We are home from our wonderful trip, the sun is shining, and there is much to do. It seems that I have been gone since before Christmas....oh yeah, I have been gone most of that time...YIKES!!!! It is amazing how things build up around a house if you are not there to take care of them. It certainly feels good to be home.
Our trip was so much fun. Looking back at what all we did, the thing I loved doing the most was searching the cemeteries. I loved the sight seeing and the church history tours and am so grateful that we finally got to do those things, but the cemetery experience touched my heart in a way that is difficult to explain.
We are anxious to go cemetery searching again. We realized that we were very unprepared for actually doing a good search and will definitely get ourselves prepared the next time we go (which I hope will be next year). I had taken my computer with my genealogy program and that was a huge help but we needed to plan better. Here is what I would suggest that we we (or anyone wishing to search cemeteries) should do before we go.
1. Get your facts - Try to know as much about your ancestor as you can. It helps to know the cemetery where he/she is buried (or at least the town). Check all of your lines to see if there are others that might be in the same cemetery (try to do as much as you can at one cemetery as possible).
2. Do ground work ahead of time - Write the county or town hall to see if they have any information about the cemetery that would be of help to you - like a plot map showing where graves are located (this will save huge amounts of time walking and searching).
3. Gather supplies - Do research on how to extract information from decaying gravestones (brushes, cleaners, rubbing materials, etc). There are right and wrong ways to clean gravestones - be sure to research this!
4. Plan enough time - It is amazing how fast time flies when you are searching gravestones. If you have to factor in cleaning time, your time will go even faster. Don't rush! Don't over plan your day (don't try to do several cemeteries in a day) - be flexible.
5. Document what you find and where you found it - Take pictures but also map out those around your ancestor - they may be related in some way. It is amazing how quickly you will forget what picture goes where. Take notes of your pictures so when you are looking at them, you will know who it is you are viewing and who they a re related to....(many times you will find a stone that says the family name with no information but in front of the stone you see mother, father, child, etc. This can be very confusing if you are only looking at pictures.).
6. Week day working hours may be best - If you need to talk with someone at the cemetery or in a court house, funeral home, etc., they may only be available during work hours. If you plan your cemetery visit during the weekend, you may be out of luck if you need to speak to someone (believe me, you very well may need to do this).
7. Take the family - What a fantastic experience for your whole family. Get the kids involved. Everyone can search in a cemetery. How exciting it is to see your ancestor's grave. This would be a great time for you to tell your family about some memories or research experience you may have had with this ancestor. These were real people with real life struggles. Believe me, there will be some touching moments when you see your ancestor's grave.
I have seen most of the gravestones on the Internet of the ancestors in the cemeteries we visited but there is such an emotional feeling when you are standing right there where you know other of your ancestors stood many years before. Take the time to visit the dead. Lear about their lives, their stories, the history they have left you. Take the time - it can be life changing!