“Some people collect spoons. Maggie Rail counts dead people,” the Seattle Times observed in a 2012 profile of a familiar, and now dearly-missed, friend of the Washington State Archives.
She spent an inconceivable amount of time, even by the standards of professional archivists, doing what fellow enthusiasts call “reading” Washington and Idaho cemeteries to collect ephemeral information off headstones. Years of this work made self-proclaimed “Cemetery Lady” Maggie Rail, who died April 26 in Spokane, the largest single provider of cemetery data to the Washington State Digital Archives, as well as a treasured helper to many of our Archives staff.
Margaret Irene Rail, age 84, had survived a 2017 heart attack and kept on corresponding with Archives staff, continuing a long habit of sending in fresh cemetery data, corrections to old information, and pointing out when the Digital Archives hadn’t put her latest offering online yet.
She had edited interment.net from 2000 to 2013, and then built her own cemetery-information website, inventing the initialism Ewanida for the Eastern Washington And Northwest Idaho Area covered by her cemetery explorations.
Archivists and genealogists from near and far have expressed their sincere gratitude for her amazing contributions to archival and family research. Cemetery reading is no easy task. Maggie got her start in cemetery reading in her mid-sixties when she met Bud Engelhart, a cemetery reader who had compiled information for several cemeteries himself, according to a 2000 interview from interment.net.
At first, she exclaimed, “There is no way you will see me out in a cemetery doing that!” Then she went on to do exactly that for about 20 years. Today, her work makes up the bulk of recorded cemetery metadata on the Digital Archives.
The decades of Maggie’s cemetery reading have come to an end, but her dedication and attention to detail will live on forever, and her work will be safe in the Archives. Her devotion to her hobby was prominently noted in her newspaper obituary.
True to form, Maggie didn’t leave it to others to make sure there was a record of her passing. A few years ago, Maggie entered her own headstone information into the Digital Archives – without a date of death, of course. In June, we helped with her last contribution to the Digital Archives by updating her record with that final date.
Maggie Rail will be greatly missed by the archives and genealogy communities.