How much attention do you pay to cemeteries when you aren’t attending a funeral? Have you ever considered the great importance they have, especially old local ones?
These may seem like odd questions. While I was younger, my folks got involved in family genealogy research. It influenced me to have an appreciation for and interest in the past of our family. It amazed me how much information they found in cemetery records and headstones alone.
When in a cemetery, the proximity of people that shared the same last name, or tied in with women’s maiden names, gives a lot of detail. If you had one name to go off of and knew where the grave is, then you might find things like a young child’s or siblings’ grave, parents’ or uncles’ and aunts’. Possibly even a first wife. All this can be guessed by the dates given. If someone was sixty years old when someone else with the same last name was born, then you may have found a grandparent or great uncle and aunt. A little deductive reasoning can lead you a lot of places. Then you can use those gathered names to check local records and fill in holes in information.
In later years when I began helping Travis with research, other things began to interest me about cemeteries. The cultural trends of headstones (a lamb is frequently used on old headstones of children’s graves). What different symbols stood for (Masonic symbols, Woodsmen of the World, etc.). Even the stories told in honor of the person buried or facts about them. Some may tell birthplace, marriages, children, grandchildren. Some tell of how the person died (such as a family that was killed in a historic tornado in Missouri). They also can include military service information. Cemeteries are truly a wealth of knowledge.
The seeds of my fascination with cemetery history were planted when I was younger, but it has grown as I have found out more about them. It shocks and saddens me that people purposefully damage them (tipping headstones; stealing decorations such as medals). Children should be taught to respect them as not only someone else’s property, but also for their importance to future generations as I was.
What also saddens me is knowing that we are in danger of loosing this history. Some of these old informative sites have been lost through lack of care; reclaimed by the nature that surrounds them because no one cared enough to keep the trees and bushes from overtaking the graves. How many more are in danger with each passing year? Once these sites are gone there is no replacing them and no restoring that knowledge.
Travis and I don’t want to stand by and let these local treasures disappear. We are starting the family tradition of cleaning local, untended cemeteries up so that other people can conduct their family research. I would have been heartbroken if Mama and Papa’s research had ended with the lose of a cemetery. I don’t what Savannah’s generation to suffer the lose of the history either. It is up to all of us to keep an eye out for local cemeteries. If it hasn’t been tended, see to it; don’t wait around saying someone should do something, get to work. It is easier to maintain a cemetery than it is to reclaim one.