Before I started working at Ancestry.com, I thought cemeteries were creepy. Sure, they were great places for flowers and remembrance a few times a year. But if you didn’t actually know one of the residents, you definitely didn’t want to pop by.
I would have never predicted that four and a half years later, I’d be taking my kids to one. Just for fun.
We went for the history. Once a year, on the Sunday before Halloween, the old cemetery near my home brings its dead back to life. Actors portray the cemetery’s residents, telling stories about their lives and subsequent deaths. And seeing that the town was once an old mining camp high up in the mountains, those lives and deaths were rarely pretty.
Honestly I thought my kids would be bored or at least creeped out. That was anything but the case. My five-year-old daughter listened intently to the stories, while my eight-year-old son brushed leaves off tombstones to read inscriptions and calculate ages. They were fascinated. So was I.
Even if you can’t make it to a cemetery for a quick history lesson, you can wander through virtual ones in the public member photos section of Ancestry.com <http://www.ancestry.com/search/DB.aspx?dbid=1093>. Search for keywords including “tombstone,” “headstone,” or “gravestone” for photos of graves – I found a handful that dated back to the 17th century and plenty of newer ones as well. Or read about how the tombstone of an unrelated, slain lawman sent author Ellen Notbohm on a search for the story behind his death in “A Tombstone Tells Its Story,” from Ancestry magazine <http://www.ancestrymagazine.com/2009/06/features/a-tombstone-tells-the-story>.
Lastly, if you’d like to share a little about the history you discovered in a cemetery, I’d love to hear it. Add your comments to the bottom of this post or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And no, you don’t have to be related to the history you uncovered. In four years, I’ve learned a good story is just that. No matter who it’s about. Or where it’s found.