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Respecting Those Who Came Before Her; Cynthia (Reinhart) Jimenez '53
Overgrown and much forgotten old graveyards scattered in farm fields throughout Berks County, Pa., are a passion for Cynthia Jimenez '53.
Jimenez, 80, an avid genealogist, has been a dedicated member of the Berks County Association for Graveyard Preservation (BCAGP) since 1994. Along with other members of the nonprofit, Jimenez has helped preserve and maintain the small plots of land where the first early settlers in Berks County and some Revolutionary War soldiers are buried among thickets of trees and waist high weeds that often obscure their 200-plus-year-old tombstones.
"I am committed to protecting these historic graveyards. I do it because I think they deserve to be remembered," says Jimenez.
A former computer analyst with General Electric Aerospace, King of Prussia, Pa., retiring in 1987, Jimenez is co-author of Epitaphs: Handbook of historic family graveyards, Berks County, Pennsylvania (1999). The book, with information on most of the 300 historic family graveyards located on current or former farms, includes family names, histories and genealogical data from readable tombstones. Although Jimenez says some headstones have toppled over time or are faded and unreadable, most of the oldest stones are written in German. Most likely, words and family names on gravestones were spelled phonetically. "Spelling was optional," she chuckles.
Influenced by her parents' interest in old family documents, Jimenez says that before computers it was not easy to research genealogy. She thumbed her way through her great-great grandfather's 1820 Bible and examined historical records at the courthouse to understand the events that occurred in the lives, as well as the deaths, of her family. A stickler for historical accuracy, Jimenez discovered that several of her ancestors were buried in the early 1800s in small plots across Berks' landscape of lazy hills, old barns and alfalfa fields. In the Schneider Cemetery, a stone-walled graveyard in a field overlooking the Oley Valley, is the grave of Johannes Schneider, a German immigrant who died in 1743, and one of Jimenez's ancestors. She also discovered that her parents were fourth cousins.
Until a few years ago, Jimenez spent many hours trudging through fields tapping a wire to the ground to find gravestones hidden under tall grass. She says the work is emotional and sad, especially when clearing weeds away from old grave markers and cleaning the decades of moss and mold off of them reveals that they belong to several children in one family who died at the same time.
Now, she takes things easier. Jimenez enjoys spending time with her three children, including Ivon (Jimenez) Kellogg '80, and five grandchildren. She has been on the BCAGP board of directors since 1994, and for the past two years, has served as treasurer. She also belongs to the local historical society and genealogy society.
Jimenez shares a special kind of respect for the past, especially for veterans. "I want to make sure flags and veterans' markers are placed on their graves. It is a way of never forgetting their service," she says.
While Jimenez seldom visits the grave sites that she has cleared and preserved, she has never forgotten them.
–Linda L. Mecca '08