Monthly Archives: September 2010

Now about that cemetery in the backyard…

Idyllic pastures

 

Homeowners wanting to purchase that historic 18th or 19th century farmhouse would do well to think it through before handing over the escrow down payment. Many of these lovely old places come with an unexpected little extra located in the far corners of the property—the family cemetery.     

Finding out about these potential new neighbors generates mixed reactions. For some, it only enhances the overall attraction and connection to local history while for others it’s an immediate deal breaker – especially if it’s a cultural no-no.     

Revolutionary War veteran, died 1850

 

This past April, the New York Times reported on one potential buyer who refused to even look at a $3 million dollar property because it was next to a cemetery while another discovered an 1812 marker in the front lawn after escrow closed. Figuring it was just part of owning a house constructed in the late 1600s, the owner shrugged and added the upkeep into his regular lawn maintenance duties.     

Then there are those who feel they’ve hit the jackpot.     

One Maine family was ecstatic to discover a late 18th century cemetery lurking in their backyard. After clearing out numerous piles of brush and tree branches, the cemetery was re-dedicated with a pretty little memorial plaque and even got its own website.     

Abigail Wellman: died April 12, 1817, 50 years old

 

Old family cemeteries are a lot more common than most people realize and they’re not just found in the New England or mid-Atlantic areas. There are just as many private cemeteries located in the South. But let’s not forget the nation’s longest rural graveyard either; the Oregon Trail. A leisurely drive along the pastoral byways in all of these states will reveal any number of weathered headstones standing guard on a lonely hill.     

Old cemeteries encountered rough times during the recent housing boom when developers pushed further out into previously rural areas. A 2006 Washington Post article highlighted the challenges some of these forgotten sites faced in Tennessee.     

“State archaeologist Nick Fielder estimates that there are 20,000 family cemeteries in Tennessee, but there’s no way to know for sure. There’s no central inventory, and most documentation is done by historians and volunteers who scour records and trudge through meadows in search of graves.     

Fielder says about 100 family cemeteries fall in the path of development in Tennessee each year, about two times as many as a decade ago. Under state law, he said, there’s nothing sacred about sites. Relatives of the deceased have no legal leverage over family plots they don’t own, and landowners who can pay to move a cemetery need only a judge’s approval.”     

Thankfully, the lucky ones are removed to a new location while others, like Comet Lodge Cemetery in Seattle, get stuck in a very odd kind of limbo. Interestingly enough, this particular area is now home to many Asians who would consider it very unlucky to live near a cemetery.     

So what happens if you buy that gorgeous fixer-upper and (gulp) find out there are a few more residents on the place than originally thought?     

Family cemetery, upstate New York

 

Well, the first thing to understand is that most states do not consider the abandoned family cemetery on your property to be yours, regardless of whether you hold the title. You cannot just simply up and move the bodies on your own. However, since rules governing this process vary around the country, it’s best to review cemetery laws at the state level. For example, here is commentary on Florida’s regulations, a link to New York State’s cemetery law manual, the friendly, Q&A styled version for Virginia, and an artistically presented handbook from South Carolina.     

Barring that, there’s always the option of simply leaving the new neighbors alone. After all, it’s not very likely they’ll be throwing loud parties anytime soon.

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Scaring up more cemetery repair funds

Flickr photo by borman818

 

This past August, BTG posted an article on how cemeteries could raise extra maintenance and repair funds. Some of these ideas included growing special heritage roses, art exhibitions, and Living History Performances. Today, we stumbled across two more interesting ideas we’d like to share: 

Idea #1: In Cumberland, Rhode Island, local middle school athletes are competing in a pledge drive to raise money for the Elder Ballou Historic Cemetery that will go toward cleaning up the site. And what do the kids get for doing all the work? Well, they get to wander through the cemetery the day before Halloween, listening to scary, and maybe not-so scary, forgotten stories from a local park ranger. 

Idea #2: Capitalizing both on the idea of cemetery tourism and the American love of road trips, Hillsdale.net reports on the nation’s first historic cemetery tour that covers the entire state of Indiana and ties in with several local autumn festivals.  Talk about good planning! 

“Over 50 miles will be covered along the trail that utilizes historic Route 6 (The Grand Army of the Republic Highway) as the connector for the two counties and will eventually makes its way toward Chicago in the future. Proceeds raised from the Trail will in part go to the historic cemetery conservation in DeKalb and Noble Counties. A host of other activities will be taking place during the month such as the Apple Festival, Pumpkin Fantasyland and the known Owl-o-ween throughout Noble County. Foil impression art workshops of historic monuments will also take place, along with other speakers on historic cemetery topics throughout the month.”

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Fishing for younger genealogists

Flickr photo by kretyn

 

How can genealogy attract more Millennials and Gen X and Yers?

Is it even possible?

Yes, but properly snaring them seems to require the right fishing technique. Depending on who you ask, the traditionalist says it’s all in the lure while another claims it’s the casting technique that really matters. Then there are the shoulder-shrugging types who say, “A day off, my lucky hat, and a cooler full of beer—who cares whether I catch any fish?”

In the past few weeks, more than a few articles have wondered whether the genealogy field might be labeled the laissez-faire fisherman type than the industrious lure and casting trawler.

High Definition Genealogy goes straight for the jugular by stating several reasons just why people younger than 45 might think this field yanks the welcome carpet out from under their feet. A recent post on Roots and Rambles goes further, observing that conference dates and times often conflict with school and work day commitments while the cost of the conference itself can be prohibitive for families on a budget. One younger enthusiast commented that at a conference, ‘The woman behind me said “Aren’t you too young to be doing genealogy?”

Welcome, indeed.

Thankfully, technology is helping to tear all of this down. Between Roots Television, genealogy Twitter lists, genealogy blogs, and countless articles now popping up online, the perceived age gap is finally narrowing.

However, we believe the best Catch-And-Don’t-Release award goes to John Harris.

Mr. Harris, a teacher in Somerset, Pennsylvania, came up with an innovative way to snare Millennials through their own tools. His “Hunting History: Discovering Your Hometown” high school class has students using GPS devices to track down old churches and specific cemetery headstone markers from coordinates given out in class.

Harris says: “When you can offer something that kids can get their hands on – in their backyard – when they go through town, they see historical sites. When you can turn them on to that, word gets out that that’s pretty fun. They discover the history all on their own.”

He’s on to something because not only did he win a $5,000 award from the History Channel but more importantly, this elective, twice a year class maxing out 30 students per semester, is always full. That’s sixty new history and genealogy enthusiasts caught each year.

Now that’s a winning fishing technique that gets ’em while their young.

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