Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wandering Through a Graveyard

          I suppose this is odd, but I love graveyards.
          We lived near one when I was growing up, so I have played in it, rode my bike along its paths, picnicked on the top of the tall family stones, and collected the discarded flowers for my mother.  I went in search of graveyards while honeymooning in British Columbia.  (Seriously, are there NO graveyards in Canada?  Once we left the big cities, we found nary a graveyard, cemetery, or boneyard!)
          I like the large, ornate monuments:  the guardian angels, the chubby cherubs, the weeping willows.
          When I heard about the Victorian habit of making a table grave to picnic on and remember their departed loved one, I was entranced.
          I love medieval monuments to dead kings and queens, dead priests, and dead saints.
          Fields of tombstones are heartbreaking.
          As are those of our loved ones.
          But my favorite tombstones are those that tell the story of the person who is buried there.  This one is particularly interesting because it is not only a marker for the dead man, but a political broadside against the occupying British.
          One of my favorite genealogical finds has been findagrave.com.  This is an army of volunteers, including myself, who go out and photograph grave markers, then upload the photos with information on the deceased.  You can go there and find some good soul has photographed your ancestor’s grave, enabling you to see it hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
          And best of all, you can request that a local person goes out and finds the grave that you are interested in and some kind stranger will do just that – head out, hunt for it, photograph it, and upload it.  All of us who are interested in genealogy should consider doing this as a way to give back and help others in their quests for their ancestors.
          I think the reason that I find tombstones and graveyards so interesting is that they tell wonderful stories if we take the time to listen to them.  Sure, there is a name and a date or two to read.  Maybe some other data, but often times if you stop and think about what you are seeing you find a much greater story.
          Several years ago I was traipsing around a Civil War battlefield in Mississippi and of course ended up in the little cemetery that had been created for the Union dead.  There were maybe two dozen of those ubiquitous white marble headstones.  I strolled among them and discovered one that reminded me just how far from home these boys were and how great the sacrifice both they and their families made.
          Attached to the back of the “official” marker was another marble marker.  It told the same basic information:  name, date and place of birth, date and place of death, unit in which he served.  But at the top was inscribed “Our Beloved Son”.  And it hit me that this young man from New England had died a world away from his family.  So far away that they would never visit his grave or see the place where he died.  There would be many questions that his buddies could never answer for the grieving parents.  All of their love and longing and grief could not bring him back, alive or dead. 
All that they could do was commission a headstone to mark his burial place, letting all who cared to walk behind know that he was their beloved son.

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