I know the thought of walking through cemeteries creepy for some. But for me when I visit the town cemetery of my family’s home town, it is a very venerable place.
I remember the first time my mom took us to the town cemetery, she told us it was a place to visit and respect our ancestors. At the age of 9, I was first introduced to the concept of the modern sarcophagi. She didn’t use those terms, but the walk thru the cemetery reminded me of a couple of scenes from the Abbot and Costello movie “Meet Frankenstein” with one scene where Lou Costello is overly anxious by the cemetery (or at least that is my memory of the movie). Our family home town’s cemetery (and many countries I later discovered) was filled with above ground tombs and crypts, where in modern times a casket is placed into. The tomb structures are made of granite and can be inscribed or decorated with sculpture/adornment.
In the 1960s, given the fact the town was of humble means, the ornate tombs and statutes surprised me. Whether it was the catholic traditions or pride, it was obvious the families spent what little wealth they had on the memory of a beloved; it made quite an impression on me. I knew for a fact that many of these families were very poor. The “affluence” disparity between the living and the residence of the cemetery both saddens me and brings me solace every time I visit. Genealogy constantly reminds the resilience of the human spirit.
I recall when I visited the tombstone of my Tio (uncle) Canjo, there is was a large painting of him and his brother Gaspar at the head of the tombstone. Tio Gaspar had died over 25 years earlier in New York. Years later, at the bequest of my aunts, my research discovered Gaspar’s remains in a pauper’s tomb in Queens, NY. Tio Canjo was the eldest of the Vargas clan. His death in 1968, caused much pain and sorrow to all but especially my grandfather. Tio Canjo was the family patriarch in New York for the Vargas family. Since his passing in 1968, his loss is still felt by many in the family.
As I became passionate with my genealogy research, I took several photos of headstones with family names that resembled my family list. I discovered that my father had a number of cousins that served in the second world war. My mom confirmed my discovery as well as told me that Canjo and his cousins enlisted together when they lived in New York in the 1940s and worked as waiters and busboys.
I also discovered my mom’s maternal grandparents resting place in the cemetery. This surprised me since I knew of the stories of how my other great-grandparents were buried in the back yard of my grandparent’s or their siblings home. No head stone. No marker. So knowing that my great-grandmother Justa Silva was buried in 1948 in the town cemetery made her ‘quite’ privileged for the time.
Years later, my maternal grandmother was to be buried here alongside her parents and sister. In 2008, we brought our mom’s remains to rest here as well.
For me cemeteries hold the memories of our families. I am finding meaning and purpose understand who they were, who they loved and how they lived and share their stories to my family.
What does your ancestor’s cemeteries contain?