Asking some genealogists to name their favorite cemetery is sort of like asking a parent to name their favorite child. Yet that’s exactly what I did to some of the people I work with. (No, I wasn’t trying to put them on the spot!) I’m fairly obsessed with cemeteries and was curious as to some of their favorites. Here’s what they told me.
Anne Gillespie Mitchell has a fondness for Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. It’s easy to understand why. She has five generations of ancestors buried there. “My great-grandparents had a house that was right next to the property for years and my grandfather played there. And then there’s the historical significance since Stonewall himself is buried there.”
Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, New York is Lou Szucs’ favorite. She told me that there have been more than 3 million burials there since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York opened it in 1848 and is said to have more interments there than any other cemetery in the United States. Some of Lou’s earliest immigrant ancestors are buried there. (There’s also the added bonus of the view of Manhattan.)
Paul Rawlins’ favorite is Lewiston City Cemetery in Lewiston, Utah. “I have three generations of family there, and my parents already have their headstone in place (no rush, Mom and Dad). But I think the real connection with the place was forged with the living people I spent time with there—my grandmother, aunts, uncle, parents and brothers—every year growing up. It feels like a sort of family home.” (Paul has written before about his family traditions and remembrances in this cemetery.)
Another New York favorite is Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, which is Juliana Szucs Smith’s favorite. “We got our first view of Thomas Howley’s headstone on Find A Grave. The small simple stone had his name, date of death and an important detail—Fireman, USS Ft. Jackson. That clue led me to a 123-page Civil War pension application that I found on Fold3.com. He had enlisted using his mother’s maiden name, so he didn’t appear in searches of pension indexes. When we were in New York a few years ago, we got to visit the cemetery in person. We have a ton of family there so it was great to revisit gravesites we hadn’t been to in years, and for the first time see Thomas’ stone in person.”
My favorite? I can’t narrow it to a single cemetery, so I’m going to take artistic license with my part of this article and name a few of them.
Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is large (the third-largest non-government cemetery in the U.S.). It is the final resting place for everyone from presidents (Benjamin Harrison) to notorious felons (John Dillinger). The rich (Eli Lilly of Lilly Pharmaceuticals) and the poor (countless “unnamed” graves) are all buried here. (If you go, be sure to visit James Whitcomb Riley’s grave at the top of Crown Hill. The view of the Indianapolis skyline is incredible from there.)
I’ve been to countless cemeteries, including dozens of military cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery, which is an incredibly moving place. But even after seeing all of those, I was not prepared for what I felt at the American Cemetery at Normandy. I had the privilege of visiting there in June, just a few days after the 70th anniversary of D-Day. As I walked up the path to the cemetery, I thought I was ready to see it. But seeing row after row after row of markers – and realizing that they died in short time of each other – was nearly overwhelming. (Note: You can find records of those buried at Normandy and other American military cemeteries overseas in the new collection U.S., Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949.)
But for all of the grand cemeteries I’ve visited and liked – and I’ve liked them all! – perhaps my favorite cemetery is Olivet Cemetery in Perry County, Ohio. It’s a small cemetery in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio and is where three generations of my ancestors are buried. Walking there in the quiet countryside, I can almost hear my ancestors.
What are some of your favorite cemeteries?