Saturday, May 1, 2010

Traipsing On The Uncut Hair of Tombs

Are you thinking of making a Ghost-busting, brick-wall smashing trip on your next Vacation? Make sure to travel prepared and visit those old family cemeteries—they can be a treasure trove.

The following article is a bit of an anecdotal story of just such a visit. It may help you prepare for the retrieval of valuable genealogical and historical information. And you may just discover an interesting ghost or two.

       Traipsing upon the uncut hair of tombs

                                 Calvert Monument, Family Cemetery, Sterling, Tx
                                              By David Edwin Bell


My first efforts in gathering information for genealogical research for my family spilled over from the Internet to the nether-sphere…Cemeteries. In reality one of the activities of most of the family vacations was to visit old cemeteries.

Don’t ask me why. I firmly believe now that this was the engendering of my interest in history and genealogy at an early age. I recall such a visit to several cemeteries in Boston, and was fascinated. I was seventeen. We finally were vacationing as a family in the east. I was about to begin my last year of High School before adventures in University life were to then come my way. The year was 1969. The family was doing a normal tour via a map and there was a stair to a higher level of the old town—at the top was an old cemetery. The names, inscriptions and epitaphs I found to be interesting even at the early age of perhaps 12 years.

Overgrown Albert Gallatin Calvert Family Cemetery, Tyler Co VA-before cleanup

I count my first “genealogical visit” to a family cemetery as an event on this very same vacation of 1969. This was the era of time when I took over driving for the family—I had the driver’s license after all. My father “acquiesced” and the family planned a vacation to visit the eastern seaboard, namely Washington, D.C. and New York. If you hadn’t guessed it by now—Dad said he would not drive in places such as New York and had no use for going to a big city back east. It was with some degree of reluctance that we even considered a family vacation north of the Mason-Dixon Line and East of the Mississippi River. I believe this is because he felt we were Westerners—not western, not cowboy, not hillbilly – but among the “new Intellectuals of the true American west. I now know that there are false stories told in families and passed down from one generation to the next. I guess this will be the fable of my Father’s creation.

We were traveling the first day on I-70, St. Louis to Washington, D.C. but would stop for the night. I do not know if my mother planned it but as we approached Wheeling, West Virginia to stop for the night—Mom suddenly said, my father was born and raised near here.

My parents rented a motel room for a short stay but Dad suggest Mom plan a morning drive through the country so we could tour the area of Silver Hill and West in Wetzel County, West Virginia. He said, “Maybe you can find some kin still living in the area.” This discussion turned into a phone call back to Missouri and Mom obtained the phone number of cousins and called them that same night.

After Mom spoke with one of my Aunties, we were introduced to telephone numbers of kinfolk in them th’ar hills. The next morning, we traveled south and East to Rt. 89, up over a ridge and came to the home of Sarah “Sadie” Lemasters Taylor. From this meeting came about introduction to cousins galore and tours of various and assundry Calvert family locales including the homestead of Albert Gallatin Calvert b 1830 d 1908, former State Representative for the Proctor District, Wetzel County West Virginia and a delegate to the West Virginia Constitutional Convention.
1969 Photo of the Albert Gallatin Calvert Homestead – Tyler Co, VA (now Wetzel Co, WV)

Among family possessions are many more photos to which this was added. I have yet, after nearly ten years of work, been able to fully appreciate the vast amount of photographic material which exists – including other photos of the same trip. So, I am always saying, one of these days, I am going to get organized, joking to other researchers, that I need a secretary and two research assistants to manage me.

Of course many of the photos were discovered at the time of death of my grandfather, Arthur Clay Calvert b 1876 d 1967. In a trunk he had stored all of his personal memorabilia – he wouldn’t talk about things, saying to me once, “they are dead, let them be.” This was sort of a shocking reply to a young man of about fifteen years of age, though I began to be interested in just who that old man was who sat in the chair by the old Philco Radio and spat remnants of beechnut tobacco in a coffee tin full of sand.

