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Volunteer catalogues ND State Hospital cemeteries for online research

Shirley Jacobchick, of Bismarck, in 2016 while photograping at the First Congregational United Cemetery in Hebron, N.D., a town in Morton County. Her part-time summer hobby is documenting and photographing North Dakota cemeteries. Courtesy / Shirley Jacobchick

JAMESTOWN, N.D.—A passion for history inspired a Bismarck woman to photograph and research the North Dakota State Hospital cemeteries.

Shirley Jacobchick said she visited the two cemeteries at the NDSH a total of seven times over the past four summers. She photographed more than 2,000 graves and researched the names at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

"I am happy to say I've finished photographing and have created a database, listing the location of each person buried in the cemeteries," Jacobchick said via email. "I've discovered within my pictures names of people the State Hospital does not even have a record of being buried there."

Jacobchick said she took an interest in the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck about 10 years ago and that exposed her to family genealogy research and sparked her interest in other projects.

"It was one of the most interesting and satisfying jobs I've ever had," Jacobchick said.

The research led her to findagrave.com, a website where volunteers post photographs of markers and headstones with information that might be helpful to researchers. She decided to contribute and spent five summers photographing and cataloging 75 cemeteries in Morton, Emmons, McLean, Mercer Grant, Oliver, Stutsman and Burleigh counties, she said.

Jacobchick and her husband photographed every headstone and marker at the State Hospital cemeteries, she said. She created a database to list the location of each burial and created a plot map of the older cemetery where several markers were missing or worn beyond recognition.

The original hilltop cemetery south of the State Hospital opened about a year after the hospital did in 1885. There are 130 graves on about 1 acre of land, said Curt Hofland, grounds and garage supervisor at the State Hospital. The second cemetery has around 2,000 burials on a 50-acre site and burials still occur, he said.

The cemeteries are accessible by a dirt road that requires opening cattle fences. There are steep inclines and a stream crossing is required to reach the older cemetery.

Jacobchick received the list of burials from the State Hospital. She created a database with updated birth and death dates, corrected misspelled names and added plot numbers where they were missing from research she did at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, within the Heritage Center in Bismarck.

"I've corrected as many as I could," Jacobchick said. "I was thinking if someone is looking for a lost relative the correct name and dates would be important."

Spelling errors on headstones occurred many years ago when the names of deceased were taken from patient admissions records where they were sometimes misspelled, said Karla Bachmeier, the administrative assistant for the State Hospital. There were sometimes multiple markers for the same burial when graves were moved to a military section of the cemetery and the old marker was not removed, she said.

Jim Davis, head of reference services at the State Historical Society, said most of the indexes, obituaries and other burial research available on the State Hospital cemeteries were compiled by the late George Barron of Jamestown. The published works were edited by Daphne Drewello, the former director of James River Library System, he said.

Since the database was posted online, Jacobchick said she has received emails from people who thanked her for resources that led to finding a relative who was otherwise lost to history.

"We would welcome the opportunity to visit with Ms. Jacobchick about her findings," said State Hospital Superintendent Rosalie Etherington. "We want to assure that historical information is complete and preserved."

For more information, contact Jacobchick at sjacobchick@yahoo.com. Contact the State Hospital administration office at 253-3964.

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