When Jeanne Insalaco focused her Nikon 5200 camera on the Prospect Soldiers Monument recently, she drew from her experience shooting various monuments in New Haven.
Insalaco, who lives in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood, looked for a good scene setter shot of the statue, situated on the Prospect town green. and then got close-up images of all the names listed on both sides of the monument’s base.
“A lot of times you can’t read them,”she said. “So you have to bring [the photos] home and really pull them up close to be able to.”
Insalaco has been photographing and transcribing monuments in New Haven and around Connecticut for the last three years. The work is part of the international Honor Roll Project, which digitizes historical markers to help researchers find names online.
Each year around Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Insalaco and a crew of other local genealogists send submissions to the project to keep growing the list.
“The main idea of the project is to get the names online so they’re accessible to search engines for friends and family,” said Heather Wilkinson Rojo, a New Hampshire genealogist and historian who started the project in 2009. “People sit down at the computer and say ‘Let’s Google an ancestor’s name.’ Sometimes it’s the first time they find out someone was in World War I, or the Civil War, or World War II.”
As the Honor Roll Project originated in New England, many of the monuments listed on the website are from the region, with 25 posts from 14 Connecticut towns. It has grown to include 40 states and four outside countries.
Insalaco started contributing to the project in 2014, with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on East Rock.
“Since I live in New Haven, when I started, I decided to first do all of the New Haven ones,” said Insalaco.
In addition to East Rock, other New Haven monuments Insalaco has documented include the Civil War monument dedicated to New Haven’s 9th Regiment, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Long Wharf, the World War I memorial on the flagpole on the Green, and the Knight Hospital Civil War Monument in Evergreen Cemetery.
She’s now noticing monuments everywhere, including along the back staircase leading to her neighborhood library, the Mitchell Branch of the New Haven Library. She talks about the monument in the audio clip below.
Insalaco’s process of documenting monuments begins with taking as many photos as she can at the site. Then, she takes home the photos so she can zoom in and get names. Sometimes getting the names alone can provide a challenge.
Insalaco said to capture the names on the World War I memorial on the Green she walked up as close possible and made sure to take numerous photos.
“You take your shots, plus you take extra pictures of the plaque,” she said.
On a laptop these photos can be more clear once zoomed in. Insalaco’s camera also helps because of the high quality photos it can capture.
“I zoom in and go line by line,” said Insalaco. “I usually write [the names] on a piece of paper before I retype them.”
Another challenge can be the location of the monument. The Armistice Monument in West Haven was surrounded by bushes and a small fence which made it difficult to read, said Insalaco.
“So here you have this monument and if I had traveled 100 miles to take a photograph I wouldn’t have even been able to see my ancestor’s name,” she said.
Insalaco said that when she visits Georgia—where she is originally from—she also searches for monuments in counties her ancestors are from. She has added three Georgia monuments to the project, as well.
“I’ve done family research for over 25 years,” she said. “So I’ve always had the passion for going to my ancestors’ graves.”
Others have traveled to Connecticut with the same goal in mind.
For example, Schalene Dagutis, a Virginia resident, contributed several of the Connecticut entries in the Honor Roll Project.
“My husband works in Albany, New York and I go up with him a couple times a year,” she said. “So when he’s at work or on the weekends we drive around exploring.”
Dagutis said she was always a history buff and her father was interested in genealogy. She took over the family research in 2012 when her father’s health wouldn’t allow him to continue the work.
Both Insalaco and Dagutis said they have seen positive results doing this work.
“I’ve had a couple of people find their ancestors’ names,” she said. “It’s rewarding that you’re able to give something back to someone.”
Lynandro Simmons is a Journalism student at Southern Connecticut State University.
Jodie Mozdzer Gil contributed reporting to this piece.
This article was reported as part of the Journalism Capstone course at Southern Connecticut State University. The students, along with Journalism Department Chair Cindy Simoneau and Assistant Professor Jodie Mozdzer Gil, are reporting and writing stories about Connecticut’s role in World War I. Their work is part of a Connecticut State Library Project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Connecticut’s involvement in the war.