Tuesday morning, Madera's Arbor Vitae Cemetery was invaded once again.
In what has become an annual Madera Method ritual, scores of pint-sized detectives, notebooks in hand, scoured the local graveyard in search of the dead. They are trying to locate another unknown chapter in Madera's long-lost past.
This year the young historians from Sierra Vista School's 6th grade red track have chosen to link their home town to the Civil War, and they hope to involve the community in the process.
As the students fanned out across the cemetery, they made some important discoveries. Spread throughout the well manicured burial grounds are the military markers of more than three dozen veterans of the War of the Rebellion who, after the monumental conflict, migrated for some reason to Madera.
One served in the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers; another fought with the famed California Hundred. Two served in artillery units; six rode with cavalry regiments, and the rest were foot soldiers in the infantry.
Private G.L. Harris joined an infantry unit from the Confederate state of Arkansas and inexplicably fought with the North.
Almost every state in what was then the Union is represented, including California.
Spotting the old soldiers' final resting place was easy for the children, since the graves are marked by military tombstones, and most have the unbiquitous Grand Army of the Republic stars beside them.
Squeals of delight penetrated the stillness of Arbor Vitae as child after child discovered their assigned soldiers.
Joining the students in their search were Madera County Historical Society President, Sheryl Berry and M.U.S.D. school board member, Susan Geringer.
"The Historical Society is very much interested in what you are doing," Berry told the students. "We will look forward to reading your book and the documents you discover."
Geringer, who is a professor in the Craig School of Business at California State University, Fresno, is particularly interested in the local project. The university educator, who teaches Principles of Marketing classes, involves her college students in pro bono marketing projects for non-profit organizations. The current Madera Method endeavor has the local trustee excited.
"The Madera Method is one of the best kept secrets in our town," said Geringer.
"By working with you (the Sierra Vista students) and the Historical Society, my college students will be able to generate interest in your work, not only in Madera, but in other places as well."
Armed with the data gathered from the graveyard, the students returned to the class to begin their research.
They will consult the archives in search of death certificates, obituaries, land deeds, voting records, census reports, and dozens of other public documents.
The kids will also attempt to find living descendants of each of the soldiers and to retrieve their war records from the Bureau of National Archives.
Clearly, the project has grabbed the interest of the students. Sixth grader Johathan Nava pointed out that the soldiers "fought in the war to free the slaves and survived. Then they came to Madera, and now they are forgotten. We're going to bring them back to life."
Marisa Quinonez exclaimed, "We're going to write a book about how these soldiers changed everyone's lives. It's going to be fun!"
When the research phase is complete, each student will be responsible for one soldier and will compose a biography of that person.
The class will then produce an anthology of the biographies entitled, "Madera's Unsung Heroes."