Friday, November 14, 2014

Volunteer Highlight: Wendy Berlind and the Ed Laput Cemetery Project

Interested in Volunteering?  Read this volunteer's story to learn about interesting projects you can help with.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Godfrey could not function without our dedicated volunteers.  From greeting patrons and helping them find their ancestors in our resources to adding books and documents to the Scholar+ Online Library, volunteers are essential in nearly every aspect of our operation.  Wendy Berlind is one such volunteer who began offering her services at Godfrey in 2011 when she retired after 30 years of teaching.  She has worked on indexing information from a number of our collections to make it searchable online.

Wendy has worked on the Ed Laput Cemetery project from the beginning, typing information from the Charles Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions (a record of headstone inscriptions from every Connecticut cemetery that existed in 1932) to be used in creating the searchable database we provide on Godfrey Scholar+.  The Cemetery Project appeals to Wendy because she can work on it from home, allowing for greater time flexibility.  She typically takes on a single cemetery at a time, typing all the names and appropriate data from the Hale into excel spreadsheets.  The amount of data she types varies from cemetery to cemetery.  Inscriptions for a cemetery she is currently working on take up more than 100 pages of Hale.  At approximately 30 headstones per page she will be adding about 3000 entries to our cemetery project database. 

While time consuming, Wendy enjoys spending her spare moments working on the project. The tidbits of information she learns from the headstone inscriptions help her to imagine the lives of people whose names she is preserving.  One cemetery had a staggering number of children and young women, illustrating  how precarious life was for our early ancestors.  She also discovers stories in burials of family groups which may show a number of children dying in infancy, remarriages, or longtime widowhood.  Sometimes inscriptions carry a message, a place of birth or indication of relationship.

Wendy has found equally fascinating information when she has indexed church records for us.  Often these contain causes of death such as phthisis, dropsy, and old age.  Once in awhile there are unusual or suspicious reasons for deaths.  Unique to one  Middletown church, there were a large number of people who drowned in the nearby Connecticut River.  "Negro servants", their families and the families they worked for are documented in these records and possibly nowhere else.   Wendy says the fact that this is all local history makes it that much more interesting and intimate.

Wendy's interest in genealogy began when she was young, visiting a family home in New Hampshire every summer which was filled with artifacts that belonged to her ancestors.  Her grandmother readily told stories about the family members in pictures and to whom some of those artifacts belonged.  Since then she has always loved collecting and preserving family history.  She had the good fortune to have older relatives who were also avid genealogists and were happy to pass their research on to her.  One aunt in particular was an incredible researcher who loved genealogy and, even before the advent of the internet and digital research, was able to find a huge amount of information.

Wendy Berlind and her quilt showing five generations of her family.
Wendy combines her love of genealogy and quilting to make unique family heirlooms.  The first was a present for her husband's father, a quilt that included pictures of his family.  In February, she created this wonderful piece.  Eschewing the traditional family tree motif, Wendy instead showcased five generations of her and her husband's family on a five shelf bookcase, using 
family photos and symbolic decorations for each 

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