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Cincinnati State Land Surveying capstone project helps Big Bone Baptist Church find unmarked graves

Big Bone Baptist Church cemetery. (Photo provided)

Big Bone Baptist Church on Big Bone Church Road in Boone County has teamed up with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College Land Surveying program to establish the boundary of the church property and start gathering the names on all the headstones.

Over time, records have disappeared and headstones have faded. With such a daunting task, others from the community have come together to help.

On November 23, 1843, James R. Hawkins, Robert Huey, Samuel Mason, John Johnson, and Jacob Hardesty as trustees of the Baptist Church of Christ along with John Wallace first brought together lands for what is now the Big Bone Baptist Church. Over the years several others have contributed to its growth such as Erastus and Lizzie Garrison, G.W. Huey, and Norman and Martha Adair. Despite the contributions and dedication of those over the last 178 years, the knowledge of everyone who is buried at the Big Bone Baptist Church Cemetery is fading.

From left to right: Cincinnati State students Darrick Davidson, Macalister Keeley, Bryant Favors, Joseph Ernst, Levi Exline, Gunnar Seig, Jessica Lyttle, Shane Strotman. Not pictured: Jeff Kraus (Photo provided)

In a hope to restore records, Big Bone Baptist Church member Lisa Anglin joined with Cincinnati State survey students and professors, Carol Morman, Ed.D., P.E., P.S. and Jim Decker, P.S. to begin work on the project. The survey students were tasked with researching and determining the boundary of the church’s property and to start gathering information from the headstones to be mapped and databases.

The project is set up to be a three-year project with each spring semester a different class working on another section of the cemetery. The group of students participating in this is the final project capstone class for graduating surveying students from Cincinnati State’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Land Surveying program.

The first class focused on the oldest section of the cemetery. Due to the deterioration of the headstones and with many of them having been moved from their original locations, a team from ESP Associates, Inc. from North Carolina using ground-penetrating radar came to locate burial sites. Anglin has also reached out to have the headstones cleaned and restored. Future classes will be focusing on the newer sections of the cemetery.

In addition to collecting information from the headstones, the students will create a topographic map showing the contours and features of the land. These contours will also be gathered using a Lidar drone.

Survey students from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College work to establish Big Bone Baptist Church’s boundary. (Photo provided)

To determine the boundary of the Big Bone Baptist Church’s property, there were discussions with church members, local surveyor Edwin Kirkpatrick, and hours of searching the property and combing through the records at the Boone County Clerk’s Office. Some parts of the church’s properties and neighbor’s properties’ histories were easy to trace and verify while others required further research.

The Church’s property was determined by its deeds, previous surveys, and evidence on site described in those deeds and surveys. Once the students are finished with the project, a local surveyor, Tom Bushelman, PLS, will verify the boundary and the church can have one new deed prepared and recorded that describes their entire boundary rather than having multiple deeds describing multiple pieces. This will take care of any future questions of who owns what and where.

Future plans for the church include a formal database of the cemetery, and future plans of the Cincinnati State students are to join the land surveying workforce and head toward professional licensure in the tri-state area. With Anglin stepping forward and taking an interest in preserving the history of her church, hopefully, it will spark interest in others to take up the call.

Through many hands, the Big Bone Baptist Church and the community can reconnect with their history and ancestors.

The project was completed as part of the requirements of the Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Land Surveying at Cincinnati State. The Surveying Capstone course is one of the final courses that students in the program take to show their proficiency in land surveying before graduation.

For more information about the program, please visit www.cincinnatistate.edu. A video of the final presentation is available on Youtube.

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College

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