Arlington National Cemetery Removing Mementos Left at Graves

Military cemeteries traditionally have a uniform look: clean, unadorned, orderly.

photo of Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

Credit: Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

The appearance of the military crosses was immortalized in the lines of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian John McCrae during WWI on 3 May 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Now, a century later, there has been a growing trend by families and friends to decorate military gravestones of their loved ones in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Military authorities are reminding families that this decorating is not allowed. Photographs and mementos left at the gravesites have been removed, and the historical landmark cemetery has returned to its traditional appearance—with silent rows of gleaming white crosses.

A London newspaper ran a story on this clean-up project at Arlington National Cemetery last month.

article about Arlington National Cemetery removing mementos left at gravesites,  Daily Mail newspaper article 10 October 2013

Credit: Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013

Read the entire news story from the Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013, here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451626/Arlington-graves-stripped-personal-momentoes-controversial-clean-up.html

Here is a copy of McCrae’s handwritten poem.

photo of the handwritten original copy of John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields”

Credit: Wikipedia

Lt. Colonel McCrae died 28 January 1918 while serving in France during WWI. He is buried in Wimereux Military Cemetery in northern France.

photo of the tombstone of Lt. Colonel John McCrae

Credit: Wikipedia

Here is the complete text of the poem “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Researching Old Ghost Stories & Haunted Houses in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—just in time for Halloween—Gena writes about some of the ghost stories she found in old newspapers, stories spooky enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck!

It’s that time of the year when ghost stories abound. Do you have any favorites? Better yet, do you have any familial ghost stories? What ghosts linger on your family tree? Did your family live in a haunted house? Did a dead family member return from the grave to issue a warning? Did your ancestor come in contact with a ghost?

Wonder What Happened to That Old Cemetery?

There’s no doubt that in previous generations, death was an everyday part of life. Children frequently died from diseases and accidents, loved ones’ bodies may have been prepared for burial in their own home, and in some cases the local cemetery was adjacent to a family property. Maybe this close proximity with death made some people lackadaisical or even indifferent, as perhaps happened to this Indiana man.

The following 1902 newspaper article features a story about George Flowers, who purchased land that included a cemetery. After he bought the land he removed the 300 tombstones, throwing some into the river and using the rest to build a foundation for his house. Flowers built his home and farm on top of the cemetery—over the objections of his neighbors. Although still disturbing, you might be less shocked by this behavior from someone who was not familiar with those buried there— but this particular cemetery included the graves of his brother, sister, and two of his own children! Apparently, his thoughtless deeds resulted in his farm being haunted.

Spirits, Elements and Neighbors Turn on Man [George Flowers] Who Farms a Cemetery, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 24 August 1902

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 24 August 1902, page 5

Some of the details of this haunted farm story are downright spooky. After desecrating the graveyard, Flowers plowed the cemetery and planted it with melons and potatoes, as he did with the rest of his land. Well, the other melons and potatoes “grew in abundance,” but the ones planted in the cemetery were “eaten up by a strange bug.” Then the house started shaking violently, terrifying Flowers’s wife and two children into deserting the home. Finally, lightning struck the barn and burned the stock and building.

One sentence in this old newspaper article is especially striking: “The father seems to be impelled by some irresistible force to visit the haunted farm daily, only to flee again with increased fear.”

The Ghost in the Family

Whether just an old creepy abandoned house, one where an unfortunate death occurred, or a previous owner now deceased who won’t leave, most towns have a tale of a haunted house or a haunting. While many stories involve ghosts who are unknown to the current residents, in this 1913 newspaper article the family is haunted by one of their own.

This historical news article refers to the story of Jane Adams, a teenager who was murdered in her hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1910. Three years after her death (the newspaper erroneously says five years), her family lived in fear because she seemingly came back from the dead to haunt their home.

Say Home Is Haunted by Ghost of Murdered Girl [Jane Adams], Columbus Daily Enquirer newspaper article 11 May 1913

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 11 May 1913, page 1

According to the article: “Mary, a sister of Jane, declares she has frequently seen a hand protrude from closet doors, has heard queer noises at night, and has even observed the ghost’s flight from a closet through the house. The whole neighborhood is having an attack of fidgets.”

