FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Abandoned Cemeteries

I’ve spent several years trying to find the actual burial location of a great granduncle and his family.  I knew where they had died but the family was not mentioned in any of the burial records of cemeteries in the area.

Last week, I found the mention of the Simeon Cemetery in Cherry County, Nebraska.  Where was it?   As it turns out, it is located on a farm about 20 miles southwest of where the family died.

Of course, my first thought was to see if anyone had walked through the stones and later posted the data about them on Find-a-grave.  In my initial search, it wasn’t listed, but last year, a wonderful person added many tombstone inscriptions from the cemetery in conjunction with its creation in the Find-a-grave database. 

Although my family wasn’t included in the listings, I had enough information to create memorials for them.  Unfortunately, the exact location of the cemetery wasn’t listed with anything other than the cemetery name.

After one last search a posting about the cemetery surfaced.  The search results included a posting written by Marianne Beel of Valentine, Nebraska that was complete with the transcriptions of inscriptions of the 68 tombstones she was able to read.  Of even more help in my quest, she’d noted that the cemetery was on the P. H. Young Ranch 25 miles south of Valentine in Section 12, Range 29, Township 31. 

Launching the Acme Mapper website made it easy to find the location of the cemetery on the USGS maps on the site.  A quick click and a satellite photo of the area was on the screen.  A jog in the dirt road established an fixed geographical feature in the image.   Launching Google Earth, I was quickly able to zoom in on the earth photo and spot the old trees on the sides of the cemetery.   Clicking on the cemetery to establish a fixed location, a quick glance to the bottom of the screen gave me the exact latitude and longitude of its location. 

I passed that information on to the folks at Find-a-grave who have since updated the cemetery record with its exact location. 

There were only a few burials in the cemetery in the last 50 years with the last one dated September 1974.  Looking at the aerial photo, it is readily evident that it doesn’t receive much traffic and little if any trimming and maintenance, but now folks looking for the location can find it by just visiting the Find-a-grave site.

How many abandoned cemeteries are in the U.S. let alone in the world?  Genealogist love tombstone information not necessarily because it is correct but it is a good indicator and it usually gives them the final resting place of their loved ones.

Searching for abandoned cemeteries on the net, turns up a frighteningly large number of results and that is just the cemeteries that have been included in postings on the web.  The results listings seem to go on and on as you modify your search terms.

State, church, civic and other entities are frequently included in the results asking for help or telling how to restore abandoned cemeteries. 

In my wide excursions throughout the west, I’ve found numerous cemeteries in abandoned towns, mining locations and old waystops.  The wooden markers are rarely readable but in some cases the writing is still legible.  I’ve taken photos of the markers and have donated them to local officials and groups who live in the area and say that they will do ‘something’ to ensure the burials aren’t lost to history.  Thus far, that promise is rarely kept.

In the west, the old burial ground are typically overtaken with sage brush in the valleys and forest growth at the mining sites in the mountain.  They could be cleaned and at least partially restored by half a dozen adults with willing hands in the course of a day.  In the east and locations with abundant growth, they may take longer, but the the work can be completed with focused effort.

Are you looking for a good deed opportunity in relation to your interest in genealogy and ancestry?  Consider taking your family, organization, scout troops on a day trip and reclaim one of these sacred sites.   Pay it forward.  You efforts will pay you back with interest one day.   Guaranteed.

Thanks to all of you have already engaged in this wonderful work.

27 April 2010 Posted by | Cemetery, Headstones, Tombstone | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Change of Guard


Out with the old. In with the new generation.

23 April 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Genealogy Zombie

Some days are better than others even if the cause of the ‘better’ is our own absent mindedness.  Witness the discovery today of notes and pages on the shelf of an out-of-sight book case in my office from a multiple day research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

I try to spend as much time as possible preparing for visits to the FHL in Salt Lake so little of my precious research time is wasted during the visit.  The preparation goes something like this:

  • Review of the research notes I’ve recorded on the Legacy database records of my brick-wall ancestors and other ancestral family members…. check.
  • Print out an individual or family report for each of the folks on my research agenda …. check.
  • Look at the family history library catalog on familysearch.org and copy the titles, authors and call numbers for books and records that may help find each of the folks on my agenda.   Paste that info into a WordPad file and when the list is complete, flip over one or more pages of the associated reports and print the titles, call numbers, etc., on it… check.
  • Now I have their vital statistics, locations, family names and research notes together on the same sheets of paper.  The ‘plan of attack’ is ready to implement… check.

