How I’ve Spent My Shelter In Place: Genealogy and Strolling Cemeteries

Guest Blog written by Melissa Miller, Special Collections Library Technician. Melissa is known for her speedy and thorough processing of manuscript collections and penchant for making lists of her spreadsheets and spreadsheets of her lists.

I, like many others, am running out of things to do during this quarantine. I did the baking, cleaning, organizing, crafting, show binging, baby chasing, walking, and downloading of the TikTok, but there’s only so much of that life a girl can handle before she starts going a little stir-crazy. I decided that a new hobby was what I needed, so I ordered a paint-by-numbers kit. The only problem with this new hobby is that it would take several weeks before it was even shipped, so I took up the next best hobby I could think of: genealogy research. 

As a Library Technician working on the third floor of Central, I often find myself assisting the regular staff whenever extra help is needed. Instructing customers on how to use the microfilm machines, retrieving materials, and even helping customers begin their own genealogy research are just some of the tasks I find myself doing. Despite helping customers with genealogy, I seem to have trouble getting started researching my own. I’ve started and stopped researching the genealogy of my family so much over the years that, this time around, I thought the best thing to do would be to start from scratch. I was immediately hooked and spent hours researching, drawing up family trees, and staying up till an embarrassingly late hour tracing my family back to 1300s England and 1400s Germany, which makes sense because I am obsessed with both the Royal Family and sauerkraut. I also discovered some lords, ladies, barons, and baronesses, so now I finally have proof to show my husband that I am, indeed, descended from nobility and that he should treat me accordingly. 

Since we were given the opportunity to work from home during the shelter in place order from the City, I decided to take advantage of the Library’s genealogy resources found on our website; this allowed me to get more familiar with the databases available through the Library so that I could, in turn, become better equipped to assist customers in the future. Primarily, I used Ancestry to complete my research, but it was through Ancestry that I found my favorite resource: Find a Grave. Find a Grave is a beautiful, free database that anyone can contribute to, sort of like the Wikipedia of dead people. Pictures of graves are uploaded by volunteers who also input other data like birth and death dates and places, biographies, obituaries, portraits, and links to other ancestors included in the database. There’s also a function where all of the cemeteries in a given area can be viewed. Out of curiosity, I searched for the cemetery that was the closest to my house, and I discovered that only 60% of the graves had been photographed, which led to my next obsession: traipsing around cemeteries and taking pictures of headstones. 

It is at this point that I should mention how patient my husband is. Not only has he been instructed to call me Lady or Baroness from here on out, he also accompanies me on these cemetery jaunts, along with our 15-month old daughter. I don’t think they mind, though, because he tells me stories about the people we come across (he’s a pastor and prominent figure in our community, so he knows a thing or two about the deceased), and our daughter just likes being outside and pointing at things while jibber jabbering. 

So, that’s the story of how I went from Pinterest quarantine activities to stalking the departed in cemeteries. If you haven’t ventured out to a cemetery during the shelter-in-place orders, I highly recommend it. Not a lot of living people think of taking walks in cemeteries, so maintaining a six-foot distance between people is not a problem; it’s outdoors, so you’re getting some of that precious Vitamin D we all need right now (don’t forget your sunscreen!); walking raises those endorphin levels; and cemeteries are kind of like art museums because some of those headstones are absolutely gorgeous. It’s also a really unique quarantine activity. How did I spend my shelter in place? I walked around cemeteries. I bet not a lot of people would be able to say that.

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