GREENFIELD — Each year, the McClarnon family of Hancock County gathers for a family reunion.
Typically, the family, whose ancestors immigrated to Hancock County from Ireland in the 1800s, donates money to the pioneer cemeteries where their ancestors are buried.
Rather than chip in funding for the old pioneer cemeteries this year, the McClarnon family opted to give free labor instead.
Over the weekend, nearly 20 family members gathered to clean up the Baptist/Braddock Cemetery in Jackson Township. They chopped tree limbs with chainsaws, corralled piles of leaves and weeded the tiny cemetery, where three McClarnons were buried after their deaths.
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The cemetery lies between county roads 500 and 600E on County Road 500N, and 29 people were buried there beginning in 1825, according to a book by Hancock County genealogist Sue Baker.
The cemetery is located on private property and hasn’t been cared for in years, said Hancock County Cemetery Commission member Jennefer Burk.
About 25 years ago, members of the same family gathered for a similar labor of love, said Patric McClarnon. The TLC the family gave the cemetery then was a lot of work, but it still wasn’t nearly as much work as it was this time around.
Decades ago, many of the headstones were still in place, and the grave rows could be seen, Patric McClarnon said. On Saturday, many headstones were placed in a tiny fenced-in area away from where they once stood to mark the final resting place of some of Hancock County’s first residents.
The cemetery commission doesn’t have the funding or resources to care for all 79 of Hancock County’s pioneer cemeteries, the burial sites established by the area’s first residents, Burk said. It relies on volunteers like the McClarnons to restore the cemeteries.
Burk, who worked alongside the McClarnons over the weekend to tackle the project, said it’s important to preserve Hancock County’s history, which includes the pioneer cemeteries.
“These are the people who helped build our country,” she said. “I think they deserve our respect.”
Marciann McClarnon said her family always has a good time whenever they get together; and even though they spent the day in the sun working, that didn’t change Saturday.
She called the deed a labor of love to honor their family. William and Ester McClarnon, who were buried in the cemetery in 1847 and 1879, respectively, are her third great grandparents.
The work in the cemetery is not yet complete, and the McClarnons plan to return in the future to continue caring for it, she said.