Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Celebration Of Life Versus A Funeral

When my Uncle Dudley died in July of 2007, my entire family was heartbroken.  He had long been a backbone that our family depended on.  When he died, it was left to his only daughter, Arianne, to put the peices back together.

In a way, she had been lucky that he laid out directions for her.  He not only had his wishes listed in a will, but he had also written notes to her during the months that he was sick that laid out his wishes and gave her encouragement.  What he wished for was to not have a funeral because he always said that he hated funerals.  Instead of focusing on the life that he had lost, he wanted the focus to be on the life that he had lived.  So, he decided that he wanted a Celebration of Life, which would give everyone a chance to celebrate the life that he led.

So, Arianne rented a large banquet hall and got a caterer to serve my Uncle's favorite meals, and she sent out invitations (the event took over a month to plan), and people came out of the woodwork to attend.  (In fact, so many people wanted to attend, that some people had to be turned down for the celebration of life and invited to other parties).

Everyone was dressed formally in black ties and fancy dresses when they arrived (just as my Uncle's wishes) and everyone enjoyed themselves as they told wonderful stories of my uncle.  After we ate some of his favorite foods, there was a slide show that was beautiful.  Then, everyone had a chance to speak to the crowd, which was wonderful.

So, if as your preparing your will (which, as morbid as it is, is very important), you might want to consider having a Celebration of Life. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Organizing All Of Your Cemetery Pictures

Hopefully, many of you have some cemetery pictures that relate to your ancestors.  It can get a bit difficult to organize these photos.  But I've come up with a plan.

My plan for organizing the cemetery pictures that I've accumulated is to use a format similiar to a book or notebook.  It follows the idea of one picture per page, along with a short description.  It can then be organized by surname, couples, location, or cemetery.  Each page can be easily created using a word processor, such as Word.  All of the pages can be easily bound at a Kinkos or copy store, or placed into a binder.

Let me give you an example:

Let's say I am going to make the page for my great grandfather, Monroe Dugger and his wife, Matilda Clawson Dugger.  Here is what I would do:
1.) Because Monroe and Matilda have only one stone for the two of them, I am going to list them on only one page.  (Although, you could just copy the picture and have it in two places).
2.) In my word processor, I would open up a new document, and for a header, I would type "Monroe Dugger 1885-1950 and Matilda Clawson Dugger 1886 - 1931".  From there, I would start to write some basic information for each person (birth date/place, marriage date/place, death date/place) in a list format.
3.) I would then begin writing, in paragraph form, a few details about Monroe and Matilda and their life together.  You might want to include the names of their parents, any children they had, where they lived, their occupations, etc.  The length of this can vary based on how much detail you have about the person/couple, but as a general rule of thumb, I always leave about a quarter of the page for the picture and details about the cemetery.
4.) Then I insert the picture(s) of the headstones on the bottom part of the page, along with some details of when each person was buried, the name and location of the cemetery (if it is in a particularly rural place, I'll include quick street names), and some small details about the cemetery (Is it abandoned?, When was it created?, Is it a family cemetery?, Is there a church that takes care of it?, etc.)
5.) Finally, I number the page and print it out (Remember, you don't have to number them in the "1, 2, 3" format.  You could use the first letter of the surname followed by a number or really anything you like).  Now I can place it into my binder and it is almost ready to go.
6.) Tip: Print an index for your book - so that you can easily find the person you are looking for at a glance.  This way, you don't waste time searching through your book to find someone/something.  Might I also suggest that you also make an index of the cemeteries, so that if you ever get curious as to how many ancestors you have buried in a certain cemetery, you can easily find out.

This post was just meant to give you some inspiration on how to organize all of those cemetery photos that you have.  You can certainly adapt this method to your own needs.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Do You Do When Your Ancestor Wasn't Buried?

When my uncle died in 2007 - it was devastating to my family.  A bit unexpected, his death threw our family into panic-mode, as everyone came together to deal with the loss as a family.

Luckily, he had a will (one that was notarized, and multiple "updates" to his will that he wrote during his final months, while he was sick).  While everyone had originally thought that he wanted to be buried in the same cemetery that his parents and brother were buried in - he had actually specifically written that he wanted to be cremated.  Furthermore, he wanted his ashes to be spread out throughout the country, in places that had brought him joy throughout his life.

