Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Seeking Ancestors in Cemeteries

Visiting a cemetery for the first time in search of an ancestor is like showing up at a party where you only know one person hidden in the crowd. It can be intimidating; how long will it take to find them? Everyone seems to be wearing the same thing!

Taking a trip to visit our ancestors is exactly that: a visit, an encounter, an important meeting.

Well, at least, that's how I feel about it anyways. You see, I come from a faith tradition that prays for the dead (technically we don't pray for dead people - we believe they're alive in Christ, but theological hair-splitting isn't what you clicked here for is it?) so when I visit an ancestor's grave for the first time I like to pray as well. I pray part of the Trisagion prayers (a type of memorial service you can check out here) and ask God to grant them peace and comfort.

These are people I never got to visit in this life, so the least I can do is visit them and pray for them.

And recently, I finally had the blessing to visit my grandmother's family where they rest in Petersburg, Virginia. I've written about my grandmother's parents before, Mimi and Pop, as well as my link to the Mayflower through my great-grandmother. Funny thing is though, I had never visited Mimi's parents before. Until Thanksgiving!

They're buried in the beautiful Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg. The cemetery also has a page on Find A Grave which proved super helpful in finding my ancestors. From Find a Grave, I found which sections of the cemetery their plots were located. And then I was able to use the Ward Map of the cemetery to find where those sections are located within the cemetery.

I started by searching for my great-grandmother Mimi's parents. I could hardly read the writing on my 2x great-grandfather, Ralph Riley Edgerton, originally from Lake County, Indiana. His grave marker rests lower than the grass that had begun to grow over the stone. 

And beside him rests his bride, Lillian Dee Emory of Prince George, Virginia. 

I spent some time cleaning the dirt and grass from the stones, but there's only so much you can do when you show up unprepared and with only a stick and an old napkin. 

Next, I found Lillian's parents: William Robert Emory and Minerva Jane Rainey. A photo of their grave stones are at the top of this page. You can hardly read the stones. I had to trace the letters and numbers with my fingers to make out exactly what each said. 

In looking at the page for the parents of Ralph Riley Edgerton, William Amos Edgerton and Abbie L. Strong, I started to feel really lost! The Find A Grave entry says they're in "Ward Lee, Section 1, Square 5b" but I couldn't find them anywhere. I walked back and forth looking for the graves I saw in the image online. After walking all over and still no Edgertons, I left without finding them.

A month later, after Christmas, I went back in search of the Edgertons. I had to find them. I have spent so much time with their family getting my membership with the Mayflower Society, I couldn't stop until I had met them! So I called ahead with the cemetery and found out that though they were in Ward Lee, technically that section was part of the neighboring section next to the road. Oh! So the map is a tad more complicated!

I was so glad to finally find them! And to think I wouldn't have been able to find them without a few websites and a simple call to the cemetery.

Now, you'll notice all of these stones are rather dirty. So I decided to look into how to properly clean grave stones. This past Saturday, I attended a Cemetery Restoration Workshop at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia. It was put on by the Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation in partnership with the Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries.

We learned the best - and simplest - ways to safely clean grave stones. They showed us how with popsicle sticks, water, and - if necessary - Orvus Wa Paste, we can clean up nearly any stone. 

I'll be updating y'all with some before-and-after photos of these stones once I get out there in the Spring to clean them up. They recommended waiting until you have a 70 degree day to make sure the stone is warm and isn't going to have freezing temperatures after cleaning. 

It was great to finally meet my grandmother's family this year! Soon, I'll get out there to clean their stones too. And eventually, I'll have to take a trip out to Halifax County, Virginia to visit my grandmother's other side, the Brooks!

This post was inspired by the week 22 prompt "At the Cemetery" of the 2019 series by Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks that I'm finishing up in 2020.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

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