Saturday, April 6, 2013

Written in Stone

I dipped my toe back into the genealogy pool at the end of the week last week. That type of research can be so consuming that it's hard to do a little at a time. It's also tough to keep track of all the little threads and questions once you get back a few generations, but it was spring break, and after visiting the Chapman family home and cemetery, I decided to devote a couple of hours to the folks on my own family tree.

There must be many mysteries in every family; there are definitely several in mine. One is the story of my great-grandmother. Born to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, her mother died when she was a young child. Her father remarried shortly afterwards, but we have no idea what she did for the next twenty years when she somehow met and married my great-grandfather, a man from Massachusetts, and moved to Indiana. Her father ended up working in the laundry of the New Jersey State Asylum, where he died and was buried. Her older sister never married, and at some point moved to Indiana, too.

Most of the information we have is pieced together from census records, so there was some discrepancy as to the year she was born-- it varied from 1860 to 1866. In order to refine my searches I wanted to know which it was. I knew there was a record of her burial on the Find a Grave website, but there was nothing other than her name and the cemetery. That site is free and run mostly by volunteers; they have a photo request form, and if anyone living nearby is willing, you can get a picture of the grave.

I was surprised to hear back in less than an hour from a nice lady in Indiana who promised she would go out this week and take the photos I requested. Yesterday, she posted them. In them, the spring sunshine seems a little harsh and the shadows the stones cast are dark. The markers themselves are plain blocks of rough granite standing in grass that has not yet greened up, but I was moved to see them.

And one small mystery was solved: no matter what they told the census takers in the later years of her life, my great-grandmother was born in 1861.

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