Jul 16, 2010

A Cemetery Visit - What I Learned

I finally made a visit to Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.  I have been wanting to go there for such a long time.  We chose to go on the cemetery's annual Do Dah Days.  That is an annual festival held to celebrate Stephen Foster, the famous composer, who is buried there.  The activities include an outdoor concert with numerous old time bands (folk music, banjos, etc), food and craft booths.  You can read more about it and see a video here on the Do Dah Days website.

But of course my main reason was to find the graves of my ancestors.  I have many, many, family members buried there.  The wonderful thing about Allegheny is they have a genealogy section on their website.  You can search by name to find burials.  The website includes all burials at the cemetery and gives the Section and Lot number for each.

So I thought I was so well prepared.  It will be so easy to find all my ancestors without having to "waste time" stopping in the office.  I took an hour or so and meticulously went through my data.  I chose six grave sites to visit.  I had a map of the cemetery.  I wrote down names along with the section and lot numbers. Ha!  It was NOT easy!  So here are my mistakes.  Hopefully you can learn from them to make your next cemetery a little easier (and less tiring).

The first graves we visited were in a rather small section.  The sections at the cemetery were well marked and easy to locate.  The lot numbers were not.  It was almost impossible to find the tiny flat markers that had lot numbers plus they did not seem to be in chronological order.  But we did find the first batch of graves rather easily since the section was small and my Lammay's had a large stone.  That is where EASY ended!

Allegheny is 300 acres plus.  Most of the sections are huge.  It became virtually impossible to search the whole section when I didn't know where the specific lots were.  Then it hit me--I had no idea if my ancestors had markers.  Also I was pretty sure if they did, they would be small and probably flat, meaning harder to locate.  Lucky are those with rich ancestors with huge markers or mausoleums!  After walking through 3 different sections, climbing up and down hillsides, walking for what seemed miles in the heat---nothing.  So I broke down and drove to the office.

The man in the office was so helpful.  He gave me maps of each section that had each grave with the NAME marked.  Granted it was tiny writing, hard for old eyes, but fortunately my daughter was with me and could read them easily.  He was also able to tell me which of my graves had markers.

What a huge difference this made!  We went back AGAIN to each section.  But this time we found the graves with little effort.  Well, except for the ones buried on the steep hillside.  I suspect those plots may have been cheaper to purchase for my working class ancestors, but definitely harder on my out of shape legs!  For the graves with no markers we still were able to locate them by the surrounding grave names which had markers.

Another lesson I learned was take a reliable camera--and get additional memory if digital.  After 14 pictures mine was full.  We had passed so many unique tombstones and wildlife on our travels that I had to stop and take pictures.  Which left me with no memory for pictures of my ancestor's graves.  I have always struggled with my phone camera but luckily my daughter who is a whiz with her camera phone took pictures for me.  I did have a notebook and pencil but your writing will be messy and you will be tempted to abbreviate, pictures are better. We also discovered a few markers that were almost completely  overgrown with grass and weeds.  Never would have found them without the detailed map from the office.  But we had nothing to clean them off with other than our bare hands--quite messy.

So here is my summary of what to do to before a trip to the cemetery.
  1. Have a good general map of the cemetery
  2. Have a list of graves to visit with exact location
  3. Check with the office First
  4. Ask for detailed maps with grave names if available
  5. Ask if the graves have markers on them
  6. Take a reliable camera with lots of memory or lots of film
  7. Take a small shovel or tool to remove debris (carefully) from overgrown graves
 Lastly, enjoy yourself!  This I certainly did.  Allegheny is a beautiful cemetery and an historic landmark.  I was slightly distracted from my research by the scenery but that is what made it such an enjoyable trip.  I will leave you with photos of a few of the treasures I discovered, plus the website for the cemetery is Allegheny Cemetery.  Lots of photos and interesting information.  To search their database for burials click on the Genealogy tab.

My 3rd great grandparents John and Catherine Harris

My great, great, grandmother Sarah Harris Orth.  Grave was almost completely covered with growth.

An interesting mausoleum, no relation to me, Name is Winter.  Not sure what to make of the Sphinx, you can draw you own conclusion!

Ducks in one of the two ponds in the cemetery.  We also saw baby deer, a crane, a hawk, plus an assortment of other birds.

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