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.

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

The Santa of Gold Hill – A Find-a-grave HERO

Recently, a television program showing current day scenes of the famous towns and locations from the “Old West” caught my eye.  A couple of scenes featuring the cemetery in Gold Hill, Nevada reminded me of my visit there.  We were in a hurry to reach our destination in California, so my desire to stop and patrol the cemetery was shelved.

I love stopping at cemeteries that I spot when driving and reading the tombstone inscriptions.  They frequently educate me far more completely than reading a history of the area.

Of course, I always take photos of tombstones in these locations.  How can you miss an opportunity like that?

Gold Hill Cemetery.  Has someone stopped and taken photos of the tombstones already and posted them on Find-a-grave?  Yes, indeed and in this case, the Santa’s name is Herbert Rickards.   I call him ‘Santa’ because of the masterful work he has done in capturing not only photos of the tombstones, but his superhuman efforts in finding their respective 100+ year-old portrait photos.

Descendants of anyone buried in Gold Hill will certainly call Herbert “Santa” as well when they find his postings.  Check them out for yourself.

Singing praises of Herbert is easy when you see his work …. but wait … there’s more!

Look at his postings and you’ll also see that he has also researched the life history of each person and posted it on their memorial.

Above and beyond?  Way beyond.  Find-a-grave_logo

There needs to be a “Find-a-grave Hero” award created for folks like Herbert. I don’t have artistic skills, so my contribution to his award can only be in words.  Perhaps some of you can add your talents and create a graphic award for folks like Herbert.  If so, let the folks at Find-a-grave know.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll think it is a feature worthy of adding to their site.

5 December 2009 Posted by | Headstones, Tombstone | , , , | 1 Comment

Didn’t Have To Travel Far

While spending a day taking tombstone photos recently, I stopped to take photos of the general setting while standing beside the grave my great grandparents.  Pondering the scene, I realized that I could see the tombstones of three sets of 2nd great grandparents, one set of great grandparents and one set of my grandparents with just a slight movement of my eyes.  Other ancestors are buried close by.  In a ten minute drive, I could visit the graves four generations of my ancestors except for one set in California and one in Massachusetts.

Over the years, I’ve encouraged members of my family history classes to visit the burial locations of their ancestors and associated family.  They’ve reported back on the sometimes lengthy trips they’ve made to visit the associated cemeteries.  We’ve enjoyed talking about the discoveries they’ve made in the towns and locations where their ancestors lived. 

Frequently, while standing at the headstones of their ancestors, they’ve experienced a shift in their personal affection for them.   The ties that bind them to their ancestors are strengthened, even inextricably enhanced.

My ancestors gathered to the same general area to live their lives because of religious beliefs and economic opportunity.  Many generations of their descendants still live and have been buried within a thirty mile radius of the original settlements.  Naturally, they have also been buried in the cemeteries in those towns, hence my good fortune in being able to see so many of their graves from one vantage point.

Other ancestral lines were similarly buried in close proximity to each other.  My ancestral families in Plymouth, Massachusetts lived there for over three hundred years.  My ancestral families from Bornholm, Denmark lived, died and buried in close proximity to each other for dozens of generations. 

My ancestors that moved for economic necessity or due to their adventurous spirit have left long trails dotted with wayside stops where they briefly lived, gave birth, married, died and buried some family members.  Vacations over the years have taken us to most of their burial sites, but there are still some graves that haven’t been visited.

What is so important about visiting the grave of an ancestor?  In many cases, their headstone is the only physical item that exists from their day.  I can see their names on birth, marriage and death records as well as in census, wills and property records, but they are usually digital images, not a tangible object. 

Touching their headstone creates a tie between us.  The tactile memory from my fingertips hasn’t dimmed with time.  The feeling of being part of a great discovery was sweet at the time and is still satisfying in the years and decades since the first encounters.

How about you?  Do you have similar groupings of ancestral burials in close proximity of each other or do you have to make a determined  effort to find and visit their graves? 

Either way, the effort to visit their graves is worth your time and expense.  Remember to take photos of their tombstones and of the setting. 

If you have handheld GPS, record the exact location of their graves in your notes and transfer the information  to your genealogy database.  Add the digitized images to their records to enhance their life stories.

Remember to take a photo of yourself standing beside their graves to help you remember the trip and your tie to them and as time goes by, to give your descendants something tangible to view as they look back at their own ancestors.

 

 

1 December 2009 Posted by | Cemetery, Headstones, Tombstone | , , | Leave a comment

Genealogy Research Live in Palm of Your Hand

I know that a number of you have iPhones.  You probably aren’t aware that you can purchase an application to let you access new FamilySearch on your phone!  Check out the mobileTree application. 

mobileTree iPhone app I keep much of my genealogy and research on my website (some public, some password protected).  Combine online data with mobileTree and the available GPS application and you have a Killer tool for doing genealogy research!

