Monday, December 22, 2014

Find a Grave

If you are a genealogist, want to be a genealogist, or know a genealogist, you have discovered, or will soon discover, that they have an obsession with cemeteries.  Given a choice, visiting a cemetery will always come out on the top of  a family researcher's list of things to do.  One can learn a great deal from a tombstone - and if you are lucky enough to come upon a family plot, well, that is the ultimate bonanza!

But let's face it, unless you are lucky enough that your entire family, going back ten generations, all lived and died in the same location, cemetery stalking can be an expensive research tool.  Never fear - someone figured that out and the result is Find A Grave.

Find A Grave was the brain-child of James Tipton of Salt Lake City, who, in 1995 was looking for a way to enhance his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people.  The site later expanded to include the graves of non-famous people.

On 30 Sept 2013, acquired the site.  As of June 2014, the site contained 116 million burial records and 75 million photos world-wide.

The website contains listings of cemeteries and graves from around the world.  American cemeteries are organized by state and county and many cemetery records contain Google Maps (with GPS coordinates supplied by contributors) and photographs of the cemeteries.  Individual grave records contain some or all of the following data fields:  Dates and places of birth and death, biographical information, cemetery and plot information, photographs and contributor information.

If you want to become a contributor to the site, check out the website (linked above).  If you just want to take a walk through your past, sign up at the Find A Grave website and explore the possibilities.

A Personal "Aside"

Now, I don't normally wander off the reservation with personal stories - but I do have one that concerns a cemetery that I think is worth sharing.  I promise this won't happen often - I hope you will enjoy it.

I grew up in a relatively small (50,000 residents in the 1970s) town in Connecticut.  I am only the second generation of my family, on either side, to be born in the United States - so you won't find a lot of my ancestors buried anywhere close by.  When my maternal grandfather died in 1961, my grandmother purchased a small plot in the local cemetery with the intent that this is would be where all of us would eventually be buried.  After my grandfather was interred, we began a Sunday cemetery tradition.  The Sunday routine was:  church; cemetery visit, mid-day meal at my grandmother's; and hanging out with the family until it was time to go home and watch Ed Sullivan and The Wonderful World of Disney.

In the early 1970s, I moved to New York City, then to Washington, D.C., and did not return to my hometown until 1989.  It had never been my plan to "go home again".  But there was some force that kept telling me that this was what I was supposed to do.  When I first returned to Connecticut,  I lived with my mother briefly while I looked for a home to purchase, and was not surprised to see that the Sunday tradition was still in place, if just a bit modified.  By then, my maternal grandmother had also passed away, and my mother (along with me for a while) was living in the home which her parents had built in 1941.

A few months after I moved in with Mom, I met a very nice man who asked me out to dinner one Saturday night in August.  His last name was Haberern, and interestingly, he had grown up just two blocks away from the house I now shared with my mother, and where I had spent a great deal of time as a child and young adult.  He was eleven years older than I, which explains why we didn't hang out together as kids and why I didn't remember him, or know much about his family.  Long story short, we had our date, and on Sunday morning, after church, and on our way to the cemetery, my mother asked about it and whether I would be seeing this man again.  I told her that I had a very strong, good feeling about this guy. There was a strange "connection" that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  My mother told me that she felt "something" similar when he came to the door to pick me up the night before, but she, too, couldn't put her finger on exactly what it was - although she did mention how much she liked his little, red sports car.

We pulled into the cemetery and wound our way up to the beautiful hill my grandmother had chosen for our family to spend eternity.  When she had purchased this plot, the area wasn't much more than a pile of dirt and a some small trees.  It had grown and expanded and the trees had filled out, and it was very peaceful with a beautiful view of the surrounding town.  As was our routine, Mom jumped out of the car and started weeding and picking at the flowers we had planted, and I grabbed the watering can from the trunk and walked over to a nearby spigot to fill it.  When I turned to walk back to our plot, I saw my mother standing, with one hand over her mouth, looking like she had just seen a ghost.  I quickly ran over and asked what was wrong.  "Look", she said pointing her finger.  I followed her finger as she swept it in an arc in front of her, pointing out the five gravestones closest to our family burial site.  All five gravestones bore the name "Haberern".  We had found the connection.

-- Contributed by Denise Doyon

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