By Carole M
It was May 2021, the sky was bright, the birds were singing, cakes and fruit juice were flowing. The Friends of Folkestone Cemetery were celebrating their achievement.
Roll back around three years to 2018, the group had been meeting to work for 18 months or so, we had cleared ivy and discovered gravestones completely hidden by greenery. It was starting to dawn on me that some of the stones had been standing there for over 160 years and quite a few looked like it! Some inscriptions had gone entirely, some were barely readable and many others were gradually deteriorating. I started to take photos of the worst ones, before they disappeared completely. One photo led to another and, before I knew it, I had a project to photograph every stone.
I joined Find A Grave, made entries for each individual and uploaded the photos each time, so that they were available to people researching their Folkestone families. I kept a record on the cemetery plans that Hugh had kindly sent me, colouring in the ones I had done, and marking the ones I knew had no stone. Over the Christmas holidays that year, while staying with family, James helped to put every grave entry on Ancestry on to Find A Grave. This would help to speed the photo up-loading process.
Once a photo has been added to the Find A Grave website people all over the world can find it. We help relatives who request more photos or information, so our group receives thanks from near and far. Often these people offer more information on their ancestors, to be added to the website. Most requests are now for unmarked graves, but a photo of the area or site of the grave is always possible.
I continued to add photos, now working through sections systematically, as well as trying to catch the last words falling off other stones. Margaret, Karl, Stephen and others also added photos. I made many trips to the library, to consult the burial registers there, trying to fill the gaps in the Ancestry information. Hugh came to the rescue again, letting us have more records that he had. We collated all the information and were then fairly certain that we had accounted for all except a very small handful of burials. James helped us again, making interactive maps using Google earth, to enable people to locate the graves and to show if they had a stone or not.
Somewhere around this point, Covid struck. We were stuck indoors for a time, but when we were allowed out, the cemetery was within our daily hour’s exercise and a safe, quiet place to be, where we didn’t meet other people. Every trip resulted in more photos, which I had plenty of time to upload when I got home, and gradually those maps began to fill in. Twelve to eighteen months of regular photo trips meant that, by the end of May 2021, we had covered all 15,000+ graves and uploaded the photos to Find A Grave. So, to celebrate, we had a cake and drink morning – after members had done some cemetery tidying, of course.
Carole, Hugh, Karl, Margaret and Karl are FOFC volunteers and James brings expertise with Google virtual maps. You can find out more about our work at www.fofc.uk or facebook group Friends of old Folkestone cemetery.