Don’t Be Put Off Visiting Cemeteries or Graveyards
I have visited a lot of cemeteries/graveyards in the 30 years I have been family history researching. I have never felt spooked at all, I just feel as though I am visiting a relative. In fact, I find them relatively tranquil and a place to take your time and soak up the atmosphere. You certainly will need to take time because some searches are more difficult. If you are visiting the graveyard attached to an ancient church to find your ancestor, you may find the grounds quite unkempt. It is nothing to be wading knee and sometimes thigh deep in grass and weeds, I am talking here about the UK.
It’s a sad fact that some church precincts are not looked after, lack of money I am sure. You certainly need to take certain things with you when you know the graveyard you will be visiting in your ancestor search, is an old one, maybe even a redundant church. Some of these redundant churches are looked after by heritage authorities and are kept in relatively good order, but other’s are not.
With some you feel you should have brought a scythe with you! You certainly need to have a stiff hand brush to use on the gravestones [if they are quite old]. They get covered with lichen and the writing is all but obliterated. Even though taking a photograph works with newer stones it’s not possible with the older ones. You need to brush them down even to get to read them. Sometimes you have to feel the letters even to interpret what is written there. On some it is virtually impossible to make out the whole epitaph, but if you can at least get the name and dates that is something that you didn’t have before.
I visited one some years ago which was a redundant church – not being kept up by anyone – and it was positioned in the middle of a field. I had to park my car and walk half way across an acre field to get to the church and graveyard. It was completely surrounded by a high hedge, and when I was looking round the relatively small graveyard, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was not such a good idea to place myself in such a solitary position. I confess I didn’t linger long in that particular churchyard, there wasn’t anything there for me anyway.
Usually members of one family are placed together in these old churchyards, this does not seem to be possible in the large city cemeteries. Unless individuals are placed within the same grave, they will not be togetherand this can make your family name history search difficult. In the older graveyards you probably will find one gravestone and then the others are usually nearby.
I usually take note of their position in relation to the church, which side they are situated, how many positions from the church, and the extra graves with the same surname I take note of in relation to the main one I found. This helps if you need to visit the graveyard again for any reason. If you couldn’t take a picture for other family members to see, they may want to see for themselves. I have done that before, taken older family members to visit any graves I have found.
Concerning the newer cemeteries you can apply to the superintendant to give you a plan of the cemetery with your family grave number marked. It’s relatively easy if it is a family grave and you have the number, but even so they will have a surname index which should help.
You feel quite strange when you do find a relative’s grave. It’s a very nice feeling though, it places them into context in your mind, taking into consideration the place where they had lived and worked and been buried, this is all part of tracing family trees. I love going into the churches also and perhaps sitting where they may have sat in their time.
Religion played a bigger part in the lives of our forbears, in fact way back, it was illegal not to go to church and there were people appointed by the church to make sure that you did your duty and if you didn’t you were denounced for this. It was quite a disgrace.
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