Imagine…..  The billions of records of nFS, your own data, photos, and ability to interface with all of them using a device that fits in the palm of your hand.   Visit a cemetery, get the GPS coordinates of ancestors graves, take a photo of their headstones and post it all to your site and blog(s) on the spot.  No wasted motion or memory loss!  Wow!

If you have an iPhone, I’ll bet Santa would be happy to give you this application if you ask for it.

Continuing on this theme …..

You may not know that you can post your cemetery, research and other photos directly to your blogs via email.   Both Posterous and blogger.com allow postings this way.  All of the posts to my posterous blog are made that way.  

Suppose you are working with family and friends on genealogy and you are on a research trip.  You can share your finds with them in real-time using this method.  I usually have to find a WiFi hot spot or do a little juggling on a public computer at a library or at the FHL to make on-the-spot posts.  

When you have a active research team but haven’t worked together in real-time, you can’t imagine how the synergy in the groups builds momentum and success in your research.   They help guide your on-the-site search with information they have in their far-flung locations.

I’ve frequently experienced this synergy in real-time and guarantee it happens.   Add Skype to the mix for live video, voice and peer-to-peer file transfers and you too can make it ‘Happen’ — Real Time!

Wow #2!  I may have lived long enough to see some of my dreams become reality!  

The tools are here.  Make it happen.

16 November 2009 Posted by | Family History, Genealogy, GPS, Headstones, Research | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GPS and Lost Graves

I’ve visited the grave of my great grandfather a number of times over the years.  It was usually covered with Memorial Day flowers as were most of the graves in the cemetery.   It is a memory of a sea of color and fragrant smells – folks greeting each other, pointing to headstones and markers – a reunion of sorts.

In the last decade, mylar windmills, balloons and plastic blossoms have almost overwhelmed the iris, peonies, babies breath and snowball floral tributes left by us older folks.  There seem to be fewer of us visiting the burial locations of our families now.   There are too many big boy toys, outing distractions and to some degree, lack of respect for our lineage that has become associated with Memorial Day in recent years.

I try to show our grandchildren where their ancestors are buried with pilgrimages to the cemetery every year or so hoping they will retain the ancestral memories after I’m gone or can’t remember them myself in some future day.

Apparently that future day is arriving even as I write this note.  I couldn’t find my great grandfather’s grave this year.  I couldn’t find my aunt’s grave.

There are only 20,000+ burials in the cemetery where their bodies reside and the old parts really haven’t changed that much but apparently someone moved their graves during the past couple of years.

At first I chuckled.  Then I frowned and visually searched for the familiar landmarks that I’ve known since my youth.  Finding some of them, I tried to triangulate and ‘walk to the graves’ like I’d done as a young man.   That didn’t work.  Someone really had moved the graves!

Apparently, the only thing that had moved were a few synaptic links in my brain because after an hour of walking up and down row after row of markers, I finally found the headstones.  I enjoyed reading the markers during my walk but had other graves to visit, clean and photograph that day.

I’ve visited the graves of my ancestors in Plymouth, Massachusetts several times, but during the last visit, I couldn’t walk right to the ones that “I was sure of”.  When have you fly across country to visit a cemetery, ‘wasting’ time to find a grave that you knew you can ‘walk to in my sleep’ but can’t find any longer is an expensive and frustrating exercise.

Could it be that I’ve now been to so many cemeteries in so many locations that they are starting to merge in to a blended picture in my memory?  Probably so.  Have I lost synaptic connections?  Probably so.  Hence, I purchased a GPS specifically for my traveling genealogy kit.

gps-display Now when I visit a cemetery, any cemetery, I record the lat / long coordinates of the headstones of my ancestors.  That data is entered in my database directly tied to their burial data.  Yes, I know that my commercial GPS handheld is only accurate to 14 feet or so of the real spot I’m standing on, even if it has acquired eight or more satellites, but, that means that I should only have to walk a maximum of 28 feet in any direction to find the grave in the future if I can’t ‘walk to it in my sleep’ that day.  I can do that in short order.

I record the information on Find-a-grave, Names In Stone, Picasa, Panoramio, my own genealogy sites and other websites when I post headstone photos on them as well.  Maybe the information will help someone else in the future.  Additionally, I can use my web enabled cell phone to look at those sites and remind me where the graves are located in future visits.

One thing is certain.  I will continue to visit more and more cemeteries in the future.  The blended memory picture of them in my mind will continue to meld into an even more generic image as time goes on.  I’ll probably forget how to exactly walk to even more of the graves too.

I won’t be alone.  You’re all walking down the same path with me.  Some of you are ahead of me.  Some of you are behind but if you love to visit cemeteries like I do, you are right on track to arrive at the same destination eventually.   If you haven’t purchased a GPS handheld or have the software in your iPhone or other device, you might as well put one on your ‘stuff I want list’ so your family and friends will know what to get you for Christmas, birthday or graduation.

Once you start documenting the exact location of graves, you’ll find that it adds to the fun of cemetery visits and you too will be able to find your great grandfathers grave in the future.

17 June 2009 Posted by | Cemetery, GPS, Headstones, Photos | , , , , | Leave a comment