GUYTON — Fergerson Cemetery has been an unlikely hub of activity for more than a year.
JoAnn Clarke and the Fergerson Cemetery Committee have been trying to identify the occupants of numerous unmarked graves at the site established for Guyton’s Black residents more than a century ago.
“We still have a lot of things that we are trying to find out but we’ve made some progress,” said Clarke, a FindAGrave volunteer.
FindAGrave is a website that allows the public to search and add to an online database of cemetery records. Good, old-fashioned sleuthing has led to the addition of about 10 Fergerson names since Clarke started researching the cemetery in late 2020.
“One of the things that we were able to get from the (Effingham County) Historical Society was a list of everybody who is buried in Fergerson,” Clarke said. “We have been able to see from all of those who we have graves or markers for. We are still working hard on trying to get more identified.”
The land for Fergerson Cemetery was deeded to the City of Guyton by Annie, Minnie and Alice Fergerson in 1907 to be used for “colored” residents. The cemetery is now operated and cared for by the Fergerson Cemetery Committee, which includes Lucy Powell, Pearl Boynes, Robert Hunter and Michael Garvin.
Clarke said only 50 of Fergerson’s graves were listed on FindAGrave when she started on the project. Now there are 496.
Clarke has worked on 10 other cemetery projects but has found Fergerson to be her most gratifying project. It is the only one she devotes time to now.
“It has certainly brought people together to talk about history,” Clarke said. “We can’t just let history die and I think that is a concern for myself even in my own family — genealogy and family information. I don’t want that to die.
“There are fun and important things to learn about people and we need to keep that going.”
The committee has helped Clarke by linking families to loved ones buried at Fergerson. Still, unmarked graves or graves marked by pieces of wood devoid of a name abound.
“(Clarke) has brought attention to Ferguson to us in a different way,” Powell said. “We were concerned about the upkeep and the proper usage of it but since she’s come in and talked about families — we’ve learned more about families and thought more about families. It’s been a rewarding experience for us.”
Clarke has created a binder filled with memorials for every identified person buried at Fergerson.
“One of the cool things that we discovered is that we have a World War I vet buried here in an unmarked grave,” Clarke said. “We are working to get a military headstone for it. I’ve got the paperwork and I’ve been talking to a funeral director in Washington who helped me with my dad’s but I need to get with Mr. Hunter and Smalls Funeral Home because it has to be certified that the headstone will be allowed to be used in Fergerson.
“We don’t know that we have all the documents that the government will require but I was advised to send it in and have them send it back and say, ‘No. You need this and this.’ ”
The cemetery also contains the remains of other wars, including a couple that died in battle.
“I do feel like I know some of these people,” Clarke said. “I will formally meet them when I join them in heaven. Fergerson is in my blood.”
The cemetery has transformed aesthetically over the past year. Some of the weathered gravestones have been painted white and a flag pole was recently added.
“And (Fergerson Cemetery Committee member) Mr. Robert (Hunter) has made little white crosses (out of PVC) that were put on all the unmarked graves,” Clarke said. “That at least puts a mark on them.”
More improvements are in the works.
“One of our goals is to make our roads (inside the cemetery) more solid,” Powell said. “We’re not talking about having them cemented but maybe graveled.”
To contribute to the cemetery, send a check to Fergerson Cemetery Committee, P.O. Box 203, Guyton, Ga. 31312.
People can follow the progress at the cemetery by joining “Friends of Fergerson” on Facebook.