Once they finish mapping approximately 3,300 graves in Chenoa Cemetery, Prairie Central High School geography students will have mapped more than 13,000 gravestones across eight cemeteries within the Prairie Central School District.
    PCHS sophomores began mapping the cemetery, located on the eastern edge of Chenoa, at the end of April this semester, but geography teacher Andrew Quain has been organizing this project each semester with his students since fall of 2015.
    To date, students have completely mapped seven cemeteries across McLean and Livingston counties, including St. John Catholic Cemetery (Fairbury), Graceland Cemetery (Fairbury), Chatsworth-Charlotte Cemetery (Chatsworth), Fairview Cemetery (rural Fairbury), Cropsey Cemetery (Cropsey), Pleasant Ridge Cemetery (Wing) and South Apostolic Christian Cemetery in rural Fairbury.
    “For me, as a teacher, it’s really important that we meet classroom education standards,” Quain said. “In geography, it’s all about collecting and using the data. In the past, my students have done a lot of great work, but at the end of the class, there was nothing else we could do with the information. I wanted a project that had lasting power, something that my students could work on and see the results.”
    Once students are finished collecting their data, the information is uploaded to create an interactive map online. Once finished, the map will allow users to search for the location and information of the graves in the cemetery.
    Students also perform geographic analysis and research individuals buried in the cemetery. The map, once completed, will be added to the cemetery project webpage on the Prairie Central website, found at www.prairiecentral.org/highschool/geography-class-cemetery-project. Students’ research data and geographic analysis will be stored in the Prairie Central High School Library and can be made available upon request.
    The biggest addition to the project this year has been GPS devices, which are being used to digitally plot the location of the gravestones. Although it requires the students to spend a little bit more time at the cemetery, Quain said the devices have improved the speed and accuracy of the map-making process at the high school.
    “We used to have to manually place every gravestone marker on the map after finding the graves,” Quain said. “It was a hassle because, when you’re using satellite imagery to make your map, things like trees may cover up a gravestone’s location, making it very difficult to plot on the map. Now, we collect the waypoints while we’re here, upload those right to the map. The GPS data is used to place the markers for us.”
    Sophomore Kirra Gehring has enjoyed collecting data at the cemetery. She reports that the work was relatively easy and the weather has cooperated for the most part. She likes the idea that her research will benefit others.
    “I hope it helps people realize that high school students enjoy helping out the community, too,” Gehring said. “I hope our research will help connect people with their loved ones. I just want people to know that we enjoy doing this because we know it’s something that will benefit the community.”
    Although some of the work is completed more efficiently with the addition of the GPS devices, a majority of the biographical information requires students to study the gravestones and take notes. Additional information collected includes the date of birth, date of death, military service where applicable, damage on the gravestone and any additional information.
    “This has been a great experience,” sophomore Gabby Nagel said. “I think it’s pretty cool that we’re plotting where these people are buried so that they can be found by their loved ones and ancestors.”
    Since starting the cemetery mapping project, Quain has received numerous positive emails from people across the country who are using his students’ website to add information to their genealogy research.
    “Just recently, we had someone stop while we were working out here,” Quain said. “He wanted to know if we could help him find where his relative’s remains were. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help him at that time, but I told him if he checked the website, we would probably have the Chenoa Cemetery information up in a couple of weeks.”
    Like Gehring, Nagel hopes people will benefit from the data they have collected.
    “My personal interest in this project has grown since we started, but I really enjoy being able to do this for other people,” Nagel said. “I hope people will visit the website and check out what we’ve been doing. It’s been a great learning experience.”
    For the latest information on the project, or to visit the finished cemetery websites, visit www.prairiecentral.org/highschool/geography-class-cemetery-project.