Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cemetery Thoughts ...

I have to admit; I'm not a fan of visiting cemeteries. I find cemeteries a little creepy, but I go to cemeteries because there might be some information on the tombstones of my ancestors or in the sexton's records. (And, to state the obvious, find out where my ancestors are buried.)

I think the main reason why I find cemeteries creepy - and this does not include national cemeteries like Arlington or Gettysburg - i s probably because the pervasiveness of death. I'm young, and I do not think about death very much. The unearthly stillness in a cemetery can be unnerving. The biggest difference between national cemeteries and the rural or local cemeteries is that the national cemeteries are, for me, a historical place and as such, there are always large groups of people walking around. It is less intimidating to walk around a cemetery when there are many people walking around or when one is visiting a cemetery because of the history that surrounds the place. Visiting a rural or local cemetery is, for me, a completely different experience than visiting a national cemetery.

Of course, I have never gone into a cemetery alone. (Having other people with when you go to a cemetery is good idea for safety reasons besides the other reason of helping to keep the fear away.) I have always visited a cemetery with family members, primarily with my grandparents and my brother. Most of the cemeteries I have visited are cemeteries where my ancestors and their siblings are buried, and most of those cemeteries are rural cemeteries in Michigan. Many of them have been alongside a two-lane road and the area is almost completely deserted (ie., few cars passing by on the road or no other living people in the cemetery.) Of course, at the same time, these cemeteries can be interesting as to the variety of the tombstones. If I could forget that the dead people are buried in cemeteries, I could easily mistake cemeteries for parks with magnificent stone sculptures. It would work, but only if I didn't notice the pervasive scent of decay. (I'm serious about this. It smells sweet but repugnant at the same time.) To be honest, I'm not exactly thinking this the whole time I'm in the cemetery. These thoughts are more subconscious, in the back of my mind, and they only last for few seconds or minutes. They go away only because I my main concern is to find where my ancestor is buried, take a picture (or pictures) and write down any information that I find, including where the grave is located. (As you can imagine, I want to get my research done as quickly as I can.)

So, what experiences have I had? It may sound like I've had a bad experience from what I have written up above, but I really haven't had any bad experiences (other than wasting time). I just have a minor phobia of cemeteries. A few of my experiences:
  • A literal wild goose chase in searching for the burial site of my great-great-grandfather. (I won't write about that in this post as this story is a post in its self. Someday, I'll post about it in the future.)
  • The accidental discovery of an ancestor's grave while searching for the graves of other ancestors. (I found those graves too, but I wasn't expecting to find my other ancestor's grave as well.)
  • And the mistake I made the first time I went to do research in Saint Joseph County, Michigan. (It is much easier to go to the library first, find the transcriptions, and then go visit the cemetery. I don't think I need to say anymore about that one.)

I realize that these are not exactly thrilling experiences. These are just the more memorable experiences I have had in the past four years of doing genealogy. I will have to write on my other experiences on other posts otherwise this post will be extremely long.

So, what do you think about cemeteries? As always, you are more than welcome to leave a comment.


Apple said...

I love cemeteries. There is one near where I work and I love to go there to walk for exercise rather than the town park with it's paved walking track. It is so peaceful and some of the stones are incredibly beautiful. I have taken my kids and grandkids to cemeteries to search for the graves of ancestors or on other occasions simply to have a quiet walk together. They love to make rubbings of stones. Thinking about the stories behind the names makes exercising more pleasant than just walking the track and when I get winded I can sit under a tree for a bit.

I hope to get to MI in the spring. Perhaps we could walk through the cemetery in Mottville together.

Terry Thornton said...

You summarized the attitude of a lot of people with your statement "I think I have a minor phobia of cemeteries." And I trust yours does not become full-blown so that you can't continue your searching in cemeteries. I find cemeteries, especially the rural ones, to be peaceful and serene. [Except during hunting season! My headstone is already up marking where I'll be one of these days; last deer season I "visited" my stone and a deer hunter was sitting in his chair just a few yards away waiting for an appropriate target!]
Terry Thornton
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi

Janice said...

Perhaps the older we get, the more comfortable we are in cemeteries. When I was a teenager I worked in a nursing home next to a cemetery and the residents used to delight in an after-supper walk there.