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?

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.

Genealogy = connections

From left: Me, Penny, Sue, Mary (seated)

From left: me, Penny, Sue, Mary (seated)

Thanks to my family history research (and this blog, really), I had an extraordinary day this past Friday, meeting my mother’s cousins and aunt. My mother was born in Missouri but her family moved to Spokane, Washington, in 1936 (looking for a better climate for my grandfather, who was recovering from tuberculosis). They left behind my grandfather’s parents and siblings, a close-knit family.

As a result, I didn’t grow up knowing this branch of the family and we sort of disappeared off the family radar. But that changed when my mother’s cousin, Jerry Brown, found this blog and introduced me to the Brown cousins, a wonderfully welcoming group. So when I saw there was a genealogy conference in western Missouri, I registered and arranged to come in a day early and meet my family.

It was an incredible day. These people are hilarious and fun and we laughed and laughed and laughed. It started with lunch in Nevada, Missouri, with cousin Penny. After that, we met cousin Sue at the old-folks’ home where Penny’s mother, Mary, lives. Mary is the sole surviving sibling of my grandfather, Crawford Brown. (Crawford died in 1996, two weeks shy of his 90th birthday.) She is 99 years old and has a twinkle in her eye and is quick to laugh. That’s us in the picture up top.

Then we went to Milo, Missouri, where my great grandparents (Crawford’s parents), who are Penny and Sue’s grandparents, had lived. I saw the site of their in-town house, where they moved from the farm in 1959, when they were in their 70s. And we went to Milo cemetery, where they are buried. We also saw the site of their farm (and I heard many hilarious stories about Sue’s antics at the farm when she was little).

The graves of my great grandparents, A.J. and Rhoda Brown

The graves of my great grandparents, A.J. and Rhoda Brown

Then these lovely women took me on a quest to find the cemetery where my great grandfather Jeffries (my grandmother Sue’s father and father-in-law to Crawford) was buried, along with his parents and grandparents. Mind you, these Jeffries are no relation to Penny and Sue, but they were up for helping me find the cemetery. It wasn’t easy. We had some directions from an old book, but they didn’t turn out to be entirely accurate. To make matters more complicated, there are two cemeteries within a few miles with homophonic names (Meyer’s and Myer’s), so asking directions wasn’t terribly fruitful. But then I got my husband, Barry, on the case from home and Google maps saved the day. Once there, Sue and Penny helped me find the actual graves. Here’s the grave marker for my great grandfather’s grandparents.

The grave marker for my 3rd great grandparents, R.A. and Harriett Jeffries

The grave marker for my 3rd great grandparents, R.A. and Harriett Jeffries

Luckily the day was beautiful, sunny and in the upper 70s or low 80s. It wouldn’t have seen like such a fun adventure the next day, when it was cold and windy.

After our grave-hopping (we went to both Meyer’s and Myer’s, as well as Milo cemeteries), we went by the site of the original homestead near Rockville, Missouri, that my great grandparents established when they moved to Missouri from Nebraska in about 1914. And after that we met more cousins at a Mexican restaurant in Nevada for dinner, as well as Sue’s 90-year-old father (widower of Crawford’s sister, Nancy). A family reunion date was selected for 2014. I am eager to attend!

By the time I headed up to my hotel in Blue Springs, Missouri, I was exhausted. But so tickled to have had such a wonderful day.

When I started doing family history research, it was all about a solitary detective hunt with feelings of triumph when vital records were obtained. What I didn’t realize it would be about was connecting with family, sharing stories and memories, and uncovering life-enhancing relationships.

I am so grateful for the time spent with this new-found family. And I am so grateful for my interest in genealogy!

Getting ready for my research trip

This weekend is the Ancestry Day conference, sponsored by the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continent Public Library and Ancestry.com. It’s being held near Independence, Missouri, about four hours from my home in St. Louis. I love conferences and learning opportunities, so I’m really excited to attend.

Attending the conference has given me the perfect opportunity to do a little family history research and meet more-distant family members. My mother was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, and moved with her family to Spokane, Washington, when she was three. I was born in Seattle and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, when I was five. I moved to Missouri in 1989, but have never made the trek to western Missouri to meet my mother’s cousins there.

So on Friday, I will meet several first cousins of my mother, along with her aunt (my grandfather’s sole surviving sibling) and also visit the graves of my mother’s paternal grandparents. I’m really looking forward to meeting these family members ands seeing family landmarks.

The day after the conference, I’m going to travel to Meyer Cemetery, in Hudson, Missouri, to visit the graves of my mother’s maternal grandfather, great grandparents and great great grandparents. I sure hope they have gravestones to provide me with some data. (I struck out last summer with another ancestor’s graveyard.) I had downloaded the book, Genealogy: James McKinley, 1792-1872, Richard Anderson Jeffries, 1823-1914 and Joseph Price, 1818-1904, from Scribd. It’s providing me with plot numbers for the graves in Meyer Cemetery, so I’m hopeful!

It’s already Wednesday so I’m busy trying to get myself together for my first research trip. I figure the things I need to get together are:

  • Directions (of course)
  • Registration information for the conference
  • Synched family tree on my iPhone
  • My file of handwritten (unverified) ancestry charts from previous research attempts, which provide valuable clues and which I suspect I’ll want to refer to during the conference
  • The old photos my mother has given me, in case my cousins haven’t seen them
  • The printed out pages from the e-book, containing directions to Meyer cemetery and plot numbers
  • Chargers so all my devices are working!

It’s so nice to make a list–I already feel less overwhelmed! I’ll be sure and blog about some of the insights I gain at the conference, as well as reflections upon meeting my family members.