Sunday, May 13, 2007

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day

Three years ago, my husband, children and I traveled across the state of Washington to spend Memorial Day weekend with my in-laws in Vancouver, Washington, which lies just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. I always enjoy this cross-state visit, as the longest leg of it--driving along the Columbia River on the Oregon side--follows both the Lewis and Clark trail and the Oregon Trail. I enjoy imaging the explorers and pioneers traveling the same route, and seeing Mt. Hood towering in the distance.

While in Vancouver, we went with Norm's parents and sister to Park Hill Cemetery in Vancouver, to visit and photograph the MIDKIFF, TOLLIVER, DAVES (step-ancestor), LUKE, and CHAPLIN graves. The following year, 2005, we made the same trip, and I insisted that we were going to travel down to the Willamette Valley to visit and photograph the grave of one of Norm's great-great-grandmothers, Rebecca Catherine (SNOOK) WESTABY, buried in Salem, as well as the graves of my great-great-grandparents, Charles Frisbe STRONG and his wife, Mary Lucy WRIGHT. Charles and Mary are two of only four of my ancestors buried west of the Mississippi River, and the other two are nowhere near my home! My paternal grandfather, Robert Lewis ROBBINS is buried at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, and a 4th-great-grandmother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY, is apparently buried in St. Paul, Minnesota. So to actually be able to be within a few hours of an ancestor's grave is a big deal to me, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

When we arrived at Belle Passi Cemetery in Woodburn, Marion Co., Oregon, where Charles and Mary are buried, we found that the graves had already been cleaned and decorated. They were surrounded by other graves, obviously of the family of their daughter, Ethel Melissa (STRONG) HASTIE, who is buried there along with her husband, the Rev. Ezbon Roy HASTIE. I remember visiting the widowed Aunt Ethel in 1979, when we first moved to Washington State, and remembered meeting her son.

We were rather rushed on that visit, and so I didn't have time to try to find out how to contact the family. But on the way home, I had a couple of ideas that could work for you to help you connect with cousins on Memorial Day. Obviously, I could have looked up the Hastie family in the phone book in Woodburn, or on Dex Knows when I got home. But what if you are looking for descendants of an ancestor, yet you don't know your cousins' surnames?

First off, you need to know where your ancestor is buried. If their grave is in your hometown or nearby, you're in luck. If you are like myself and live far from your ancestral cemeteries, it's important to obtain death certificates and/or obituaries of your ancestors to determine their final resting places. I use Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness quite frequently to get obituaries of ancestors. They're easier and less expensive to access than death certificates. Once I have the name of a cemetery in hand, I use Find A Grave,, Dex Knows, or Cemetery Junction to find an address and telephone number (check out Cyndi's List of Cemeteries as well).

My next step is to cold call the cemetery office during local business hours. I have had so much luck with this! You would be amazed at how helpful cemetery employees are! From phone interviews I have discovered the names of other ancestors and relatives buried in the same cemetery, the names of the funeral homes that provided services (I'll post more about this in the future), the names and addresses of the lot owners (which may be obsolete, but may provide relatives' names). I always try to obtain the lot number of the grave(s) I am interested in, and sometimes the employee will mail me a cemetery map. I ask the cemetery employee if it's okay to send them an info packet that they could place on my ancestor's grave (see following paragraph). In fact, I have been so successful in this type of research, that I've created a form that I use to help me remember all the questions I want to ask when I call.

The fourth step is to write a letter explaining that I am a descendant of the ancestor buried in that cemetery, and that I am doing genealogical research on the family. I leave contact information: a phone number, mailing address and e-mail address. This letter is folded and sealed in a zip-lock bag and then placed in an envelope which is addressed either to the cemetery office or to a volunteer in the area that I've contacted through the local genealogical society or Random Acts. The cemetery employee or the volunteer can then place the info packet (my letter in a zip-lock bag) on the grave, hopefully weighted with a small rock or wedged into a crevice of the headstone, so it won't blow away. If this is done about a week before Memorial Day weekend, there's a chance that I could connect with another descendant of that ancestor who has come to the cemetery to clean and decorate the grave! If the cemetery doesn't allow an info packet left on the grave itself, ask if your letter could be placed in your ancestor's file at the office.

So what's the purpose of this? To hopefully connect with other relatives of a common ancestor and exchange, documents, stories, etc. It's likely that the two of you have missing information that the other may be seeking. Perhaps you'll break down a brick wall! Memorial Day weekend is only two weeks away, so I hope you'll take advantage of this tip. Good luck to you!

No comments: