On May 30, the Herald met with a professor from Minnesota State University-Mankato and his team, whose help was enlisted by Pastor Diane Goulson of Redeemer Lutheran Church outside of Belle Plaine. On July 3, we followed up with them for an update as to what they are finding and what it all means and found that the team was in the midst of plotting data gathered from ground penetrating radars and overlaying it onto mapping software that they will use to create an interactive picture of the space, ideally to include names and dates on each grave site. A subsequent visit with the team on July 31 explores the records kept by a past pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church.

Dr. Ron Schirmer of Minnesota State University’s Archeology, Geography and Earth Sciences (AGES) Research Laboratory, accompanied by Andy Brown, the AGES Lab Data Manager, and graduate students Luke Burds and Ricky Mataitis, filed through the rows of grave sites at Redeemer Lutheran Cemetery. The team was equipped with a handheld imager that uses state-of-the art microprocessors to send and receive information, known colloquially as a cell phone. On July 31, Schirmer and his team were snapping photos of each headstone they had missed in previous passes of the cemetery in order to cross-reference their ground penetrating radar findings with church records more effectively.

The process of placing names to headstones on the surface may appear somewhat simple; all one would need to do is read a headstone and compare it to the well-kept birth, death and sacramental records the church has. But a recent review of the records is creating a bit of a complication for Schirmer and his team.

“I think Pastor Braun, one of the early pastors here, was dyslexic,” Schirmer said from within the cemetery. “Even in the same record, he would flip letters around in some parts.”

This means that Schirmer is encountering two spellings for the same name. As though two spellings weren’t enough, the AGES team has even found a third spelling for what they believe to be the same name on the headstones they are photographing.

The last name “Malz” might be written M-A-L-Z in the records in one spot and M-A-L-T-Z in another. Similarly, “Laabs” has been found to be spelled L-A-A-B-S, L-A-B-S and L-A-B-E-S throughout records. “Stoppelmann” was one of multiple other examples, Schirmer stated.

Pastor Braun, who served at Redeemer from roughly the mid-to-late 1870s, was one of five or so pastors who kept records from within the time frame the AGES Lab is investigating. Where Braun was more likely to change spellings, another pastor was likely to leave out other details he might have included. The discrepancies introduce an age-old archeological quandary, Shirmer stated.

 “Do you record exactly what’s written, or do you fix what you absolutely know are mistakes, and where do you draw the line so that it’s a functional record for the congregation versus recording exactly what’s written?”

Still, Schirmer has no way of knowing the ‘correct’ spellings for the names he’s encountered spelled multiple ways. To fix this problem, the team plans to check with families related to those buried to see how they wish to have their name spelled.

In other cases, names offer no help at all because the headstones have been worn into illegibility. In these cases and when dates remain legible on headstones, the team will rely on the numbered dates found in records.

Schirmer added that it is conceivable in cases in which family documents don’t say otherwise, the spellings used by churches such as Redeemer would have been used to determine family spellings of names, but he did not comment on the likelihood of this being the case.

Keep an eye on future issues of the Herald as we delve into key findings, history and the science of the ongoing project, as well as various facets of the world of archaeology.

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