Further research into this ghost story reveals that on the night of her death, the murdered girl had gone out with her sister and a young man. After a walk to the pier she and the young man’s brother, who had joined them, were left alone. The prosecution at the time introduced evidence that Jane Adams was fighting for her honor when she was allegedly killed by William Seyler. William, after police questioning, admitted he was there when she died but denied any culpability. He claimed that they were arguing when she fell off the pier.

Ghosts Trying to Make Contact

While the previous newspaper article makes it sound as though the family was less than thrilled to be reunited with their dead loved one, in many cases Victorians wanted to have that chance to speak to and receive messages from beyond the grave. Spiritualism, a belief popular from about 1840 to 1920, provided hope to those who wanted to believe that the dead were not truly gone but could be summoned. Those desperate to hear from their deceased loved ones attended séances in hopes of making that contact. In this 1913 newspaper article about a mother who lost a child, not only does her deceased daughter provide information from the great beyond but she also makes a promise.

Reincarnation in [Samona] Family, Times-Picayune newspaper article 25 August 1913

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 25 August 1913, page 3

This is truly an eerie family ghost story. Their dead five-year-old daughter promised during a séance that in 14 months, on Christmas Day, she would be reborn along with a twin sister. According to the old newspaper article, 14 months later—exactly on Christmas Day—the mother did indeed give birth to twin girls, “one of whom bore on the face three marks identical with marks on the face of the dead child, and after a year began to manifest exactly the same moral and physical tendencies.”

There’s One in Every Family

And while there will always be true believers in ghosts as evidenced from numerous present-day television shows and ghost tours, there’s always that one person in the family who wants to take advantage of that belief and pull a joke—sometimes with unintended consequences. Consider this tale of two brothers from a 1908 newspaper article.

Boy Wounds the 'Ghost'; Shoots White-claded Brother [Henry Tomlinson] Standing on Cemetery Wall, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 January 1908

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 January 1908, page 6

I bet that’s one prank Henry Tomlinson regrets pulling on his brother!

Is there a story involving the great beyond in your family history? Record those ghost stories now to add interest to your family history—and please tell them to us in the comments section.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 6: Search Cemeteries Online

A few weeks ago I wrote about online cemetery records (See: Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records). In that article I wrote about the U.S. Veterans Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

Now I want to show how you can help your family history research by using information from these three websites: Find-A-Grave, GenealogyBank and Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

As shown in my earlier blog article, I gave Find-A-Grave a try by registering and adding the tombstone photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp (1866-1944).

Registering with Find-A-Grave triggered a mini-avalanche of requests by family members and genealogists from around the country asking if I could take photos of their relatives’ tombstones at cemeteries in my local area. In the past week I’ve received almost 20 requests so far and they are still coming in: requests for me to take photos of gravestones in cemeteries all around my county.

Find-A-Grave has a “Request A Photo” feature that lets you ask nearby genealogists to take a photo of your target ancestor’s tombstone and post it to Find-A-Grave.

screenshot of the "Request A Photo" page from the website Find-A-Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave

So I decided to give it a try and volunteered to be a gravesite photographer.

I received a request to photograph the tombstone of Daniel J. Clifford. They said that he was buried at the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1997.

First, I did a quick search on GenealogyBank and immediately pulled up Clifford’s obituary, giving me more details about him. He was 86 years old when he died and yes, he was buried in the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery.

obituary for Daniel Clifford, Hartford Courant newspaper article 25 October 1997

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 October 1997, page B3

Next, I searched Nationwide Gravesite Locator to get a quick summary of Clifford’s military service and burial site.

screenshot of record for Daniel Clifford from website Nationwide Gravesite Locator

Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

It shows that he was a Tec 5 in the U.S. Army and served in WWII. It also tells us that he was buried in Section 81-G, Site 02 in the State Veterans Cemetery.

That is a great feature of the network of military cemeteries: service members are not buried randomly—they are buried in neat, orderly rows. With that section and site number it is easy to go directly to Daniel Clifford’s grave.

So—I headed out this morning to do just that. Armed with my iPad, I went to see if I could actually do this. As you drive into the cemetery you can see the small markers indicating the sections. There was Section 81-G.

Walking the rows I was able to quickly find tombstone 02 in Section 81-G. Notice that the stones have the location code engraved on the back of the tombstone.

photo of the rear of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple.

Here is his gravestone.

photo of the front of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Sharp, clear and easy to read.

Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank are essential tools genealogists rely on to get details of the lives of every member of their family.

