Behind the Iron Fence

The word “cemetery” can conjure up images of horror films, Halloween ghosts and blood-thirsty zombies. But in real life, they are peaceful, harmless places. Cemeteries are the last stop a body takes on its earthly journey. It’s a place to mourn and a place to laugh, a spot of ground to remember a life lived. To honor someone’s son or daughter, wife or husband, friend or enemy.

I recently signed on to be a photo volunteer for Find a Grave.com, a database of cemeteries around the world. Within that database are thousands of listings for graves, some with photos of the headstone, many without. Why would anyone care about that?

People researching their family trees find cemeteries to be very helpful resources. Not just for names and dates but a sense of history and place. For example, say you have a Great Aunt Frieda that you never knew was buried in Georgia, but you live in California. Chances are you are not going to travel all the way to Georgia just to visit her grave, but you would still like to see her headstone.

As a FiAG volunteer, I visit cemeteries around North Georgia, hunting for the graves of loved ones and taking pictures of their headstones at someone’s request. The search can be like a treasure hunt because you have no idea what you’ll find. Sometimes it’s nothing because nobody ever purchased a headstone for the deceased. Sometimes the headstone has been destroyed by time/conditions/vandalism. But many times, the headstone is right where it’s supposed to be. Just waiting to be discovered.

My interest in cemeteries started when I was an intern at the Athens Daily News while I attended the University of Georgia. I took obituaries over the phone. I got to know some of the funeral directors and their practices.

My fascination continued when I worked at a life insurance company that sold “pre-need” funeral policies in which you could plan your funeral out in detail and pay for it in advance. That’s when I really learned about the funeral industry’s ins and outs.

When I joined Ancestry.com, I began hunting down the graves of my loved ones online. My first “live” experience was when I visited a cemetery in Nebraska to find graves of distant relatives. That was my first real taste of “cemetery hopping” (when you move from grave to grave in a cemetery looking for a specific one). I was hooked then and still enjoy “hopping” through cemeteries looking for headstones.

The purpose of this blog is to document my work as a FiAG volunteer, with bits of history, trivia and just plain weird stuff mixed in. One day it may be the story behind the person interred in a particular grave. Or it may be about the funeral practices of Victorian England. Or I might talk about the process of donating one’s body to science, skipping the cemetery altogether.

So stop by on Fridays to see what’s new. I don’t have a road map of where I plan to go. But I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

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