Monday, June 27, 2011

Gaps in the Graveyard

This may seem morbid: genealogists often find themselves photographing the subjects of their research in cemeteries. However, to set your over-active imagination at rest, these shutterbugs fly mostly during daylight hours.

I knew about these hobbyists, snapping shots of headstones and posting them online. I had actually benefited from instances of serendipitous discovery often on one such website—like when I found the obituary and cemetery record for my husband’s great-great-grandfather John Stevens, courtesy of Find A Grave. And I had recently discovered, courtesy of the Footnote Maven, the ghoulishly charming cluster of websites for The Association of Graveyard Rabbits, whose membership seems to elevate the task of graveyard photography to an art.

But when I didn’t find a picture I wanted, it got me thinking about what I could do to fill in the gap. What happened was this: posting about my husband’s distant relative William Flanagan, I remembered we had photographed his informative grave monument during a trip back east several years ago—mostly for the records provided, but also because of the inordinate size of the memorial. I thought it would be appropriate to accompany my blog post on Mr. Flanagan with an inset of that picture.

Remembering how many years it had been since snapping that set of pictures, and recalling all the many boxes of pre-digital-age records in which said photographs might be stored, I had hoped Find A Grave would come to my rescue and help me bypass what surely would be a time-consuming paper chase.

Alas, though the Chicago-area cemetery was featured in the database, Find A Grave did not have a display of the Flanagan memorial. So, back to the wood-burning version of search “engine” I’d have to go.

In the meantime, I got to thinking about all the cemetery photographs I’ve taken over the years. I’m not a swell shot, as far as camera work goes, but my renditions will suffice for the practical-minded. And sometimes, that’s all people are asking for.

So, instead of only using Find A Grave for a research outlet, I decided to give back a little and contribute some of my own work. I signed up to become a member there, and also to be a volunteer for photo requests. After all, I may as well do something useful as I unearth all my stacks of stored records. Why not make them accessible to others and help another researcher along the way?

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