Unearthing Mysteries of Cemetery Gems

I’ve walked dozens of cemeteries over the past decade, hunting for those elusive relatives. Rare is the family historian who would not seek out the mysteries of ancestral graves. To uncover well-kept family secrets, to solve ancestral riddles, to unearth skeletons lost in a dark closet—now these are gripping moments of genealogical bliss.  Intrigued and frustrated by the suspense of not knowing and groping for any possibilities, I have prostrated myself on the sacrificial altar of old photographs, illegible documents, musty churches, and weed-infested cemeteries.  Sleep spared; money and time lavishly donated; and life obsessed with the clueless unknowns of family research and preservation.

Much like a neighborhood prowler, I have loitered and crept around various communities of the dead.  My lurking tendencies thrive among the forgotten headstones, massive mausoleums, and ornate artwork and architecture.  Unlimited hours have been offered to the all-consuming pedigree and lineage gods.  My unyielding quest to learn about and understand the language of tombstone symbolism, to search for genealogical clues in artistically carved epitaphs, and to delve into the historical significance of cemetery artwork dominated my life for over ten years. Description defies the years of insatiable genealogical appetite for early 19th century German newspaper clippings and obituaries, countless tombstone images, and volumes of lineage compilations.

Let’s face it; I’m just a recovering diggin’ up bones junkie.

The quarterly column, Links to Deep Roots, was published from October 2005 to January 2008 in the Ostfriesen Genealogical Society of America newsletter.  My involvement as the website surfing columnist during this time period provided a plethora of opportunities for learning about Ostfriesen heritage and family tree climbing.  http://www.ogsa.us/  Occasionally, an article other than the regular column was submitted and published.  The following are excerpts from two such submissions:

October 2006

Der Stadt Friedhoff—a city cemetery located in Fredericksburg, Gillespie County, Texas.  It was established in 1846 by a German society of nobles called Adelsverein. Their deliberate plan for the promotion and settlement of a Germany colony in the hill country of Texas was begun and in place long before the people from middle and northern Germany arrived.  Included in this plan was the Der Stadt Friedhof.  Named after the Prussian ruler, Prince Friedrich, this active cemetery’s ninety-nine percent German-descent burials total over 5,000.  Three of the five local Lutheran churches maintain the cemetery.

The newly established German colony was in the center of Comanche territory.  Although a lasting peace was created with them, conflicts continued with other neighboring tribes.  Out of the 125 original German immigrants, two Catholic families were represented; the majority of others belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  After an arduous ocean journey, they ported in Galveston or Indianola (now nonexistent) and traveled to New Braunfels and Fredericksburg by oxen-drawn covered wagon.

Many of the early tombstones were sculpted from local limestone acquired from the nearby Cross Mountain.  Mass burials were common during the 1847 and 1849 cholera epidemics.  It is believed that a passerby on his way to California during the ’49 Gold Rush carried cholera to the community.  The Klein family represents the oldest visibly marked grave—1849.

Numerous graves are surrounded with wrought iron fences, a material commonly used during the Victorian period.  Local blacksmiths hammered metal into lasting works of art that are admired yet today.  Rows of metal cribs portray the pain and suffering of these early  Fredericksburg settlers in the two children’s sections.

A visit to the Der Stadt Friedhof in northeast Fredericksburg is a must if you are in the Texas hill country.  Although Fredericksburg wasn’t predominantly an Ostfriesen settlement, its rich German heritage will provide insight about the industrious German pioneers.  Glen Treibs, a five-generation Texas native and retired Texas history teacher provides information and educational tours of the cemetery as well as Fredericksburg.  A big Texas thank you goes to Glen for offering his assistance with this column.  Be sure to check out Links to Deep Roots for more information about Fredericksburg and its history.   (Article and photographs by Cheryl Meints)

January 2008 During the 19th century, industrialization created a surge in urban areas
with densely packed populations.  People longed for green, open spaces as escapes from dirty, crowded cities.  At the same time, as churchyards and family cemeteries filled up, the back-to-nature movement known as Romanticism offered a solution;  a park-like setting outside the city where the public could immerse themselves in natural beauty while
visiting the final resting place of their loved ones.  The concept of such a setting—with winding roads and paths, indigenous trees and shrubbery—came to be called the rural or
garden cemetery.  (Internet)

Examples of tombstones from the Victorian and Historic Oakland Garden Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia follow:

Author of Gone with the Wind

Want to wander the cemetery grounds and be a tombstone tourist with me?  Want to be exposed to dead art?  Visit www.corinthrose.com Click Peering Through the Cemetery Gate under This N’ That.  My grave attractions are limitless. Thanks for lurking with me.

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About corinthrose

Born again Christian, helpmate of 42 years, domestic engineer of two children, GRANDmother of six darlings, professional volunteer, fanatic photographer, and a wanna be writer. Occasionally, infatuated with family history, flower photography, and traveling with my hiking buddy.
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2 Responses to Unearthing Mysteries of Cemetery Gems

  1. I love wandering around old cemeteries. And I didn’t know the origin. Thanks. We need to head south to New Orleans and the wonderful old cemeteries there! Great post! and I love the photos.

  2. Nancy says:

    To the diggin’ up bones junkie.. what cleaver words to describe you. My plan is to dig around on my mother’s side of the family. Which computer program do you recommend?
    I have read about, heard people talk about and have a desire to go see Fredericksburg. Thanks for letting me read the history before I go.

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