The Importance of Cemeteries
By Brad Manzenberger
When I tell people that I restore historic cemeteries I get one of two response; Wow! That’s cool! or Wow! Cemeteries creep me out! I have always loved cemeteries and as long as none of the “residents” get up and join me they won’t creep me out.
My love for graveyards increased as I got into genealogy. From that genealogy my passion for restoring historic pioneer cemeteries grew.
So why are cemeteries important? Are they only for burial of remains and for visitation by loved ones? Of course not. They are so much more.
Sometimes only record that person lived
There have been a few times I have found unknown ancestors, particularly distant aunts, uncles and cousins when visiting a cemetery. I have also found the names of various great Grandmothers on their headstone when I hadn’t found them in records. I use the Census extensively in my genealogy research, but since it is only done every ten years you won’t find children who were born and died between Census enumerations. But you will often find them buried next to their parents or other family members.
Locate birth/death dates
Sometime we don’t have birth or death dates available in records. We can only guess an approximate date when using the Census. But when visiting the cemetery we often find at least a death date and an age at time of death. But be careful, as with any genealogical sources, verify the information through other means when you can. Stone carvers made mistakes from time to time that weren’t always caught or changed.
I have, on many occasions, found, or confirmed the names of siblings of my direct ancestors by finding their graves next to those of my Great Grandparents.
Tangible connection to ancestors
Visiting my ancestor’s graves has allowed me a physical connection to them. There is a headstone with their name and other information on it. I can touch it. I never met them, but I can touch what, in most cases, is the only thing that remains from their entire existence.
History of local community
You can sometimes learn some of the history of the local community in an old pioneer cemetery. As I walk through the oldest sections of my local city cemetery I see names on headstones that I also see on street signs. Ever see a whole bunch of death dates within a few months of each other, often many children? That could indicate a plague, natural disaster or other tragedy. All of this can help give you an idea of what your ancestors experienced in their community.
Like art? A cemetery is full of it. Some basic and simple, others intricately detailed.
Brad Manzenberger is the owner of Stone Revival Cemetery Restoration, Inc of Franklin, IN. He has been a professional genealogist for the past five years in conjunction with his cemetery restoration work. He did personal genealogy for several years prior to that. Visit his site at www.StoneRevival.net.