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Cemeteries-The Real Hunt

Back when I first got started with my family genealogy, I would speak about it with my immediate family. My aunts and uncles, grandparents and great grandmother were all approached with my questions. I was just a kid when I first asked these questions and my family would share a portion of what they knew immediately. Although the response may not have been wrapped with details like I would have wanted, a piece of the puzzle would emerge and the research would continue. For the most part, various names, dates and a few specific locations or places would be shared. I quickly began to see a trait appearing as I carefully listened for the answers I so desired. The same questions would generate a different response from one person to the other. I quickly realized that a person’s memory of past events greatly depends on their own personal perception. In other words, how the question from the past impacted their personal lives. My questions, at the time, were in need of review and the facts remained elsewhere. This is how the real hunt for my ancestors began out among the old cemeteries.

Back in the day, family historians were investigators in a different world. The internet was new, cell phones were new. In fact, phone numbers of close friends were memorized and if you needed someone’s phone number, you called the operator or you looked it up in the phone book. Old documents could be randomly researched at county courthouses and copies could be made for free or no more than 10 cents each. Historical Societies were few but the ones present back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were anxious to share with anyone who would hold an interest with the past. Books were common and many family historians were proud to reveal their findings with the general public using the printed word. Usually these were found in booklets resting on a local library shelf. A keyboard and computer was present, but for the average person, it was the latest new thing and filing cabinets continued to overflow with paper documents, maps, census records and so much more.

I cannot tell you truthfully how many cemeteries I’ve visited over the years. Let’s just say hundreds. Graveyards were essential back then because it represented a visual artifact that declared your ancestor’s final resting place. The key was determining the link from you to the person and then determining the location of death and the burial site. Much easier said than done in those days. Many seekers would depend on a book or family booklet for their proof. As for me, I would not settle for anything less than the actual paper documents and the exact location of the burial site. I needed to see it all with my own eyes. Feel the breezes sweep over me from the same spot where once stood a mourning group of people burying a loved one so long ago. I was determined to find these locations one way or another. Regardless of your personal ambition, it’s the passion that lives within you that drives you along your life journey. This is just another key factor in demonstrating the unique differences from one individual to another.

The picture above shows you my first genealogy notebook as a young adult. I am protective of this and all of my notebooks through the years. I refer back to each of them often. Partly for amusement at my humble beginnings, but mainly for the treasure that is found inside. I am probably the only person on earth who could actually read and understand it, but the information found on these pages are priceless. They represent a portion of my life journey and the thousands of people from the past and present who greatly influenced my days. This notebook went with me everywhere, to work, to run errands, to vacation trips. It has weathered many storms, brutal cold and blazing sunrays. The pages are faded now and my handwriting is so small that I need my reading glasses to see it, but the message is still there. Through every word, date and scribbly note down to the last period, the passion of wanting to learn more, seeking the truth, facing the disappointments and enjoying the triumphs; they are all found in my notebooks.

Once I obtained the general vicinity of my ancestor’s property, I began the search for local churches in the area. I paid special attention to the date of establishment, the founding date. Majority of churches proudly display this with a cornerstone marker or on the church building itself. Example: Founded In The Year of 1753. I would then grab the local phone book, a local map of the area, a tank full of gas, snacks and my old reliable notebook. I couldn’t wait to get to the cemetery on the list for that day and walk the rows. At first, I would only write down the names of interest to me, but I quickly changed within a few weeks and began writing down all of the names and dates. Notebooks were filling up fast with the help of my two sons. It was a family adventure each and every time we engaged on these trips.

Abbotts Creek Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Davidson County, NC

To sum up my findings in one article would not do me or you justice simply because I learned so much. My trips usually occurred during the weekends due to work and I would meet people, so many people and hear their stories, learn of their family. They would introduce me to others who resided in the area and I would learn more details. I once met a family in Davidson County that shared their entire family history with me as we sat down on one of the benches at the cemetery. We spent the entire afternoon, talking about genealogy, history, the old stores, old roads, other families and much more. I of course, wrote it all down in my notebook. How many notebooks do I have? The number would no doubt pass the total of cemeteries I have visited over the years. I actually have no idea how many I now have. They are all organized by year and I would only be guessing to the number of them.

If you get the opportunity to visit the cemetery of your ancestor, take a moment and capture the full experience. Look at your surroundings, note the large trees, the distant landscape and take a step back in time to that date displayed in front of you. May-be it was over 200 years ago and the landscape before you was completely different back then. May-be it was 100 years ago and that old oak tree in the distance was present at the funeral of your ancestor. Think about who may have been standing at the grave site when your ancestor was buried. Allow the experience to guide you to more details that may eventually lead you to more facts and documents that otherwise you may have never known existed. I’ll sum it up this way. Back in my early days, visiting the cemeteries was one of the most important methods used in order to locate your ancestors. Today, you have access to so many different paths that are available right from your own personal keyboard. This has it’s good points and bad only because a virtual experience can never replace the real experience. I am so thankful for my past adventures because it led me to so many different people and different places. Otherwise I would have never thought to search in a particular area or even known a completely different path existed for my ancestor.

The tombstone pictured above is my 3rd great Grandfather. I spent many of my early days and years trying to locate him and his burial site. Once I discovered the grave, I was excited to do my genealogy dance and then I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew this was Joshua G Motsinger’s final place on earth and because of his life journey, I was able to stand upon the same ground where my ancestors once stood. I began thinking of the names of people who would have been there to bid farewell and mourn. The stone is weather beaten and has sunk downward over the years, but it doesn’t take away the visual proof.

Visiting a cemetery is a perfect getaway during the current pandemic. Today you have many different options to document your trip. Share it with others and possibly discover new clues and hints about your relatives. Learn the history of the area and especially the history of the cemetery. You just never know what you may discover among the rows. Enjoy Your Journey !!

2 replies »

  1. Carol, I remember as a young boy asking my Dad, where our family came from or what nationality are we. He said “I don’t know no one ever talked about it”. Is this a common answer from many families? As you know it took me many years to get just part of the answer. We still don’t know where they came from. According to dna probably England, Scotland or Ireland. Thanks again for your help that got me back two more generations. You are a great dedicated family Person.

    Weldon Brown

    Liked by 2 people

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