By Payal Gangishetty
Nonprofit Sector News
June 18, 2020
More than two decades ago, members of the nonprofit Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), as part of its National Grave Registration Project, started the process of identifying hundreds of final resting places of all Union Civil War veterans. Since then, the organization has documented 800,000 graves across the United States.
Grave registration officers of 30 departments (SUVCW units of one or more states) work with community-level units, called camps, at the state and local levels with the help of volunteers. Bruce D. Frail, the National Graves Registration Officer for the SUVCW, says the goal of the project is to help create and maintain a national database of the burial sites of veterans of the Civil War. “It’s important to us that the graves of these forgotten heroes are taken care of so that future generations can learn from them,” says Frail.
Stressing the need for more volunteers to work on the project, Frail says the organization currently has 4,200 volunteers, of which only about 2,600 are active and participate in the fieldwork to obtain information later uploaded into the SUVCW’s national database.
Frail said that, for the last four years, as many as 81 graves are registered every day.
“The success of the project is largely dependent on the volunteer participation and devotion of people to serve the memory of the Civil War veterans in their communities,” Frail adds. “Sometimes we receive incomplete forms, where crucial information will be missing. We need more volunteers and organizations to come forward and assist us. Without them it is very difficult to achieve the mission of the project.”
Moreover, he says the fieldwork has slowed down considerably in the last few months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “The volunteers are scared to come out and work. Only in the last couple of days a few of them have resumed working,” he said. (Nonprofit Sector News repeated attempts to even contact project volunteers.)
Meanwhile, a Rhode Island department camp has restored 900 headstones in eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts since 2015, using its own funds. “We don’t get paid for carrying out restoration works, Frail said. Whatever money the SUVCW gets from donations and fund-raising activities is used for repair and restoration works, he added.
Lack of funds
Many nonprofit organizations find it difficult to garner sufficient and continuous funding for their projects, and the situation is no different for the SUVCW, as its struggle to find funds for their work is increasing along with their responsibility.
Every year, the National Grave Registration Project receives a meager sum of $1,000 from the national organization, which is barely sufficient to meet their database expenses.
Frail says, “It’s a big project. We spend more than what we receive. Last year we spent $7,000 on redesigning the national database. Whatever money we received from the donations and other fund raising activities were used for it. All the additional expenses were paid out of our own pockets.”
Only a few months ago, the nonprofit organization was approved as a tax-exempt charitable organization under section 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“We are still in the process to cover all our departments under IRS,” Frail says. “We don’t have an operational budget to publicize our projects. We are scared that we will disappear. Of late, we have been using social media to reach out to the public and speak about the project, but we don’t know to what extent will that be helpful.”
Online grave registration forms, brochure and information booklet are available on the SUVCW website. Individuals who wish to register a large number of grave sites, can log into