Cemetery Book brings Henry’s past to light

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Fifteen years of work, on computers and on foot, has paid off for a local team that has produced a one-of-a-kind reference tool for Henry County families.

L. to r.: Dr. Jim Latimer, Linda Sigler-Sanders and Ginny and Tom McConnell at McDonough City Cemetery. Their book, Cemeteries of Henry County, Georgia, contains the most concise listing of county cemeteries to date. Photo by Mickie Jackson

After amassing a mountain of information through Internet research and scouring every corner of the county in person to locate every cemetery and gravesite, the tireless group has published its findings in a massive book that is now available at all of the county’s libraries as well as genealogical societies across Georgia. It is also for sale.

It began as a different kind of project undertaken by Linda Sigler-Sanders in 1999, when the Internet was still fairly new to many people. She documented her family history going back to the 1700s and, while driving through the area on occasion and seeing the scores of small cemeteries dotting the landscape, got the idea to compile information on those buried across the county and assist others in their family history research.

She paid a visit to the Henry County Genealogy Society and “that opened up a whole new world for me,” as she put it. As word of the project got around, particularly due to a story in a local newspaper, she began receiving tips from local residents on hard-to-find and “unknown” cemeteries.

Sigler-Sanders started using GaGenWeb, a free genealogy web site, and eventually became its state coordinator for Georgia. As she compiled the information on each cemetery she recorded its precise location as well.

While volunteering at the local Genealogy Society she began collaborating with Tom McConnell. He had been doing his own genealogy research and “decided to jump in and help her finish her work and incorporate her work with mine,” he said.

According to Sigler-Sanders, McConnell took her information and, along with his wife, Ginny, double-checked it by going back to each cemetery and comparing the information with the records at the society. They also nailed down GPS data on each site, confirming the locations in some places that were previously identified with directions such as “behind the old Johnson place,” she added.

“We spent many days crawling through briars and brush looking and finding them," said Sigler-Sanders. “This took many years.”

It was that kind of intense boots-on-the-ground searching that led them to Dr. Jim Latimer, their next collaborator. He was Sigler-Sanders’ physician and treated her for poison ivy and other maladies resulting from those treks through the woods. They had several conversations about their mutual love of genealogy, and after the McConnells became his patients also, he offered to help with the formatting, art and design of the book.

Latimer’s interest stems from the fact that he’s “kin to about half the county locals” and his own family roots in Henry County go back nearly 200 years. His personal research over the years has led to a collection of some 10,000 photos of grave markers.

The McConnells’ work resulted in a huge increase in information as well, according to Sanders, “when they took on Fairview Gardens, McDonough City and Eastlawn cemeteries. They would take pictures and go home and, one by one, type out and format the info. They also used a program that would paginate and format. This was a phenomenal undertaking which took several years.”

She summed up the years of effort this way: “There's been a lot of love put into this book.”

It has updated information from local obituaries into the 2000s and also includes some black cemeteries that have seldom if ever been mentioned in other publications. There are numerous photos of very old and unique grave markers.

“If there is a cemetery in Henry County and we could find it, it’s in there,” said Sigler-Sanders.

The book, Cemeteries of Henry County, Georgia, is now available to the public - all 900-plus pages. They are available for purchase at the Genealogical Society of Henry, on www.amazon.com or www.alibris.com. The cost is $80 plus $5 shipping or call 770-957-2674 and pick up in Henry County with no shipping charge.

The sheer scope of the information can be overwhelming, but the individual details within are telling, as Latimer pointed out.

“Every single grave marker listed here has a story,” he said. “Some are sad, some tragic, some a celebration of a long life well-lived. But most of those stories are lost and unknown in our community.”

He noted the many veterans, representing every war this country has ever fought, as well as those from specific episodes in the county’s history - like three of his cousins who died in the same week when typhoid ravaged the entire community.

“Here are thousands that blazed their way to this wilderness that was Henry County so long ago and spent their blood, sweat and tears to make it home for themselves and future generations,” he said.

“I hope that it will be a work that will enable others to more easily find those amazing stories, and honor those that have gone before.”