Glenn Wallace has a passion for cemeteries.
Like many amateur genealogists, he tracks obituaries and spends time on Ancestry.com. Unlike most, he spends six to eight hours per day — in addition to his day job as a graphic illustrator — working to archive the roughly 5,500 burials in Beallsville’s Monocacy Cemetery.
“A lot of people are interested in genealogy,” said Wallace, 48, of Montgomery Village. “I'm just taking it a few hundred steps further.”
The cemetery, which is located in the small community outside Poolesville, has existed under many names since before the Revolutionary War, according to a book about the cemetery by genealogist Elizabeth Frain.
Although Monocacy originally was associated with an Episcopal church, during the Civil War Union soldiers damaged the chapel on the grounds beyond repair. The land became a public cemetery unaffiliated with a church, although a chapel, donated by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1915, remains on the grounds, according to Frain’s book.
Through his research, Wallace has compiled a sort of history of Poolesville, he said. He’s learned the stories of some of the town’s founding families, including the Darbys, Joneses, Williamses, Griffiths, Pooles and Bealls. In the process of contacting family members of the buried to get more information about their ancestors, he’s introduced second and third cousins.
He sees his project as creating a resource for those hoping to learn about their ancestors.
“Someday, someone might consider finding their relatives’ history,” Wallace said. “To them I say, ‘You’re welcome.’”
The cemetery is a resting place for many Confederate soldiers, whose graves are marked with iron crosses. Even so, no person is honored more than another in the cemetery, Wallace said.
J. Edward Day, the U.S. postmaster general during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, is listed on the website FindaGrave.com as the only famous internment in Monocacy, although he has one of the smaller headstones.
“We have Facebook. If I wanted, I could look through a stranger’s photos,” he said. “The people buried here didn’t have that, but they have faces, they have stories. I’m sure they had a story they would have posted on Facebook.”
Wallace completed an architectural thesis in cemetery design at Catholic University in 1987. Faculty there declared his project, in which he designed a hypothetical cemetery called “A Garden of Death and Reflection” for the National Arboretum, the best in his graduating class. He’s been fascinated by the gardening and landscaping of cemeteries since he studied in Europe during college.
Wallace began his archiving project six years ago by volunteering on FindaGrave. He recently had made an account on the free website, which functions as a repository for ancestry records and burial information, and volunteered to take a photo of a gravestone in Monocacy Cemetery.
The cemetery entranced him.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I could stand out here forever photographing these graves,’” Wallace said. “And then I did.”
The cemetery’s caretakers gave him an old vinyl tablecloth with a cryptic hand-drawn grid of the burial plots. Wallace has created a numbered map on the computer and estimates he’ll be done with his project by 2013. Although he doesn’t know what his next step will be, he dreams of designing a cemetery.
Scott Smiley, a friend, said Wallace always has maintained a passion for genealogy.
“If he drives by a cemetery and a stone has fallen over, he gets so upset,” Smiley said. “He’ll go in and ask someone if the cemetery can be cleaned up, if he can help.”
Wallace uses an iPad and digital camera to photograph headstones and record name spelling and other information.
Several gravestones in Monocacy are cracked, faded or broken, while some consist of nothing more than small pieces of rock carved with initials.
This past spring, portraits and photos of those buried in the cemetery began coming in from family members of the deceased, Wallace said, adding word of his project had begun to spread through the community.
The stories of the buried vary from the mundane to the fantastic. The grave of a Revolutionary War soldier is next to the resting site of a 30-year-old man from Scotland. The cemetery contains the remains of wealthy families and at least one torn apart by money: a son, now buried there, killed his sister because he wanted to inherit his father’s entire fortune, Wallace said.
Frain’s book included information from burial cards and gravestones. Wallace has worked to archive the “heck of a lot of burials since then.”
Ethel Sellman, the registrar for the John Poole Association of genealogy, has sent Wallace hundreds of photos of past Poolesville residents, including those she collected in the 1980s. She’s encouraged friends and members of the organization to send Wallace photos.
“I think it’s unbelievable, astonishing, fabulous,” she said of his efforts. “Everyone says they can’t believe the work he’s put into this. I just think we lucked out.”
Wallace purchased his own burial plot at the cemetery in December.
“I’ll be happy to be here,” he said. “I know the stories of the people buried here. It’ll be very similar to a family reunion.”
Readers interested in contributing stories or family portraits to Wallace's project can email firstname.lastname@example.org.