(Natalia Danesi may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For the last five years, I have been a contributor to findagrave.com, an internet resource that helps people learn where friends and family members are buried. In that time, I went from being puzzled by the fact that the resource lacked many names on the list of the 918 people who died on November 18, 1978, to helping to identify and locate many of the graves.
I have been torn though because I still don’t know the exact location of all the remains. I learned that Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland allowed the unidentified and unclaimed bodies from Jonestown to be buried in a mass grave there, six months after their deaths. I am grateful to Evergreen for their courage in making that decision. Absent additional information – which I am still seeking out – I list the place of burial of a Jonestown death at Evergreen. This process on findagrave.com takes time, and I hope I will be forgiven when people are interred at places other than Evergreen. But for me, it was very important to put this entire list on findagrave before the thirtieth anniversary of their deaths.
There are other errors, of course, and I will correct them as time goes on. Unlike other contributors to findagrave, though, I feel it is my mission to humanize each and every one lost forever on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana; Port Kaituma, Guyana; and at Lamaha Gardens apartment complex in Georgetown, Guyana. While I have studied Jonestown for my own personal interest, I was truly appalled and disgusted by the lack of respect for them after their deaths.
Now, with a complete list of the deceased found on this website, I am able to take their names, obtain photographs, and provide mini-biographies for each and every one as well as connecting them to other family members.
As I worked, I became familiar with the faces and the biographies. I read every available essay from family members regarding lost relatives and friends. I was moved to tears many times, and I could see why two previous contributors to findagrave had abandoned their efforts.
The children were probably the hardest of all. When adults and seniors die, you feel a tremendous loss, but it is not as crushing, as unnatural, as the death of a child. No matter whether they died as a result of an illness, accident, or foul play – in this case, murder – the stories and the pictures of the children are always enough to force us to pause and reflect.
As time has gone on, I have returned to the listing to incorporate people’s professions, their positions in Jonestown, their places of residence there, and their relatives among the deceased. Beyond this site, I include the information I learn from books and documentaries.
I had to be careful, though, because many people in Jonestown had more than one name, or different spellings of their names, depending upon the record I found. That alone might have confused – and discouraged – other contributors and led to duplicate memorials on the site.
One problem I encountered early was that Guyana was not listed as a South American country, so I couldn’t list it as a place of death. I corrected it by writing it in their biographies as well as where they lived previously in the United States. There were some exceptions like the babies who were born and died in Jonestown.
I am at a juncture where I believe I can present this to the larger Temple community and ask for your assistance as I go forward. I ask that you bear a few things in mind, though.
My first list of Jonestown includes over 1200 listings. The number of the Guyana dead was 918. That means there are duplicate listings. I will address that issue, especially with your help in identifying errors.
Please remember I can only delete and update my own listings. However, I am willing to transfer management of any of the graves to a family member or friend of those who died in Jonestown.
You can also sponsor a grave for $5.00. This allows you to place more photographs or to create your own memorial for your loved one.
If you have friends or relatives who were not interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, you may contact me regarding the corrections or leave a note for me.
I can tell you that I treat everybody like a beloved family member. I have tried to be truthful and understanding with regards to their situation.
With my sympathies and love.
(Editorial note: Beyond the efforts of Ms. Danesi, the Jonestown tragedy affects in a few other memorials on this site. The mother of Jerry Bibb Balisok, for example, went to her own grave insisting that her son died in Jonestown, even though there is no record of anyone by that name who was ever in Peoples Temple.)