Local teen cleans gravestones

Published: Jul. 30, 2022 at 6:38 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - 17-year-old Riley Gaetz said his family is interested in genealogy and likes to learn more about their family tree. So, when Riley was choosing a service project for Eagle Scouts, cleaning gravestones just seemed to fit.

“So, when you’re looking at the graves, most of them will have some kind of moss on them,” Riley said. “So, using our D2 product, we can help clear away that moss and then we just scrub it and try to get it as presentable as we can so a photographer can take a picture of it.”

Riley is cleaning gravestones at the Northside Lutheran Cemetery. After cleaning a grave, he adds a picture of the final product to the website, Find a Grave.

“When people die, sometimes they’re forgotten about or it’s hard for families to find out where their lost loved ones are, especially if they’re further away,” Riley said. “So, with this being online, they can look up their lost one and find out exactly where they’re at.”

Jennifer Wilson-Gaetz, Riley’s mom, said she used the Find a Grave website while looking into her family history.

“One of the things, when you’re doing a family tree is you run into people where there’s no paperwork on them. A church is burned down or they’re just lost and sometimes the only available records you can find them is on their gravestone,” Jennifer said. “So, I’ve actually used Find a Grave to find those missing links in our family tree and I know that millions of people worldwide use it as well.”

The weekend of July 23 and July 30, Riley and his family spent time at the cemetery, cleaning the gravestone of a complete stranger while helping people around the world connect with their ancestors.

“It’s so needed. So many people are working on their family trees and they get stuck,” Jennifer said. “It’s not just those people. There’s other people who maybe live in another state and they’ve never seen Grandma or Grandpa’s grave and they can see it now.”

As this project helps connect loved ones, Jennifer said it’s been great for her family too.

“I’m so proud of him,” Jennifer said. “I think this is an amazing project and I’m just really blessed that the whole family is really into it and we’re having fun.”

But Riley is just happy to be doing something he enjoys.

“I just enjoy cleaning the graves, going down and scrubbing them,” Riley said. “I love to see the before and after. This just shows how much work we’re really doing on the graves.”

So far, Riley and his family said they have cleaned around 500 graces. Before the project is over, Riley said they could clean up to 1,000 graves.

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