RYDER - A few years ago, Ruth Wurtz and the late Elizabeth Larson, lifelong residents of the Hiddenwood community, resolved there would be no unmarked graves in the Hiddenwood Cemetery, southwest of Ryder.
Only three graves were marked in the cemetery.
Families that had homesteaded the area and populated the cemetery no longer were there. The Hiddenwood Old Settlers Association had assumed the responsibility of the care and upkeep of the cemetery.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • Ruth Wurtz, right, and her son, Doug Wurtz, have been involved in a major project to identify unmarked graves in the Hiddenwood Cemetery, southwest of Ryder.
The women were determined to have the graves identified and about three years ago, the ball really got rolling to get the job done.
The cemetery has existed since 1904, said Doug Wurtz, Ruth Wurtz's son of Bismarck. He said the three burials that were marked had granite markers.
Doug had read an article in The Minot Daily News or another publication that alluded to the fact there were 12 burials in the cemetery. But only three were marked. He said neighbors remembered some names.
"What started the ball rolling was when Mom took it upon herself to order 12 iron crosses from the Burdick Job Corps," he said.
The Hiddenwood Old Settlers Association had endorsed the project and paid for the crosses.
"I said we're going to put something on those graves, but I don't want wood because that won't last," said Ruth. She had heard about the work the Job Corps welding students did. "I thought, 'Well, it doesn't hurt to go over there and ask.'" It was for a nonprofit organization so the students could do the work.
That was in 2009.
"But the dilemma we had then was we had 12 beautiful crosses made, but where do you put them because no graves were marked?" Doug said.
That started the research.
"I don't know that this whole project would have been possible a few years ago without the Internet the Bureau of Land Management online homestead records, Google Earth, Ancestry.com, findagrave.com and some of these online websites," he said.
"But the saving part of it was the Ryder News was on microfilm in the Archives in the (North Dakota) Heritage Center (in Bismarck). I just started reading microfilm, going back to about 1903 and reading forward. Slowly and surely some of the pieces started falling into place," he said.
One-month-old Arthur Lang was the first burial in the cemetery in 1904.
"The one that really excited us was finding the rock with the engraving in it from the first burial which is Baby Lang," Doug said.
"George Lang came from Medford, Wis., and homesteaded by where the cemetery is located now, built a tar paper shack, called for his wife and newborn son in Medford, Wisconsin, and said, 'The shack is ready. Come to North Dakota.'
"He met them in Minot, took them out to Hiddenwood and nine days later the baby passed away. This was before the Hiddenwood Presbyterian Church or the Hiddenwood Cemetery were established so they did what they had to do. They buried the baby up in the northwest corner of their homestead lot. That's the way it stood for awhile until they actually proved up their claim, got title to the land.
"Four days later, they sold one acre of their 160 acres to the Hiddenwood Presbyterian Church for a dollar. That gravesite became the basis of the cemetery and then it became affiliated with the Hiddenwood Presbyterian Church," Douglas said.
The church was located across from the Wurtz farm, then moved to Roseglen where it remained for a time. The late Herb Shafer purchased the church and it was moved to the Hiddenwood picnic grounds where it stands today.
Since only three of the 12 burials were marked, the question was who were the other burials?
It turned out many were infants or young children buried there.
But to identify the gravesites was a big job.
Doug's research took him into homestead records and other resources, and a story started to develop.
"It was really fun. My interests are archaeology, photography and historic research all three things came together on that one project," he said.
The crosses had been delivered, the research had started and on the Fourth of July family members were at the Wurtz farm also checking over the cemetery.
"My great-niece (Victoria Mineke) was walking around and found the glacial erratic. She could see the cross engraved in it," Doug said. It was the stone for Arthur Lang's grave, the first burial in the cemetery in 1904.
Doug started running photos through photo software, continued reading microfilm and so forth.
"It finally came together and pretty soon we found all of them," he said.
He said one of the keys to the project was Shafer's father, Jessie, had the original records for the cemetery, including the church journal. In it was a hand-drawn grid of the cemetery when it was platted back in 1907. Doug wondered if it was accurate and if it would fit on a Google image map of the cemetery. The measurements were on the original church journal hand-drawn map, and it fit.
"We staked the cemetery. We measured so we knew where the 4-foot by 4-foot plots were," he said.
"They had made an effort to mark the cemetery, the problem was the dirt had covered it," he said.
They found a stone with the engraving "C.E. Brugh" on it.
After he found the obituary for the baby, Clarence Edward Brugh, in the Ryder News. Doug said other bits and pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. He said the news story said the family was living in Parshall at the time but they returned to Hiddenwood and buried the baby in the cemetery. The baby's sister, Susannah, is buried beside him, Doug said.
Eventually, there were hundreds and hundreds of clues that came together to identify those buried in the cemetery.
They found the rock with the engraving on it for Baby Charles.
Ruth recalled the Larson kids remembered there used to be a marker that said "Baby Charles" on it. The stone had been covered with 7 inches of dirt.
"We found out Charles was not a first name but it was a last name," Ruth said.
Denise Johnson and Gordon Wurtz, Ruth's daughter and son and Doug's siblings, helped stake the cemetery and prove that the map grid fit. Denise's husband, Harvey Johnson, discovered the initial list of cemetery burials on the Internet.
When the concrete was poured to place the crosses, they enscribed in it the dates and the lot number that corresponds with the hand-drawn grid of the cemetery.
The last of the 12 burials in the Hiddenwood Cemetery was in 1932.
The project took three years to complete and includes a 62-page book entitled "History and Mystery" that Doug has written.
All the information about the graves has been uploaded to (findagrave.com) and any other information that is located will be added, Doug said. He said the original cemetery documents and the book also will be provided to the Archives in the N.D. Heritage Center in Bismarck.
Although the project basically has been completed, Doug said there's still "bits and pieces" he's working on.
"There's still some mystery left out there we aren't quite sure of," he said.
"But everything that's there now, we know is right," Ruth added.
For more information about locating and identifying gravesites and other questions, email Wurtz at firstname.lastname@example.org.