When Jerry Murphy walks through Magnolia Cemetery or Cedar Grove Cemetery, he doesn’t simply see rows of monuments with names and dates. He thinks of the people who once lived in Augusta and talks about them as though he knew them.
“Everybody’s got a story to tell,” said Murphy, whose official title is administrative assistant with the Augusta Recreation and Parks Department. His job is overseeing business operations with the city cemeteries, and his office is located at Magnolia Cemetery.
In many ways, Murphy does know a lot of the people buried in the cemeteries, especially Magnolia and Cedar Grove, the two oldest city cemeteries.
One of his jobs is to curate information on the city’s database.
For some, information is easy to find. There are many well-known white men who are buried in Magnolia, but it becomes more difficult when it comes to the women and even harder when researching the Black people buried in Cedar Grove.
Some of the women are only listed as “Mrs.” followed by the husband’s name. There’s little known about them. And there are many unmarked graves in Cedar Grove.
Official records indicate 44,548 people are buried in Cedar Grove, but Murphy said there could be more.
Sometimes, more information is available. Many of the older records were handwritten and stored in large leatherbound volumes or catalogued on an old rolodex.
Murphy recalls one woman who tragically died after her dress caught on fire. Another woman allegedly died while pregnant and wearing her corset too tightly. That information was kept in the records.
A graduate of Augusta University with a degree in business administration, Murphy started working for the city in 1983. He was an assistant to the cemetery superintendent. When the superintendent retired in 1996, the city abolished the position, and Murphy left for about a year. He returned and took his current position.
While there is some information online, Murphy often works with people who are researching their genealogies. They often call to find out more information about an ancestor buried there. Sometimes, they visit and want to find a particular grave.
“I’ve talked to people in all 50 states,” he said.
He’s even met some of his own distant cousins. Murphy has ancestors, including his grandparents, buried in the cemetery. He said someone once came in trying to find one of his ancestors. When he asked how she was related to the person, she said it was her great-grandmother. To which, Murphy responded “Hi, cousin,” he said.