Wednesday, November 9, 2011


As most of you know, I am a very inquisitive sort of person…not “nosy” inquisitive, but just interested in knowing lots of little obscure things. That probably accounts for my abiding interest in genealogy, where there are just -- oh, so many things to be discovered.

I do not need to know a fact about every leaf on my family tree, but I admit I try. The strange thing is that I even enjoy knowing things about other people’s leaves, and when I find out something interesting, I want to make sure that distant family members have a shot at knowing it too.

Here’s an example:

When I was in Istanbul I learned about an old Protestant cemetery where burials had started in the late 1850s. Seven protestant powers, as determined by Sultan Abdul Medjid (Prussia, Great Britain, the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Hanseatic Cities), each had their own section in that cemetery. As a good genealogist, I did a tombstone transcription of all the existing tombstones in the American section, with the goal of eventually putting them into some kind of a record and dispersing that record to major genealogical repositories. It was hard work, but was a chore of love.

One day I was walking through the Grand Bazaar and in glancing into one of the shops I saw a tombstone embedded into a side wall. I can’t remember for sure but it probably was a carpet shop. I braved the salesman’s pitch and stood at the tombstone, simply copying the information for my records. It said:

George Cushing Knapp
Born Lyndon, VT USA Oct 30, 1823
Died Bitlis,Turkey, March 12, 1875
For 40 years a missionary in Turkey

My first thought was that I needed to get this information into my book, but because I was so interested in everything, to keep from producing a huge tome I’d had to set pretty rigid parameters for inclusion in this book. My criteria was to be limited to 1) Americans 2) buried 3) Protestant Cemetery. The man whose tombstone I saw did not fit that criteria. Oh dear, what to do?

Five years after I returned from Turkey, I readied the book for publication and mulled over poor George Knapp. Was he to be in? or out? I finally decided that if I had to err, I would prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness. And besides, it was MY book and I was paying to have it printed and I could break any rule I chose. So in 1998 the book was printed and George Knapp was there for posterity.

Within a year I found a place on the web to post the basic “vital stat” information from these burials, leaving my e-mail address so I could personally deliver information I had beyond what I had posted.

In March of 2001 I received an e-mail from a woman in New York. It said:
I recently happened across the website you posted with information about cemeteries in Istanbul and saw that my great-great grandfather, George Knapp, was one of the people in it. I was fascinated to find him on your site. I had known he was a missionary in Turkey, but very little else and had no idea that he lived out his life there.

I would be grateful for any additional information you might have regarding him or the cemetery where he is buried....
I had the fun of telling her that he was not buried in “my” cemetery; he had been buried in Bitlis, which is so far east in Turkey that it is actually closer to Iran than it is to Istanbul. And that his tombstone managed to escape resting in that cemetery to mark his grave but instead made it to a final resting place embedded in a shop wall in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. I told her that this embedding often happened to smallish pieces of stones in Turkey. As we traveled around the country we would see very old pieces of stones used as part of a much newer building, such as this one below.

Now, these kinds of wonderful discoveries are what keep me posting information on the internet – on this blog and elsewhere. I try to match something I know for sure with a similarly shaped blank in someone else’s knowledge. I’ve got so many stories begging to be told, and oh, how I love telling them. I’m sharing the story of the Protestant cemetery with a local genealogy society this weekend; it's my favorite subject to talk about.

But am I nosy? Nope. I just think this is darn interesting, don’t you?

1 comment:

Olga said...

That is pretty amazing. I have also had contact with complete strangers who happened to have -- and find!--a personal connection with some thing in a random post. Small world indeed/