19 October 2014

Shockingly new finds

Last Sunday I went cemetery hunting with my friend Bob. Bob is a local professional genealogist and knows where a fair amount of family cemeteries are located. Since I've been trying to locate as many of the cemeteries as I can in Frederick county he's a great asset.

Our first stop was the Clemson Family cemetery just north of Frederick. Somehow I totally missed this one when compiling my directions to all the cemeteries in the area as someone had already given directions on Find a Grave. Still, I confirmed where the cemetery was and was able to get some photos. The cemetery is in need of some serious upkeep as many of the stones have fallen over or are buried.

Our next stop was the Cronice Fundenburg cemetery. Bob knew about this cemetery as it's visible from US-15, but he'd never stopped there before. The stones are in the middle of a field, but fenced off. We next stopped at Mount Prospect Methodist where the Morningstar cemetery was transferred to. There are only two stones, one tombstone and one that's probably a foot stone. If not for Bob I never would have known where it was moved to.

A few weeks ago Bob had talked to someone he knew who used to mow lawns and was told where the Shiloh Methodist Protestant Church cemetery was located. Holdcraft said that the stones were piled in the rear, and now they are laying down and leaning against a fence. Most of the stones are at least in decent shape, though a few are broken.

Shiloh Cemetery

We next went to find the Cock-Grahame cemetery that Bob knew how to find.  This one is located near the Monocacy north of MD 26. We needed to walk through a cow field, which was interesting just to see the cows look at us probably wondering why we're walking through their field.

When we got to the fence which we needed to get over, it turned out it was electrified. Climbing over Bob got shocked but didn't say much about it. When I went to go over I got shocked, and it hurt like hell. I'm not sure if it was because I hit the fence with my keys or I'm just not used to getting shocked like Bob, but it took me a minute to try and get over the fence again, which I did without getting shocked.

The Cock-Grahame cemetery is small, only two stones currently remain, but it does have something I've never seen or even heard about in other places in Frederick county, a vault.

Cock-Grahame Vault
It was empty when I was there, and when Holdcraft wrote his description he was told kids used to take bones from it. I felt like Indiana Jones slipping in to the vault to take a look, notice the 'vines' hanging over the front. I do wonder what the opening above the entrance is for.

Leaving the cemetery I didn't get shocked, though I think Bob might have caught a small jolt. Unfortunately, after tracking through the cow field two ways, ten feet before I  stepped in a cow patty, I guess I'll need to pay attention the whole way and not just 99% of the walk.

After dropping off Bob, he had football to watch it seems, I stopped by two more family cemeteries. The first one was the Stull family along Bethel Road. This cemetery is in a front yard along the road, based upon some photos one stone has been moved, though it is still there. My last cemetery of the day was the Miller family which is also along  the road. Not having seen any photos of the cemetery I can't say for sure, but there is at least one stone missing since Holdcraft did his survey and there is a cement block there to hold a stone.

All in all it was a great day to go looking for cemeteries.

11 October 2014

The things you can learn...

...by actually going out and exploring. Wednesday night I went looking for another family cemetery, this time near Sugarloaf Mountain. Since it was such a nice evening I of course took the bike. The GPS always wants me to take I-270, of course at 5p.m. 270 is packed so I took the back roads.

After getting turned around a time or two, note to self, double check the address, I found the long, gravel driveway I was looking for. Getting to the top of the driveway I was met by two large, friendly dogs, who alerted the owner I was there. She was quite helpful in telling me a bit about the stones, which were overgrown and had been hit by some farm equipment.

When I was done taking my photos and mapping things out I went to say thanks. When I asked if we were in Montgomery or Frederick county she told me both as the line was right on their property. Then she asked me if I would like to see some more history and told me that there was a marker for the county line a few hundred feet away. It seems that when they did the original survey to split Montgomery county from Frederick, every two miles they placed a rather large stone with the distance and F and M carved on it. Fittingly enough as this was the 6 mile marker and the farm was called 6 Mile Farm.

The owner also told me there was another stone not far away near Sugarloaf mountain in a cow pasture. I will need to ride by and check it out. Upon look further there is little information on any other stones, at least on Google. The only other photos I could find was the one in Parr's Spring, which is the corner for the counties of Howard, Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery. There is also speculation that there are markers in the Monocacy river, which is odd since the mouth of the Monocacy is fully in Frederick county.

The 'F' and 'M' are readable, the '6' in the upper left is difficult to read.

The stone stands about 3-4 feet tall.

10 October 2014

A better way to photograph tombstones

Have you ever come across a tombstone that's really hard to read? Ever tried to take a photo of it and tried to play with the contrast and such to try and make it better? Well, there is a better way. If you own a dSLR and a slave flash you can take far better photos as shown in this blog.

