A local teenager cleans the gravestones

CLEAR WATER, Wis. (WEAU) – Riley Gaetz, 17, said her family is interested in genealogy and loves learning more about their family tree. So when Riley chose a service project for Eagle Scouts, cleaning gravestones seemed like a fitting fit.

“So when you look at the graves, most of them will have some kind of moss on them,” Riley said. “So by using our D2 product, we can help get that moss out, and then we scrub it off and try to make it look as presentable as possible so a photographer can take a picture of it.”

Riley cleans headstones at Northside Lutheran Cemetery. After cleaning a grave, he adds a photo of the final product to the website, Find a Grave.

“When people die they are sometimes forgotten or it is difficult for families to know where their lost loved ones are, especially if they are further away,” Riley said. “So with this online they can search for their lost and know exactly where they are.”

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

“One of the things when you do a family tree is that you meet undocumented people. A church is burnt down or they are just lost and sometimes the only available records you can find are on their headstone,” Jennifer said. “So I used Find a Grave to find those missing links in our family tree and I know millions of people around the world use it too.”

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

“It is so necessary. So many people are working on their family trees and they’re stuck,” Jennifer said. “It’s not just these people. There are other people who maybe live in another state and they have never seen grandma’s or grandpa’s grave and they can see it now.

As this project helps connect loved ones, Jennifer said it was also great for her family.

“I’m so proud of him,” Jennifer said. “I think it’s an amazing project and I’m really lucky the whole family is really into it and having fun.”

But Riley is just happy doing something he loves.

“I just like to clean up the graves and get down and scrub them,” Riley said. “I like to see the before and after. It shows how much work we really do on the graves.

So far, Riley and her family say they’ve cleaned up around 500 Graces. Before the project ends, Riley said they could clean up to 1,000 graves.

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