February 2023 Ground Penetrating Radar Project

One of the first major efforts in a renewed and enhanced plan to restore and preserve the historic Big Fork Cemetery was a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) mapping project (February 2023) to determine how many burials occurred in the cemetery and where those burials are located.  In 1936, approximately 118 graves were thought to be in the cemetery.  Between 1936 and 1965, some additional burials were conducted there but probably not nearly enough to make up the gap between 118 and the 179 discovered there prior to the 2023 GPR mapping.  So, even in 1936 some of the older graves must have been undiscoverable by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) researchers.  Thanks to ground penetrating radar, we now know the remains of at least 389 people are interred in the Big Fork Cemetery.

The 1936 cemetery researchers reported that the oldest grave was marked 1853.  While that may have been true of graves with marked dates, we now know that the oldest burial in the cemetery probably occurred there prior to 1810, given what we know about the 1807 origin of the Big Fork Baptist Church with which the cemetery was identified.  

The February 2023 GPR Project

The Big Fork Historic Cemetery Corporation employed GPR expert, Len Strozier, President of Omega Mapping Services, to locate previously unknown burials in the cemetery and map the site.  At the time Len mapped the Big Fork Cemetery in February 2023, he had already evaluated 900,000 burial spaces of which more than 175,000 unmarked burials were discovered, marked, and mapped.

GPS-locating some of the graves that are outside of the part of the cemetery that was enclosed by fencing in about 2000.

Summary of the GPR Findings

  • 210 formerly unmarked and unknown graves discovered by GPR
  • Approximately 90 of these are graves of children below about age 10
  • 40+ corpses buried in caskets and one in a vault; all others buried in shrouds such as quilts or blankets, etc.
  • Previously known graves = 176 + GPR located graves = 210 = Total of about 386 burials in the 0.9-acre historic cemetery
  • More than half of the 386 graves in Big Fork Cemetery have no markings of any kind and were discovered by ground penetrating radar

Some Common Questions Answered

In the following video (14:31 minutes), Len Strozier explains:

  1. How Ground Penetrating Radar works.
  2. How he can determine if the person buried in a grave was a child or an adult?
  3. How he can determine what the person was buried in – wooden casket, metal casket, or a shroud (blanket, sheet, etc.)?
  4.  In what direction graves are arranged in Bible-influenced cultures?  And why?

The 389 Graves in the Big Fork Historic Cemetery

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