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Interview with Susan Doyle, a Save our Graves volunteer

Posted by Sean Daly on May 15, 2024
Photo of interviewee Susan Doyle with notebook and microphone

May 24-26 is Save our Graves weekend, when we encourage Geneanet members to document local cemeteries. Here is an interview with Susan Doyle, who has photographed over 22,000 graves and memorials in Australia!

Geneanet’s Save our Graves project was begun from a simple observation: in Europe and elsewhere, grave plot leases expire and graves disappear. In some places, graves have perpetual care purchased outright, but are not well-tended. Some cemeteries are abandoned; others have records no doubt somewhere, but no one knows where. With Save our Graves, Geneanet volunteers photograph graves (sometimes with more than one photo, so that lettering is visible), upload them, then other Geneanet members index them. Photographers can index their own photos too! The whole community benefits: genealogists finding birth and death dates of several people, family members living far away who have not seen the family plot for many years, people planning a visit to a cemetery who can see what it looks like beforehand.

Geneanet member Susan Doyle contacted us last summer and told us about how she had been photographing cemeteries in Australia for years. We asked her if she would consider uploading these to Geneanet, she agreed and we helped her create dozens of cemeteries in our system which didn’t exist yet. She has uploaded over 22,000 grave photos so far!

Geneanet member Susan Doyle.

Susan Doyle answers our questions

Q. Please tell us about yourself, and your interest in genealogy?

Susan Doyle: I started researching with my mother after she told me about a comment her grandfather had made after receiving a letter from a solicitor: “If he didn’t want to know me when he was alive, I don’t want to know anything now”. Back then the only research  was on microfiche and was really time-consuming. However, I stuck at it and I’ve only recently solved that puzzle, the man who is noted on his birth cert is not his father, when he was quite young his mother ran off with her 2 children to be with his natural father, although I don’t think he ever knew that. DNA has recently proved it for me.

Q. You have made important contributions documenting cemeteries. How did you develop your interest in cemeteries?

Susan Doyle: After a trip to a cemetery to track down my husband’s family buried in Woods Point, Victoria, which was along a windy very rutted road, my husband said he was never coming back here so photograph everything you want. So I took the whole cemetery, then it became an obsession everytime we went and found a small town cemetery.

Q. How about your camera, do you use a smartphone, or separate camera, or both?

Susan Doyle: I have always preferred to use my camera, it provides better quality images and it’s easier to transfer files directly from the SD card afterwards.

Q. Do you have a favorite cemetery, or tomb you can tell us about?

Susan Doyle: Not really a favorite, however seeing a well tended one is heartwarming. I have photographed and transcribed Greta Cemetery where Ned Kelly is buried in an unmarked grave, apparently approximately 5 holes were dug to foil looters or vandals and his coffin was cemented then into the ground. The 3 policemen who lost their lives are buried in Mansfield with headstones supplied by the state and there is a large memorial to them in the centre of town.

Susan’s photo of the Mansfield memorial to the three policemen slain by the Ned Kelly gang in 1878.

Q. What led you to Geneanet as a place to share your cemetery photos?

Susan Doyle: I have used Geneanet for many years, back when it was just a place to host your tree and find others with to share info with. I did upload data to Find-a-Grave but I find it difficult to upload the photos there so I’m happy now to work with Geneanet as its headstones are a really useful source of family information.

Q. Have you gotten any feedback about your work? What has been your greatest satisfaction about your contributions?

Susan Doyle: A number of the local Historical Societies have been interested in what I’m doing and I’ve supplied them with the end results. Also as many headstones are falling into disrepair, are damaged, overgrown or become unreadable I feel it’s very important to conserve the information. I get satisfaction from helping with this, especially as I feel I’m paying it forward as most of my research is UK based and I rely on others to do the same to help me.

Q. For someone considering starting a similar project, what advice or encouragement would you give them?

Susan Doyle: It’s a very rewarding pastime, makes you appreciate all we have when you see the obvious hardship and sadness that many people have gone though in their lives, some headstones listing so many names or tragedies.

We want to thank Susan for responding to our questions and for her important contributions to Save our Graves!


Ian TROTT (lyneian)  

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My wife and I have uploaded over 20,000 photos to Findagrave but we do not keep them once uploaded so cannot pass to Geneanet. We are in Ontario, Canada.
Wish the two would work together.
Keep up the good work.

Hello Susan, my name is Kevin Gorry -Ware, I never found out my birth name was Ware until I was getting married and then the truth had to come out for the paper work to be sorted back in 1971, and it strained my relationship with my mum for a long time never mind she had her reasons you can’t change the past then I started to research my family tree for the real facts and I am proud of what I have found, I have since visited many old cemeteries around Bendigo, Heathcote, Rushworth, Maldon, I have written a number of poems on my travel’s and one I would like to share that goes like this:

Your grave site is lost amongst the grass so tall
and if I hadn’t searched so hard I wouldn’t have found at all,
no monument or marker to say that you have been
knowing I am your flesh and blood even though I haven’t seen,
no tomb stone standing this site for anyone to view
how many people stood around that mourned and cried for you,
and as the years go passing by you slip further down the chain
the only thing about it all I still share your name.

Regards Kevin

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