AZTEC — Finding beloved family members can now be done with the click of a mouse.
Aztec Cemetery, established in 1890, just made its records and history available online. The debut website launched last month.
Prompted by calls and emails for information on birth and death dates, plot locations, deed owners and burial costs, caretaker and treasurer Joe Price and his wife Earlene knew they needed help.
"Many people, near or far, wanted access to the information that we have available at the cemetery," Earlene Price said. "A lot of times they were not able to visit, so providing records on computer made sense."
Prompted by Earlene's suggestion, the Aztec Cemetery Association's board of directors voted in favor of an online presence for the cemetery.
Then Earlene and Joe sought help to create a website. The couple turned to Dale Anderson.
Anderson's business, Aztec Media, created the cemetery site for free.
According to webmaster Daniel Hise, the site's pages have been viewed nearly 300 times in the handful of weeks it has been online.
"I hope we see more Internet visitors," Earlene said. "I would like to hear what they think of the site. They can write a post on the comment page if they have any questions or ideas."
The interactive site allows users to search graves by name for section and row location.
The interment listing also includes death and birth dates and, if available, additional details on a plot's marker, if ashes are present, or if a baby is buried.
"I do genealogy myself so I have long thought it was important to organize all the information to make it easier for people to search for a relative, order a stone or to make a donation for the upkeep of a grave," she said.
According to Earlene, the process of cataloguing the cemetery's records has been a collective effort from the start.
Patricia Elmore, owner of the Thrifty Nickle, originally volunteered to begin the process of transferring records onto a computer.
"A few years later, an Aztec High School student expanded the information," she said. "Since then, I have tried to keep the records updated, adding new information when available."
Joe, who also serves on the board of directors, hopes it makes a difference for people looking for their own relatives, or for those interested in learning about the rural cemetery's history.
Large cemeteries did not exist in San Juan County before the mid-1800s. Most plots were small or connected in yards beside churches, records show.
With a current population near 2,600, Aztec Cemetery has expanded numerous times and as recently as 2000 to include a southern portion across a ditch from the original site, Earlene said.
And like neighboring land used by the living, its growth was formed haphazardly at times.
But it is the human stories that make the cemetery an historical resource that speaks vividly of the community's past.
The Web site's history page, written by former high school principal Joe Boettcher, details the formation of the cemetery not long after its first burial, for two-year-old Edgar Koontz.
Searching through the Web site for names of Aztec's past can produce surprising and intriguing results.
Alphabetically arranged online, the final resting place for many of the cemetery's residents reveals a Civil War veteran who dug his own grave, seven San Juan sheriffs (and a number of outlaws, too), and a man who lived in three different centuries known as "Uncle Jimmy" (1798-1903).
And then there is the tragic story of the ironically named Boat family whose eldest son, on a trip to Durango, decided to keep the dollar toll fee for spending money and ford the river. The mother and youngest daughter were drowned and later buried together in a single grave.
The Boat family headstone can be found on the main road leading into the cemetery, about 10 rows east on the south side of the road.
Over the past few years, the number of burials has averaged between 25 and 30, Earlene said. At some point, the cemetery will have to confront the finite space it has.
Until then, Earlene is eager to keep the database of interment history growing. "I try to continue to collect information on the deceased, especially harder-to-find birth records," she said.
When the Prices took over care of the cemetery, they inherited a daunting amount of boxes full of records. Earlene hopes to make those available online before donating them to the Aztec museum.
"People think of cemeteries as being morbid, scary places," Earlene said. "But it is quite the opposite. The history and the stories of the lives lived from pioneers to present, is pretty amazing when you start to take a look."
The cemetery Web site can be found online at azteccemetery.org.