         Photo discovered in the trunk – Arthur Clay Calvert and his 2nd wife, Lena Ensinger
                                             (photo taken at Wileyville, c 1900)

My first photos related to Genealogy show the old homestead and graveyard. Of course, I didn’t know this photo, taken more than 40 years ago would become part of my collection of Genealogical related photographs which has become quite extensive in the process. I am sure that there will be more finds for the records, especially of the other Calvert family lines, but this will require further input from people I have probably yet to discover. In many ways, the discoveries of these photos, which were stored away and forgotten in A.C.’s privacy for so many years was another sort of tomb – holding memories my grandfather never spoke about, with stories and tales which remain largely undiscovered. Arthur retired from the oilfield in 1942 and removed from Wildhorse Oklahoma where he had been Oil Field Superintendent through out the depression, and moved onto his small farm outside of Joplin in a township known as Greenwood.

Even though my family spent about one weekend each month at my grandparents who, by the time I was born, had traded the farm for a home in the city of Joplin, nothing was spoken about the children of Lena Ensinger and Arthur and no one knew of his first marriage to Cynthia Harrison nor the marriage in Illinois which preceded the marriage to my grandmother Vesta in 1915 at Talequah Oklahoma.

My grandfather was born on the Calvert homestead of John Ewing Calvert in 1876. He drew his last breath in 1967 and my grandmother passed two years later. The Calvert's came to Western Tyler Co Va from Monongalia Co VA about 1850. Albert Gallatin b 1830, son of Thomas Calvert b 1808 in Greene Co PA. Albert's home was above Wileyville which lies on Rt 7 east of New Martinsville, WV.

                                                                    Wileyville c 1910

And of course, now lost from that collection, is a news-clipping from what I believe to have been an Illinois newspaper, “I am responsible for no debts other than my own—A.C. Calvert.” Mom knew that my grandfather had been married to Lena before my grandmother. Mom knew here half sisters Hazel and half-brother Elmer. But this clipping, now only a memory of my Mother who stole nosey into my grandfathers trunk in about 1935 or so, led me on a chase in which I discovered two additional marriages of Arthur, one before 1900 and one in Illinois in 1910. One issue of this marriage to Ida Seed was a a half-brother that no one in the family knew about.

The photos and other material led to the discovery of the birth of twins in 1904, and proof that Lena Ensinger (now we had discovered the maiden maiden name of the 2nd wife of Arthur) had died with one of the twins, Florence, shortly after childbirth(The death record at the courthouse in Tyler County WV shows Lena died of “Childbirth poisoning”. The other twin survived for a time, Harry. Harry is shown in a 1904 photo with Elmer and Hazel, and Arthur, apparently taken on the hillside near the Calvert homesteads of Albert and John Ewing.

Arthur with Children by 2nd wife Ensinger
(Hazel on left, Elmer on right and Harry in Arthur's lap)

Later travels, now of the new century, found the first marriage and 3rd marriage of Arthur: He married Cynthia Harrison in 1892 and was divorced by 1900. He then married Lena Ensinger in 1900 and had issue, and the mystery of who the third child was with Arthur, taken on the family homestead in West Virginia began my chase to discover records of the children of Arthur and who this “third” child actually was.

 Photo of Elmer who survived to adulthood,
              shortly before his death from TB,   taken in 1927 at Tulsa Oklahoma

Why such interest? I don’t know why—maybe it started on this 1969 trip “back east” or perhaps it was reading poetry, and I was enamored with the dark tomes of various poets but some were lighter in nature as well, such as the following excerpt from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Mysel’f:

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see
and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe,
Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I
receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

How to do a Cemetery Visit?

Surely there are more interesting places to visit than a cemetery aren’t there? Sometimes I think not—and such visits are very useful for genealogical research, providing dates, spellings of names, locales and a more personal collection of material and information about our ancestors. Keep in mind that tramping through a cemetery requires appropriate clothing consideration dependent upon the season and location. Protective clothing is sometimes necessary for those out back environments and watch out for those briar thorns. Not only was the site difficult to find as nature had reclaimed the area which was originally an open site probably mostly devoid of trees which would have been cut away, now a briar patch in a dark forest discovered as noted. This then was a perfect place for invading the privacy of privacy of Ghosts, guarded as they were by the thorns of the briar barrier.

Tramping into the location on a hot late July day, I was wearing appropriate shoes and had along my equipment BUT: I was wearing shorts and had no way to get into where the stones were located without having my legs look as if someone had taken a cat o’ nine-tails to them. Be careful also where you tread…some of these old cemeteries have unseen pitfalls and slogging through them can be dangerous. I finally got into the copse of thorns and took some photos.

