Investigating Cemeteries; Mapping Techniques

Last year Hidalgo County Officials contacted UTRGV’s Anthropology Department to assist in identifying graves at the Hidalgo County Pauper’s Cemetery. The cemetery had been virtually abandoned since it had not been used since the 1990’s. Information of individuals buried there had not been kept up with or were lost due to water damage at the facility housing the records. Over vegetation had taken over the cemetery grounds and damaged headstones as well as grave offerings/decorations. Hidalgo County provided a cleanup team to clear the area for Archaeology students in 2017. Many graves had headstones that showed signs of biological damage as well as weathering. Some graves had no identifying markers but were able to be identified as a grave by an obvious slump. These areas were then verified as a grave with the aid of human remains detection dogs. Use of GPR has not yet been applied; hopefully this semester our class will have the opportunity to practice using the GPR and perhaps even more unidentified graves can be found.
Many of the graves encountered have headstones composed of different types of stone, wood, and different types of metal. The type of headstone can possibly give an insight to the individuals’ family and their social status. Most of the headstones of the neighboring cemetery seem to be made of marble and granite while those of the Pauper’s Cemetery are mostly made of inexpensive materials. Most wooden crosses of HCPC no longer bare the name of the individual who is buried in the plot, and some wooden crosses have broken and fallen onto or into the grave. Some headstones appear to be homemade with cement and pebbles. Grave offerings and decorations can be found all through the cemetery. Children and infants usually have toys or angels while adults mostly have flowers and/or other items. Some other items include candles, jars, voo-doo dolls, and other religious materials.
Descriptions of each individual grave are being recorded for data collection. This information will be entered into a data base where the public will have access to find lost buried relatives. Some students have been approached by families that come to visit the cemetery to ask what the group is doing. When families are made aware of this project they are usually glad to hear what we are doing and will ask if we can find their family members. So far most of the public doesn’t know about the project but we are hoping to change that and make the community aware. With the help of the community we can learn the stories of the individuals buried in the cemetery. We have noticed many children and infants from the 1960’s and 1970’s are buried at HCPC. Some of the infants have the same birth and death date. This could indicate that the infant was stillborn or possibly born with life threatening complications which led to death shortly after birth. I personally would like to know the stories of these young lives lost. What was happening in the area at the time these children and infants died? What improvements have been made to decrease infant mortality?

0 thoughts on “Investigating Cemeteries; Mapping Techniques

  1. This was a very good description of the state of the cemetery at the beginning of the semester. I think it is important that we keep track of just how far we have come. I think it is a very important project, and the very fact that we are working on it will hopefully encourage more family members to come forward and tell us stories about their loved ones, so that we can hopefully keep their memory alive better than the deteriorating wooden crosses.

    This post makes me think that a very positive benefit we can give to the community, making public archaeology that much more valuable to the discipline as a whole, is that by highlighting the current state of the cemetery, we can spur a greater investment in the graves, and more family members will come to upgrade their loved ones graves. I have noticed that a lot of the headstones seemed much newer than the dates of death, which implies to me that family members save up to put a headstone in years after the death of their family. Maybe more of the local community will update the headstones, and maintain the graves.

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