If you happen to be driving east, out of town, some weekend, you might spot a tall, lone figure in Fairlawn Cemetery. He looks as if he’s seeking someone buried there — and, yes, he is. A list of people buried there, oddly enough!
But it might not be as ghoulish as you think. That’s just me, and I’m trying to fulfill requests for photos of headstones. It’s part of my having signed up at Find A Grave, a website dedicated to providing burial information for those doing genealogical research, missing a loved one buried far away, discovering where a celebrated figure rests, etc. You don’t have to sign-up to do any of those things, only if you want to contribute to the site’s information or make a request.
This started when I came across an ancestor I didn’t know I had. John Nicholas was born in 1859 in Carmarthen, Wales; had a son in 1880, seven months after being married (my favorite part of that is “in 1880”); emigrated to Chicago a couple of years later; and raised my mother’s mother there. His final years must have been gloomy. In 1926, his wife died. In 1932, that son had become a prison guard and was shot dead by a prisoner who had smuggled in a gun. At the start of 1933, his daughter — my grandmother — died. And he himself died only months afterward. Husband, wife, son, and daughter are all buried together in a cemetery I don’t think I’ve ever visited. And now I live in Oklahoma, pretty far away from Chicago.
So I put in a request at Find A Grave to see the headstones of the Nicholas family. That is, I did so after I had contacted the cemetery to get the plot locations. That’s quite a help to photo-fulfilling volunteers. I haven’t gotten any pictures yet, but I’m patient and hopeful.
Meanwhile, I’m reciprocating by wandering around Fairlawn Cemetery, a nice stroll away from where I now live. There are over 100 requests for headstone photos there, and I wonder if I’m the only local volunteer. Since a few are unmarked, I don’t find them all, but I have located quite a few. There’s the woman had lived to 107! Once upon a time, her family moved to town in a wagon, and she lost her father and brother to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. I don’t usually get that much information, but I often see what war a soldier fought in. For instance, there’s one fellow who fought in the Civil War on behalf of Illinois, my home state. Oh, and there’s one couple who loved the Grand Tetons enough to have an illustration of those mountains craved on their memorial.
Many silent stories.
Let this be my invitation for any others touched by taphophilia* to sign up at Find A Grave and fulfill some photo requests. It’s a perfect excuse to take a meditative stroll through a cemetery.
*Taphophila: a keen interest in cemeteries, funerals, or other death practices. Some online dictionaries call it “morbid.” I call it a healthy acceptance of mortality.