East Cape Cemetery Project

The age of Hand Transcription

Thirty years ago there were no digital cameras and taking photos with film could be a dicey business. You did not know how the photo would turn out until you had had them developed and very often you could not go back to the place where you took that photo in order to get another!
So, how did the “old timers” manage to record cemeteries?  Very simply really, all you needed was a clipboard, a wad of “once used” paper (scrap from your office computer) and a clutch of black ball point pens. A large clear plastic bag was an essential – if it rained you put on your raincoat and put your clipboard, writing hand and pen in the plastic bag and carried on recording!
Initially we used to work in pairs which was both time consuming and dangerous! One would call and the other would write but the danger lay in the spelling of the names.  I might spell Nixon as Nickson and the person calling might not know that there was more than one way of spelling the name and that they should spell it out. Also some “callers” could speak quite fast and some writers were painfully slow. After several years of this we decided that each person would do a set number of rows by themselves then they would swop with the next person who had finished their allocation and check the accuracy of what had been done. Things speeded up considerably after that and it was possible for four people to knock off a fairly large cemetery in a day.
Another thing to remember is that in “those days” the genealogical world really cared about the full inscription on the old gravestones and they do not realise just how much they lost when they decided that all they needed was dates and names.  Sometimes the inscription would be a date of death only but the little verse clearly indicated a child or young person (i.e. Lovely bud so young and fair sent hence by early doom) or it would give the cause of death and many other valuable little bits of information to enable the researcher to look further into that person's life, especially if no death notice (or fully completed death notice) was available.
Having got the days' inscriptions the next step was for the designated typist to take them home and type them on the typewriter and each week's efforts would be checked against the original by the typist and another of the team. I need not remind you that errors meant a retype and another check in case another error had occurred in the process!  
All this work held good for the country cemeteries of which we did a very great many and in the process learned to cope with “Kowie bush” ticks, wild bees, sunning snakes and curious mongoose and above all had a truly wonderful time out in the country come rain or shine, summer and winter!
When we worked in the town on the “newer” cemeteries we had pre-printed sheets with 4 slips to a page on which the details were written. Once typed these slips were cut into pieces, put into alphabetical order and filed in “papsak” wine boxes which had been cut in half and were a perfect size! Later these slips were all glued onto sheets of paper and became what the East Cape branch knows as the “lick and sticks” and which serve as a permanent record of what was recorded.
We had great fun and went to places that are not even marked on the maps. We saw little bits of history that few folk know about and we would not have missed any of it for any reason known to man!
Taking photos to-day is great as it enables people to see the full inscription and is much quicker to do too. Sadly many of the old gravestones have become damaged or worn out but one thing does make me happy – in our slow, old fashioned way the wording on those very stones is as fresh today as it was 30 years ago because we wrote it all down with a black ballpoint pen and gave to posterity our gift from the past!

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East Cape Branch Cemetery Project

Recording Cemeteries with Pencil and Paper

{module Recording by Hand}

The first cemetery to be recorded in Port Elizabeth was St. George's Park, followed by St. Mary's and Uitenhage.  Thereafter members started work on Old South End Cemetery.  When this was almost finished North End Cemetery was started and St. Mary's finalised.

While work on North End was underway, work began on cemeteries in Settler Country and further afield, up to 150km from Port Elizabeth.  This encompasses everything from the Fish River to Kareedouw.
The task then expanded to checking recordings of the Grahamstown Old Cemeteries done by other individuals.  Included in this was Port Alfred.  Eventually the focus became the remainder of Settler Country.  The late Mike Wakeford was of great assistance here.  

Humansdorp, Jeffrey's Bay and Kareedouw followed. John and Lorraine Drury took on South End Extension but Lorraine sadly did not survive to see the final product.  John, Mary Runciman and Liz Eshmade soldiered on doing Bushmans River and a number of “Unknown” local cemeteries with graves in deep grass and thick bush. In the end, a core group of four volunteers persisted with the project.

