New Digital Map Expands Access to East End Cemetery

Logo designed for the East End Cemetery Collaboratory by Leslie Steiger.

Years in the making, a searchable map of East End Cemetery is now accessible online. The map, which features drone-captured imagery, is the first digital initiative of the East End Cemetery Collaboratory, a learning community comprising faculty and staff from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University and members of the Friends of East End. 

When cemetery reclamation began in summer 2013, nearly all of the gravestones had been swallowed by dense vegetation, and burial records were nowhere to be found. Over the years, we have met many descendants searching for loved ones’ graves and helped them locate their plots whenever possible. Some family members remember visiting the graves as children in the 1950s and ’60s. As overgrowth closed in and roads through the cemetery became impassable, they could no longer find their way to them. 

In the past seven years, volunteers have uncovered and documented upwards of 3,200 markers at East End, posting photographs, basic biographical information, and GPS coordinates on FindAGrave.com. Until now, however, there was no easy way to locate specific graves at the cemetery.

That’s where the East End Cemetery Collaboratory comes in. Formally organized in 2017, the Collaboratory emerged from a multidisciplinary group of UR and VCU faculty who created educational projects at the cemetery for their classes and worked side by side with their students on volunteer cleanup days. Students increased the number of GPS points collected each year, and the addition of drone imagery in 2019 dramatically improved the accuracy of the map. Using a GIS app for phones and tablets, it’s now possible to pinpoint the exact position of grave markers at the cemetery. A new hillshade feature highlights depressions identified from small changes in elevation across the cemetery, providing a more accurate estimate of the number of burials. 

While the coronavirus pandemic has slowed East End reclamation efforts, Collaboratory members continue to refine the position of points on the map. We are also hard at work on a comprehensive digital archive centered on the cemetery. It already contains thousands of records for people interred at East End, as well as gravestone analyses, photographs, newspaper articles, and other documents. A beta release is expected by the end of June; a full release by the start of the 2020–21 school year. 

Both the map and the archive mark major steps forward in the documentation of East End Cemetery and the reclamation of its rich history, a vital chapter in the larger story of Richmond and the Commonwealth. Each will be updated as restoration and research continue and additional markers and records are found. 

The digital infrastructure for the map was built by Rob Nelson and Justin Madron/UR Digital Scholarship Lab, Stephanie Spera/UR Department of Geography and the Environment, and Beth Zizzamia and Taylor Holden/UR Spatial Analysis Lab. Data was collected by John Shuck and Erin Hollaway Palmer/Friends of East End, Kristine Grayson and Elizabeth Baughan/University of Richmond, and hundreds of students and volunteers across departments and institutions. Support for the Collaboratory is provided by UR’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, VCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Impact, and the UR School of Arts & Sciences Contested Spaces theme year.

East End Veterans Report Updated

World War II veteran Rudolph Henry Carey’s headstone at East End Cemetery, 22 December 2018. Photo by Brian Palmer.

Just in time for Memorial Day, we’ve updated our East End Veterans Report, now available for download here (give it a minute — it’s a big file). We undertook this survey in 2018 to provide information and photographs that could form the basis of an effort to repair, clean, and (re)set veterans’ headstones and markers, particularly those approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its precursor. (Research has revealed several veterans buried at East End who have no headstone at all, only temporary “courtesy” markers. We believe that they meet the eligibility requirements to receive Veterans Affairs stones.) 

As of this writing, research conducted by the Friends of East End and others shows that at least 120 veterans are buried at the cemetery, including men who served in the Civil War, the Spanish–American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. Markers have been found for all but nine of these. However, because several acres of the cemetery remain covered in dense overgrowth, we can say with near certainty that there are more veterans interred at East End. We will keep searching for them.

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WE WON!!! Thanks to you and your votes, we are among the 40 recipients nationwide of a State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant. That’s $25,000 for our oral history project, which we’ll be launching ASAP. If we haven’t said it before, we’ll say it now: Y’all are the best! We asked for your support (about a thousand times) and you delivered. We hope you’ll celebrate with us on November 2 at East End — details to come. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have more jumping up and down to do….

Get Your East End T-Shirt While You Can!

7 July 2019—East End Cemetery, Henrico County/Richmond, VA—Erin clears pokeweed. Portrait with Erin, Teacake, and BP.

You’ve seen us in our FoEE T-SHIRTS, and now you can have one too! All you need to do is donate $35 or more (details below), then email or DM us your choice of color, style, and size (friendsofeastend@gmail.com). Here are the options: (1) Short-sleeve shirt in heather royal (shown here on Brian) or heather charcoal; (2) long-sleeve shirt in cherry red (on Melissa) or charcoal. Shirts are unisex, supersoft, and 100% cotton. All sizes from small to 3XL are available; youth medium and large are available for the short-sleeve shirts only. (NOTE: They all run a bit small, so consider ordering a size up if you’d like a little extra room.)

T-shirts will be available for pickup at East End on Saturday, August 31 (and if you can’t make it then, we’ll figure out another way to get it to you). We’ll be taking orders for the next three weeks, though Friday, August 2. All donations are tax deductible, and they’ll help us replace or repair tools, purchase water and supplies for our year-round workdays, and host public events to build awareness of the cemetery and the community it served.

Here’s how to donate:
• Click on the button beneath “Support Our Work,” right here on this page
• Mail a check, payable to Friends of East End Cemetery, to 717 N. 33rd St., Richmond, VA 23223
• Text 729725 (PayPal) and specify the amount and our email address (friendsofeastend@gmail.com)

The reclamation of East End is made possible by the hard work of volunteers — many of you included. By investing in the restoration of the cemetery, you are helping to honor the people buried there and to save a vital part of our collective history that might otherwise be lost.

Thank you!

MLK Day of Service at East End

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Volunteers load up the wagon with brush to haul to the road on a recent workday at East End Cemetery. Photo by Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos

We hope you’ll join us on Monday, January 15 — Dr. King’s 89th birthday — for a day of service at East End. It’s going to be cold, but don’t let that stop you! Dress warmly in layers and meet us at the cemetery at noon. Or join Erin and Brian at Oakwood Arts (3511 P Street in Church Hill) at 11 a.m. for coffee, tea, and a brief introduction to the history of East End and the community it served. Volunteers will carpool to the cemetery from there (about a five-minute drive). Tools, water, and light snacks will be provided on-site. We hope to see you there!

WHEN: Monday, Jan. 15, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

WHERE: East End Cemetery (work begins at noon) or, for coffee and a ride to the cemetery, Oakwood Arts (11 a.m.)