Now—another word. I took these tombstone photos for Find-A-Grave with my iPad.

Imagine that.

When I first looked at an iPad I could see no practical value in having one. I could do everything I needed with my laptop—why would I need this extra tool? I quickly found that its always-on Apple software lets me check e-mail anytime, without having to wait for the laptop to crank up.

Now I see that it can actually take photos. Good ones, too.

It was easy to work with. When using it at the cemetery I could easily see the tombstone in the full screen image. It was even easier to frame the photo and to take the picture.

Wow. That was simple.

I have been working on my family history for the past 50 years. There’s always something new to learn.

Last year I learned how to text, to keep in touch with the kids—and now I have an iPad.

Couple this technology with such core tools as Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank, and it’s clearly “A Great Day for Genealogy!”

Read these other blog articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

I recently wrote the article Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records, which included a discussion of BillionGraves.com. This handy website provides an app that can be used to find the burial site of a relative.

Let’s look into this a little more.

BillionGraves is a free Internet site that encourages genealogists, Boy Scouts and local cemetery buffs to take photographs of the tombstones in their local cemetery and upload the pictures online using the free BillionGraves app.

This is really easy to do.

Remember—you’ll need a Smartphone to take these cemetery photos or find a gravesite already photographed.

Why? Because BillionGraves not only adds the photo of each tombstone, it includes the GPS coordinates to the spot where that person is buried. It has harnessed technology to make it easy to permanently record the photograph—linked to the GPS data used by Smartphones—so that anyone can quickly find the tombstone. This nifty app makes it so much easier to find what cemetery—or where in that cemetery—someone is buried.

How does this work?

Watch this short video clip of Tom Hester showing how easy it is to do this.

How do you find a grave using BillionGraves?

What if you’re looking for a particular grave and there is no cemetery office? No sexton available? No map to cemetery burials?

We’ve all walked cemeteries for hours searching for our deceased relatives’ graves.

BillionGraves is changing that.

With BillionGraves you can quickly find out if someone has uploaded a photo of your ancestor’s grave. With its GPS feature, your Smartphone can lead you right to it.

Watch how “Casey and Jake” found the grave of their 8th-great-grandmother using the Smartphone app.

Harness the information in both BillionGraves and GenealogyBank and you can fill in the details of your family tree.

collage of records about Lionel Starbird from GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

Credit: GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

For example, let’s say you are researching your ancestor Lionel Starbird.

On GenealogyBank you can quickly find the core genealogical information about Lionel Starbird—his name, date of birth and date/place of death—and by searching for him on BillionGraves you can see a photo of his grave. Notice that BillionGraves links all of the photos in a family plot to his record.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Read these other articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Mystery of the Missing Wooden Tombstone in Colorado Solved

Bertha Welch (1883-1903) died 12 February 1903 from the complications of childbirth. A wooden tombstone for her was created and placed in historic Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge, Colorado.

photo of Bertha Welch's wooden tombstone in historic Valley View Cemetery in Breckenridge, Colorado

Credit: ©Jen Baldwin, Ancestral Journeys, 2011-2013

This was the last legible wooden tombstone still standing in the historic Colorado cemetery, where it had been placed over 110 years ago.

Then suddenly the wooden grave marker was missing, dismaying genealogists and historians. But there’s good news, and a happy ending to this tombstone mystery! It turns out that a great-granddaughter removed Welch’s wooden tombstone to have some repairs done to it. Read the full story about the recovery of the old wooden headstone on the CBSDenver.com website: http://cbsloc.al/1cHOhcO

Where Are My Ancestors Buried? Researching Cemeteries in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the challenge of locating your ancestor’s burial place—and explains how to find out if a cemetery has been moved.

Most genealogy articles written about cemeteries focus on how to find your ancestor’s final resting place. These articles describe resources available (both online and off) for finding cemetery transcriptions and obituaries. Having written a book about cemeteries in a region of California, I am always amazed when we are able to find an ancestor’s burial place. Sometimes our ancestors are not buried where we think they should be.

photo of a cemetery in California

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega © 2009

What can you do when there seems to be no mention of an ancestor’s burial place in any resource? Not all cemeteries are places of eternal slumber. For a variety of reasons cemeteries may be repurposed, burials may be disinterred, and grave markers may be stolen or succumb to the elements over time. In my own years of genealogy research I have seen cemeteries reclaimed by nearby lakes and rivers, plowed over for golf courses, grave markers destroyed by vandals, and cemeteries repurposed for city projects. If you are able to visit the grave of an ancestor, consider yourself lucky.

