Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Didn’t Have To Travel Far

While spending a day taking tombstone photos recently, I stopped to take photos of the general setting while standing beside the grave my great grandparents.  Pondering the scene, I realized that I could see the tombstones of three sets of 2nd great grandparents, one set of great grandparents and one set of my grandparents with just a slight movement of my eyes.  Other ancestors are buried close by.  In a ten minute drive, I could visit the graves four generations of my ancestors except for one set in California and one in Massachusetts.

Over the years, I’ve encouraged members of my family history classes to visit the burial locations of their ancestors and associated family.  They’ve reported back on the sometimes lengthy trips they’ve made to visit the associated cemeteries.  We’ve enjoyed talking about the discoveries they’ve made in the towns and locations where their ancestors lived. 

Frequently, while standing at the headstones of their ancestors, they’ve experienced a shift in their personal affection for them.   The ties  that bind them to their ancestors are strengthened, even inextricably enhanced.

My ancestors gathered to the same general area to live their lives because of religious beliefs and economic opportunity.  Many generations of their descendants still live and have been buried within a thirty mile radius of the original settlements.  Naturally, they have also been buried in the cemeteries in those towns, hence my good fortune in being able to see so many of their graves from one vantage point.

Other ancestral lines were similarly buried in close proximity to each other.  My ancestral families in Plymouth, Massachusetts lived there for over three hundred years.  My ancestral families from Bornholm, Denmark lived, died and buried in close proximity to each other for dozens of generations. 

My ancestors that moved for economic necessity or due to their adventurous spirit have left long trails dotted with  wayside stops where they briefly lived, gave birth, married, died and buried some family members.  Vacations over the years have taken us to most of their burial sites, but there are still some graves that haven’t been visited.

What is so important about visiting the grave of an ancestor?  In many cases, their headstone is the only physical item that exists from their day.  I can see their names on birth, marriage and death records as well as in census, wills and property records, but they are usually  digital images, not a tangible object. 

Touching their headstone creates a tie between us.  The tactile memory from my fingertips hasn’t dimmed with time.  The feeling of being part of a great discovery was sweet at the time and is still satisfying in the years and decades since the first encounters.

How about you?  Do you have similar groupings of ancestral burials in close proximity of each other or do you have to make a determined  effort to find and visit their graves? 

Either way, the effort to visit their graves is worth your time and expense.  Remember to take photos of their tombstones and of the setting. 

If you have handheld GPS, record the exact location of their graves in your notes and transfer the information  to your genealogy database.  Add the digitized images to their records to enhance their life stories.

Remember to take a photo of yourself standing beside their graves to help you remember the trip and your tie to them and as time goes by, to give your descendants something tangible to view as they look back at their own ancestors.

 

 

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