Toto, We're Not in Kansas, but...

June 15, 2010

I returned yesterday from a quick trip to meet my mom and aunt in Missouri.  This sign greeted me in the Kansas City airport:


My aunt has spent years researching her family's genealogy, and planned this trip with my mom so they could visit a number of small Missouri towns where key ancestors had been born/married/lived/died.  They invited me to join them and I jumped at the chance--road trip! Armed with Aunt Jary's two carefully compiled three-ring binders, we toured central Missouri, driving through tiny towns and tramping through cemeteries.

Surprisingly, I found the exploration of these old cemeteries rather fascinating. Except for the occasional bird, we were alone in an atmosphere of deep peace. We had nothing but rolling farmland around us, and sometimes a breeze lifted the tree leaves and stirred the little American flags someone had placed on some of the graves for Memorial Day.  I found myself wondering what these people had been like in life--how had they lived? What were the relationships between those buried on the family plots? Some gravestones marked the short lives of infants and young children. One of my own long-gone relatives had died in her 20s of consumption. 

The grave that held the most interest for me was this one:

A "great-great" who fought for the Union in the Civil War, P.M. was imprisoned in Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison camp in Georgia, and lived to tell the tale.  I've been to Andersonville twice, but unfortunately I didn't yet know about my own personal inmate either time.

We visited several other places of interest while on the tombstone tour--and I'll share more with you later in the week.  Until then, watch out for flying monkeys!

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  1. I don't find your fascination surprising at all. Old cemeteries are interesting places. As you say, so much can be said on a tombstone, and yet so little.

    There is a cemetery near us where there is a family plot with a marker that tells how an entire family was wiped out within a week's time by the Spanish flu. All but the father. Each of the children died, one by one, then a newborn, and finally the wife and mother. In a week. Just imagine. And now there are maybe 3 people alive who still remember them personally. The mind boggles.

  2. Hi, Maria! The cemeteries were fascinating. I didn't get a picture of it, but there was one tombstone erected to a man who was "born in slavery"--it was a large and beautifully carved white marble monument...I wondered who had put it there for him.

    I told my mom about your daughter taking the bear to college with her and she got a big kick out of that!

  3. So glad to have you back, Kathy -- and safe from tornadoes!

    I'm passionate about old cemeteries. My husband thinks it's creepy, so I no longer attempt to drag him along. I love the peace that I feel walking in them, and the wildness and nature that has sometimes been allowed to spring up in them. I suspect it comes from regularly visiting a very old cemetery as a child, one that was so old there was a slave section still in it, way at the back by the forest's encroaching edge, and it bothered me from a very young age that no one had bothered to put names and dates on the tiny, age-darkened, simple stones there. My dad did not shy away from explaining it to me, even at age 6 or so, and bowing his head sorrowfully over the stones.

    Isn't it crazy to think our ancestors were killing their fellow countrymen only 150 years ago or so? Amazing that your "great-great" survived Andersonville, and he was so young, too, to go through that horror. :(

  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one who enjoys a walk through a cemetery! :) I don't know if I'd feel that way about a new one, though. The old ones have such a peaceful, timeless feel.

  5. I too can wander for hours in old cemeteries. There is a peace but also a curiosity about the lives that were lived and lost. The whys, how comes, and how did that happen questions.

    It is as if time stops in a cemetery. And not just for the dead.

  6. Wow... I'd have jumped at the chance of a trip like that too. My Dad has been doing genealogy research for some time now and he's turned up some fascinating things and people. Some of ours were better left to rest ;-)

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  7. Laure--Well, if it weren't so hot right now, I know what our next "field trip" should be. Maybe in the fall?

  8. It's pretty amazing what you can find just a couple of generations back. In our family, there was a lot of moving around in the Midwest to make a better living for the family. We don't seem to have too many black sheep, but maybe my aunt is keeping those people under wraps!

  9. Oh, we all love combing cemeteries too, even my son. We're history geeks. He likes to find the oldest tombstone and see how far it goes back. We've gone through Gettysburg and a NYC cemetery that held graves from the Revolutionary War leaders.

    Sounds like you had a great time. My mom is a genealogist too. You're right, there is a peace and sadness in a cemetery and also awe.

  10. We drove by a cemetary near our home last week, and I found myself wanting to get out and look through it! Oh, dear--a new and quirky hobby??

    I am grateful to my aunt and my mom who have spent time researching the family history. Learning about our distant relatives and where they came from helps me feel connected to family.