At the library, I’ll also use the white space on the pages to record notes in permanent black ink.  “Finds” will have a Star to the side of them.  Thoughts and possible other research ideas will be jotted down.  A bold “NO” will be to the side of the items that didn’t pan out.

Back home, I’ll transcribe my notes by updating and adjusting my research notes and plan.  The research notes in Legacy will also include all of the research titles and call numbers and their relative worth.  That information will be used to avoid digging through the same resources again or to point me back to the items that are full of information.

I then 3-hole punch the stapled package for each individual and put the notes in each persons file folder.

Now I have a hard copy paper trail for reference even if all of my geographically scattered data backups go south at the same time.

“Yes”, you say.  “Very organized.  Very methodical.”

Well, don’t hand out accolades quite yet.

It seems I’ve forgotten that long ago, somewhere along the way, I purchased two identical zippered folders.  I probably picked them up at different times at the same store in some oft visited distant city.  They aren’t of a common design but are highly distinctive in fact.  One glance and I recognize them.

It takes a while to transcribe all my research notes from ancestral research trips into the various files and databases I use.  Lots of things happen in our lives and during the span of time between the library visit and final transcriptions and filing, some ‘stuff’ is pushed out of my memory.  Apparently, it tumbles to the ground after exiting my ear.  It is to be expected…. It only makes a small pile of dust on the floor.  Hardly noticeable.

I’ve often wondered why I continue to absent mindedly leave the zippered folder on the wrong shelf and parking spot in that backwoods bookcase.

The discovery today provided the answer to this vexing riddle.  I’ve been rotating the two identical zippered folders between my main work area and that bookcase all of this time.  My mind is trained to not waste time observing fixed items in known locations but to rather put the body on auto-pilot and let it do its thing while the mind is reviewing the research plan, daily goals and the next step in the quest.

When the body sees an empty slot on a shelf that exactly matches the folder, it is used without further thought.

Apparently, I’ve been grabbing a folder, working on it very late at night over a period of a week or so and then replacing it back in the open slot.

Unfortunately, the assigned ‘to-do’ space on my work surface is not in direct line-of-sight near the monitors.  Not immediately spotting the folder, I go into autopilot mode and again pull the folder from the bookshelf for transcription.  When I’ve finished that work at around 4 a.m. a few days later, I put it back in the empty slot.   At a later late night session, I’ll notice the folder in the to-do space, look inside and think that I’m becoming absent-minded and then send the body to file it in the bookcase.

The folders ‘parking slot’ is open but on the opposite side of the case where I thought got it.

The banner: “I’m really getting absent minded” scrolls through my mind about this time.

zombie_attackToday, the mystery came into full light when I pulled the folder off the shelf to stock it for the next research trip.  It contained my research notes and associated pages from a foray to the FHL over a year ago.  How had I let them sit all of that time without completing the associated transcription and filing?

A few minutes ago, after I completed the transcriptions and filings, the body kicked into auto pilot and tried to put the folder back on the shelf.  The slot was full!  Since this morning, someone had cloned my folder and put it in the slot!

Confusion and finally laughter ensued.  I’ve become a robot in the walls of my office and associated filing rooms.  I don’t see anything other than the items related to the task at hand.  Even some of the associated physical manipulations happens autonomously.

Oh bother!  That probably explains the loss of the dried pineapple snacks too.  My wife didn’t eat them.  I did!  I don’t even remember tasting them while my body vacated to the Genealogy Zombie mode.

I suppose genealogists can be a little too focused at times.

Look at that!  Someone brought back all my missing pens too!

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20 April 2010 Posted by | Genealogy, Research | , , | Leave a comment

Searching for Food – Depression Life


Searching for food on the streets of the city during the depression in 1932.

20 April 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First Church – Plymouth, Massachusetts


My ancestor was the first religious leader in Plymouth Colony. Later, another was the first leader in the newly constructed “First Church” in Plymouth.

9 April 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Watching Your Tail


From The Cockpit

6 April 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment