Reunions take cemetery responsibility
Responsibility for cemetery upkeep, maintenance, restoration and repair is among many families’ reunion activities. Cemetery projects can also include research, recording data, mapping and tombstone rubbings. Some families use the occasion of the reunion to clean and plant gravesites and plots while others raise funds to hire cemetery services.
The Warner Family Reunion used a Chinese Auction (bids for prizes are made with 25¢ tickets) to increase their cemetery fund and finance future reunions.
Joan Sandall Tempers, Topeka, Kansas, says her family has held one-day annual reunions in Nebraska for over sixty years. The family published its genealogy and financially supports a private cemetery on the site of a Swedish Lutheran church founded by four ancestors.
The Irwin Family Reunion tradition began in 1878 when adult children of Peter Irwin, son of Nathaniel Irwin, met to clean up the Old Seceder Cemetery – Downington, Pennsylvania. Men trimmed grass and repaired the wall and tombstones. Women and children prepared a picnic. According to C. Patricia Irwin Lesley Irwin reunions today are a mix of families raised in the tradition and newcomers. Care of the Old Seceder Cemetery is still a priority. Dues of $2 per adult are used for cemetery maintenance and family records preservation.
Storytelling with the spirits of your ancestors
Family members should be encouraged to share tales about the people buried in the cemetery. Most families include memorial services in their programs which are particularly poignant at the cemetery.
When genealogist Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, CGRS, attended the Carmack reunion, she suggested a tour of cemeteries where family members were buried. Carmack says she learned more about the family than she could ever find in traditional genealogical records. She videotaped pictures of tombstones and had older family members narrate stories about the deceased. Carmack learned her grandfather, David McMasters, died on top of his roof adjusting the lightening rod during a thunderstorm!
Cemeteries are a wonderful place to teach children about respect for the dead and the sacredness of the final resting place. Explain that a cemetery is a museum without walls. Many tombstones are hundreds of years old and are not to be climbed on, colored on or knocked down.
At one Glenn Family Reunion, they dedicated headstones for Starling and Eliza Glenn (born 1823 and 1827 in Winnsboro, South Carolina). Benjamin Glenn led a tour of the small cemetery and enthralled his grandchildren with family tales recalled by other headstones.
Cemeteries are included in many reunion tour itineraries. The Maxon family enjoyed several exciting trans-continental reunions, then returned to their home town, Olean, New York, for a nostalgic look at their past.
According to Karen Maxon, they visited the homestead, alma maters, old haunts and the family cemetery plot.
An Adell Family Reunion brought together the family’s Midwest, Texas and West Coast branches, descendants of Charles and Augusta Adell. The reunion in Lindsborg, Kansas, included tours of cemeteries where Adell patriarchs are buried.
For one Gilmore Family Reunion in Arkansas the family chose the theme “Celebrating Our Roots.” A highlight of the three days was a chartered bus tour of Magnolia, the original homesite, and Pine Bluff where they held a memorial service at the cemetery where ancestors are buried.
Descendants of Danish brothers Andrew and Rasmus Larsen, who married sisters Marie and Ane Davidson, began their reunion day with services at the Lutheran church their ancestors attended. They walked through several cemeteries to visit ancestral graves.
Pete Holste, organizer of the reunion of Daniel Boone descendants, reported that during a reunion in Kentucky, they visited Frankfort cemetery where Boone’s remains were thought to be re-interred, and Ft. Harrodsburg, where they saw an historic re-enactment of the kidnapping of Daniel Boone’s daughter by Indians.
Rose Sheldon Newton, Sheldon Family Association, Inc., Fort Wayne, Indiana, says visits to a former homestead, cemetery or battlefield are incorporated into Sheldon Family Reunions. Recently, Sheldons also returned to the site of the Deerfield (Massachusetts) Massacre, where colonial ancestors were murdered or carried into slavery in Canada.
Carolyn Wilson-Elliott combined her small family reunion with genealogy research at the Arkansas Historical Society Four Corners Ancestor Fair.
An exhibitor introduced Wilson-Elliott to a distant cousin who told family stories about convicted murderers and train robbers — a great hit with the children. The new cousin directed them to another relative who had researched the family back to 1660. They pored over photos, looking for family resemblances. They spent an extra day in Arkansas visiting sites of family stories and drove to Round Mountain Cemetery and walked among the headstones where many ancestors lie buried. They matched family stories with ancestors. One refused to fight during the Civil War; one was a self-taught mid-wife; one died when he fell into the fireplace during an epileptic seizure; and one was murdered. At the base of Round Mountain they discovered the White River where an ancestor drowned.