After about a year and a half of being shut down, Old City Cemetery’s online burial records database is back up and running.
Those conducting general history, genealogy or medical research are now able to use the free database through the cemetery’s website to access the records of more than 61,000 people of Lynchburg. The records include birth and death dates, funeral home names, ethnicities, causes of death, family members and notes known about the person’s life.
The former database was hacked in February 2018 and had been down ever since.
Thanks to help from 434 Marketing, which created an upgraded and secure database, and the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation which paid for half of the $6,500 funding it took to create the platform, anyone with access to a computer is just a click away from discovering more about those laid to rest in the cemetery.
The website was back up and running in October.
“It’s important because it gives people a connection to their ancestors, you know, where did I come from? Why did my mother’s grandparents, great grandparents, why did they come here? What did they do? Who were they? You know, you have a connection to them. You always will and so people just have a natural yearning, I think, to figure out where they came from,” Old City Cemetery Executive Director Denise McDonald said.
Burial records have been recorded since the 1880s and were each handwritten, but many have disappeared or been burned, which is why it is so important they be digitized, McDonald said.
About 20 years ago, former Old City Cemetery Executive Director Ted Delaney, who is now director of the Lynchburg Museum System, began cataloging some of the burial records to receive college credit while studying at the University of Virginia.
He continued that work while employed at the cemetery and built the database from scratch, which included all known paper records as well as the burial stones above ground.
“What we have now is a really robust database of who is there at the cemetery,” he said. “It’s not everyone but it’s a good place to start.”
He said this is the result of 20 years of uploading, refining, gathering and adding new information. He emphasized it could not have been done without the years of work put in by staff members, family descendants and volunteers who spent hours researching records at the library.
He said he is relieved the database is back and can be used for free by anyone.
“It’s something I’m really proud of that we could survive something like that and make the database stronger after that,” he said. “A database like that is no good if no one can use it, and it’s good we can adapt it to the internet world we live in. I’m proud we could build something stronger, better and more accessible.”
Because the cemetery is public, he said it has more of an obligation to offer services like the database for free.
“It’s important because for so many years people were buried there without being known or identified so it’s an important step in rediscovering the cemetery and telling people about these people and naming them, fleshing out who they were and what their life was like,” he said. “The database is the core of that process.”
Kathy McGlothlin, administrative manager at the cemetery, is especially passionate about the database and enjoys helping people conduct research, finding family members and soldiers buried in Lynchburg.
She said the cemetery will also help users find additional information, such as photographs or newspaper clippings about the person they are researching, which is usually housed in the cemetery’s offices.
McDonald said opening the records and reading the information about these people makes them feel more real to users and family members.
She said many of those stories are being recreated during the Candlelight Tours, one of the cemetery’s most popular events. Held each October, the event features vignettes inspired by those buried in the cemetery and always sells out.
Just at Old City Cemetery, there are 20,000 people laid to rest on the grounds, she said.
“It’s an amazing place in that we have people from all walks of life,” she said. “We have rich people, poor people, black, white, different countries. Many, many children, sadly, have passed and are buried here and people who were tailors, nurses, doctors, ministers, lawyers, railroad workers. It’s a huge variety of people and many of their stories have never been told. So this database is a window into their lives. That’s what this is all about.”
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.