A project aimed at solving decades-old records issues in Wilson Township’s cemeteries has unearthed a mystery.
According to Wilson Township Sexton—the man who oversees the care, records and sale of cemetery plots—Jeff Argetsinger, there could be as many as 130 unmarked graves in two of the township’s cemeteries.
“Throughout the years there have been people buried in the cemeteries and some of the records were lost, some people were buried there without permission and, years and years ago, when they would have a plague come through that would kill a lot of people they just got buried and no records were kept,” he said. “Part of the township’s records were lost in a fire years ago and they only go back to the 1960s—but the cemeteries go back to the 1850s.”
A company that specializes in finding buried bodies was hired at a cost of nearly $3,500 in order to help the township determine which seemingly empty burial plots are available and which are not.
“We hired a company that went across the cemeteries every two feet with ground-penetrating radar,” Argetsinger said. “Anywhere they came up with an anomaly they would mark it. Anywhere they marked we are putting on a map and then going back through the process of trying to verify who is where and which lots got sold.”
He added, “We want to do our best to make sure we don’t sell a lot that already has somebody buried in it.”
In Todds Cemetery, located on Fuller Road, 92 anomalies were discovered.
In Lewis Cemetery, on Healy Road, 30 to 40 anomalies were identified.
“If we find someone in an unmarked location we will leave them there and if we have sold that lot we will move (new customer) to a lot that is available,” said Argetsinger, who has worked in the cemetery business for 46 years.
“I’ve worked in cemeteries since I was 14,” he said.
“Todds Cemetery hadn’t been taken care of in quite some time and I was a member of the Grange at that time so we went up and cut down ferns, that were three or four foot high, with sickles that they used to cut hay with.”
Argetsinger added, “You couldn’t even see the headstones.”
According to Argetsinger, he has always been interested in the history of people buried in cemeteries and he helps genealogy buffs and groups who are looking for records of deceased relatives and historical figures.
“Going back and working with people to dig back into the history intrigues me,” he said.
The third cemetery in the township—Knob Cemetery—is pretty well full, Argetsinger said, and did not need to be searched.
“We began the process in about the middle of June,” he said. “I’ll be working on this well into the fall, getting records and new maps made, and we’ve got to get all this information on a computer program we use.”
Argetsinger said cemeteries are generally more well taken care of nowadays thanks to a state law which requires municipalities to care for them.
While the township’s cemeteries aren’t in immediate danger of filling up, Argetsinger said expansion will need to be considered eventually.
“I’m figuring in 15 or 20 years we’re going to have to purchase more property and expand,” he said.