It was a morbid class assignment, but Tara Jimenez spent a semester crawling through the cemetery anyway.
The Augusta State University senior was enthusiastic about meeting nine classmates at Cedar Grove Cemetery twice a week despite the location. As a part of their sociology class, the students helped the county with a grave logging and mapping project that was launched last summer.
"We are hoping that this will become more of a community project, because we have just scratched the surface," Miss Jimenez said.
Six months ago, the Information Technology Department of Richmond County joined the caretakers of state-owned cemeteries in the area to launch a computerized grave-logging project.
Once the cataloging, mapping and interviewing are complete, the information will be posted on a Web site where relatives and researchers can search out historic facts such as the date and cause of death of those buried. A map of the burial site also will be created and will have a margin of error of less than two feet.
Progress on the project has been slow, said Jerry Murphy, the records clerk for Augusta's state-owned cemeteries.
Using hand-held computers and digital cameras, volunteers were supposed to begin collecting information in the cemeteries in October. But other projects in the county's Information Technology Department have taken precedence, Mr. Murphy said. Now, the county is training six volunteers to use the equipment.
There will be demand for the information once it's finished, said Augusta Genealogical Society President Carrie Adamson.
This region's genealogical society is made up of 1,500 people, based in cities worldwide, who have ancestral ties to the area.
"People join the Augusta Genealogical Society because their families lived in this area at one time or another and they are looking for source records to fill in the facts or what ever else they can find about their ancestors," Ms. Adamson said, adding that the local group has members in 45 states and in Germany, Singapore, Guam and Hong Kong. Currently, those researching Augusta ties rely on the society's library at 1109 Broad St. and ledgers at the cemetery and public libraries.
"Technology is drastically changing the way that we do our research," Ms. Adamson said. "We do like to get our hands on primary information, facts recorded at the time."
Once Augusta's deceased are accessible to the world of Web browsers, anyone with Internet access will be able to tap into the history of the 337 Confederate soldiers, including seven generals, who are buried in the Garden City. The computerized logs will include causes of death, which are more commonly listed as symptoms such as "convulsions." Also, recurring on the lists are baby deaths attributed to "teething" and "consumption." The history shows epidemics that hit the area including yellow fever, which took an average of four lives daily in 1836 and again in 1854.
The Augusta State students have taken the first steps of reaching the technologically advanced end.
"We've walked this whole place," said Miss Jimenez, pointing to the 35-acre Cedar Grove Cemetery sprawling around her.
Cedar Grove was built in the 1800s to serve as the area's only state-owned black cemetery.
Among the local black icons laid to rest at Cedar Grove are R.A. Dent, the first black from Augusta elected to the Legislature; A.R. Johnson, the first black in Georgia to receive a teaching license; and the Rev. W.P. Russell, who is credited with opening a school for freed slaves at Ellis and Ninth streets in 1865, according to cemetery records.
Although there are headstones for only about 9,000, county records show that more than 50,000 people are buried at Cedar Grove, said Albert Jimenez, who is a teacher's assistant working with students on the project.
"There are some mass graves out here," Mr. Jimenez said. "Some slaves were buried in mass graves."
Many records from Magnolia, West View and Cedar Grove cemeteries were destroyed during historic floods and in fires.
The students said they hope to get funding to erect a monument paying homage to those whose histories have been lost.
Mr. Murphy said the project needs volunteers who can be trained to input the data that the field workers collect. For more information, call (706) 821-1746 or the Augusta State Sociology Department at (706) 737-1735.
Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.