By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Ten years, 55 acres and 22,185 graves.
The Traverse City Oakwood Cemetery CD officially is released, thanks to intense efforts by members of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society cemetery committee. Led by Kathi Farley, who four years ago revived the project, the compact disc includes data from Oakwood's four cemeteries: City, Catholic, Jewish and Northern Michigan Asylum.
"Ten years ago, two of our members walked the entire Oakwood Cemetery and wrote everything down — that was what I started with," said Farley, the committee chair aided by many society volunteers on the project. "I love doing genealogical work; when I joined the society they didn't have anyone else doing any of the cemeteries at the time."
Information featured on the disc is a work in progress, current through Nov. 20 of this year. All headstone data has been recorded while research into unmarked burials at the cemetery continues.
The Oakwood Cemetery CD, however, goes beyond simply recording names and dates from grave markers. Society volunteers delved into cemetery, church, family and count records as well as sifted through obituaries, newspapers and online sites.
Organized into a searchable spreadsheet, the CD includes middle name, maiden name, age at death, place of birth, and the names of parents and spouses, including maiden names. Other information included — again, as found per person — includes marriage date, military service, occupation, cause, and place of death and burial location.
Volunteer and dedicated sleuth Brenda Moore noted that the task of research is a slow one — and an ongoing one. She just sent Farley a batch of about three dozen more burials at Oakwood for future inclusion.
"When you take 22,000 people and try to find all that, it gets kind of intense," said Moore, a society member for decades. "It's a mini-detective job."
For Farley, also a passionate genealogist, the society's cemetery work is about information and preservation — a direct link to the past.
Oakwood graves include Civil War veterans and extend to the cemetery's founding in 1861 by Perry Hannah. That year, the city's founding father granted land then in the country. Graves from the young town's former cemetery on Sixth Street were relocated to Oakwood.
Oakwood Cemetery soon became the place to be buried.
"There are people born, raised, married and lived all their lives in Leelanau County buried here," said Farley of the "VIP" cemetery.
The Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society has documented a total of 57,516 graves in cemeteries in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. They previously released two CDs, one on rural cemeteries in Grand Traverse County and the other covering cemeteries in Leelanau County.
The Oakwood project was the last big piece in this region.
"Walking and recording is a lot of work, but the research is huge — it's not all online, sometimes it's the dusty old books," Farley said.
For more information or to purchase the Traverse City Oakwood Cemetery CD, contact Kathi Farley at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to GTAGS at P.O. Box 2015, Traverse City, MI 49685-2015. The CD costs $35 plus $3 for shipping and handling.