Planning a cemetery research trip

Planning my tour of southern cemeteriesI’m going to an organizers’ conference in Nashville next month and I’ve decided to drive there so I can add on some time for some cemetery research. I’m excited to step away from my desk a bit more!

The branch of my family tree I’m focusing on this quarter is Rasco, my paternal grandmother’s family. They lived in Alabama until about 100 years ago when my great grandparents moved their family to Texas and then to Washington state. My research indicates that some are buried in the Rasco Cemetery in Dallas County, Alabama. Others are buried at the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama.

In addition, my Adams line lived in Kentucky before moving to the Pacific Northwest. So I plan to visit two cemeteries in McLean County, Kentucky, as part of this trip. At least one of the gravestones, whose picture I saw on Find A Grave, is very hard to read. I’m anxious to work the aluminum foil magic on any particularly worn stones and see whether the data on the stone will become legible.

When I think about planning for this trip, I know I want to capitalize on the opportunity. That means that I need to know who I’m looking for. I also need to look for folks who might be their kin, even if I  don’t have good enough sources to have added them to my Reunion software. That way I can photograph gravestones for potential future use. I obviously need to get my directions together–the fact that Find A Grave often gives GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) for cemeteries is tremendous! Even though my time is somewhat limited prior to the trip, I do hope to devote some time to researching these lines so that I can bring as much knowledge to the table as possible. I also want to do a little research on best practices in cemeteries.

I wish I could incorporate some courthouse research on this trip, but I simply don’t have time before or after the conference. So, for now, I’ll settle on cemetery research and plan a future trip for courthouse documents. I’m excited!

If you’ve done cemetery research, do you have any tips for me?

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.

Reading hard-to-read gravestones

My family reunion was last weekend and I had a great time. Family members were so warm and welcoming to my husband and me despite the fact that my branch of the family had not been represented at that reunion in a couple of generations. I was given family pictures (some of which I’ll probably scan and share here) and well as a painting that my grandmother had painted. It was a great weekend.

On Saturday, my husband and I paid a visit to the cemetery where my grandmother’s ancestors were buried. (This was a reunion of people from my grandfather’s side of the family, so it was an adjunct activity.) I had visited that cemetery, Meyer Cemetery, last year when I traveled to western Missouri.  Three generations of Jeffries are buried in that cemetery:  my great grandfather, James Earl Jeffries;  his parents, John D. Jeffries and Susan Price Jeffries; his in-laws, John Price and Mary Puffenbarger Price; and his grandparents, Richard Anderson Jeffries and Harriet McKinley Jeffries. I wanted to capture some more photos of the gravestones, as well as find the graves of the Prices, which I hadn’t seen on my first visit.

Fortunately for me, I’d learned just the prior week about using aluminum foil to make reading hard-to-read gravestones much easier. I’d seen a link to a blog post called safe solutions for hard to read tombstones on the fabulous Organized Genealogist Facebook page. That post described how you can cover a gravestone with foil and rub it to make the hidden words on a gravestone almost magically appear. The post linked above suggested using a clean makeup brush. I didn’t have one so I dug around a bit more on the web and found this post on Save a Grave that suggested using a damp sponge.

So I went to the dollar store and bought some cheap aluminum foil. I grabbed a sponge from under the sink and was ready headed to the cemetery the next day. The method really felt like magic.

This is the stone of the Mary Ann Price, my great great great grandmother.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

Cover it in foil and rub and voila, the writing emerges.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

There’s a gravestone  right next to my great grandfather’s grave. The top of that same stone was so worn and dirty you couldn’t really tell that there was a name on it. But when I covered it in foil and rubbed it with a damp sponge, the name “Harriett” appeared. Amazing!

aluminum foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible againI love this method! The downside is that, unlike gravestone rubbings–which I learned are harmful to the gravestone–it’s not easy to keep and store foil rubbings. I consider them temporary and my digital photo of the rubbed stone to be my permanent record. I can’t quite get myself to throw away the foil (it’s driving around in the back of my SUV), but soon I expect I’ll put it in the recycling bin.

It’s my 2nd blogiversary!

happyblogiversarylgI can’t believe I missed this milestone a few days ago, but on June 14, my blog turned two. (I’ve now added the date to my calendar so I won’t miss it next year.)

I’m grateful for this blog because brought me closer to my family and helped me make friends. If it weren’t for the blog, I wouldn’t know about (let alone be attending) the Brown family reunion I’m looking forward to in less than two weeks. I’ve also become acquainted with a distant Adams relative. And the blog helped me make a new friend at RootsTech, who made that conference so much less overwhelming.

Last year on my blogiversary, I listed a few stats. I thought I’d update them to see how things are going.

In the second year of this blog:

  • I wrote 74 posts (79 posts in the first year).
  • There were a total of 35,198 views (6,424 in year one)
  • I had 316 comments–counting my own (106 comments in the first year)
  • 160 people subscribe to the blog (that number was 82 on 6/14/13)

I like the trajectory I’m seeing, though I’d like to see the annual number of posts grow.

I so appreciate how interactive my blog readers are–I’ve been blogging on my organizing blog for six years and I don’t have nearly as much interaction, so thank you! If there are any topics you’d like to see me cover, please don’t hesitate to let me know!