The Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project

On most Saturday mornings, cousins Taylor Griffith, 12, Camara Casson, 12, Elora Powell, 11 and Rianna Griffith, 6 venture out to spend some quality time with their grandfather Jim Powell. But they're not going to the mall or the movies – they're going to clean and photograph headstones in historic Alachua County, Florida cemeteries.
The project, started in 2003, is an effort to create a virtual record of Alachua County cemeteries to preserve the information they contain.
Project Coordinator Jim Powell, Jr. shares this vision statement on the Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project Facebook page:
Our project is a gift of history to those of us that care about such things. It is a gift of Roots to those who didn't know that family was buried in the cemetery that they pass every day. It is a gift of time to family members who have moved away and would like to know about the final resting place of their ancestors. It is our gift of the past to the future with respect to all of those that have gone before. 

As my son James says, "we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to preserve the history told by our local cemeteries."
In honor of Story Corps' fourth annual National Day of Listening, we interviewed Jim and his granddaughters to learn what their volunteer work means to them.

Jim Powell, Jr., Project Coordinator

Q: Can you share a bit about the Virtual Cemetery Project?  
A:  I started trying to capture and save the history from our abandoned and neglected cemeteries.  After awhile I realized that all of our cemeteries lose things.  It could be the erosion of inscriptions on soft stones, sinking stones, vandalism & etc.  So we decided that we would try to take a picture of the history from our cemeteries as they exist today, so that we will at least have the information with a photo to back it up.
Q: How central are your granddaughters to your preservation efforts?  
A:  We get to a cemetery and I say, "how do you think we should do this one?" We come up with a solution and they go do it. New adult volunteers follow them. If they have problems they call for me otherwise they do what we do. They fit in well with the Adult Volunteers and everybody just does what needs to be done.
This is a quote from Robert "Bob" K. Kelley who joined us for the first time Saturday. He lives in South Florida and was up here for a few days. His Kelley Ancestors were here:
"Taylor is great! She's smart, a self-starter and diplomatic, too. Imagine having an old guy like me as her assistant AND being able to communicate across all the difference in years between us. I really enjoyed working one on one with her."
Q: Who are some of the community members who have worked with you over the years?  
A:  First and foremost is my son James Powell III. There were times when he kept me going.
Second is the Alachua County Historical Commission members which helped bring our project into high gear. Karen Kirkman, Verdell Robinson, Florence Van Arnam and Kathleen Pagan (County Liason to ACHC). Lizzie Jenkins is helping with Archer area cemeteries. Rachel Valencia, College student, helps when she can, and we can't forget Sheriff's Deputy Kaley Behl. And now the Daughters of the American Revolution has begun to help, Dot & Marion Hope, Irene Sylvester and Linda Williams.  There have been plenty of others that have helped and everybody that helps is named on the cemetery pages.

AlachuaCountyVirtualCemeteryProject before

Taylor Griffith, 12 Years Old

Q: What does your work with the Virtual Cemetery Project mean to you, and how has your experience affected you?

A:  The work that I do with the Virtual Cemetery Project means a lot to me. Not only are we a family spending time together but we're digging up history. What I do makes me a better person. I've learned a lot in my experience working in the cemeteries and I wouldn't change it for the world. I love when people thank us for our work because it makes me feel that much more important. Also, I love when people come out and help. It helps me realize that other people think it's important too and want to help.

Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project

Some people wouldn't think of doing what me, my family, and other helpers do because they just don't care but I think that people doing things like this in my generation will make people realize how important it is.

No one makes me do what I do. I only do it because I love it. Photographing the stones and putting them online so everyone can see them is a awesome thing to experience and I hope it means a lot to everyone. 

I want to help and make a difference even if it takes a while. The fact that we're helping people from different places find their family is just mesmerizing. I love what I do.


Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project Elora and Rianna

Elora Powell, 11 Years Old

Q: What does your work with the Virtual Cemetery Project mean to you, and how has your experience affected you?

A:  The work that I do means the world to me. It's all of us going out every Saturday and spending time, as a family, helping others and doing what we love to do.

I have grown so much as I started doing this project and I really think that it made me change inside. I also enjoy it because what we do helps a lot of people and I love to do that.

Especially when everyone knows that we did it and thanks us for it. It makes me happy inside to know that they are happy. I hope that someday, our work can change the world and everyone in it. I truly love what I do.


Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project Camara Casson

Camara Casson, 12 Years Old:

Q: What does your work with the Virtual Cemetery Project mean to you, and how has your experience affected you?

A:  The Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project is important to me because not only do I preserve history for generations to come, but it also makes me feel good inside when I finish a cemetery. I feel that whenever I take a photograph of a stone another piece of history is saved.

It means so much to me that I get to be apart of this wonderful project. This whole experience has affected me in such a way that my vocabulary could not describe.

The only way I can put how this has affected me is with the understatement that I feel that I could do anything.



Rianna Griffith, 6 Years Old

Q: What does your work with the Virtual Cemetery Project mean to you, and how has your experience affected you?

A:  The work I do is really fun. I do it because I really love helping people. I am now a better person for doing the work I do.

It's really fun that we get to do it as a family every Saturday. I love the work I do because I get to do it while spending a lot of time with my family.

For More Information

To learn more about the Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project, please visit their website or their Facebook Community.


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