Sunday, June 29, 2008

Your Guide to Cemetery Research

Your guide to cemetery research
by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Book; English
Cincinnati, Ohio : Betterway Books, ©2002.
1st ed
1558705899 9781558705890
Related Subjects:
United States -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc. Cemeteries -- United States. Cemeteries -- United States. United States -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.

My sister gave me this book as a Christmas present and although I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, what I have read is very informative and entertaining. The author interlaces her instructions on how to do cemetery research with some wonderful humor that is so close to home. Just to give you a glimpse, here are a few quotes from the intro to her book:

" The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can't some out, and those outside don't want to get in. --Arthur Brisbane

This quote isn't entirely true. There is one group of people that wants to get into cemeteries: genealogists. Some of them have been known to climb fences and scale walls in order to get in and locate an ancestor's grave.
Did you know that scientists have isolated the gene that makes certain people predisposed to an interest in genealogy and cemeteries? It's true. It's called the cemetery gene. That's the one that makes you unconsciously turn your head and slow down when you drive by a cemetery. Non-genealogists don't do that. And you don't even realize that you've begun doing it. Just one day, after you've become addicted to climbing your family tree you start to look at cemeteries in a new light. All of a sudden, the cemetery is your favorite place to be outside of a research repository or in from of the computer. Pretty spooky, huh?......

I quickly learned that for genealogists, cemeteries are not frightening or gruesome places. In fact, we often hope ghosts or spirits will appear while we are searching. We would love to ask them some well-placed questions about those missing wives and parents."

I don't know about you, but I find that both of these comments hit pretty close to home and I can't help but chuckle to myself because they are so true. I don't know how many times I've carried on conversations with those buried in the cemetery wishing I would get an answer to a mystery that I've encountered while researching. My husband is one of those that doesn't understand. He only shakes his head when on a nice spring day I'll say I'm off to the cemetery. To his credit, he has tagged along on some trips, transcribing tombstones with me and taking photographs, searching for elusive stones.

There is another reason that I try to document cemeteries. Each of the people buried in a cemetery had lives at one time, had families and people who cared for them. Sometimes one of the only records of that person's life is the tombstone on their grave and those are constantly being worn away by the effects of nature and by human actions. Many of the photos that are on the tombstones in Beallsville (and I'm sure other cemeteries as well) have been used as target practice for bb guns. Many of the tombstones have fallen over. Those that fall face first are actually well preserved but can't be read as the stones are often too heavy to lift. The ones that fall face us are very susceptible to the effects of weather.

These two photos are of the same tombstone in the old section of Beallsville Cemetery. They were taken two weeks apart. The one on the left was taken before the remnants of hurricane Ivan came through Western PA. The one on the right is the result of the storm - the whole face of the tombstone just slid off. Those pieces are now gone too and you can not read the stone. There are no written records at the cemetery for this oldest section. All that remains to let anyone know that there are people buried here and who they were, are the tombstones that are left. Now the only record that I know of that Margaret Greenlee,who was 23 years old, died Oct 1st, 1840, and is buried in Beallsville, is this photo and the record I've been able to create and give to the cemetery office and include on the website. I don't know who Margaret was but I feel bad for her but am glad that I was able to help preserve her memory.
There are so many small family cemeteries nestled in the countrysides across the country, some have been covered over to make way for parking lots (before there were laws protecting them). Some have been forgotten and neglected. It's a shame that so much personal history has been lost to us because these cemeteries and burial grounds have not been documented. I thank all those who have made an effort to preserve or document even just one stone and then share that information with others. Keep up the good work - it is appreciated by all of us genealogists who drive slow past all those cemeteries and wonder if any of our ancestors are there waiting to be discovered.

1 comment:

Lassa Green said...

I lived in Beallsville, PA from 1993 to 2004 and wish I had a photograph of that headstone from back then. I remember it was one of the 1st headstones passed on entrance to the cemetery. It was unique because there was a much smaller, identically shaped headstone in front and on the left side of Ms.Greenlee's headstone marked for 'an unborn child'. I guessed it to mean she had died in childbirth or while pregnant. I have never seen a set of headstones like it. It was sad, but beautiful at the same time. I really got a sense that someone ages ago mourned greatly for them both. -RCA