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Des Moines to Begin Digitizing Cemetery Records

DES MOINES, Iowa -- It’s a sunny Monday morning at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.   Row after row of headstones bear the names of the people who built the city.  Inside of a small office building  one man is working to make sure none of those names are ever forgotten.

“They goes as far back as 1890. I haven’t been to those books yet," says Kent Kehlenbeck.

The Des Moines Parks Department has taken on the ambitious project of digitizing all the cemetery records for the city.  In all, more than 200,000 names will be added.  With each scan they add another page to Des Moines’ history book.

“You know we have records dating back to the 1890’s that there are no other copies of.   So we preserve it for family reasons, for historical reasons. Just to have all that history in one place,” says Jen Fletcher.  

The project will take almost two years complete.  Each record needs to be scanned and sorted individually.

“Anytime they can get those records online for free that’s really good,” says Jennifer Ewing with the Iowa Genealogical Society.

The Iowa Genealogical Society helps Iowans with researching their family’s history.   She’s excited for the project to be finished.

Before the project if you needed a cemetery record you had to go in person and sort through files.   It could take hours to find the right one.   Not only will this help with time it will also help with effectiveness.

Oftentimes researching your family tree is like solving a mystery.  You’re in constant search of clues to connect the dots. For a lot of Iowans, they run out of clues around 1910.  Before then it wasn’t mandatory to turn in birth and death certificates to record keepers.

“It’s really hard to find a birth or death certificate before that. Sometimes cemeteries are all that you got. You can find out who paid for the plot, who’s burying around them. You can make some connections that way,” said Ewing.

The parks department is hoping some history buffs will help speed this process us.  Right now, they are taking applications for five volunteers to help. Volunteers will get an inside look at the record vault and get a hands-on approach to the city’s history.