Finding lives of ancestors hidden in the cemeteries

Published 5:30 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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Historic events involving the family have always been a fascination. Whether it is in finding the names and dates of ancestors or just thinking back over old times, I am always listening and learning.
One really important place for finding names and dates for ancestors is a cemetery. I don’t know how this may be regarded, but I love visiting cemeteries. Some people fear them, but so much history is hidden in these memorial places. The dead aren’t going to bother you; it is the live ones to watch.
I can go back so many years when my husband Rob and I visited cemeteries all over this part of Louisiana and Mississippi. Often spending whole days finding one cemetery after another or an old home place.
Way before Ancestry and other programs broke through with DNA findings, Rob had received a book detailing a lot of family history he did not know. Then he had to go track them all down…and the nearest place for information was the cemetery.
We found age-old grave markers still in place in cemeteries still cared for and we found markers placed against field fences, where somebody had plowed the cemeteries into a growing field and tossed aside the markers.
We found ancestors in small cemeteries and in big church cemeteries. Ancestors names appeared everywhere on tombs and in places we had never guessed about.
In getting family history for both of us, we have hunted and found family cemeteries that after reading about them and finding their graves, they all appeared as real people to us. With so many ancestors coming from South Carolina to Mississippi and Louisiana, naturally we found some common connections. We discovered we were not kin, but almost!
Now we are able to add those things we found earlier to the newer DNA programs and get a lot more information.
Amazing things can be found of those ancestors we did not know existed until we hunted them up…often times in the cemeteries. That makes them a great place for binding families, especially with relatives buried close together.
Every once in a while I find out something new about my ancestors and I may go and hunt up a cemetery, maybe to take photos. Sometimes they are easy to find and other times, they are hidden away and nearly impossible to penetrate.
There are family lines I am still trying to find. These folks seem buried so far in the past I may never “dig them up” even in DNA or the cemeteries. Their names go so far, and then disappear.
I wonder what these ancestors would think about people searching for them and going over their life histories? They have been found in the cemeteries and their lives searched, with many things about them, good and bad, made known to those who lived maybe hundreds of years afterwards.
Some things are good and almost worth bragging about, while others would be better left alone and not discussed. Can you write about your ancestors making you proud? Or do you know them that well?
Finding one who does good and comes from great people brings pride, but what about those who left a bad life pattern behind? Were our ancestors Christian and attending church? Or were they criminal? We have to accept both.
Speaking of one whose life history I know well, my dad, His birthday would have been this past Friday. He was born Jan. 27, 1912, the baby of his family. He died in May 1999 as the last of his immediate family. If he was still here, he would be 111 years old! I visit him at the cemetery.
Now I am among the older generation! In time, someone in the future may visit a cemetery and seek my life story. We would like to leave our own good histories, but what does our life really tell about us? Only time will reveal.

Retired as Associate News Editor, Bob Ann Breland writes a weekly column for The Daily News. You can email her at