For example, he asked for some of his ashes to be spread in Seattle because he spent many summers there with his grandparents and he went to college there.  He asked for some of his ashes to be placed in the ocean off of San Marcos, California - because it was on those beaches that he felt he had connected with his daughter the most.  He asked that some of his ashes be placed in Palm Springs, because that was where he bought his first home.  And finally, he asked that some of his ashes be buried in the backyard of his condo - because he said he felt the love of his family and friends whenever he was home.

After I had grieved his death, I realized that there wasn't one specific place that he was buried.  There was no headstone to go searching for, no cemeteries to search through.  So what would his descendants do?

That's when I went into brainstorming-mode, because I didn't want our descendants to feel the frustration of not being able to find him in any cemeteries.  How could I communicate with them what happened?

While I can't guarantee that my idea will work, I think that it is the best shot that I have: Write down information about his death, his celebration of life (he opted for this instead of a funeral), and the spreading of the ashes and give a copy of it, along with a DVD of a slide show of pictures of him, to as many family members that I can think of.  I also sent one to many close family friends, just in case it is one of their descendants that has the last copy.

My cousin Arianne (my uncle's daughter) and I are also in the process of creating a small book of sorts that is dedicated to my uncle and his life.  It will include pictures, a biography, and many stories that friends and family wrote about my uncle.  This book is just another way to celebrate the life that he led and continue to spread his spirit around.

While not many of your ancestors (from more than a generation or two), may have their ashes spread in different places - this new trend might make an impact on your descendants.  So if you have a family member who chooses to have his/her ashes spread in a location(s), then consider some of the things I've talked about in this post.  Hopefully, your descendants won't feel the frustration of trying to find something that doesn't exist.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

An Update On My Volunteer Work

Remember my post that I made before the holidays that stressed doing volunteer work in cemeteries and that talked about my own volunteer work that I planned to get started with a friend?  Well, since it got such a great response, I thought I'd give you guys an update.

I found a friend to do my volunteer project with (Which makes it a lot more fun!).  She decided to participate with me because she needs to get some volunteer time so she can qualify for some more scholarships.  Her name is Amy, and after a lot of delays (between family obligations and the rain, there were A LOT of delays), we finally got to go out this weekend.

We arrived to the small cemetery, nestled in between two apartment buildings in the residential area of San Pedro, California at seven in the morning.  We took Amy's gigantic dog, Max, along with us for protection and company (it is not exactly the safest area of San Pedro for two young girls to be all alone in).

Amy was the designated picture-taker (She took a TON of pictures) while I was the transcriber.  After making a rough map of the cemetery, we set to work.  We noticed, however, that in front of each stone, there was an old flower.  We thought this was sweet, that someone had thought of these people even though the cemetery is long forgotten by the town.

When we were about half way through the cemetery, I noticed an old woman with a cane and a picnic-style basket come walking into the cemetery.  She seemed like she knew where she was going as she walked up to one particular stone and bowed her head for a moment.  Then, she placed a flower in front of the stone and walked back to the front of the cemetery.

I thought that she was getting ready to leave, but she instead walked to the end of the first row and began placing a flower in front of each headstone while also picking up the old flower and placing it into her basket.  She continued through every row while Amy and I were doing our work.  When our paths finally crossed, she gave us a big smile, nodded her head and continued her work.

Amy was the first who tried to talk to her, asking her often she left flowers on the stones.  It quickly became apparent that there was a language barrier, and judging by what she did say, it sounded Italian.  We continued our conversation in a charades sort of fashion, giggling at ourselves for trying to act out every sentence.

From what Amy and I were able to gather, the stone that she first left the flower on was the gravestone of her grandfather.  I think he was a fisherman or atleast had something to do with the water.  When asked how long she had been leaving flowers for the people in the cemetery, she said she had been doing it since she was a young girl (or atleast, that is what I think she said...)

So, after Amy and I were done, and the sweet old lady was done, we left.  The next step is to go through every photo, name it, match it up with the transcriptions I've done, and put it all together in a word processor.  I hope that by the time school starts, I will have the book version of this done and bound by Kinkos so that I can deliver it to some of the libraries in the area and the family history library.