Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cemeteries are more helpful than you think

So it's about time I talked about something that I think is an important part of genealogical research; cemetery visits.  Now I realized due to geographical restraints this is not necessarily something everyone can do, but if it is at all possible I highly suggest it.  Not only are cemeteries always quiet and even sometimes extremely beautiful, but they can actually give you some clues about your family members.  Sometimes just based on whom someone is or isn't buried next to you, can determine their relationship.

For example, my great grand uncle on my maternal grandfather's side; Frank Keilhack, has two children.  Presumably in the early 1900s one would need a spouse to have children.  I have not found said spouse, and upon visiting his grave at St Joseph Cemetery I found that he shares a headstone with 3 other people;  his parents and his brother Robert (who had a very short life).  Also upon finding Frank's obituary there was no mention of a left behind spouse, only his 2 children.  This would lead me to believe she was not very important to him.  To go along with this, sometimes cemeteries can give you spouses you weren't even totally prepared to look for.  I went to Concordia Cemetery to find some family members on my maternal grandfather's grandmother's side of the family; the Tjardes family.  I found a great grand aunt and her spouse & then what seemed to be to be 2 mysterious people by the names of Grace & Julian Law who were buried on the same plot.  Now at first I figured those two graves sites had been sold at some point and weren't part of the family plot.  This is where the people who work in cemetery offices are amazingly helpful.  The woman who runs the cemetery was able to look up the card for the plot and let me know that those graves had not been sold and they in fact belonged to my great grand uncle who owned the whole plot.  To make a long story short, turns out the Laws were the daughter and spouse of the people I was looking for.

Cemeteries can also give you information on children you never knew existed or children you knew were born, but then lost track of.  This is extra useful if your family was around in the early 1900s.  The records were not the best that were kept around that time, especially if you're looking into infant or small child deaths. On the same trip to Concordia Cemetery I was told by the wonderful woman in the office that the other pair of great grand aunt & spouse I was looking for had 4 other people buried with them on their lot.  Turns out one was their adult daughter who had never married and died; the other 3 were unmarked graves for babies.  She did have the names for me, which after I got home and looked through my binder, turns out there were 3 of the 9 children they had that I had lost track of.

Cemeteries can be a daunting and scary thing for some people. However, if you can make it work I would definitely suggest making the trip.  Charge your camera battery and take lots of pictures too, you never know what you may come across.  One of the joys I've gotten out of these cemetery visits is being able to share it with your family members.  Sometimes the greatest pleasure of doing genealogy work is to be able to tell your grandparents something they never knew about their family or to take them to a grave of a long lost loved one.  If you're lucky enough to have family that died in the early 1900s (not that people dying is lucky but you get what I'm saying) I would highly recommend trying to get to those cemeteries.  Upright monuments were very popular back then and you never know what kind of interesting "architecture" you may see at a cemetery.  The prettiest cemetery I've been to lately was Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park.  It is a marriage of 2 older cemeteries; Forest Home & German Waldheim.

The thing I really thought was cool about this cemetery was the way it was laid out.  You could tell that the roadways had been brick at one point because through the cracked old concrete a few were still sticking out. The thing I liked the most was the walking paths that had been put into place.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s cemeteries were often gathering places for families in the city.  There weren't many city parks at the time so this was often the cleanest, quietest place to get together.  The grave plots are also raised off the road and lined by concrete curbs.  It gives the cemetery this kind of eerie old world charm to it.

And on a last note . . . only 36 more days till the 1940 census is release on!!