Volunteers find 700 unmarked graves in Grand Island cemetery

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A group of volunteers with the Hall and Merrick County Historical Societies are spending a lot of time in a cemetery, and not just for Halloween.

People with both societies have been working with Hall County to find unmarked graves in the East Grand Island Cemetery.

They initially thought they would find about 40 graves, but have uncovered about 700 so far.

"The first day we were out there we were armed with about 24 crosses that we thought we were going to put on the graves," said Michelle Setlik, a board member with the Hall County Historical Society. "When we started walking the cemetery we kept getting hit after hit after hit after hit. That first day we had about 150 graves that we found."

They used a dowsing rod and metal detector to uncover the graves. They found 25 rows of unmarked graves, and marked each one with a cross.

They then placed a flag by each grave, and used a brick to mark its location.

"I think a lot of them are immigrants, pioneers, farmers. I think there is a combination of people form Hall County, Merrick County. We do know some of the marked graves have Hall County and Merrick County graves in them. So I think it's a lot of farming families," Setlik said.

The societies took on the project after a community member expressed concerns about the upkeep of the cemetery.

After doing some research, they think the cemetery dates back to the first person who settled in Grand Island in the 1850s.

"The history of a community is buried in its cemeteries. And when we remember that and we respect that, and we recognize that the people lived and died here. Mothers buried their babies on the prairie. You know it was hard living here during those early days. They deserve to be respected," Setlik said.

She said so far, the volunteers have gone through ten of the 25 rows. She said they could find up to 1,800 graves by the time they're finished.

They are planning on creating a map of the cemetery once they have found all the graves to show the location of the people buried there.

The Hall County Historical Society is also collecting donations to repair the fence and sign at the cemetery.