FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

After Everyone is Gone

The funeral of an uncle in a family of faith is both a sad and yet a happy affair.  With a strong belief in life continuing after exiting a mortal body, stepping through the veil it just one more event in our eternal progression.

We weep at the loss of contact, advise, laughter, touch, feel, smell and idiosyncrasies of our deceased loved one but not as a result of any thought that they are permanently lost.  After all, the end of mortality is actually a graduation day.  It is all part of the plan.  Part of the process.

Family and friends gather at the funeral memorial to offer condolences, statements of love and to honor his life and good works.

In our community, a member or two of the family usually speaks at the funeral along with a church leader in an hour long program  They offer memories and funny anecdotes from the life of the deceased, finishing with statements of faith and eternal plans of growth and life. 

Then the transport of the body to the cemetery and its burial moves forward.

We line our cars in a funeral procession, light our headlights and slowly drive in a half-mile-long train winding our way through the city behind a slow hearse and police escort. 

Well, normally …

I hear his voice in my head saying, “ Oh bother.  More uncomfortable suits and ties.  More flowers than any man could reasonably want or enjoy.  More ceremony to appease the living ….  Hey! (wink and chuckle) There are a lot of good looking women here.” 

 

I laugh at the thought.  His kids did make a lot of effort to remove some of formal stodginess out of the burial process.  Except for his wife and daughter, the limos and motored procession of mourners is left at the cemetery gate to find their way to the grave on foot.

His body arrives in style in a caisson transport.  The team pulling it could be better, but there aren’t many matched teams in use today, so you do the best you can. 

The caisson is pure class though.  White, beveled glass windows that sparkle, and here in the west, the top hat is replaced by a cowboy hat. 

I verbally salute him, “You did it!  This is cool!  The Caddy body hauler is still parked in the garage where it belongs waiting to carry the fairer sex, not a manly man.”

 

His casket is borne by sons and grandsons to its final resting place and carefully set in place.  The sons carefully escort their mother to her chair near the grave.  They remove their boutonnieres and place them on the casket saying one last goodbye, briefly laying their hand on its finished surface before moving back to their own families so the proceedings can continue.

Everyone gathers close.  The officiator nods to the Veteran detail and a 21-gun salute rings through the winter air.  The commander of the local Veteran group is assisted by another member in carefully folding the flag that has covered their compatriot’s casket.  They respectfully present it to the grieving widow.

The grave is dedicated by the officiator, who then thanks all for attending and finishes saying the family would like all to return to the church for a meal of funeral potatoes, ham, salad, green Jello with shredded carrots in it and red Kool-aid.

 

The family reunion slowly moves away to continue their conversations, well wishing and photo taking back at the church … but I stay … alone.  I walk over to the city crew who will lower the casket and vault lid into the ground and tell them that they are burying my uncle.  That I’ll stay and watch.  That I have a great interest in the level of respect they afford his remains.

They look at me like I’m a little nuts, but my demeanor does not brook disbelief or misunderstanding.

Twenty minutes later, the pile of dirt is gone.  It hasn’t even left a stain on the surrounding grass.  The chairs and astroturf are gone.  The noise of the backhoe has been silenced. 

I stand by the effusive display of flowers and speak to my uncle.   “Well, they got you here ok.  I loved the caisson and 21-gun salute.  Your grandkids enjoyed letting the flotilla of white balloons gain their freedom in the sky.  Sorry about the flowers, but they won’t be here too long.  Your body is safe and honorably buried.  I’ll stop by later to make sure your headstone is well placed.”

 

I’ve missed the meal back at the church.  That’s ok.  My duty was at the grave.  I’ll see the family another time. 

A short three-step-stroll takes me to the graves of my grandparents.  I nod and say “hello” … and … “I’ll be back in a second”.  Three more steps take me to the graves of my great grandparents.  I touch their stone and say “Hi” knowing that none of them are here listening.  They are all talking to my uncle, catching up on events. 

However, I grin knowing they’ll all glance my way and laugh … who can resist watching me do a cemetery soft shoe shuffle before I turn with final nod and wave as I start the hike back to my car..

Advertisements

19 September 2010 Posted by | Cemetery, Tombstone | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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