Sunday, May 22, 2011

Words From the Grave

Recently my husband and I took a road trip across the United States.  One thing we incorporated into the trip was cemetery searching.  I thought it would be fun to check out cemeteries of where some of our ancestors were buried.  We visited several cemeteries, in some we found our ancestors and in others, not so lucky.  The whole experience was wonderful.  Oh the excitement when we found those graves of our loved ones that we had only gotten to know through our researching endeavors.  We did discover that we were quite unprepared for really using this search as a tool in helping us discover more information.  We agreed that we want to go back to many of these cemeteries and do it right this time.  Here are some problems we faced and what we decided we needed to do next time.

First, we did bring along a computer that assisted us in looking up what we had already found and helped us to decide where we wanted to go looking.  In all circumstances on this trip, we knew the names of the cemeteries and the towns where they were located.  We also brought along a GPS which made it possible for us to find some of these cemeteries by coordinates.  I doubt that we would have been able to find them any other way.  We also used the Internet each night to check out the locations of these cemeteries so that we could plug it into the GPS to find them.

The thing we were not prepare with is that almost all of our visits to cemeteries were on the weekend.  Not a great plan.  There was no one to go see if we had questions about locations and plot maps etc.  The other thing, we had no rubbing materials or cleaning materials and many of these old stones were extremely difficult to read due to wear and mold and such.

Here is a list of things I think need to be done if you plan on searching out cemeteries.  (From my other blog

1.  Get your facts -  Try to know as much about your ancestor as you can.  It helps to know the cemetery where he/she is buried (or at least the town).  Check all of your lines to see if there are others that might be in the same cemetery (try to do as much as you can at one cemetery as possible).  Check out Find A Grave on the Internet.  It is free and will be a huge help.

2.  Do ground work ahead of time - Write the county or town hall to see if they have any information about the cemetery that would be of help to you - like a plot map showing where graves are located (this will save huge amounts of time walking and searching).

3.  Gather supplies - Do research on how to extract information from decaying gravestones (brushes, cleaners, rubbing materials, etc).  There are right and wrong ways to clean gravestones - be sure to research this!  Bring a computer or printed material of your genealogy.  Bring a clipboard and plenty of paper.

4.  Plan enough time - It is amazing how fast time flies when you are searching gravestones.  If you have to factor in cleaning time, your time will go even faster.  Don't rush!  Don't over plan your day (don't try to do several cemeteries in a day) - be flexible.

5.  Document what you find and where you found it - Take pictures but also map out those around your ancestor - they may be related in some way.  It is amazing how quickly you will forget what picture goes where.  Take notes of your pictures so when you are looking at them, you will know who it is you are viewing and who they a re related to....(many times you will find a stone that says the family name with no information but in front of the stone you see mother, father, child, etc. This can be very confusing if you are only looking at pictures.). 

6.  Week day working hours may be best - If you need to talk with someone at the cemetery or in a court house, funeral home, etc., they may only be available during work hours.  If you plan your cemetery visit during the weekend, you may be out of luck if you need to speak to someone (believe me, you very well may need to do this).

7.  Take the family - What a fantastic experience for your whole family.  Get the kids involved.  Everyone can search in a cemetery.  How exciting it is to see your ancestor's grave.  This would be a great time for you to tell your family about some memories or research experience you may have had with this ancestor.  These were real people with real life struggles.  Believe me, there will be some touching moments when you see your ancestor's grave.
Your family can tell you so much from the grave but be prepared before you go.  Plan to enjoy the experience.  Bring the generations together and share your experience with your family.  Have fun, this will be a most rewarding time for can count on it!