Thursday, January 28, 2010


Long before I ever began doing genealogical research I was fascinated by cemeteries - not only the look and feel of the cemetery but also the individual tombstones. Except for the flat-as-pancakes "Memorial Parks" that are in favor today and which have no ambience whatsoever, there is nothing I like more than a cemetery with character.

When I was five and my sister three, my dad used to take us for walks in the old pioneer cemetery in Whittier, California. My mother always threw a fit about us going; she felt walking on the graves was desecrating them. My dad held tightly to our hands as we crossed Beverly Boulevard to get to the cemetery, and I'm sure it was that closeness to him, as well as his interest in the tombstone inscriptions and his helping us to identify the letters of the alphabet on them, that gave both sis and me a similar feeling about cemeteries. We loved 'em.

Thank goodness cemeteries are not alike. My cousin photographs tombstones in rural North Carolina for Find-A-Grave, and those cemeteries do not look like California's cemeteries.

Nor does this Alabama cemetery, with a house built over some tombstones, look like anything I've seen before.

On the internet I found this charming picture of some grave markers found in a Guatemala cemetery. Oh, I could go for this kind of headstone, were I to be buried and not cremated.

And in a Moscow cemetery I found this really lovely artwork. I wonder about the life that it represents....something I will never know.

I was surprised to see the full-to-overflowing Jewish cemtery in Manchester, England where Jerry's mom's relatives are all buried. There's not a blade of grass to be found.

And the Internet provided this most dramatic marker! Again, what is the story behind this beautiful piece of art? I wonder.

But my most favorite cemetery is the one I did my research in when I lived in Istanbul. It was the Protestant Cemetery, and in it was an American section where burials of American Citizens who died in Istanbul as early as 1832 were held.

In the book I prepared for this work, I described the cemetery like this: If one likes old cemeteries and is not obsessively fussy, one will like this one. It is neither gloomy nor morbid, and its feel changes with the seasons. In winter it is muted and still, with perhaps a dusting of powdery snow. In spring the sunlight dapples its way through new growth and onto the wet tombstones, drying winter from their faces. The bustle of summer spills over into the cemetery from the street outside the cemetery walls, linking its stillness with the sounds of a living people who know best how to enjoy the hot sultry summer months. And with fall comes the glorious silk leaves of amber, crimson, copper and gold, weaving their way towards the ground, draping themselves like shawls over and around the hand-carved stones. I've been in the cemetery during each of these seasons, and I believe it is as fine a place of rest as one could want.

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