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Perry County cemetery transitions from the 1800s to the digital age

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OLIVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- The records of a Perry County cemetery are in danger of being lost. The documents date back to the 1800s, and are literally falling apart as time passes.

Fran Wentz, the wife of the caretaker of Newport Cemetery, has been there for about 50 years.

"When somebody calls they need to find somebody buried in such and such a section, I have to think and then I get the blueprint out and start looking," Wentz said.

Those blueprints were drawn on window blinds dating back to the 1800s.

"I'm going to say we were here a good 10-12 years, and the second one I showed you when it started crumbling I said, 'they need to get these redone,'" she said.

The cemetery also uses index cards to record plot information. The president of the Newport Cemetery Association took the blinds and notecards to SEDA-Council of Governments last year. One of their specialties is making maps.

Jim Baker, the chief of the IT group at SEDA-COG said, "He thought that their record keeping was not going to make the leap to the next generation."

The organization scanned the documents to make new blueprints. Baker said some of it had to be filled in with educated guesses.

SEDA-COG took it a couple steps further and created a whole website that was released in March to help locate grave sites easily. The site uses Google maps to help track down the burial locations.

"The public are allowed to see portions of it so they can do genealogy research," Baker said.

The organization also added details to the site.

"In many cases we show not only who they are when they were born or died but we also show comments that were on their tombstones. So some of them you can see were killed in the civil war at a particular battle," he said.

The secretary of the Newport Cemetery Association can modify the website when an addition is made.