17 May 2011

Tombstone Tuesday, or How a Tree Helped Me Find a Grave

The birds in the tree were singing so loudly during my Grandma Ruth's graveside service that I found it impossible to pay attention to what the priest was saying. It was as if all of our departed ancestors had come to sing Grandma's soul aloft. Her grave and the guardian tree are located at a high point in St. Joseph Cemetery in Bristol, CT. The funeral was twenty-four years ago this July. Wow, that's hard to believe. 

Don't Forget to Ask for Directions

Fast forward to last May 2010. As I mentioned, while attending my cousin's wedding in Glenn Cove, New York, MJ and I took a little trip to Calvary Cemetery to find my 2x great grandmother Sarah's grave. I had done my homework and knew she was buried in Section 2, Avenue 11, Plot P, Grave #8. There was just one key question I had forgotten to ask: Is there a map with sections, avenues and plots marked or are these locations clearly marked within the cemetery?

MJ and I arrived at the cemetery full of energy and ready to go grave seeking. The building at the main entrance was deserted. 

View Larger Map

There was a groundskeeper's truck parked nearby. The female in our group wanted to ask the gardener for directions, but the male was sure we could find the grave without assistance, so we started driving around. Luckily Section 2 was clearly marked. We hopped out of the car and started our search at the lowest point of the section. Immediately we realized that many of the gravestones were either missing or appeared to have melted. What were the odds that Sarah's grave would still exist after one hundred and ten years?

How a Tree Helped Me Find a Grave

After about an hour of reading stones and running short on time, MJ jumped in the car and left to try to find the groundskeeper and ask for help. While he was gone, I was suddenly transported back to my Grandma Ruth's funeral. There was a large tree at the pinnacle of Section 2. It felt just like the tree from which the birds had been singing at the funeral. I felt drawn to walk up to it.

Still scanning stones on my way up the hill, I immediately found this one:

Sarah Grace's parents were John and Sarah Murtagh, but from my research I knew that there were two so named couples. I hadn't yet determined John's date of death or place of burial, but took photos of the stones for later research.

Was it the Tree or Something or Someone Else?

I continued further, reading stones and waiting for MJ to return, but felt a strong pull from the tree back at the top of the hill. I stood very still and listened to the quiet voice. I asked this voice if I was imagining it, but decided that I didn't need an answer and, thinking about my Grandma Ruth, I wandered back to the tree.

The Duh Moment

MJ returned and reported no success in finding anyone to help us located the grave. I shared my recent experience and showed him the stone I had found and then we decided we must return for the wedding. Once in the car, I had the brilliant idea to try calling the cemetery office and luckily they answered. The helpful person at the other end of the line explained that each gravestone was marked with the section, avenue and plot. Hmmm....and we didn't notice that. Yikes, as my daughter would say. What a learning experience!

We jumped back out of the car and started looking again, this time for the location engravings. Using the engravings we were guided back to the stone I had photographed just a few minutes earlier. Although we could not find the location engraving on the Murtagh stone, here is the bottom of the Keilt stone from the photo above:

Section 2, Ave 11, Plot 10
 Genealogical Serendipity

A simple math equation of ten minus two made the Murtagh grave Plot 8, the unmarked burial place for their daughter Sarah and her infant. Some would say that it was all coincidental, but I know that we had some help finding this grave. It may have been my Grandma Ruth, or my Murtagh 3x great grandparents, or Sarah, or even her baby. Or, it may have been the tree, at the top of the hill.

Section 2, Avenue 11 is directly behind this street side grave
All I know is that genealogical serendipity has struck again and connected me just a little bit more strongly with my ancestors.

Scrappy Gen, looking weird because she couldn't figure out how to pose with a gravestone
Has genealogical serendipity happened to you? I would love to hear about it. 

Scrappy Gen
Let's Remember!

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  1. Ah, what fun we have!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. lol Looking weird because you didn't know how to pose with a grave. Classic! I'll throw in some bunny ears in mine. I'm about to undertake the same adventure at Calvary for my great grandmother since I've just recently figured out who she is and where she's buried. Also found the names of her parents on her death certificate which is great. My mother's cousin was living in her house and I never knew that (I vaguely remember my mother mentioning that once but there were cookies involved in the process so that was my main focus). I was in that house a dozen times as a kid. My grandfather for some reason was not speaking to his family so I never got to know them or their names except the one cousin and her son. Thanks for the tips. Can't wait to get over there. I live in NY so I can do it this week.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Helen. Bunny ears...that would bring a little levity to the situation. Good luck with your hunt. Did you already get the grave location?


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