Waunakee teen takes photos, documents every gravestone to help preserve hometown’s history

Waunakee teen Sam Kaufmann knows his hometown doesn’t have an official historic preservation committee. Being a history enthusiast, he took it upon himself to help preserve Waunakee’s history by taking photos and documenting every gravestone in the county.

Kaufmann said his family has strong historical ties to the community, which is part of the reason why he cares so much about continuing to preserve its history. Kaufmann said his family was among the original settlers of Dane County, his mom’s family owned a lumber company on Main Street, where Lone Girl currently is, that was around for 129 years. Kaufmann added his dad’s family owned a construction company that built many of the roads and bridges that are still there today.

Kaufmann said he started photographing graves about a year ago. Now, he can be found most weekends at a cemetery, taking photos that he uploads to a website he discovered called Find A Grave.

“Find a Grave was created by a gentleman in Utah in the mid ’90s basically to document famous graves around the country,” Kaufmann said. “People would go on vacation and want to find the grave of this author or actor or something. They didn’t have an easy way to find it digitally. So he created that, and he thought, ‘Well I already have this site, why don’t we just open it up to everybody?'”

Kaufmann goes down each row at every cemetery taking photos which he then uploads to Find A Grave through an app on his phone.

“It’s a learning experience that you can’t get in a classroom,” he said.

Kaufmann said at just one cemetery near his home, “I added over 500 memorials and I would say at least 800 photographs.”

His goal is to make a difference doing something that he can uniquely call his own.

“You see young people caring about national issues. Things like climate change, gun control, etc. But something like this? I don’t see anybody else doing. And I always like to be a difference maker and do things differently,” Kaufmann said. “It’s important for people to know about their history because as people pass on, often times many of the stories go with them.”

As Sam continues to take the history of Waunakee’s people into his own hands, he’s hoping his passion can be passed on to others so that no one is ever forgotten no matter where they are.

“Every single town in America needs to have someone doing this,” Kaufmann said. “That’s my goal.”

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