We’re Back Up

Nothing like computer issues to throw a great big monkey wrench in your plans.  Hope this is solved as we have gone through 2 computers  and are now using a laptop while the desktop is having the files transferred.

With the fires that were blazing around the country, now the heat and drought sweeping through Texas and the rest of the bottom half of the country, we figured many are having a hard time staying in the cemeteries to take photos.

Speaking of fires, how many cemeteries have been damaged due to these outbreaks?  While the fire can clear underbrush and over growth, it can also destroy the temporary or old wooden markers.

I have posted a few photos of the old Olive Cemetery after the fire. If you are interested in the history, you can view it here:   Olive, Tex.

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Guedry Cemetery, a Fine Example

So often I dread going to the offices of a cemetery to request information about a grave location.  It is the same feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you are going to the dentist office to get a tooth pulled. You know it is going to be unpleasant so you braced yourself.  

The Guedry Cemetery in Batson, Hardin Co. TX is not at all like going to the dentist. It is a very pleasant experience and it is made possible by the very helpful and caring staff of Mr. Kenneth Enloe.

The cemetery has one of the best website designs for a genealogist or the family historian. There is a database which is searchable by either the cemetery section, the person’s social security number or by the person’s name.  There is a cemetery map on the site, which is an aerial shot with the plot sections identified. Each section is clickable and is linked to a plot layout.  

What could be easier? Search the database for the name, secure the location, look at the plot map, note the location, then be able to go right to it when you arrive at the cemetery.  

Using a cousin as an example: Seawillow Cross Rountree (1916-1991):

Seawillow Rountree grave site location

Search results for Seawillow Rountree

I see she is in Section 1; Row# 6;  Lot# 47;  Grave# 4.  I go to the “Cemetery Map” and click on Section 1, where there is a large plot map. Row #6 is at the letter “H” in the word “SOUTH”.  The lots are color coded green and a light turquoise. Lot #47 is green and the grave number is easily distinguishable. (Note her middle name is given as well. Had I not already known this, it would be another piece of information!)  

The ability to search the cemetery via the website and have the map with the grave location available make Guedry Cemetery practically self-service for anyone,  from out-of-the-area family members to family history buffs & genealogist, to volunteer headstone photographers.

On the home page there is a notice of a smartphone app coming:  

“…smart phone version to be released shortly linked searchable database of every one buried here. With this update, you will be able to search and pin-point location of their graves right from your home/smart phone.” 

You would think someone on the inside was into genealogy and you would be correct.  On the Acknowledgements page there is praise for Charlotte Enloe (wife of Mr. Kenneth Enloe) and she is the genealogist in the family.  Her hard work and love of genealogy is evident by the functionality of the website.

I had the opportunity for some email exchanges in March of this year. I was to attend a family reunion in Batson and wanted to take a photo of a grave. I sent an email about this and Matt Enloe put a marker with orange ribbon at the grave site so it could be easily located. Unfortunately, due to the weather I was not able to attend and I am not sure how many people went to the cemetery but the assistance of  Monica and Matt Enloe (Enloe Memorials), did not go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated!  

Another wonderful example of how a cemetery can offer the highest level of customer service and encourage others to want to be buried there. If the staff is this helpful to those distantly related, how do you think they will treat your loved one after you are gone? Where Guedry Cemetery is concerned, I’d say, “just like family”.

Guedry Cemetery location

Map of Guedry Cemetery location

Find Enloe Memorials on Facebook

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Sand Flat Cemetery, Smith Co TX

A dream of every genealogist or family historian is the day when most, if not all, cemeteries will be genealogist-friendly.

There is not much to be done with the old cemeteries, which no longer have a caretaker or other staff.  These cemeteries fall to volunteers to transcribe or produce a website with the known burials listed, and it is even better to find an old transcription in a library so headstones, no longer discernible are now available to present day headstone hunters.

The cemeteries that do have staff or offices are another story. The headstones and the documentation within the records and files in the office can be a great resource and a treasure chest of information.

Would it not be wonderful if the office could maintain a copy of the obit published in the paper and perhaps even a photo of the deceased? Since everything can be scanned onto a hard drive or memory card, it would not take up any physical room other than a box of memory cards listed by dates.

What a dream!

Sand Flat Cemetery is a perfect example of what can be achieved even with no official staff but a very interested and active cemetery association.

The Sand Flat Cemetery Association maintains the cemetery but even more, they have set up a wonderful website about the cemetery and it is genealogist-friendly.  Their Mission Statement says it all:

In order to remember and honor our deceased ancestors and relatives buried in Sand Flat Cemetery, this website was designed to identify each person buried in the cemetery, their parents, spouses and their children.

Another goal is to provide photographs of each cemetery marker and of each individual and their families along with articles, stories and obituaries whenever possible.

We owe a great debt of gratitude, indeed the very essence of our being, to our ancestors that have predeceased us all. Our meager efforts of tribute are the least that we can do to show our appreciation for their lives. Lest we not forget, we are only one small step behind them!

If you are planning a trip to the cemetery, you can contact the association by email to Jeff Botts:

Jeff L. Bott: sandflatcemetery@gmail.com

Because Jeff is personally interested in family history and genealogy, he has taken it upon himself to provide as much genealogical information as he can find about those buried at Sand Flat. You can search the Surname list. Click on a surname, you will be taken to a listing of all the people buried with that surname. Then click the name of the person you are interested in.  You will be taken to the “Sand Flat Genealogy Project” page showing a “card” with their genealogical information listed. I have used the surname “Ratliff”. There is one, a Lena Ratliff. Click on the person’s name and you will be taken to the “Person Sheet”. For Lena Ratliff, I found her husband, Oscar Teolia Baker. They both had a camera icon next to their names. Clicking these icons brought me to a copy of a Death Certificate. 

