Have you ever wandered around a churchyard or cemetery and wondered about the lives of the people whose names are written on the stones? Are you interested in family history or the stories of the people from Birmingham’s past?
For the past two years burial ground conservation charity Caring for Gods Acre has been running a memorial recording project in five burial grounds in Birmingham funded by Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the Garfield Weston Foundation.
Using a bespoke digital system, the project mapped Key Hill and Warstone Lane Cemeteries in the Jewellery Quarter, the churchyards of St Mary’s, Handsworth and St Barnabas, Erdington, and Brandwood End Cemetery a total of 68.5 acres and over 66,000 memorials. Volunteers then noted down the inscriptions and details of the memorials which are added, along with photographs to the maps to create a searchable digital archive of each burial ground.
Community Coordinator for the Project Georgina Sharp: “I am immensely grateful to all the volunteers who got involved with the project. Our burial grounds are full of stories, and it is wonderful to be able to create a resource that will help people explore their family histories and that of Birmingham as it grew into the city we know today.”
Volunteer Penny: “a previous project many years ago, had transcribed some of the gravestones and saved the information, I was able to find my family’s graves quite easily. So, I sort of saw it as a sort of a carry on from that really, not only for people searching family history but just to try and conserve, preserve what’s there because it doesn’t stay there forever.”
Volunteer Lisa: “I don’t think many people would think of cemetery as being a place to go for some, peace and quiet, because they have obviously the association with death and misery. But doing the inscribing when you recognise it, the most common word that you come across is love. I thought was quite profound really.”
Alongside the memorial recording the project also ran small events looking at the biodiversity of the burial grounds.
“Churchyards and cemeteries are important havens for city biodiversity and important green spaces for people”
Georgina tells us, “Victorian cemeteries were designed with specimen trees and wide paths as beautiful places for the community to visit and enjoy and our churchyards were our first public green spaces. During the project we noted 97 plant and insect species at a BioBlitz, explored the autumn fungi on two sites and ran two dawn chorus walks, meeting before sunrise to listen to the birds as the sun rose. It is always brilliant fun to be able to introduce people to elements of the natural world that they might walk past every day”
The maps are still a work in progress with the details of almost 12,000 people recorded so far so the work will continue. If you would like to get involved, please contact email@example.com.
If you are interested in the information collected by this project visit the project’s web page https://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/about-us/projects/celebrating-birminghams-burial-grounds/ for links to the organisations that can help access them.