Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Holiday For Remembering

Anyone who appreciates the joys of the hunt in genealogical research should have a second reason—besides honoring those we know who so rightly deserve that recognition—to appreciate Memorial Day. This holiday sets aside time to encourage us all to remember our collective past as a nation and to recall those individuals from our families' long past who made life securely possible the way we now enjoy it.

Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it used to be called—reaches back to the era of the Civil War for its original inspiration. After that war, Northerners sought to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. Southern ladies organized events to decorate the graves of their fallen Confederate soldiers. With so many fallen on both sides, there were so many individual soldiers to remember.

America has since engaged in a number of subsequent wars—and families have had many more members to commemorate for their service to our nation. By 1967, Federal law officially changed the name of the holiday from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Today people are more likely to presume that the remembrance is for those serving in the military from the era of World War II forward, because each of us who remember, remember those we personally knew who served. But we can take this opportunity to share with our families the stories of those ancestors we know about, who served in those more remote battles of history.

Traditionally, groups take time during this day—or during the extended weekend—to honor those who served by marking their graves with a flag. National cemeteries, with their many war dead, are a sight to see at such times—and a sober reminder of the price paid by many for the benefit of us all.

Whether you have plans to participate in such designations at a local cemetery or not, I hope you will find a way to honor those who have served—both those who have passed on and those still with us.

If you are unable to physically travel to decorate any specific grave sites, I’d like to suggest that you consider creating a digital decoration by volunteering online to insure that the graves of servicemen and –women you have known are properly acknowledged in the various cemetery websites.

For instance, Find A Grave has a large community of volunteers who insure that entries are made on the website for cemeteries in their area. Some volunteers are able to go to specific cemeteries, take pictures of headstones, and post them online on the website. Even those who can’t physically go to the cemetery can enter data on the site—such as dates of birth and death, or even transcriptions of obituaries, for their own family members—so that others may find this information they are seeking. (That, incidentally, is how I found the information for my husband’s uncle, Gerald Stevens—thanks to a Find A Grave volunteer who provided me with the photograph of his grave stone indicating his military service.)

This weekend, whether you are commemorating the service of a long-removed ancestor who served in the Civil War, the more recent memory of grandparents involved in either of the World Wars, or the loss of someone serving in more recent wars, I wish you a meaningful and safe holiday weekend as you gather with family and friends.

Above left: Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico; courtesy Allen Wheatley.
Below right: Headstone of Gerald A. Stevens, 1977, at Monte Vista Cemetery in Alamogordo, New Mexico; courtesy Find-A-Grave volunteer Tory. Used with permission.


  1. Most people don't realize that it was called Decoration Day for so many years. My Grandparents always called it fact I called it that in The Historical Museums Blog for this weekend.
    Wonderful post! :)

    1. I noticed that on your blog post for your other blog. I think it is a better way to remind everyone of the active concept embedded in the holiday: don't just remember, but do go out and clean up your loved one's grave and decorate it with a flag, a wreath, or flowers.

  2. What a great memorial day tribute. I remember reading articles from newspapers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Memorial Day seemed to have been a much bigger deal for those folks back then.

    My memorial day tribute was to post about my ancestor John Douglas Laurie. He fought for the 10th Connecticut Infantry during the civil war. He died in November from wounds he received on October 13, 1864.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...