You are instructed as to how to distinguish who is buried in the cemetery and who is buried elsewhere. People listed with all capps are buried in the cemetery and people with just the surname in capps are buried in another cemetery.

This is what can be accomplished if a cemetery association or corporate office will employ just one person with an appreciation for genealogy and family history. 

I found on the website a photo of the McDougal Cemetery. It is offered as an example of what happens to cemeteries when they are abandoned., often because there is no money to help pay for maintenance. 

If you would like to send a small donation to Sand Flat Cemetery Association, here is the information:

If you would like to make a TAX DEDUCIBLE CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTION to help maintain and preserve the Sand Flat Cemetery, please mail your check directly to the Secretary-Treasurer, Teddy McDowell, 1630 CR313 West, Tyler, TX 75706-2812. Your assistance is much needed and will be greatly appreciated!

If not to the Sand Flat Cemetery Association, please find a cemetery association in your area and make a donation to them, even if it is $5, every little bit helps.  Find out when they have the annual or bi-annual cemetery clean up day and get involved.

The Sand Flat Cemetery will never be forgotten or neglected and I wish this for all our small cemeteries.

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How Hollywood Cemetery went from a Disgrace to an Ace

One of the oldest and most historic cemeteries in Houston fell from grace and into a “back alley” of dirty dealing for years before it was finally redeemed.

Founded in 1895, this once beautiful cemetery was the final resting place for some of Houston’s middle-class whites living in the Heights area. Over the years, this has changed and anyone willing to buy a plot is buried there.

The dead offer no explanation for the condition of their final resting place and the caretakers during these hard years offered only the traditional con, “Nothing is wrong, everything is right”, yet even back in 2003 the horror stories were making their way into the news.

The Houston Press told the story of family members not being able to find their parent’s graves because someone else was buried in the plot, as indicated by family members finding their loved-ones headstones tossed aside and another person’s headstone in its place. (see Dead-Wrong, April 10, 2003)

The gentleman running the cemetery from November 2000 until at least the time of the article in April 2003, had a closed-door policy concerning burial information and was even quoted in the article as saying:

“The only information that I am going to give is to the families,” he says. “I’m here to help the families.”

The cemetery’s records are not available to the Houston Press, he says. “It’s not show-and-tell,” he says. “I’m not trying to sound sad or morbid, but there’s no buried treasure.”

Things were so bad by 2003 that the Funeral Service Commission had a 43 page report on the dealings of the management like reselling plots, stacking caskets on top of other caskets, and not keeping accurate records.

Reading the article “Dead Wrong” by the Houston Press, it is just one horror story after another for 6 pages!

Another website, “Cemeteries and History of Harris Co., Texas” by George E. Wolf, has some interesting information about the Hollywood Cemetery. Here you can find out a little information on a several of the residents in the cemetery, even a few who are semi-famous.

My own experience with the staff prompted my starting the review service. This cemetery and two others in Houston convinced me that someone needed to warn others about the rudeness they would suffer if they visited these cemeteries, the lack of customer service and in the case of Hollywood, the fees that were charged to do look-ups of grave site locations.

This is a large cemetery and not one you would want to walk around to find a headstone without some directions.

I rated this cemetery “F” and the rating stood for over a year.

In January 2009, the cemetery was fore-closured on. What should have been a blow to the cemetery was actually a blessing in disguise. Out with the old and in with a new attitude and a new level of customer service.

The new staff are sincere, caring, believe in great customer service, and willing to go the extra mile. No more putting you off if you need a look up. No more fees for looking up a grave-site. No more sour attitude once they see you are not there to buy a plot.

Cheryl Danford, the new General Manager, Director of Family Services and Executive Vice President is enthusiastic about the progress being made and the changes which are coming. She has personally reclaimed over 100 grave-sites (identified undocumented burials), weed-eated and helped to upright fallen headstones. She is very much a hands-on manager.

This is a monumental undertaking as there are nearly 34,000 burials and many years of neglect. We have had volunteers and new office staff working hard to bring old records up to the standard set by the Department of Banking. We have also many projects currently in the works such as having all the Historical Records digitized. We are manually typing in and backing up each and every record in the cemetery office. We have purchased cemetery programs that will eventually allow anyone with a computer access to our records this will be limited of course not to include specifics such as social security numbers. We have an open door policy and will be glad to help research family burial records, take photos or make copies where possible with no charge to the public. We have also hired a graphics company to get a website up and running and it will be available very soon. There are many other projects such as drainage and roads that we are currently working on and many that have been completed such as new block retaining walls, much needed repairs to the office and mausoleum. — Cheryl Danford

I visited the cemetery a few weeks ago and asked for a lookup of a grave-site, which was the oldest headstone photo request on Find A Grave, an online memorial site. The staff was friendly, prompt and provided the location with a smile.

Not being able to find the location, I went back to the office and Cheryl came out to the section to show me exactly where the grave-site was located, however we discovered there was not a marker.

It was a pleasure to visit the cemetery, to see the change in customer service and to change their rating to an “A+”.

To contact Cheryl or another staff-person for information:

Historic Hollywood Cemetery
3506 N. Main
Houston, Texas 77009
ph: (713)227-5109
fax: (713) 227-5933

Map of the Historic Hollywood Cemetery

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