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Grad Student Searching for Historic Grave Sites

June 29, 2005 – If you know where an old cemetery might be tucked back in the St. John bush, both in and outside the V.I. National Park, Helen Blouet wants to know.
Blouet, who is working on her doctorate in anthropology at Syracuse University, will be on St. John through August to map known cemeteries, old graves and places of remembrance on St. John.
"The terrain was difficult, so it was very practical to have your own cemetery on your own property," she said Tuesday.
While a few cemeteries, like the one located on the trail behind the Cinnamon Bay ruins are well known, others are far off the beaten path.
Blouet said properties may have changed hands many times, so members from several families may be buried there.
When she's finished looking for cemeteries within the park, she'll start searching outside. Eventually, the project is expected to grow to include St. Thomas and St. Croix.
"The majority of the research is in the park because we're funding it," park archeologist Ken Wild said Tuesday.
He said that when the project expands beyond park boundaries, the Planning and Natural Resources Department will become involved.
He said that information gathered on Blouet's project will help with the park's educational and interpretive programs. Additionally, he said that knowing where the graves are located will allow them to be preserved.
Wild said that in some cases, people buried in the graves have family still living on St. John.
Blouet said that while many of the known older cemeteries contain the remains of Europeans, those of slaves and West Indians may not be well marked. Additionally, not all headstones have names on them.
She said she's located three burial sites at Salt Pond with headstones made of coral, but they don't indicate who is buried there.
"That's part of the mystery," she added.
She said she hopes to track them down by looking at church and property records.
Blouet added that she's also looking at how cemeteries were managed. She said that in some instances graves were updated overtime.
Blouet's project is an offshoot of Syracuse University's computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping project, begun last summer by Syracuse professor Doug Armstrong and his students. Blouet was a member of that team.
She is using Global Positioning System technology to map where the cemeteries are located.
Blouet is currently an intern at the park in a program funded by the Friends of the Park group.
Friends president Joe Kessler said Wednesday that the group supports such projects because it helps to tell the story of the island's cultural history.
Blouet, 26, cut her anthropological teeth while growing up in Virginia. She spent the summer after her first year at the College of William and Mary on an archeological project at the Jamestown Colony. Other summer projects at Bermuda and Colonial Williamsburg followed.
Anyone with information on a cemetery is asked to call Blouet on her cell phone at 1-315-882-2689 or leave a message at 777-4230. She can be reached via e-mail.
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