FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — David Champa kneels in a row of old gravestones, pushing a marker into a freshly dug hole.
He lines up the slab with a yellow thread of yarn that stretches across the row and places a bubble level on top of the stone, which recently got repaired.
“Nope, we lost it,” Champa said, discovering the stone was off balance.
In Franklin Township’s Deck Cemetery, members of the Genealogy Club of Montgomery County have been cleaning, mending and straightening decaying markers as part of a years-long project to document and repair local cemeteries.
The club set out to photograph every gravestone in the county, comparing the names and dates to an old cemetery database created by the Daughters of the American Revolution, said project coordinator Judi Kleine. Aluminum foil is pressed into the carvings of unreadable stones to decipher the words.
The group is working its way through the nine cemeteries surrounding Darlington and continues working in Alamo Cemetery. The project was originally paid for by a grant from the Indiana Genealogical Society, and the club is seeking additional funding.
Under heavy clouds as bicyclists passed by on the road Saturday morning, about a half-dozen people gathered for a work day in the cemetery with shovels, cleaning solution and brushes. An acid-free cleaner is used to prevent further damaging the stones.
As Champa scrubbed one of the stones removed from a plot, John Hooper and Bill Hauser dug a new hole to reset the marker. The group includes members who comb through death records and obituaries at the library to cross check names of the people buried.
The cemetery is named for one of the families that settled in the area from Tennessee in 1832, said Dan Hampton, who maintains the grounds and is a descendant of the Deck clan. Just up the road is another cemetery where a church once stood.
“This was basically the Lutheran neighborhood,” Hampton said.
When Samuel Deck’s first wife, Rebecca, died in 1836, there wasn’t a cemetery near enough for the burial so Deck platted a graveyard in his farm along present-day C.R. 925E. Deck’s second wife and several of his 17 children were later buried there.
Valaine Lighty came to the cemetery to learn more about resetting damaged stones. Lighty has been searching for the names of people buried at the pioneer cemetery in Waynetown.
“A car drove through there two years ago and knocked down about 10 or 15 stones, and I could not find anybody that knew where they were,” Lighty said. “There was no plat [listing] … where anything was. One of them was a Civil War stone.”
For more information about the club, visit Facebook.com/GenClubMontCo.