Penetrating Radar, (GPR) is the better method however it is very expensive. If the budget is cramped, as so many cemetery committee budgets are, then one might consider talking with a local grave dowser or grave witcher. Many dowsers work with cemetery restorers at no charge. We had this done for the McMillen Cemetery in Murphy and we found many possible unmarked graves we had not previously suspected. We marked these, outlined the grave as indicated by the dowser, and added these to our database.
The Collin County Historical Commission offers grants to some deserving cemetery projects. For more on this, contact Commission member and chair Larry Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org. When we needed funding for repairing the fence at McMillen Cemetery and clearing for six-feet outside the fenced area, the Historical Commission awarded us a $1,000 grant to help with expenses. As with any grant funding requested, there is a specific process to follow.
At the completion of the project, the State Historical Commission receives the database, the GPS location and the history of the burial ground to study before granting the Texas Historical Cemetery designation. Receiving the designation costs $75. If the cemetery committee wants to mark the cemetery with the bronze Texas Historical Cemetery medallion, the Texas Historical Commission supplies the application form. There is a fee for the marker, but this is often accomplished by donations.
Once the official designation process is complete, it has a positive impact on the community to insure its safety and security. Continued use of the site for educational events and heritage tours also sends a message to those who might desecrate it. Homeowners nearby, now aware of the significance of the site and provided with emergency contact information, act when unwanted actions occur.
The final step is to upload the history, with a biography, to the Historical Assets Committee to be Okayed by the Commissioners and that to be included on the Collin County Interactive Map, http://maps.collincountytx.gov/historical.html. Collin County is the only county to date to begin such an endeavor, although many other states have it. Also, please consider adding it to the FindAGrave.com Internet site.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.