Paul Konkle, left, and Allen Manning stand in Maddox Cemetery in Saluda Township, where the two are restoring and repairing historic headstones. Both work with a larger group of volunteers who restore and maintain abandoned cemeteries in the county. Maddox cemetery was directly in the path of the March 2, 2012, tornadoes and had trees scattered throughout the site. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Paul Konkle, left, and Allen Manning stand in Maddox Cemetery in Saluda Township, where the two are restoring and repairing historic headstones. Both work with a larger group of volunteers who restore and maintain abandoned cemeteries in the county. Maddox cemetery was directly in the path of the March 2, 2012, tornadoes and had trees scattered throughout the site. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
When Allen Manning set out to mend his ancestors' headstones, he could not have imagined he would go on to become part of a small taskforce that would repair more than 300 other historic stones in Jefferson County.

Nor could he have imagined that he would travel more than five hours roundtrip to obtain the missing piece of one man's grave marker.

But that's just how things have turned out for Manning, a Madison native whose relatives were some of the city's founding members.

"It really came down to a selfish motive in the beginning to get my relatives' stones fixed," he said. "And then I just went, 'Well, we can continue to do this.'"

Earlier this year, Manning traveled to Troy, Ohio, to uncover the top half of a headstone that belongs to Peter Booth, who was born March 20, 1801, and died Dec. 20, 1873.

It's the oldest documented marker at Booth Cemetery, which is one of the county's black cemeteries.

The top portion of Booth's stone, which shows two people shaking hands, broke off sometime in the 1990s and was feared gone forever.

"They had taken really good care of it," Manning said of the property owners.

Manning is certified to handle historical stones, along with Donna Denning, who serves on the county's cemetery board. The two worked on the Booth Cemetery project together following a request from the Board of Commissioners.

To work in a cemetery, they first gain clearance from the property owners and then the Department of Natural Resources.

"Any time you do any digging or poking around, it's the legal way to go about it," Manning said.

During the project, the two pulled death and birth records "just to learn a little more about who was in there," Manning said.

However, tracking down Peter Booth's stone took some additional investigation skills and patience.

Manning started with a last name and state residence which he had found digging through old property records. He also went on Ancestry.com to investigate the family lineage for others who are buried at Booth.

During the research, he found a possible match in Ohio. From there, he sent out 20 letters to Ohio residents with the same last name identified on the property records.

Then, he waited.

"After about three weeks, I get an email. And it was actually the son of the person who took the headstone," Manning said.

Manning said the man's father, the former property owner of Booth and surrounding area, had taken the stone with the intention of repairing it later and to keep it out of the hands of possible vandals. But as time went on, the man never got around to fixing the stone, and several years later, the stone sat in a garage 140 miles away from its home.

"I think if we would have waited for someone to deliver it back, it may have never returned," Manning said.

The repair process for a broken stone includes gluing the pieces back together and then grouting the area to hide any visible cracks. It can take as many as three days.

Peter Booth's memory is just one of many that Manning, Denning and other volunteers have helped restore.

"A lot of the stones are deteriorated pretty badly," he said. "So basically, it's putting the pieces back together. And you hope you can find all the right pieces."

Manning said the volunteers formed around the time of Madison's bicentennial in 2009, when the local genealogy society was looking for the city's first families. Aside from Denning and Manning, other dedicated volunteers include Joyce Perkins, Paul Konkle, Seger Smith and Juett Stucker.

And over the past few years, the group has helped reset stones and repair others that have sustained substantial damage or have been broken through weather or vandalism.

They've worked in more than 25 public and private cemeteries, focusing on pre-1900 markers. They have also uncovered five previously undocumented family cemetery plots in the county, and they often find undocumented stones in just about every location they work.

"We always look for those kinds of things. Either people just let us know, or we run into them by accident," Manning said.

Most cemeteries are in very remote locations. Maddox Cemetery, which is where volunteers are currently working, is set back 500 yards into a field in Saluda Township.

Following the March 2, 2012 tornados, Maddox Cemetery was a wreck, as fallen trees either knocked over, chipped or smashed a good number of the markers at the site.

"It was dead in the path of the tornado," he said. 'There was only one tree left in the cemetery."

Manning said they hope to complete the work by Memorial Day.

Funds for their projects either come out of the volunteers pockets or through donations. The commissioners give reimbursement through supplies if they request work at specific locations.

Manning said the group is always looking for motivated volunteers or tips on historic damaged stones or lost cemeteries. Those interested can contact him at 812-493-4774

"We just go at one stone at a time," Manning said.