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Guardian of the Dead

Tina Simmons has found the final resting place of 339 Anne Arundel WWI soldiers

      Remembering World War I veterans comes naturally to Tina Simmons. She spends many of her days hunting for them in graveyards. A teenage obsession to weed through the intricate genealogical questions of her family history has led her on an almost 30-year journey of scouring every inch of Anne Arundel County to account for the resting places of those who volunteered to fight in The Great War.
      “My mom was adopted,” says Simmons, 68, who is the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society cemetery chairwoman. “I had some unknown relatives to piece into the family puzzle. That’s how I got started. The more I researched the more I learned — about a lot of things.”
      For instance, Simmons says, there are 550 known cemetery sites in the county, with some 325 of those still in existence. That’s pretty good compared to other Maryland counties.
      “Anne Arundel is probably the best in the state for preserving cemeteries as historically significant,” she says.
      Simmons makes sure she reports her finds to the Cultural Resources Section of Planning and Zoning so burial areas can be flagged before development. She is often called on to provide information when those sites come into question.
      “My goal is to help preserve and share this historic information,” she says. “Families tend to share what they find with their families, and sites like Find-a-Grave get additions in the same way. Rarely do they get an overview of an entire burial site. That’s what I provide.”
     Among her findings: Segregation persists after death. Anne Arundel County has very few cemeteries where whites and blacks are interred ­together. Simmons is able to integrate her findings into demographic information revealing what’s just under the surface of our past. 
       “I know that of the 339 WWI soldiers I’ve found so far, 115 are African American,” she says. “When I compile their names, I either list them alphabetically for small sites or by their burial section for the larger ones so people can find their relatives. To me, it’s one all-encompassing graveyard.”
       World War I is but one part of Simmons’ focus. She also keeps lists of all military graves from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam and on. She catalogs the maker’s marks from the stonemasons and monument companies that made the headstones. It’s all a part of the history.
       As she’s been known for cemetery research for many years, Simmons gets leads on hidden-away burial sites from an array of sources: homeowners, realtors, surveyors, mosquito sprayers, horseback riders and hunters. But knowing a site location is only half the battle. Getting to the graves can be hazardous.
        “I’ve been chased out of a few cemeteries,” she says. “I’ve scraped myself on more than one wrought-iron fence. Once I was told a site I was studying had been used for satanic rituals, and I was a little apprehensive due to the overwhelming amount of flies buzzing around. I found an overturned outhouse nearby and put that mystery to rest. 
        “There have been visits to some areas where people say they’ve had experiences with ghosts, but so far I haven’t had any run-ins with the departed. I think they know I’m solely here to look after them.”