Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Tombstone Project

"Are you kin to ......?"

That was almost always the first question after you were introduced. Family was important. Family defined you, or at least bought you time to define yourself. You knew who you were kin to because of closeness and the annual family reunions. Genealogy was an oral tradition.

Families are now dispersed and genealogy is something done mostly in libraries and courthouses by the serious, and on-line and in newsletters by the rest of us. Yet it is still made easier and more personal by access to family elders who remember the stories handed down.  When the last elder has died, how do we make the data personal?  How do we feel the presence of those who gave life to us, to our parents, and to our grandparents?

I'm grateful to my sister who asked me to write down all of the family stories I remembered. And also for filling in the gaps that I left. The result was a small volume that each of our children received for Christmas. The consensus, especially from our children's spouses, was "Man, you sure have a weird family!" So be it.

The stories still only tell a small part of their lives.  To better know them, I think it's important to know where they lived, especially since we no longer live there and our children never have. They are buried near where they lived, sometimes on the very land they owned and farmed. A visit to their graves can sometimes shed light on how they lived and how they fit into their communities.

One set of great grandparents was affluent,

another wasn't.

One great-great grandmother shared a maiden name with President Lincoln's mother.  Were they kin?

The Tombstone Project seeks to find as many ancestral graves as possible, photograph them, give directions to them, and record their GPS coordinates.  This information is then compiled with the family stories, old family photographs, and family-tree genealogies.  We won't answer all of the questions, but we'll leave behind our best volume of collected memories. When the child or grandchild becomes interested, they will know where to start looking, whether there are any family elders around or not.

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