9/1/2005 11:48:00 PM Genealogist gets national recognition
Judy Branson walks through Odd Fellows Cemetery studying tombstones. The September issue of Good Housekeeping magazine features Branson’s findings.
By JOANNA DODDER The Daily Courier
By JOANNA DODDER
The Daily Courier
As many as 250 million people now know about Judy Wight Branson’s quest to record every grave site in Yavapai County to preserve their vital historical information.
The September issue of Good Housekeeping magazine features a story about Branson’s work, alongside a Daily Courier photo that accompanied an October 2004 Courier story about her. The cover of Good Housekeeping claims a readership of 250 million people each month.
The magazine called Branson in January after seeing the Daily Courier story on the Associated Press wire, and interviewed her about a dozen times before printing the short story, Branson said.
“They thought it was unusual enough to pursue,” Branson said. “Not everyone takes pictures of headstones.”
Not surprisingly, the story spurred a new round of e-mails to Branson to go along with those she received after The Daily Courier story that subsequently went on the AP wire.
“We are doing the same thing here in northeast Pennsylvania,” wrote Patricia Matthews after reading the story. “It’s high time that genealogy got recognized as a true art, rather than an ‘illness’ as my children call it.” Matthews is on the Plymouth Historical Society board.
Sylva Rhodes wrote Branson to say she found her great-great-grandparents’ gravestones through the Madison County, Iowa, Gravestone Photo Project Web site. Branson also worked on that project after finding out that her ancestors lived there.
Rhodes said she is doing the same work in Alfalfa County, Okla.
“I got started in 2003, and have completed one small cemetery,” Rhodes wrote. “Gradually I am getting a few more interested. As your article states, it is fun.”
Several people let her know about remote, historic gravesites in Yavapai County after reading The Daily Courier story.
At least one person volunteered to help photograph them, and he already has made headway on the approximately 10,000 headstones at the Mountain View Cemetery in Prescott, Branson said. Another volunteer already recorded about 9,000 headstones in the Verde Valley.
Back in October, Branson and her husband Wayne had photographed and recorded about 5,600 Yavapai County gravestones, and now she estimates that number has topped 13,000.
Branson also has a backlog of gravestone information to add to the Arizona Gravestone Photo Project Web site at www.arizonagravestones.org. A link to that site and many more with Yavapai County genealogical information is on the local GenWeb site at www.rootsweb.com/~azyavapa. That site includes quite a bit of information from the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, for example.
What drives people such as the Bransons to volunteer all that time photographing gravestones?
“They hold genealogical information,” Branson said. “Putting them on the Web site has connected people with their relatives’ final resting site where they’d never find it and if they did, they wouldn’t know how to get there.”
As the Bransons’ work continues, she has concluded that Yavapai County has more graves than she originally thought, and she might be only halfway done.
“It’s really hard to say how many there are,” Branson said. “I haven’t done, shall we say, a head count.