Since he's already shown you how to do it I'm going to give some examples of my photos with the different settings and show you some of the problems I've come across and how to hopefully fix them.

I normally carry with me a Nikon D40X to photograph tombstones. Recently, after reading the blog article, I bought a Sunpak flash and a Cowboy Studio flash trigger. I now carry around a tripod to hold the flash.

Here is the same stone with and without the flash. Notice how parts are readable, but with the flash it's far easier to read.

Here are some of the more common problems I've come across and how I've solved them.

Too much sun, sometimes there's just too much sun which keeps the flash from really filling in the stone. Usually that's because the sun is at my back so I also get part of my shadow in the photo as well. My solution, a large golf umbrella. The biggest problem I've had with this so far is the wind blowing the umbrella around forcing me to hold it and take the photo. The other problem is figuring out if I can carry it on the motorcycle or not. I may have to buy a light reflector instead of an umbrella.

Here's the difference:
Without the umbrella, you can see my shadow on the stone. With the umbrella, the stone isn't very readable, but still far more readable then before. Both shot at f/8 1/200.

Another problem I get is having the f-stop closed too much, or not letting in enough light. This is easy enough to spot as the photo will be very dark. Alternatively, if the photo is too bright then the f-stop is open to far. I tend to start my f-stop around 10 and go from there, since it's digital photography you'll know right away if the photo came out and make any needed changes.

On the photo on the left was done at f/4, the one one on the right at f/10.

The hardest problem to figure out is the correct distance and/or angle for the flash. If the flash is too close you will cut the corners off of the stone. If the angle is bad you will get one side of the memorial cut off. Usually pulling the flash back a foot or so will fix the problem. Other times just rotating the head of the flash will help.

Example of flash too close and of flash angled bad. The upper left side of the stone is where all the light went. Notice how much easier it is to read when the light hits at the proper angle, the light also filled in the bottom left side of the stone. Both photos taken at f/7.1 and shutter speed of 1/200.

Another problem is too fast of a shutter speed, at least if the flash can not keep up. The f-stop wasn't changed for these photos, just the shutter speed, from 1/250 to 1/200. Notice the black line on the first photo, the shutter speed was faster then the flash. Both photos taken at f/10. The one on the right was used above as well.


Remember, because digital photos are "free" take as many as you need. I will take 10+ of a stone playing around with different settings until I get one I like, sometimes it's best to not use the flash at all. Sometimes though the stone it so badly worn not all of the original markings will show up and you can only hope that at some point in time someone else will have transcribed the stone. Happy stone hunting.

02 October 2014

Coordinate conversions

Knowing where you want to go is a good thing, but what happens when you're not given a street address but a set of coordinates like this: 39.4511 -077.4981? Most GPS units should have a way that allows you to drive to that set of coordinates, but what if you're given a set of coordinates like this: 39°27'03.96"N 077°29'53.16"W? I believe that most GPS units would be able to handle that as well though I don't use mine this way.

This type of coordinate, 39.4511, is called a decimal degree (DD) of latitude. Because it's positive it's known to be in the northern hemisphere, a negative number would be in the south. A negative longitude means west of the prime meridian. For the most part, unless you're in some parts of Alaska, all coordinates will have a positive latitude and a negative longitude.

This way of writing coordinates, 39°27'03.96"N, is called degree, minutes and seconds (DMS) of latitude. Some people use decimal degrees and others use degree, minutes and seconds. It's easier in the long run to keep to one system.

So, how does one convert between the two? It's actually quite a simple calculation. First we'll go between DMS and DD, then DD and DMS. I'll use 39°27'03.96"N for this example.

Step 1:
Take your seconds, in this case it's 3.96 and divide by 60.

Step 2:
Take the minutes and add the number from the last calcualtion.

Step 3:
Take the last number and divide by 60 again.

Step 4:
Take the degree and add the last number to it and you're done.

To go the other way is the same basic steps just backwards, I'll use -077.4981 in this example.

Step 1:
Take the decimal part of the number, here .4981, and multiply by 60.
Here you've already found your minutes and it's 29, the remaining decimal points are your seconds.

Step 2:
Take the decimal part of the previous number, .886, and multiply by 60 again.

Put those together and you have 77°29'53.16"W, remember the negative means west. This can be done in a spreadsheet, but it's also possible to do with a hand calculator, or you're head if you really want.

Now you can go back and forth between the two systems on the go if need be. This can be useful if you're looking for a cemetery that doesn't have an address, such as smaller family cemeteries. You can also plug either type of coordinates in to Google Maps and it will drop a marker to see where that point is. The coordinates I used in my example is for the High Knob/Main family cemetery just west of Frederick.