Letter: Help preserve local history by restoring cemeteries

To the editor:

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in local history and genealogy as I realize how much our past events and relationships shape the present.

A significant part of the evidence used to reconstruct histories and genealogies resides in the small cemeteries that dot our landscape. Many of these cemeteries are being lost to the ravages of time and neglect. Some scholars estimate that the current generation may be the last to have the chance to visit and document many of them.

In my own case, vandals and neglect destroyed parts of my ancestral burial grounds in southwest Indiana, and our family history is unknown except for a few recent generations.

Fortunately, not all early cemeteries have met this fate. Brown County is full of this kind of history, and it must be preserved.

One pioneer cemetery that remains active today is New Bellsville Cemetery in Van Buren Township, just east of the intersection of Mount Liberty Road and Bellsville Pike. The depth and breadth of the human experience in this area since European settlement are represented here. In addition to a wealth of local family history, several of the early and middle 20th century faces that helped make Brown County famous through photographs lie in repose on these grounds; they include, for example, Doc Ralphy and Valentine Penrose.

Unfortunately, respect and good intentions are not enough to preserve our history. The New Bellsville Cemetery Association is seeking funds to help restore and protect this cemetery. We have set up a Facebook page (facebook.com/groups/NewBellsvilleCemetery) and a Gofundme site (gofundme.com/NBC-RESTORE) as part of a path into the future.

We encourage interested parties to visit our pages and make a difference for local history and for the many families who have trusted us with the long-term care of their loved ones’ final resting places.

Luke M. Jacobus, Ph.D., vice president, New Bellsville Cemetery Association