Friday, February 13, 2009


Cemeteries play a big role in the lives of genealogists. If a researcher isn't really crazy about cemeteries when they start, they get over that really quickly, because often information on a tombstone is what gives us an idea of where to start researching in what time period.

Jerry does not particularly like tromping through a cemetery, but being a good trooper and a good husband, he always does it without grumbling. And because of his engineering background and his inclination for precision, he can take one look at an unmanned cemetery (one without an office and staff onsite), mentally lay out a research strategy, and without fail find the stone I am looking for. I so appreciate this talent he has, because I must confess my strategy comes from the shotgun approach!

I particularly like cemeteries whether or not I've got a relative buried in it. But the kind I like are the old fashioned ones with lots of trees and upright tombstones. When my sister and I were little kids (I was in 1st grade and she not yet in school) we moved to the town of Whittier here in California for a three month period. Across the street and down a few blocks was the Whittier cemetery and my dad would often take the two of us for walks through it. Mother never went. In fact, she hated for us to go there. She indicated that it was sacrilegious for us to walk over the graves and constantly admonished dad for taking us there. I can close my eyes and still see my tall skinny daddy holding our hands as we made our way through the tombstones. When we came upon one that was just our height, he would have us use our fingers to trace over the letters in the inscription and he would teach us our letters. (In that day children weren't taught to read until 1st grade; the educational system thought we weren't ready.) I can't say that I learned to read from those stones, but it was certainly a start. Both my sister and I grew up with a fondness for cemetery walking and we were equally sure it stemmed from this time with our Daddy.

But as genealogists we have to learn that a tombstone does not necessarily mean what it says. In the case of Jane Bond's stone above, the information comes from a fairly large four-sided monument that has her dad's information on one side, her mom's on another side, and she is listed on the third side. The family lived in Lisbon, Noble County, Indiana and this stone is in the Lisbon cemetery where almost all the Bond family is buried, including the Grahams and Ihries. Upon looking at this stone, you can see that Jane was young when she died - 4 years, 11 months and 19 days. She was the daughter of Elijah and Catherine (Whipple) Bond. The information on the stone looks pretty straightforward. However, what it doesn't say is that Jane is not actually buried under it. The family didn't move to Noble County until very close to 1850. In 1841 when Jane died, they lived in Summit County, Ohio. They did not bring Jane's body to Indiana. They simply memorialized her existence on the stone of her parents so she would not be forgotten. This is a nice touch but can really lead a genealogical researcher astray if he or she isn't aware that such things even exist. It is important to remember that there is not always a body under every stone.

There is another side to this cemetery researching. There is not always a stone over every body, either.

The man standing is my great-grandfather James Arthur Ryland. He was the father of my mom's dad. Joseph C. Davis, also my great-grandfather, was the father of my mom's mother. (So that you aren't confused, James' son Byrd Ryland married Joseph Davis' daughter, Jessie Davis. Byrd and Jessie were my maternal grandparents.)

On the other side of the tombstone is nothing but grass. However, my grandfather Byrd Ryland is buried there beside his father-in-law. Both plots were purchased at the same time and I'm sure James A. Ryland intended to be buried in the second one, but Byrd died before his father did, so he got that spot. Why his father (James A. Ryland) didn't pay for a tombstone is beyond me, because he had lots of money. But he didn't. Byrd and Jessie had divorced earlier so SHE didn't buy a stone for it. So poor Byrd will lie there forever without a stone to denote where he is laid to rest.

So now you have a body without a stone, and a stone without a body. Aside from it being my own family and of great interest to me, researchers in general need to know about this little glitch in cemeteries. At least if they are trying to be GOOD genealogists. We always need to document our conclusions and then to try to verify that what we think something means with what it actually means.

End of Cemetery lesson for today!

No comments: