Dead relatives tour

On our travels we often search out graveyards, and we have visited hundreds all over the world. It may sound a little strange, but we wander these boneyards searching out famous, infamous, political, and historical graves. Over the past few years I have become slightly obsessed with discovering ancestors in my family tree and I have spent countless hours locating every gravesite of my dead relatives. As many are buried in New York City, upstate New York, and Boston, when we visited the East Coast for thanksgiving a few years ago, I was determined to visit as many of them as possible.

Greenwood Cemetery Greenwood Cemetery

My great, great, great-grandfather, Thomas Craddock born England 1822, died NYC 1882. Buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

It was a warm fall day; the trees were bare as we kicked through their leaves, past weathered gravestones and gothic mausoleums. We had a map with the rough location of the final resting place of my great, great, great-grandfather, but realized it could still take a while to locate; Greenwood Cemetery is almost the size of Central Park. It opened in 1848 on a Brooklyn hill overlooking Manhattan, and is now filled with elaborate victorian crypts under hundred-years old oaks.

Grave plot # City grave plot #10975

We finally arrived at city plot 10975, the supposed location of my relative. Unfortunately, it was almost the size of a football field with hundreds of marked and unmarked graves; this was not going to be easy.

Helen and I started a systematic grid search of the area, looking at every grave we passed. We had almost finished our sweep with no luck, when Helen spotted an old-timer studying a three-ring binder full of maps. When she asked him if he could help us, he was more than willing. A classic New Yorker, he chain-smoked and swore like a sailor with a heavy Brooklyn accent, as he told us this was his hobby, finding and recording missing graves. He showed us his historical maps of the area, still somewhat incomplete and vague.

Location of Ed Craddock Location of Thomas Craddock

For a half hour we searched together, cross-referencing graves, pacing off distances between plots. Finally he looked at me, “OK, I believe he is buried where you are standing right now.” I looked at the grass under my feet, I spun around. As we had already realized, there was no gravestone, but I was more than satisfied. We thanked him profusely and he said he would do some more research to confirm it. So we gave him our email and then we hurried off, late but happy, to meet an old friend.

My great-grandparents Patrick and Hannah Ford born in Ireland. Buried in Calvary Cemetery, Newton, MA.

My Irish grandparents died before I met them. I’ve heard a few stories and seen pictures and knew that they lived in my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. But I had never given much thought before to where they were buried.

A few years ago, when I was looking into my Irish heritage, I realized that they were buried only a few miles from where I grew up. I thought back; I don’t remember visiting a cemetery as a child or even my father mentioning it. I called my sister in Boston, and she too had no idea. My 89 year-old father’s hearing has deteriorated, so I called my Aunt Coupie and she confirmed their location.

Grandparents Patrick and Hannah

So this trip back home, my sister and I went to the Calvary Cemetery office and got a map with the location of the grave. We found a large, beautiful, dark marbled granite family headstone. Not bad for poor Irish immigrants; some of our cousins had apparently done well in America.

Mom. Buried in Newton Cemetery, Newton, MA.

. .

My mother’s grave is the one place I always visit when I’m home. This trip was no exception. Helen, my brother Mike and I drove the familiar road through the cemetery, up to her gravestone. Mike, like he always does, immediately started cleaning up leaves and twigs and the shrubs on either side. And, like I always do, joined in. We paced around cleaning up debris, until the whole area was clean. We left a poinsettia in front of her marker before heading off to Mom’s brothers for dinner.

William Archibald 1822-1883. My great great great-grandfather. Born in Scotland. Buried Bovine Cemetery, Catskills, NY.

We had to drop off the rental car back in New York City at 5.30pm, before we flew home. We calculated that we had just enough time to visit Archibald in a small town deep in the Catskills, but there was no room for error. The economy car’s engine whined loudly as I floored it, up and over the rolling, forested hills.

We pulled into Bovine Centre and stopped at the old town store for directions. Swinging open the wooden screen door, it felt like stepping into a museum from a hundred years ago; Original cabinets and furnishings filled the massive wood-paneled store. I asked the two older women wearing dresses from decades ago: “Just down the street.”

The cemetery was on top of a small hill. We had a picture of the gravestone, but had no idea of its location. Because of our strict schedule we only had about 15 minutes, so we divided up the cemetery and started searching.

William Archibald William Archibald

The cemetery was old and the stones weathered, so it looked like it might be a slow process. But just as time was running out, Helen found it! The gravestone was in good shape for being 127 years old. I took a picture and we raced back to NYC. We returned the rental car at 5:25pm, just in the nick of time.

Searching for these graves seems like a big game of hide and seek. But there is always an emotional feeling when you’re standing there, looking at the name of family member on a tombstone. I have recently discovered that there are a few more buried relatives scattered around upstate New York and Vermont. Only a few more to visit, in America, but I know my family originally came from Ireland and England. I think there will be a dead relatives tour the European addition in my near future.

Categories: Boston, MA - November 2015 | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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