BY KIRK STARRATT
Kings County Advertiser/Register
After a half-decade of keeping his identity a secret, the man responsible for placing mysterious genealogical messages in Kings County cemeteries has finally stepped out of the shadows.
Genealogist and Kings Historical Society volunteer Wayne Baltzer of Centreville, who revealed himself at the Kings County Museum last week, felt there should be some sort of closure. Also on hand at the museum for the big reveal was Kings Historical Society president Maynard Stevens. Although Stevens was not involved with the messages, curator Bria Stokesbury said she thought it was important to have him on hand: lots of people assumed he was behind the project.
Baltzer says the idea of leaving genealogical messages in cemeteries just occurred to him. There had been several instances of vandalism in local cemeteries, and he wanted to do something to put cemeteries in a positive light.
Hopefully, he says, more people decided as a result to visit and appreciate cemeteries, or look into their own family histories. He also hopes more people were directed to the county museum to take advantage of the vast resources available in the genealogy department.
Baltzer placed about 25 mysterious messages over five summers. He says he probably researched 35 or more notable county residents of the past, visiting a cemetery and choosing a handful of people to research. If he found enough information to produce a message, he would.
“I hope people took from it what I hoped they would and do some genealogy on their own,” he said. “I’ll miss not doing this.”
Over the five years, he experienced a difficult period in his personal life, losing his job and then working to further his education. He credits the cemetery message project for motivating him. Baltzer thanks everyone for taking such a keen interest in the initiative.
In the summer of 2006, a story on the mysterious cemetery messages first appeared in The Advertiser, after Stokesbury brought the phenomenon to the paper’s attention. Baltzer was even anonymously interviewed over the telephone.
In the summer of 2007, the messages resurfaced. Another story ran in The Advertiser. It and a corresponding video featuring a museum summer student ran on NovaNewsNow.com and became the most viewed item on the website at the time. The story was picked up by national TV, and Baltzer granted Canada A.M. another anonymous interview. A genealogical magazine in England then picked it up and ran a condensed version of The Advertiser article.
The phenomenon continued each summer until 2010, with a story appearing each summer in the local press. Baltzer says having museum summer students featured in the press articles and online videos seemed to pique the interest of a younger generation.
“I never dreamed it could be that big,” he says.
Stokesbury is a little sad to see the project come to an end, but it was a fun to be involved. It was a wildly successful story for the museum and, in a way, helped put the Kings Historical Society on the map. It was exciting for everyone involved, a once-in-a-career type of project for her as a curator.
“He’s found a way of bringing graveyards and family history to life for people in a new and exciting way,” she says.
She commends Baltzer for having the interest to continue with a project of this magnitude on his own as a volunteer over a five-year period. She says it’s an initiative to be celebrated and applauded.
A new project is born
Although Baltzer will no longer be leaving mysterious genealogical messages in county graveyards, he already has another project in the works: cataloguing tombstones in Kentville’s Oak Grove Cemetery. He is trying to match grave markers with obituaries. Once completed, he plans to produce a book and give a copy to the museum and the cemetery. He decided to take this on after conversing with cemetery caretaker Gerald Ward, who was receiving a lot of requests for information from the public. The cemetery has a map, and gravestones located there were catalogued as part of a Kings Historical Society initiative in the 1980s; however, the two documents don’t match. By taking digital images of the headstones and saving and organizing them, it’s another layer of preservation. So far Baltzer has collected “only” 719 digital photos of gravestones and 696 obituaries. One reason he chose the Oak Grove Cemetery is the graveyard is essentially full. The only way to get in now is to be cremated, or if you happen to still have part of a family plot available.