Genealogists & Cemeteries

Last week I gave a presentation at the Nebraska State Genealogical Society 2015 Conference. I discussed my history with genealogy a bit which included my high school years. I was not the most popular person to begin with and then I added to that a hobby involving cemeteries. Well , that just pushed me closer to the line of complete and utter social exile. I remember many conversations that went something like this- “Whoa, wait- so you like go to cemeteries and stuff?”- “Yes, from time to time.”- “That’s creepy.” The word creepy can be substituted with the words weird, strange, and crazy if not that entire response replaced with “huh” and a quick retreat of the other party in the conversation. Fast forward about 15, 16 years and what do my weekend plans involve? Yep, a cemetery.

Mekemson Graves

This all got me thinking, what is it about genealogists and cemeteries? What is about cemeteries and me? Why does the concept of liking cemeteries sound strange to non-genealogists? The answer to the third question may be a bit obvious, but, I wonder if there is a bit more to it than that. There are so many stereotypes from within and outside of the genealogy community that it makes me wonder if a genealogist’s adoration of cemeteries has also been stereotyped? Is the equation of genealogist + a cemetery = fun a stereotype?

I see a lot of jokes, particularly in the form of memes, about this adoration. I chuckle when I see one. I may even share it. Although, I have never actually seen a genealogist camping out in a cemetery or skipping down the rows with glee. If I did, I would probably tell them to stop. When I see a cemetery I don’t start jumping up and down with excitement nor have I ever yelled at my husband to stop the car so I can walk through one.  Am I the oddball here? ‘Cause you know I’ve never been the oddball before….(stares at feet and whistles).

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I would venture to state that I enjoy walking through cemeteries, but I am not sure if I would label it as something I do just for fun. I think going to Dave and Busters, bowling, or hiking as things I do just for fun. Perhaps the issue I struggle with is that it does not seem right to use the word fun when referring to the final resting place of so many souls. Cemeteries serve as the setting for a couple of my hobbies, but, my respect for the dead quells any desire to skip through or camp in any cemeteries (not to mention I find the latter to be truly creepy and strange even for me).  Why then am I drawn to cemeteries?

I try to visit the resting place of an ancestor whenever I can. Certainly there are many clues about our ancestors’ lives to be found in a cemetery, but that’s neither what this post is about nor my main motivation. The reason I go to cemeteries is to first and foremost to simply pay my respects. That’s also true of those who I research but am not related. After all I have uncovered, or tried to uncover, it feels a bit like an obligation to go and it deepens my connection with the departed. The feeling I get when I stand at the grave of one my ancestors is beyond description.

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The other hobby I alluded to is photography. I do find photography fun. But it’s a different when I go to photograph a cemetery. I photograph cemeteries to capture the stories that are found there. Stories abound. The setting and condition of a cemetery tells a story. The actual headstones themselves tell stories of those who are buried there, who buried them, and the person who carved it. There is a beauty found within each of these stories that I feel honored to capture. In my own way, I am saying to them, “You are not forgotten.”

What is it about cemeteries and you? Do you feel the same, or is this another instance of my being an oddball or perhaps even too serious of a person? Is there a stereotype about genealogists and cemeteries, are they true? Is it wrong if they are?