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24 August 2011

EVER GET LOST IN A CEMETERY?

     No matter how many times I visit family graves, I hunt through rows of markers and stones to find a specific grave. Finding a grave is especially difficult in those cemeteries that allow only markers flush with the ground. No matter how many times I visit the graves of my father and brother, I walk back and forth, sometimes in a panic, wondering where my memory has gone.. All I can see is a flat expanse of ground with no upright markers. I go armed with a cemetery map, complete with landmarks like trees and row markers, but pinpointing the row, especially  in a big cemetery, is often difficult.
My great-grandfather's unmarked grave,
found with the help of
a kindly groundskeeper
      I have often had to request the help of cemetery employees to help me locate a specific plot, especially at huge urban cemeteries. While I must admit to a few less than favorable encounters with genealogy-phobic front office personnel, the groundskeepers I have met have gone out of their way to help me locate specific plots. One groundskeeper went so far as to look up plot information that the front office clerk, citing bogus privacy concerns, would not reveal to me. This wonderful man then drove me, in his truck, to my ancestor's grave. At a another cemetery, a groundskeeper stayed a half hour past closing time to help me find my great grandfather's unmarked grave.  Once, at an old Philadelphia cemetery, three cemetery workers, none of whom spoke English, took time from their chores to find the location of my Magee family graves, all unmarked. They joined in my moment of prayer and reflection as I placed flowers on the plots.
    I have also been helped by those in the genealogical community who share information they have collected from cemeteries. There are many family researchers who are devoted to transcribing names and dates on headstones. Many of these transcription collections are now available online. These dedicated people are of great help to those of us who cannot travel to distant cemeteries.
      Many researchers upload information to Internet cemetery projects such as Find A Grave or Resting Spot. Find A Grave contains inscription information and a place to leave online flowers or notes. Some of the pages provide photos of the headstone. Resting Spot is a new online project that uses GPS technology to pinpoint the location of plots--a great service for those of us who "lose" their ancestors' plots. Using a GPS function on a cell phone, a family historian can send the GPS coordinates of a cemetery plot to the Resting Spot project and have it recorded for future use and also for the use of fellow researchers. The app is not currently available for all cell phones, so check the Resting Spot web site to determine if you can participate in this project.
LINKS
IRISH GENEALOGICAL PROJECT  (some of the county projects have cemetery records)