We often think of newspapers as a place to read articles specific to an ancestor’s burial such as obituaries and funeral notices—but what if you need to know more about a cemetery? Old newspapers are a great place to learn about the history of a specific cemetery, or information about cemeteries in a city. Need historical background to help you ascertain whether an ancestor could be buried in a particular cemetery? Curious what happened to a cemetery? Looking for a cemetery history? Newspapers can provide this type of historical information.

Where did the cemetery go? A San Francisco newspaper example.

While the examples of what can happen to a cemetery are endless, let’s look at one well-known example of how a whole city decided that they would move their dead.

Have a 19th century ancestor that lived in San Francisco? It makes sense that they would be buried there—and they may have been, but only temporarily. In the early 20th century, San Francisco decided that its real estate was too valuable to be “wasted” on the dead.

Four Frisco Cemeteries Will Be Put on Market, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 21 August 1912

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 21 August 1912, page 3

San Francisco outlawed cemeteries, and later cremation, within its city limits. To accommodate their dead, San Francisco residents reinterred family members’ bodies in the nearby city of Colma. It’s interesting to note that Colma’s motto is “It’s great to be alive in Colma” and that’s true since it has 1,400 living residents and 1.5 million buried.*

What happens when a city decides to evict its dead? Family members of the deceased were contacted and legal notices were included in newspapers. Effort was made to contact family members of the deceased so that alternative arrangements could be made. In a case of one of my cousins, her family saw to it that their great-grandmother was reinterred in Sacramento along with a new marker. What happened to those deceased who were not claimed by kin? Their gravestones were used in building projects such as the construction of seawalls. Unidentified remains were placed in mass graves.

legal notice about the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco being closed, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 25 March 1937

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 25 March 1937, page 33

Not every cemetery in the city was repurposed; there are two cemeteries still in existence in San Francisco: San Francisco National Cemetery and the graveyard at Mission Dolores. There is also the Columbarium, which was once a part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery. (A columbarium is a room with niches that hold funeral urns.)

San Francisco isn’t the only example of a city moving the dearly departed to make room for other projects. In Whittier, California, the Mount Olive/Broadway Cemetery was turned into a public park called “Founder’s Park.”

As you search for the burial place of your ancestor, consider what time may have done to the cemetery. Acts of nature, the deterioration of time, city council decisions, or criminal acts may have destroyed the cemetery or gravestone, or at least made it impossible to identify where your ancestor is buried. Before you decide that it is hopeless to find your ancestor’s burial place, take time to research the history of the area—which in turn can help you better understand the cemeteries in that area.

To read more about San Francisco’s cemeteries and Colma see the book Colma (Images of America series) by Michael Smookler.

* From Town of Colma: Welcome to the Town of Colma. http://www.colma.ca.gov/. Accessed 17 March 2013.

Been on a Cemetery Tour Lately?

Genealogists and the curious have been touring cemeteries since time immemorial. Here is a newspaper article about a 1913 tour of Portland’s pioneers buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery in Oregon. That cemetery is still actively offering tours today: see Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery – 2012 Calendar of Events.

Graves of Prominent Portland Pioneers Are Visited, Oregonian newspaper 17 August 1913

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 August 1913, page 8

Be sure to check GenealogyBank to document the people buried in the local cemeteries in your area. You can often find the final resting places of your ancestors in newspaper obituary records.

Have you been on a cemetery tour recently? How did your cemetery research go?

cemetery inscriptions, Macon Telegram newspaper article 25 February 1891

Macon Telegram (Macon, Georgia), 25 February 1891, page 3

Some newspapers published lists of cemetery inscriptions with biographies of the former local residents, like this article in the Macon Telegram.

Perhaps your goal is to document every person buried in a specific cemetery. GenealogyBank can help you do that.

Simply search using the name of the cemetery; for example the “Lone Fir Cemetery” mentioned above.

GenealogyBank search for "Lone Fir Cemetery"

GenealogyBank search for “Lone Fir Cemetery”

Up will come thousands of search results showing the names of persons that were buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery. GenealogyBank makes this easy to do.

GenealogyBank is your source for the information you need to document your family history and fill out your family tree.

Start searching now!