Fort Drum researchers have created a database and new maps that will help family members of those buried at the cemeteries to find and visit their loved ones' gravesites, both in person and online.
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Thirteen historic cemeteries are located on Fort Drum. Some of those are still accessible by the public, but some are harder to reach and only available for visits on Memorial Day.
Laurie Rush is cultural resources manager at Fort Drum. She says many of the people buried there are not forgotten.
"We have received requests from all over the U.S. and even Canada, and it's quite often from families who were displaced in the early 1940s and now are very interested in coming back to that piece of their family history," she said.
Fort Drum is trying to make it easier for them to visit. Intern Michael Sprowles spent the last year and a half painstakingly documenting gravesites, including their locations and inscriptions, for inclusion in the new database. He says his work will also facilitate better care of the cemeteries.
"Because in addition to having all the information on the stones, they're also georeferenced, so we can also bring up what stones in the cemeteries need the most attention," he said. "So it's really allowing us to care for the stones easier and relay the information to the public a lot easier."
On a recent, rainy day, we went out to Sheepfold Cemetery along Route 26 on the western side of Fort Drum. Sprowles says it's also known as Pine Plains. He picks out some of his favorite finds as we walk by the old gravestones.
"This is actually historically related with the LeRay family, who much of the region is named after," he explained. "There's a couple interesting markers here. Particularly, there's the nursemaid of Vincent LeRay – Cape Vincent is named after him – but she was actually a slave at the time. And the idea is quite interesting – she has a full-marker burial, and it's mentioned, 'Rachel, a good and faithful nursemaid,' erected by these children."
Sprowles says the most interesting thing about the cemeteries project was the glimpse it gave him into local history.
"Really being able to see how the people of the area lived at this certain time," he said. "I mean, cemeteries are very personal – you can see how people related to one another, infants that passed away, you know, an occasional mother-in-law buried next to the husband after he died. So it's really interesting to be able to see just the lives of the people that had lived here."
The cemeteries database is available from Fort Drum's website. People can locate gravesites there, and read epitaphs. The cultural resources office will provide photographs of gravesites on request. Those will eventually be added to the database, too.
The cultural resources office can also arrange visits to the cemeteries.