Whether researching genealogy or just a history buff, there may come a time when you'll want to check out the area cemeteries. Before, you think this idea morbid, my recommendation - give cemeteries a chance. Actually, cemeteries are a vast resource of information. [For northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin cemeteries - click here]
Within the cemeteries you will find beautiful monuments erected in honor of the deceased. Many are made of limestone by an artistic stone carver. One monument's stone is carved like the trunk of a tree with all the adjacent headstones as smaller logs. Another has many delicate flowers and branches. Yet another has birds and a shining sun. Not just artistic expressions - each addition to the monument had symbolic meaning. Often monuments were an expression of wealth and position in the community. The cost of the larger, more elaborate headstones or monuments were considerable. While the expense of mausoleums was far too costly for most people.
While searching through a cemetery for your own ancestors - or just to cultivate your interest in history - be sure to read the tombstones. Check the dates and see how many died in their childhood. Often the tombstones will even give the cause of their death. Since families were most often buried in the same area, you will find families that lost a few children in the same year. By checking the historical data, you might find that an epidemic spread through the area at that time.
While some of the epitaphs offered only names and dates, others demonstrated the character of the loved ones left behind. Often poetry was carved into the headstones - beautiful heart-wrenching prose of grieving survivors. Yet, there are others that handled the death of a family member by etching humorous verses that were obviously meant to elicit a chuckle. One I remember would be considered in poor taste and I suspect he had some explaining to do when they met again. It said,
"Poor Mary Jones laid down her life
...alas, John will need another wife."
Now, I understand that cemeteries make some people uncomfortable. That fear can be overcome by building an appreciation for the beautiful, artistic expressions and sheer magnificence of our cemeteries. I am speaking of the older cemeteries not the modern day ones. Most modern day cemeteries have no monuments and only allow in-ground markers to memorialize our loved ones. While the reasoning is sound and based upon maintenance and upkeep, it serves to give the cemetery a peaceful and pastoral if not somewhat impersonal effect. And I have a heck of a time finding my mother's grave marker though I visit often.
However, older cemeteries are rich with variety, artistic beauty, poetry [beautiful, humorous and even tasteless], history, creating a feeling of respect and appreciation for the lives the residents once lived. Give those old historic cemeteries a chance - I'm sure you'll find them a fascinating place to visit.
Have fun in your own backyard!
CEO of ComPortOne
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