As the family plans its summer schedule, the term “day trip” looms large, as I’m sure it does for many families in these cost-conscious times. I’m toying with the idea of the genealogy day trip, which would thrill me to no end. It might not thrill the kiddies as much, though.
Still, on the positive side, my kids are a little older now and might actually enjoy trooping through a graveyard or three. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a chance to make fun of Mom and her graveyard obsession. And a chance to take goofy pictures of Mom weeding graves. Sweet!
So I scribbled out this list of possibilities within a day’s drive of northern New Jersey:
• To Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island to photograph family markers there — my parents, and several aunts and uncles.
• To various cousins’ houses to look at their photograph albums. (Hmm. Might do this on a day the kids are in day camp.)
• To NARA-NYC to look at a bunch of indexes. (Another one for a day-camp day. In a perfect world, my kids would love hanging around microfilm viewers for five hours … but …)
• To Albany County to take a better picture of my great-great-grandparents’ tombstone. I really need to rectify this awful photo, which has been bugging me for four years. I would post it, but I’m just too mortified. If I succeed in getting a better one, I promise to post Do and Don’t pictures.
Will I do all of these things? The biggest enemy to productivity is the way summer fries a perfectly good brain. Summertime always seems to stretch into infinity on the day school ends. With so many more hours of daylight, what’s the rush?
Then, all too soon, it’s Labor Day already, and the genealogy to-do list has maybe one item crossed off.
I think I’ll ask the kids tonight how they feel about cemeteries.
A response to the 52 weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #22: Find-A-Grave.
I can spend hours hanging out at Find-A-Grave, and here they are telling me to poke around on this site as a challenge. Yeah. Right.
Oops! I meant to say, “Wow, tough assignment; I’m just going to have square my shoulders and do my best.”
Find-A-Grave has done fine things for my research. It helped me clarify where my great-great-uncle William’s wife was buried, since they weren’t next to each other. It was also nice to see my dad’s headstone on the site, placed there by a volunteer who has photographed many veterans’ graves in Calverton National Cemetery.
I also get an enormous kick out of finding out which famous people are buried in cemeteries near my hometown. Searching by locale, you can easily pull up a list of cemeteries in your area and browse the entries. There’s always an interesting story or two.
But the most important things I’ve learned from Find A Grave have been in the forums, where regulars congregate to swap tips, pet peeves and general wisdom. For example:
• I know that you will not win any friends by bragging about how the chalk you put on that 18th-century headstone made the inscription clear as day.
• Ditto for whipping out a Sharpie to color in the letters.
• I know that each year, kind volunteers fan out across Woodland Cemetery in Newark, N.J., to record inscriptions and photograph markers. It’s a chance for volunteers to work in a big group with an escort from local police. (Security concerns are a fact of life in many urban burial grounds.)
What’s very interesting, and important for genealogy enthusiasts to know, is that Find-A-Grave is primarily a gathering place for people who love graveyards. Some of them also love genealogy; the two interests often dovetail.
I don’t mean to imply that genealogy queries are unwelcome there — quite the contrary. I’m just saying that when I first found Find-A-Grave, I was thrown for a loop. Why were complete strangers (at least, I think they were strangers) photographing tombstones in my family lines? What was in it for them?
The answer for many really is simple: They get to explore cemeteries and read interesting tombstones. And because so many Find-A-Grave volunteers love what they do, we all gain in our research. Thanks, guys.
I had a perfect summer day for my trip to Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn last year. Knowing the size and scope of the place, I was hoping at least to get a lot of exercise and a nice photo of my grandparents’ grave. As it turned out, I came away with new information on three gravesites, including today’s Tombstone Tuesday post: my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney.
Joseph F. and I have had our ups and downs. I still don’t know as much as I’d like to about his youth and his decision to leave Watervliet, NY and move to Brooklyn in 1900. And where exactly this family group was in 1900 is still a bit of a mystery.
What’s neat about this gravesite is a key piece of information that isn’t even carved on the tombstone. We see here Joseph F., his wife, my great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, and two of their children: my great-uncle Joseph C. and Anne M. (“Anna”), my great-aunt by adoption.
However, according to the cemetery records, there is a fifth person here: my young great-uncle Leo, who died in 1901, at the age of 3. The cemetery listing gave me the specific time frame I needed to confirm that this was my Leo’s death certificate in the New York City Municipal Archives index. And on the death certificate itself, I learned that when little Leo died of meningitis in February 1901, he and his family had only been living in Brooklyn for five months.
Gradually the murky picture of this family’s whereabouts in 1900 is coming into clearer focus. From census digging, I know Joseph is likely to have been living apart from his family in Jersey City, NJ in June 1900.
And from Leo’s death certificate, I now know that he and his family were living in Brooklyn by September or October of 1900. So after a period of transition and separation, the family came together for what sadly turned out to be a very brief time before Leo’s illness and death.
I was very glad to have the knowledge the cemetery records gave me about who is actually in this grave. As it happened, the littlest occupant’s story had a great deal to tell me about a key event in the family timeline.
This cemetery story has bothered me for a while, so I decided to go ahead and post it on Tombstone Tuesday, although there is no tombstone. Instead, we have a grave, a twisty set of records, and a somewhat mysterious blank spot.
My great-great uncle William Haigney (1867-1930) is a genealogy blank spot himself. Nobody had ever mentioned him. When I began my research, nobody knew he was there to mention. He was included on my late Aunt Catherine’s List of Haigneys past and present. Unfortunately, she was no longer available to expand upon family history.
I hoped that a long-deferred cemetery trip to Brooklyn might produce some facts to flesh out my sketchy portrait of William. Silly, silly me.
Armed with death certificates and burial dates for William and his wife, I hoped the grave would be fairly easy to locate, which it was. But then the clerk said, “Wait a minute,” took an old register down and worked in silence for another 10 minutes, frowning thoughtfully from time to time. I began to feel guilty, then apprehensive. What was in those records? Vampire sightings? News that William’s grave had been paved over?
As it turned out, the ownership record was odd for the plot in which William was buried with his only child. The owner of record was a family whose surname is unconnected to any of my lines, with burials taking place between 1859 and 1889. However, the plot was emptied by 1930. Despite William’s burial in it, there was no subsequent owner on record.
I headed to the gravesite, where, after diligent pacing and counting, I had to accept that there was no marker. Not too surprising. William never appeared to have much money. There might never have been a marker. Plus, he died in 1930, and his only child in 1946, leaving no children of her own. There’s a good chance nobody had come near the grave in 60 years.
But the plot ownership quirks are typical of my research on William, a collection of facts that frustrate with more questions. How did William come to be in that particular spot? Was the plot’s owner of record connected to William somehow? And where was William’s wife?
The third question at least can be answered: William’s wife is buried in her parents’ large plot in another part of the same cemetery, beside her first husband.
But the other questions rest undisturbed for now, like William himself.