When Kitty Coleman Ward discovered her great-great-great-grandfather was buried in a small family plot just off Washington Road, she was shocked.
"I thought my tree stopped at Magnolia," said Mrs. Ward, speaking of Augusta's Magnolia Cemetery, where many of her ancestors were laid to rest.
But the final resting place of Lindsay Coleman, a prominent resident who served as an attorney and as captain of the Augusta Fire Company in the late 18th century, and many of his prominent kin, has not been so peaceful.
Vandals have stolen bricks and destroyed heavy monuments at Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery. Over the years, weeds and shrubbery have grown between the graves, and the roots of several trees have helped crumble the cemetery's protective wall.
Michele Rhodes Schaumann, 31, said it was "rotten" for vandals to desecrate the property. Mrs. Schaumann's great-great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Holmes Warren, a wealthy lawyer and landowner who married one of Lindsay Coleman's three daughters, is buried at the cemetery.
Mrs. Schaumann and Mrs. Ward are helping to restore the cemetery, thanks to a grass-roots campaign called Friends of Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery.
City officials and volunteers also are working to preserve the rich history found in Augusta's cemeteries.
For the past several years, Jerry Murphy, records clerk for Augusta's three city-run cemeteries, Magnolia, West View and Cedar Grove, has headed a computerized grave-logging project to identify and locate the people buried in each cemetery.
The search engine contains as much information as is available about the deceased person, such as birth and death dates, cause of death and even gravestone locations, Mr. Murphy said.
As of mid-March, volunteers had logged about 25,000 grave entries into the database, he said. There are still about 10,000 more entries to go in Magnolia Cemetery alone, he said.
Preservation is important because cemeteries are "part of our heritage," Mr. Murphy said.
But some cemeteries get forgotten in the hustle of everyday life.
Generations ago, people buried family members on their property, Mr. Murphy said. When they died and the property moved into new ownership, the new residents might not be as attentive about the family plot, he said.
Changing customs about death and little free time also have caused some cemeteries to be forgotten, said Carrie Adamson, the honorary president of the Augusta Genealogical Society.
"There isn't as much interest in funerals, period," she said.
By the end of the 19th century, plots at Augusta's Rollersville Cemetery on Hicks Street began to fill up. It closed at the turn of the century, and many of the people buried there were moved to West View Cemetery.
But Mr. Murphy believes many of the people buried at Rollersville, including an ancestor of his who fought in the Civil War, were left behind.
All that remains today on the property is a monument dedicated in 1981 to the thousands of people once buried there.
At the Carnes family cemetery near Walton Way and Milledge Road, the first person in the United States to man a hot air balloon, an Augusta lawyer, is buried with his second wife and one son.
Peter Carnes was born around 1748 in New Jersey and later moved to Augusta, where he was a prominent attorney, according to records obtained by Historic Augusta Inc. Mr. Carnes was so successful in Augusta, he signed a letter with George Walton, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and three other men welcoming President Washington to Augusta in 1791, the documents said.
Back at Coleman-Leigh-Warren Cemetery, Mr. Cunningham hopes to one day restore the graves and turn it into a quiet green space.
"It's not about those bricks and the cement," said Mr. Cunningham, who planned to be at the cemetery this week to educate anyone who cut through the property on the way to Augusta National Golf Club.
"It's the people and what they meant and what they did for Augusta."
Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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