History fascinates me, probably because I had many wonderful teachers who taught history as if they had been standing there when it happened (okay, there might also have been a couple who helped me invent my own distinctive style of large scale doodling, but hey). I also love to trek back through the generations of our families and try to locate where people were when and how they got to be there and why they moved on; all that good stuff. Most of all I like the stories that people tell you about so and so and trying to imagine connections and what their lives might have been like. Actually, I wish they had all had a blog so I could know them as living, breathing people and not just names on a piece of paper. Unfortunately few even wrote anything down so you have to fill in the blanks based on newspaper articles, land records, census information and that kind of thing. It's very much like solving a mystery.
On my way to St. Louis yesterday and today I stopped off in Strafford, Cuba, Bourbon and Sullivan, Missouri and spent quite a bit of time tromping around various cemeteries looking for the grave markers of my ancestors. I found where my Great Grandfather Melton is buried (yes, I have pictures) and his parents as well. On the next row back from them were the parents and brother of his wife; nice having them all together. That cemetery is way out in the boonies, far enough out that I was just beginning to wonder if I would ever find my way back, before I found it (thank you Aunt Carol for the directions). I had stopped off in Springfield for lunch, gas and a second big glass of water on my way through town so, by the time I found the cemetery and had walked around talking to everyone buried there I was badly in need to 'the facilities'. There are no 'facilities' in cemeteries so you 'make do', if you know what I mean.
You would think that a cemetery far from anywhere would not have traffic AT ALL. But I know how it is with these places because we have a small cemetery on our farm too. The locals immediately notice if a strange car pulls up and stops and some weirdo from out of state starts bothering the long dead. Yesterday they took turns driving slowly by, and then one of them actually pulled up to the little church and just sat watching me for fifteen minutes. You can probably see where this is going.
As I was bending down to get the right light for a picture of the names and dates on one particular stone, and trying not to pee my pants, the dreaded event began to occur. I won't elaborate but...well, accidents happen. Yes, I did mutter a bad word or two. Luckily for me I had on my magic pants: I don't know what material these things are made off but for some reason they dry remarkably quickly. I did find a space between a large cedar tree and someone's gigantic headstone to finish the job and then had to wander around aimlessly in the cemetery getting to know all the extended families of everyone there so my pants would have time to dry out before I tried to find somewhere to stay the night. Then, when things were back in order, I headed to the car and discovered that somewhere in all that wandering and bending over to read eroding names and dates I had lost the car keys. Honestly! I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. I figured it was the 'will of God' that I walk all over the place YET AGAIN. Believe it or not I did find them and managed to wend my way out to the highway again. Amazing. I initially thought I might have to just sleep in the car behind the church (now that would have started tongues a'waggin to be sure).
Here is my list of things learned from my two days of seeing dead people:
1. Always go to the bathroom before you start the long drive out to cemetery.
2. Take pictures of the stones but also write everything down.
3. Take along your papers that tell who married whom and any dates you know about, so you can stop into the libraries and do a little research there.
4. The libraries and/or historical museums are a wealth of genealogical information.
5. If you can't find where someone is buried, go talk to the people at the funeral homes; they have records.
6. If you can't find the cemetery at all, go to the cafe and make friends with the oldest person there. They will know tons of useful information and they will enjoy the company. Don't be in a hurry to leave them: listen.
7. There are way too many semis on the highways. We should be shipping by rail.
8. Remember to take the adapter for your Ipod so you don't go crazy listening to the same three CDs and the country music stations. Silence is golden, as it turns out.
9. Rainy days are not the best for wandering around, taking down information off of gravestones.
10. Cemeteries can be sad places or they can be a place of reunion; you decide which way it goes.
11. Accept the fact that some people are creeped out by cemeteries. It's okay. Don't judge.
12. If you are going to get a headstone for someone, get one with the letters standing out from the background, not carved into the background.
13. My new pretend name is: Taleah Blessi. Isn't it lovely? There are lots of Blessi from this area it turns out.
14. Junk food makes you feel yucky. Take along some good stuff in a small ice chest.
15. Charge your camera and phone before you leave home.
16. I cannot find the Dotters anywhere, even though I know they lived here. I'll have to come back.