We think of today’s society as being so much more mobile than in “the old days,” but Americans have been on the move for generations. Americans moved west after those first steps on the east coast in the 1600s, and continued that westward movement through the 1890s. Exhausted land, crowded conditions, large families with many to inherit and divide the land, cheap land on the frontier, and the freedom of wide open spaces called to our ancestors and enticed them away from the family homestead.
For families, cemeteries had been places of quiet contemplation, a place to go to honor ancestors and stroll on a Sunday. Some cemeteries were like parks with beautiful monuments, and people would stroll the lanes on an afternoon with family and friends, even if they did not have family buried there. In earlier times, people paid for a plot only, not ‘perpetual care’ as is done now. Families were expected to care for the gravesite themselves. Americans on the move, however, caused less family to be nearby to maintain the cemeteries and ancestor headstones, and many fell into disrepair. The small cemeteries on family land or out in the country were the hardest hit- as family moved away, land was sold, or descendants aged, there was no one around who was able to, or who cared about, maintaining the cemetery. Headstones fell over as graves subsided, stones weathered until they could not be read, or broke into pieces with the freeze-thaw cycles of many winters. Vandalism occurred too- whether during a war or a boring afternoon, stones were broken, thrown around, and defaced by those who had no respect for ancestors “quietly resting.”
People finally began to feel the need to improve our aging cemeteries, in hopes of preserving a part of the past. Headstones were sometimes righted, and even collected and placed along a cemetery wall, such as the cemetery that was a Civil War encampment and ancestor-of-the-enemy headstones were thrown about to allow spaces for tents.
The genealogy resurgence in this country, along with people involved in “Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness” (RAOGK- no longer in existence) and websites like “Find A Grave” have increased interest in, and searching of, old cemeteries for lost ancestors. Our ‘digital age’ has also allowed cemeteries and historical societies to post an index online so that those far away can find where their ancestors are spending their final repose. Cemeteries are now being cared for, often by ‘perfect strangers’, i.e. people not related to anyone in the cemetery.
In some places, it is not known where some of the persons are buried, or which headstone belongs to which gravesite. Some of the old county cemetery listings done by historical societies note a grave in a specific cemetery, but the grave cannot be found- it may be covered by many inches of soil, have eroded away, or may have only been a rock or wooden cross to mark the spot. (We have ancestors that have headstones that cannot be found, but a cemetery listing includes their name.)
When cemeteries are restored, it cannot always be done just the way it was previously, especially if there are no records. The following headstone, for the above Frederick P. Horn’s wife Hepzibah Clark, was repaired and placed facing east, with Frederick’s facing west! (We do not have an image of her completely repaired stone.)
Thank you to all who help families find the final resting place of their loved ones, and to all those who care for those places of quiet repose.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Photos used with permission of photographer, who was paid to take the photos.
2) Find A Grave: findagrave.com.
Please note that not all the information posted on FAG is correct- just like with any other website, one needs additional sources of verification.
3) These photos and family information will be added to the FAG memorials for Frederick P. Horn (Memorial# 52049381) and Hepzibah (Clark) Horn (Memorial# 52049366).
Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.
Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.