Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Obsession With Cemeteries

What do you call a person obsessed with cemeteries or graveyards? That's easy ... a GENEALOGIST. I can spot cemeteries a mile away and sometimes think chopped down tree trunks are gravestones and imagine fallen tree trunks will lead to a mysterious graveyard in the woods. Yes, the imagination takes over.

On the constant lookout for cemeteries, I have been known to go out of the way to locate them, altering my schedule to the point I have to speed to arrive to my destination on time. After spending hours looking for an old, nearly abandoned cemetery, I was startled to see that it was under lock and key. A few graves within the site were old and I was not about to leave without getting closer to them. Tossing my camera gently over the fence, I discovered a spot near the gate that was low and I began crawling into the cemetery. It had rained the night before. The first push I gave through the mud I remember that I was wearing white slacks. Fortunately they came clean. I got my "high" for the day and took photographs of the stones. All in a day's work!

Have you ever been stalked in a cemetery? It can happen and especially if somebody wonders what you are doing or if you are alone in a cemetery. A few years ago I was enjoying my lunch in a cemetery when I realized there was a Nebraska, dirt-spitting, rip-roaring truck going up and down a road along the perimeter of the cemetery. Same truck, over and over, back and forth. Two young men in it kept watching me. Just as I got out to deposit my lunch remains in the dumpster, they were heading pell-mell through the cemetery at me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. Holding it in front of me and pointing to it, I drew it to my ear while watching them. They abruptly stopped and backed out of the cemetery, never to return again unless perhaps to bury one of their friends. Incidentally there was no cell phone signal in the cemetery!

Genealogists never stop when it comes to cemeteries. Three years ago, two of my friends and I decided to spend a crisp November day in search of abandoned, hard to locate cemeteries in this area. We packed our lunches and could hardly wait to set out in exploration of what was bound to reveal interesting tombstones in strange places. We discovered the tombstone of a young child in a flat field of corn rows. The current farmer and those before him have plowed and planted around the stone, leaving it standing in isolation for over one hundred years.

Next we discovered a few stones on top of a hill ... yes we have hills here in the Platte River Valley. Once at the top of the hill, we were not only short of breath, but breathless from the view of the valley below. For miles we could see the meandering South Platte River and could envision pioneers in their wagons, riding horses and walking thousands of miles westward. Many never made it and from that vantage point I mused on the many unmarked graves along the route.

As the sun was going down we decided, with some speedy maneuvering, we could visit one more cemetery. It was surrounded with a fence and the farmer had recently picked the corn around it. There were several graves and some were rather unusual. It was getting dark and soon even darker. One of my friends produced a small flashlight. A dim light, but better than nothing! While they struggled with the gate, I managed to return to our vehicle. About that time a corn picker in a truck came along, stopped and offered to help. That's sort of a Nebraska thing ... they either stalk you or they help you!

The other day my granddaughter and I gave a demonstration to friends on how to witch for graves. She makes it look like child's play and often grabs people's attention while witching. Some people just don't get the hang of it. Maybe they have blocked, non-believing minds. That's okay as we witch enough for everybody. Imagine walking two-thirds of a sandy, prairie-dog infested pasture before finding the place of a child's burial. We aren't nuts, just close to it!

My granddaughter says that cemeteries are peaceful and not spooky. When you visit a cemetery it has a different appearance. The stones brushed by snow, covered by red and gold leaves, surrounded by wild flowers and dripping in the summer rain, all add to the comfort and serenity of death. They rest there, but their souls are with the ageless.

You Go Genealogy Girl #1 .... Ruby (look for me in the graveyard!)


  1. I find cemeteries to be peaceful and calming places as well. I've had people drive back an forth on the road past a cemetery, too. Non-genealogists don't understand strangers wandering around in the local cemetery & like to keep an eye on us. :-)

    Why on earth do people persist in thinking Nebraska is as flat as a pancake? There are plenty of hills all over the place. Must just be an old myth that hangs around.

  2. This was a beautifully written piece, Ruby, with such sincere sentiments. I also find cemeteries to be peaceful and soothing. Earlier this spring I found myself alone in a cemetery and realized my potential vulnerability. As a truck pulled in, I found myself intentionally walking closer to my car, just in case. Fortunately, I have some friends who are more than willing to accompany me on my cemetery excursions. And if someone thinks that Nebraska has no hills, try driving around in Omaha when there's two inches of ice on the roads. Those hills are awful then!

  3. Great post and I really identified with what you said. Even before I did genealogy my husband and I have always loved to stop and roam around them when we were on vacation.

  4. Interesting posting...loved to read it



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