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Fort Myers Cemetery defends record-keeping, plans to go digital

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Fort Myers Cemetery defends record-keeping, plans to go digital

By Matt Grant. CREATED Oct 16, 2012 - UPDATED: Oct 16, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Fort Myers Cemetery is defending their record-keeping after they were temporarily unable to find a man's grave site.

After years of searching, Fox 4 was there when David Johnson said goodbye to his grandfather, Smoot Baskum Johnson.

"I just wish it was, for sure, it was you down there," said Johnson kneeling over the grave site.

But there were still doubts.

Johnson's grandfather was buried in the Fort Myers Cemetery without a headstone in 1965. They were not required at the time.

Nearly 50 years later, Johnson went to pay his respects. But the city couldn't find where his grandfather was buried.

"It was a hell of a thing for me to lose him," said Johnson. "But for them to lose him that's even worse."

Johnson's grandfather was buried somewhere in the northwest corner of Lot 5, according to the city's burial records. After a few days of searching, the city said they identified the spot based on the"legal description" on the burial record.

But Johnson wasn't convinced. So Fox 4 went to the City Clerk who says she's confident they have the right spot.

"Each lot has an address," said City Clerk Marie Adams, "and that's how we locate people."

There are six burial plots in Lot 5, including Johnson's grandfather, and all are accounted for, according to the city.

The city used an old, undated cemetery map to identify the grave site. They also used equipment to confirm there is a coffin buried underneath a pink marker put up the mark the spot.

The original cemetery maps are faded and torn in some parts, dotted with White Out and held together by tape.

"The maps are old but they're still functional," said Adams. "It is an old cemetery we can't change that."

The cemetery's caretaker, Ivor Butcher Jr., says he has a "big magnifying glass" he uses to read the maps.

Which is why the city is in the middle of a one-year, $40,000 project to digitize the cemetery's records. The project has been in the works for two years, Adams said, when asked if this was being done because of the mix-up over Johnson's grandfather.

"The records are old," said Adams defending their record-keeping, "but they're never outdated."

The cemetery's records will eventually be available online along with the original copies. The city says this will make it easier for families to locate their loved ones. 

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com