Recording Cemeteries in the Digital Age

Carol started recording gravestones digitally in 2010.  This involves taking photographs of the various headstones and memorials with a digital camera and namingthe photographs according to the inscriptions. Typing up of the registers also became a priority. Many other people, including Janet Melville, Emerentia Ferreira, Marielle Ford, Sunelia Heath, Walter Renze, and others to numerous to mention, have also taken the initiative and taken photographs of cemeteries far and wide.     A large cemetery such as South End, in Port Elizabeth, with over 9,000 headstones, takes approximately 6 weeks of photography, with 3 to 4 hours spent there per week. On the Eastern Cape Cemeteries CD, in excess of 1,500 cemeteries are recorded as having been completed.  New projects include the recording of cemeteries in the Gamtoos River Valley, with the help of the Jeffrey's Bay Genealogical Group. Read more about the Project in the Menu to the right.

Symbols on Gravestones
On all my expeditions to various cemeteries around the country, I have always wondered what the different symbols meant and took it upon myself to find out. Surfing the web I came across a wonderful website that gave me all the different types of symbols and there meanings. Click here to see  Symbols on Headstones
We hereby acknowledge the copyright of Tomb with a View, ©1995-2003. In the event that the copyright extends past 2003, kindly advise, so that permission may be sought.
Pictures were not included in the original document and once again time was spent trying to find the closest pictures to the symbols I had seen. The pictures were downloaded from: • www.clker.com • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main Page

I hope that all who read this will find out as much as I did. A journey well worth taken. A supervisor at a cemetery once said to me, "Have you ever found a headstone showing that a person in the grave was not the innocent, sweet person that they make him/her out to be." This really hit home. This still concerns me today. A thought I put to all of you.

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Cemeteries - Strange, Spooky Places

{module South End} Poets love them: “Wespark”, “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”. Horror writers love them. Ghost hunters virtually live there. And the dead - they live there too. No, I don't mean rest, or reside there. It is there that we look for them, visit them, talk to them. And it is there that we photograph them and record their details. Photo on the right:South End Cemetery (Old Section), Port Elizabeth, 21 July 2010. I don't know who first thought of it, or maybe it was one of those ideas whose time had come, but somewhere in the forgotten past someone thought to record inscriptions on gravestones. Manuscript recordals and rubbings must have been the initial way to do it. But then the camera was invented. I imagine that the first people to use cameras in graveyards (I prefer the word for the fine Anglo-Saxon bluntness) were mediums (media doesn't seem to work in this context) or sceptics looking for ghosts. At some point thereafter a truly gifted person started to take photographs of the inscriptions on headstones in order to record them.

{module St Georges}

On the left St George's Park Cemetery, Port Elizabeth, 5 May 2010. When my mother, Carol BENEKE (neé STEWART), came to me one day in 2010 and said that she was off to photograph the St. George's Park Cemetery I thought it was time to call in the gentlemen in white coats. I could not fathom why anyone would want to do that. Nevertheless, off she and my father, Lüdwic, went. Many cemeteries later, and after volunteering (like they do in the army, anyway) my services, I see the need and I recognise the urgency of the task. It is clear from the photograph that the graveyard is essentially abondoned to nature and vagrants. A panga is necessary to clear the scrub that has grown over these holy places. And far more than superglue is necessary to restore the memorials. It is disturbing to someone like me who has no vested interest in the loved ones lying there. I can only imagine that it is heart-rending to those who must, perforce attend and remember.
The photograph below is of a stone found in the Old Section of the South End Cemetery in Port Elizabeth. It was taken in July 2010. This graveyard was opened during the 19th century. Time and climate have weathered away any inscription that may once have been there. In this way are our memories wiped from recorded history and into legend and myth.This is the importance of the photographing of the cemeteries. It is important to genealogists in that it provides solid evidence of the facts adverted to on the stones.

