Lots of stories come with the stones

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, May 9, 2014

JANESVILLE--Residents can gain some insight into the lives of Janesville's early movers and shakers during a Saturday tour.

But don't expect too much moving and shaking. These local business people have resided in Oak Hill Cemetery for quite some time.

Resident Sherry Thurner will lead four “Stories and Stones” walking tours through the cemetery this summer to share the results of her research.

The first is 10 a.m. Saturday at the cemetery, 1725 N. Washington St. Tours are being held the second Saturday of each month through August.

The tours are free, and the historic chapel there will be open.

Thurner loves family history and already had worked her way through her own family's cemetery, Millard Cemetery in Walworth County. She researched and photographed all 550 graves, documenting and recording each on findagrave.com.

Thurner works from genealogical society listings, then verifies those listings by visiting the grave and taking pictures.

Now she has turned her attention to Oak Hill Cemetery and its 24,000 graves.

She continues to add burial sites on findagrave.com, a national database that helps people locate their ancestors.

Thurner, a retired English and speech teacher, figures she's entered about 4,000 Oak Hill sites already, bringing the cemetery's total on the website to about 11,000.

To find the name of someone buried in Oak Hill, Thurner recommends using Google and typing “find a grave Oak Hill Cemetery Janesville WI.” Once at the site, enter the name where indicated.

Thurner loves family history and enjoys learning about the “interesting people who had interesting lives and did lots of interesting things,” she said.

Oak Hill lists plot numbers, which are needed because the cemetery is so big. The area is divided into blocks.

“People can go up and see the deer and the birds,” she said. “It's a very peaceful, beautiful place, and (the stones) have lots of good stories.”

So what kind of stories?

Well, the guy who designed the Packer logo, Gerald Braisher, a former equipment manager, is buried in Oak Hill, Thurner said. A Packer helmet is engraved on his tombstone.

“Who knew?” Thurner said. “It's that kind of stuff you discover.”

Saturday's walk will focus on some of the founders of the city's oldest businesses who are buried in the cemetery.

They include Joshua Gray from Gray Brewing; James Harris, who opened the Janesville Barb Wire Co. Office, now Harris Ace Hardware; and Azel Clarence Hough, who started Hough Shade Corp., which is now HUFCOR.

Most of the men died in the early 1900s.

Some have interesting gravesites while others are more modest, Thurner said.

For Thurner to take interest, “it has to be a good story, a good stone, or both,” she said.

“It's like a treasure hunt.”

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