For me, Cemetery visits are most ethereal—meditative to a great extent and for those ancient remote grown over locations—a chance to delve into the history of our families and our disappearing “Republic”.

Below is the Calvert family Plot at Boone Co. IN where Isaac Calvert's wife and daughter Sarah Hannah, b 1785, are buried along with George Dye and the Stonekings of PA.

The Calvert family Plot, Eagle Twp, Boone Co IN - Here lies Isaac Calverts 2nd wife Fanny, b

Tools for uncovering treasures on Cemetery Trips

All these tools won't be needed but this is a decent list of suggested things to have in the trunk of the car for those cemtery recording visits. If you have this package put together you can load it quickly or just leave it stored in the trunk(well, except the electronic equipment, etc--I lost a good digital camera to such neglect).

You never know when you will stop and record a cemetery—such a deed is wonderful to take a written and photo inventory of a small family cemetery – even if not your own family someone will appreciate the deed and kindness.

Camera With Flash……....…...For this work, I prefer Digital
Shaving Cream ………………Yes, that’s right. Spray & cover hard to read
                                                    Photos first, run a ruler across the stone and
                                                    photograph the shaving cream filled characters.
Ruler/Straight edge………….  Used as noted above.
 Notebook, pen, paper………...Take notes on regarding the area, draw maps,
                                                    etc, Record your visit. A clipboard may be
                                                    handy but take along a satchel in case of rain.
Softt& Stiff Nylon Brush……..Many times, tombstones are overgrown with, 
                                                    debris, moss and sediment. – Don’t damage the
Stiff Copper bristle Brush…….For tougher sediments and moss
Hand whisk…………………...Sweep away Debris
Hedge type clippers/saw…...…You may need to cut away brush and branches,
                                                   so take along Tools to get the task done. .
Sunglasses/hat……………...…for eye and sunburn protection
Appropriate dress……………..Prepare for rain, a rainsuit, appropriate 
                                                    footwear and umbrella.
Cemetery Record sheets………Record each stone. Later you will be thankful
                                                    that you kept This record. Be sure to associate 
                                                    it with a photo number of Your digital camera.
Paper for rubbings…………….If you take rubbings, you need to take along
                                                    such paper and charcoal for such imprints.
Chalk or oversized crayon……used for the rubbings.
Spray bottle of water………….cleaning aid
GPS is Now Available………..If you have one, use it.
Blacklight if possible…………enhance old engravings/inscriptions.
Towels/towelettes……………. For cleaning

Notes: Just because the stones do not bear your ancestor’s name, record them anyway. If possible, photo and inventory all tombstones in these small cemeteries. This may lead you to discoveries of marriages, allied families and other cousins.

Of course, dress appropriately for the weather. When it is breezy and you are out in the country, you will chill more quickly than you can imagine. Ditto clothing for hot weather. And Rain. Oh! You won’t think of it, but you will be kneeling quite a lot. Be prepared. If knee-pads are necessary, be sure they are included in your equipment. Wear appropriate clothing. As was
my particular visit to this old family cemetery, I wore shorts due to the heat—but the brambles and briars scratched me pretty good!

I am not much on video recording but then, you may be: Use your equipment if it suits your purpose. I can think of other things to take along but most of the above can fit in a small day-pack. Others use a five gallon bucket. I like the small square buckets that cat-litter comes in. They aren’t too large but will accommodate a lot of equipment.

Two people are better than one: One reads the inscription, the other records. The reader then takes the photo, providing the recorder with the photo number. This way, you can move through a very large cemetery effectively.

You should have a pretty good idea on the type of situation you will encounter. I hope this helps make such a visit enjoyable and useful to your historical and genealogical research. Who knows: Maybe you will catch a ghost or two in a photo of your effort!


Calvert Neabsco Creek said...

I like being able to see all the photos, and the cemetery trip tips is great.


Ouida said...

I am a descendant of Burr Calvert -Harris aka Harrison. My mother always told me her father's ancestors changed their last name and I assumed it would be hard to find the trail. Tonight when I set about tracing her roots I was amazed to discover her heritage. I can see I have a lot of reading to do. O Pecanty, daughter of Judy Harris Punchard