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Interesting Hobby: Searching Out Cemetery Records
Seventy-four year old Fred Kraege of Whitewater, Wis., created an interesting retirement hobby for himself by "digging up the past." He has so far researched 31 local cemeteries and compiled seven books at his own expense. His books are so detailed they now serve as a valuable source of data to genealogists and other people seeking information about deceased family members.
Kraege first found out there was a need for such information in 1985, when his mother passed away. He couldn't believe how poor the records were at many cemeteries.
"Since I love history, and I don't care much for TV, I just developed an interest in it. I was looking for something to pass the time, and this, I thought, was something worthwhile that needed doing," Kraege says.
He starts by traveling to a cemetery with a notebook, drawing his own map of the place, and writing down all of the information he can find etched into gravestones.
After typing up the information, he spends long hours in local libraries, searching through newspaper obituaries on microfilm, in an attempt to record the most complete information possible. He also spends a lot of time in courthouses, studying the death records there. When he can't find the exact day and month on which a person died, he includes that fact in his records to prevent others from repeating his efforts.
The smallest cemetery he has researched had about 150 graves in it and the largest had more than 8,500. The oldest marker he has found was dated in 1837 and the oldest person's grave was one of a 110 year-old woman.
Kraege finds that about one-fifth of the people buried in cemeteries can no longer be identified because of crumbled or missing gravestones.
One of his six books is devoted to information on people who are presumed buried, but whose locations are unknown.
"It was interesting work because I learned so much about history and the people who have been buried in this area of the state," he says. "I've always been fascinated with George Esterly, the most prominent man that ever lived around here. He invented the famous Esterly Harvester and turned it into a highly successful business. He later moved it to Minneapolis, but after his death, he was buried in Whitewater along with many of his family members."
Kraege's cemetery record books are available at various libraries and historical societies, as well as at the Genealogical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. He enjoys helping people to preserve their histories so much that when people call him at home, he will often meet them at the Whitewater Public Library to assist them in finding what they're looking for.
In recognition of his efforts, he has been honored by both the City of Whitewater and the State of Wisconsin.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Fred Kraege, 529 S. Gault, Whitewater, Wisconsin 53190 (p.h 262 473-4899).

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2001 - Volume #25, Issue #5