DONNYBROOK - Herb Schwede of Donnybrook doesn't consider himself an expert on cemeteries or genealogies.
But he has a bent for organizing data that is appreciated by people worldwide who are searching for the roots to their family trees. He also has more than the usual interest in cemeteries.
Schwede has documented about 70,000 gravesites from tombstone data that he's collected from visits to about 360 cemeteries between Towner and Montana, and Lake Sakakawea and Canada. He has documented a few cemeteries in eastern Montana and Minnesota.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Herb Schwede looks over a spreadsheet of cemetery listings Sept. 23 that he has compiled since 2002.
He posts his information online to (www.findagrave.com) for use by genealogical researchers.
"What I get out of it is e-mails from all over the world," he said. "A lot of times I get on the computer and there's 50 e-mails."
A member of the board of the Aurelia Community Cemetery, he began posting on the Web site in 2002, starting with Aurelia and the Donnybrook Cemetery. He kept posting as he expanded his research to numerous cemeteries around the area beginning in 2003.
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"I don't know why I ever started this," Schwede says in looking back. "It's an addiction is what it is."
His 50,000 photos of tombstones have replaced hand-scripted notes about gravesites since 2006. He uploads photos to the Web site if requested by families who want them.
Having worked with his sister on his own family's genealogy, he learned the importance of documenting data before it gets lost with time. He's searched and found a number of abandoned cemeteries where tombstones already have become difficult to decipher, if they even can be found. He knows he's missed graves because time has erased any obvious trace of them.
Cemeteries themselves can be hard to find sometimes. Schwede once went looking for a cemetery known to exist in records but undocumented.
"I drove there and I couldn't see anything. But in the middle of the field, there were some lilac trees. I walked out and, by golly, there it was," he said.
The lilacs had taken over the cemetery. Only by pushing aside brush was Schwede able to get photographs of tombstones.
On another occasion, he knew there should be a cemetery at an abandoned church near Ross, but neighbors knew nothing about it. He went looking and found two graves near a fence.
Sometimes it's the names of cemeteries that are missing. Other cemeteries may go by more than one name. A cemetery at Drake has four names because four different groups use parts of the grounds.
Schwede's shortest cemetery listings include just two or three graves. Outside of a cemetery, in a pasture near Blaisdell, a single grave of a baby who was born and died in 1935 is in Schwede's records.
Then there is the cemetery where an entire family was buried following a fatal house fire. Another cemetery lays to rest, side by side, a couple, engaged to be married, who were killed in a car accident.
Among Schwede's favorite cemeteries is a church cemetery with big wrought-iron crosses. Another favorite is near Tioga.
"Just a beautiful, big hillside with nice pine trees," he said.
Collecting the tombstone information is only part of documentation process, though. Schwede spends many hours on his computer, often late at night, entering information and responding to e-mails. He can be e-mailed through Find A Grave, which includes links to his membership information from any of the cemeteries that he has recorded.
His visits to cemeteries have slowed in recent years because most sites have been recorded. He continues to update records based on obituary information. He has visited with Minot's Sunset Memorial Gardens, with 4,000 graves, about creating an electronic record for them but hasn't yet figured out how to logistically handle such a project.
He has limited time to spend on his project because of his work as a long-time Kenmare school bus driver, cattle rancher and employee at his cousin's C & C Farms near Donnybrook. He also serves as sexton for Aurelia Cemetery, as Carbondale Township assessor and is on the Donnybrook Fire Department and Mouse River Loop Genealogical Society Board.
Correction: A headline Monday on an article about Herb Schwede's cemetery research incorrectly stated that he created the Web site (www.findagrave.com). He is among thousands of people across the country who post their research to the site for genealogy purposes.