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But it is so much more important to those people whom the genealogists seek to assist with their research: the layman who is looking for his parents' grave or posterity tracing its history.
The Eastern Cape Cemetery Project is a project of eGGSA, established to record and preserve the details found on the inscriptions of gravestones and memorials throughout the Eastern Cape. The photography is done by volunteers too numerous to mention all by name.
Another thankless task, and one which I can confirm is enough to make any sane man mad, or mad man sad, is the

{module Register Left}

naming of the photographs and the transcribing of the registers of the various graveyards. This task is especially important, as the registers contain information not necessarily found on the inscriptions. It is also vital as it helps to confirm that the correct person is in the correct grave. I am not able to speak to any first-hand knowledge of misplaced persons, but my mother advises that numerous persons have had to be sought and rehoused after certain, shall we say, “administrative” errors by the various entities operating in connection with a burial. The photgraph to the left was taken on 19 July 2010 Forest Hill Cemetery, Port Elizabeth, Extract from Register 8 August 2010
I know that I speak for all of us who know about the project, and all those who will come to find out about it, when I express our sincere appreciation to both the photographers and transcribers for their, often thankless and definitely time-consuming, task. You are the quiet foot-soldiers of genealogy.
The work of the Cemetery Project is

widespread and continuing, and the Project continues to attract new volunteers. Kindly contact Carol BENEKE (neé STEWART) on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in order to advise whether you have completed a cemetery or whether you wish to take up this worthwhile task.
It may seem as though the task is all work and no play. I can assure you that this is not the case. There definitely is a lighter side to this business. I initially mentioned the ghost-hunters, mediums and sceptics. I must tell you that some eerie things have happened in the North End Cemetery here in Port Elizabeth.
On a perfectly normal day in the beautiful Bay two perfectly ordinary middle-aged persons, Carol and Lüdwic, attended in the cemetery. They were not looking for trouble. After all, what harm could be had taking photographs in this perfectly pleasant place? They took the photographs and nothing exceptional happened. No odd experiences. Nothing but the birds chirping in the trees and the occasional whirr of a digital camera.
South End Cemetery (Old Section), Port Elizabeth,
Upon arriving home the perfectly placid lady had the shock of her life. A photograph, perfectly clear and adequate when she checked it on the camera screen in the graveyard, suddenly showed the stone up blank. This could not be. All the other photographs were perfectly fine. She played around with the settings on her computer, but absolutely nothing showed up on the stone.
“But it wasn't blank!” she thought in consternation. She telephoned her friend, Walter. Walter volunteered to stop by the graveyard and take the photograph again. Now you must understand that Walter is perfectly ordinary. There is nothing intrinsically strange about him. He went to the grave. He spoke nicely to the inhabitant of the grave. He prayed for the soul of the inhabitant of the grave. And he took the photograph. Upon returning home and putting it on the computer, dear Walter was flabbergasted. It was better than Carol's. But it certainly wasn't clear. The photograph would have to be retaken.
Off to the graveyard Carol went. She took the photograph again. And again the inscription did not show. Out of sheer frustration she put word out among fellow genealogists that she needed help manipulating the photograph to make out what it said. It was, after all, clear by this stage that taking a photograph was not the solution. A kind friend, Tiaan, who has these types of technical gadgets, ran the photograph through the full spectrum of whatsits and thingymajigs. The photograph after manipulation at least showed some detail. But Tiaan reports that it was the most difficult photograph he has ever had to work with.
Strange, right? But probably not as strange as the x-rated hanky-panky that you may stumble over if you aren't careful. For further and better particulars of this, I'm sure Carol will be happy to oblige, if you call her to volunteer.
Go on. I dare you!
Méchelle Beneke
31 July 2012
North End Cemetery, Port Elizabeth, 14 March 2012,
before substantial manipulation.
North End Cemetery, Port Elizabeth, 14 March 2012,
after manipulation.

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