Yes, Thanksgiving is a day of thanks, but it is also a day of remembrance. Some are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and friends, and some have empty seats at the table. Let’s remember those who no longer grace the table with us at Thanksgiving.
My genealogy activities lately have consisted of stolen moments on the internet between grading papers at night and, more frequently, a weekly visit to the local veterans cemetery photographing headstones on Saturdays. I have to steal these moments as well. If there are people there, I leave. If there is a service, I don’t even stop the car.
Even though my goal is to take volunteer pictures for Find A Grave, I feel like an interloper sometimes. When I see an elderly person, with head bent, standing before the grave of a loved one or friend, it nearly breaks my heart. I don’t want to invade those moments. I’ve had my share of loss and don’t want to disturb the mourning of others. So, sometimes I’m there and then, suddenly gone. Yesterday I was able to capture just over 60 stones, when two ladies came with flowers for their loved one. I put my camera in my pocket and walked away. I have no right to be there in a place so hallowed, while others remember what I cannot see in my mind’s eye – the face of the one they love.
I remember wandering through Ancestry and seeing the grave marker for one of my ancestors for the first time. When I traced the roots of the marker, I found it on Find A Grave. Someone had created a listing and posted the picture of the old stone on the site.
This occurred about the same time that I started to notice graveyards everywhere – most in placed that I never noticed before. As an amateur genealogist, I saw these now as not just curious roadside and churchyard places, but also as places that people could search for ancestors.
These stones are alternately called headstones, tombstones, grave markers, and memorials. I’m sure there are a few other names out there.
The net result was that I joined Find A Grave and began to photograph stones to help other genealogists find their ancestors. This was my way of giving back to others who had posted stones – my genealogy database now contains at least 20 stones of ancestors.
So, the last time I was on the site I clicked a local veteran’s cemetery and found that there were two requests for stone photos. I further noted that most of the service men and their spouses did not have photographs posted. So I began to photograph…
Great uncle Leo, Dad’s uncle, served in WWI. He was a sweet-faced high school kid here:
Fighting in WWI destroyed him. After he came home, every loud noise sent him into a panic, and he would jump up from whereever he was and run into the woods. Eventually he was confined to the VA hospital:
How many young men were destroyed by WWI?
I’ve been invisible here since April 1st, and before that, I posted very little after my brother Tom’s death in February. 2011 was a tough year, so we were full of hope that 2012 would be so much better, but that was not to be. My dog Augie died, then brother Tom died, then a surviving brother and my husband began their battles with cancer that still continue. Except for my continuous escape into reading and reviewing books on my other blog, I’ve been nearly invisible here on the web.
Still, through all this, I continued to index records for Family Search. The thing that shakes me to the core with so many of the records I index, is so many young people, children, and babies who passed away. My grandmother, Ruth Jordan, had two babies who didn’t survive more than a few days after birth. How must it have felt to carry a child, bear that child, then lose them. Two children that my mother never had the opportunity to grow up with. Our ancestors suffered losses that would shake most of us to the core. At least I had the opportunity to grow up with my brother Tom, remembering his laughter and vitality, while our ancestors were left with empty arms due to departed children.
I’m back and hope to post, at least weekly, some of my discoveries along the way on my trip through the family tree.
Over the month that has passed since my brother Tom passed away, I have been going through the motions, able to forget for a few hours at work, then coming home and staring at the walls during those quiet hours between dinner and bedtime.
Tom was a just few years older than me when he died suddenly. On a business trip, he was in an unfamiliar city with no family around, he died an anonymous traveller in a hotel room alone. My brilliant brother Tom had the most creative scientific mind I’ve ever known. A brilliant flame has blown out, taking a piece of everyone’s heart with it.
I am very happy that I’ve had one of my creative nonfiction essays published in the premier print issue of the Avalon Literary Review. Why is it bittersweet? It’s a piece about visiting Dad, who was slowly slipping away. During a short stay at a nursing home in the Alzheimer’s unit, I spent time with him, talking with him and, on a good day, he could remember who I was. Those heartbreaking moments are etched into my soul. Fortunately, now that Dad is gone, the heartbreaking memories are slowly being replaced with memories of the twinkle in his eye, the way he laughed, and how much we loved each other.
Here’s to you Dad. I’ll love you forever.