TEXAS CITY — Lanny Martin speaks for the dead.
No, he’s not a psychic. He helps preserve and restore the memories of those buried in Galveston County cemeteries. And he does it all for free.
The 74-year-old Texas City man said he doesn’t consider himself a historian, just someone interested in genealogy. However, he knows about every cemetery in the county.
Using old county records, death certificates, obituaries and ancestry websites, Martin is able to gather information about those who died long ago.
He’s spent countless hours clearing debris from graves, taking photos, building maps and putting the pieces together to provide information to genealogical societies, the Family History Center, the county and the website Find a Grave.
Martin, who retired from his pipe-fitting job at Union Carbide in 1996, gained his interest in genealogy in 2000 after discovering old pictures of his mother’s family.
“On the back, there would be Aunt Jane this and Uncle Tom that and all this, and I didn’t know who they were,” he said.
Now it’s become a hobby that takes up at least eight hours a day and five days a week.
“It’s habit forming,” Martin said.
He said he wasn’t planning on tackling Galveston County’s cemeteries because of how many there were, but a friend, former Texas State Genealogical Society President Betty Dunquez, had been trying to get the cemeteries documented for a while.
“She wanted to get this done so we’d have it,” he said. “Once it’s done, it’s done.”
Martin’s work led to him winning the society’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2008.
Find A Grave is where most of Martin’s research is published. He said he prefers it that way, so family members searching for their relatives can find the information for free.
There are countless messages of people thanking Martin for his work.
On April 23, website user Serafina Grimes posted: “Thank you for adding the rest of my family. It brought back memories. Thank you for taking the time to place them on here. God bless you!”
D.J. Donnell Watson wrote on April 19: “Thank you so much for adding the gravestone photo for my Great Aunt Mattie! It is truly appreciated.”
“It makes you feel like you’ve done good,” Martin said. “But if you’re doing it for a pat on the back, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.”
There are 16,000 known graves in Broadway Cemetery on Galveston Island, and Martin can point out where famous people are buried and give a history lesson about the immigrants who came to Galveston years ago.
While the dates span from the mid-1800s to today, some days have particular significance. Tombstones partly covered by red and yellow wildflowers have the date Sept. 8, 1900, carved into the weathered white marble. The hurricane that struck on that date killed more than 6,000 people.
Two small gray granite markers in the back of the lot are for children who died on April 16, 1947, in the Texas City Disaster.
The stones are in pieces. Martin said a lot of the small markers are gone, having been stolen or broken.
He puts broken headstones back together as best he can, so he can photograph them and make sure family members know where to find them.