The city of Snellville is in the preliminary stages of a cemetery project that will identify the unmarked graves within the Snellville Historical Cemetery. The cemetery, which is located near City Hall is the final place of rest for well-known Snellville residents dating back to the 1800s.
Although the tales of these well-known residents have lived on through family generations, some were lost in a fire that occurred in City Hall. The fire destroyed records of burial plot locations and in some instances, who was buried inside the cemetery. The exact year of the City Hall fire is unknown but is believed to have occurred in the early 1900s. Since then funeral homes such as Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, LLC have had difficulty when making burial arrangements.
"The unmarked graves in the cemetery is a huge problem," said Rick Johnson, chief executive officer of Tom M. Wages Funeral Services. "We really have no idea how many plots are available inside the cemetery, and in some cases we truly have no idea who has been buried in a plot because they've been left without headstones."
The city pays to maintain the cemetery grounds, but it does not have records for every person buried there. This is why Michelle Couch, former president of the Greater Eastside Chamber of Commerce who remains very active in the community, is spearheading the volunteer effort to begin research on the historical cemetery.
She is currently working to put put together a "lead team" that will help to oversee the project. This team will be responsible for taking photographs of unmarked plots within the cemetery, researching old records to find information on burial plots, and helping to lead groups of volunteers for the project. To help in this effort Couch will also be reaching out to the Gwinnett Historical Society for information.
Tom M. Wages Funeral Services will be assisting with the actual mapping of the cemetery, and if necessary using software to find out where and how many bodies are buried within each plot. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a rigorous computer database that would allow visitors to type in a family name and find the exact location of the person buried within the cemetery.
In addition to streamlining the cemetery records for purposes of burial proceedings and city records, the city of Snellville is looking at the project's potential to drive tourism into the area.
While attending a recent Georgia Municipal Association convention in Savannah, councilwoman Barbara Bender attended a breakout session on tourism opportunities through historical cemeteries. In places such as Savannah walking tours and "ghost tours" have become a popular attraction.
"The long term goal is to know whose buried there and what their stories are,"Bender said. "The cemetery project will promote a history for Snellville."
The overall cemetery project is expected to be completed within a year, at which point talks of tourism efforts would begin. In the coming weeks, Couch is hoping to get groups of volunteers from all ages and skill levels to begin working on the cemetery project.
"This is a wonderful community service project," Couch said. "Working to find who has been buried here will be a great thing for the city of Snellville."
For more information on volunteering with the cemetery project contact Michelle Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org.