You wouldn’t really think that spending a half a day hanging out with gravestones and mausoleums makes for a fun family trip, but it’s oddly been more or less a pastime of ours as we travel from country to country. It’s interesting to see this aspect of society and how people treat their deceased. We had the opportunity to meet with a missionary couple, Elder and Sister Smith, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who volunteer for the cemetery here in Valparaiso and learn all about what they do there.
We started out with a tour of the cemetery by finding a memorial headstone for Omner Pratt, Parley P. Pratt’s son. The Pratt family was very important to the organization of the church in the 1800s and in 1851 they made the journey to Valparaiso to preach the gospel in South America. Omner was born and died in Valparaiso, only 38 days old, and was buried in the Cementerio de Disidentes. You can read more about their journey and missionary work here. This was a special plaque for us to be able to visit and it’s been enthralling to learn more about their time here!
Elder and Sister Smith continued to show us around the cemetery pointing out the apparent earthquake damage, the unique ways of stacking graves, and the incredible views. As you can see from the pictures, the graves are done above ground and are organized almost like shelves. When someone needs to be buried, they break down the cement at the opening, insert the casket, and then refill the opening with brick and cement. The Smith’s were telling us that they are having a lot of problems with people not paying for their graves that are in use, so the workers have to go and clean them out so they can sell them to others who need them.
After our tour of the cemetery, the Smith’s showed us their office and explained what it is they do as volunteers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They spend Monday through Friday from 8-5pm (with one day off a week for meetings) going through the cemetery record books and taking pictures of each page. Once they’ve taken the pictures for the whole book, they double check each page to make sure it’s straight, it’s in focus, and that there aren’t any fingers or extra pieces of material in the photo. It takes a lot of time, precision, and patience to finish a book, but they have been serving for over a year so they make pretty quick work of it!
Once they have compiled all of the digital images of the book, they send it on to someone else who then proofreads all of the pages before approving the submission and sending it onto church headquarters. After it reaches headquarters, the images are then uploaded and used to complete what is called “indexing.” Indexing, in this instance, refers to digitally recording the information from these images into a database to make doing family history or genealogy work more accessible to anyone in the world. It was incredible learning about the beginning stages of connecting families through several generations!