I don’t know, how about it? I like having a ritual. I say ritual because routine sounds too depressing. As a family historian, general history fan, gardener, and seeker of general quiet, cemeteries fascinate me. I have checked out a few local cemeteries and have a couple I like to visit on occasion, but I am really interested in exploring more rural cemeteries. I’m going to try to research, visit, and document a new cemetery at least one Tuesday a month (or maybe weekly) and when I get home…I’m going to celebrate with tacos, because it is Tuesday after all!
I also partake in volunteer headstone searches for Findagrave.com. That will give me another excuse to get out around the area. If you’ve never used it for researching your genealogy or local history, I highly recommend it.
Cemeteries can be the homes to beautiful old plantings, headstones, local history, and are often set in lovely, little asides out in the country. They can also be holdouts for ecosystems rapidly vanishing. I would love to volunteer as a caretaker for some of these cemeteries
Today, since it’s cold, windy, and nothing is really growing yet. I want to share a few very different ways cemeteries can relate to history, genealogy and gardening.
- Prairie Cemeteries: Did you know some of the best preserved native prairies are within the boundaries of pioneer cemeteries? Not only do you get to see and learn about those who settled the frontier, but see what grew there hundreds of years ago. Read up about Pellsville Pioneer Cemetery in Rankin, Illinois, one of many pioneer cemeteries guarding native prairie:
In pioneer cemeteries, a disappearing part of Illinois’ landscape lives on
Cemetery Prairies Preserve the State’s Horticultural History
- Grave Gardens: I have known for many years that many cemeteries in the US became well-loved and well-used public spaces, especially beginning in the mid 19th century. The park like settings were home to specimen trees, shrubs, and flowers. I did not know, until this recent clip on Sunday Morning, about “grave gardeners.” The Woodlands Cemetery in Pennsylvania is amazing. It has a long tradition as public space and grave gardening. Read up on its history here and discover all the amazing gardens planted by volunteers through its Grave Gardeners program. I am excited to discover and maybe visit more cemeteries like this in future (even if I have to travel)!
- Local Cemeteries: Just a few short blocks from my house is one our town’s older cemeteries. It’s filled with beautiful monuments, headstones, and planters. It’s also the final resting place of many of Point’s founding citizens. Walk through one of your town’s older cemeteries, read the names. I bet there’s a few you’ll recognize as streets and neighborhoods. It can be a wonderful place for a reflecting walk, learning about local history, and for seeing beautiful, seasonal plantings. In some cases, you may even see historic plantings. Make sure to pay attention to more than just flowers. Cemeteries can be the home of many old shrubs and trees too!
- Family Cemeteries: I have a lot of family buried in large cemeteries, a few buried in smaller country cemeteries, and very few buried in family cemeteries. These often tiny, forgotten family plots are dotted all across the United States. Some are hiding in woods, on large farms, on the corners of country roads, and sometimes tucked into neighborhoods. Even if it’s not your family, they are interesting glimpses into the past and sometimes long lasting perennials, trees, or shrubs still grow. Some cemeteries are even marked with historical markers. I would love to the Young Cemetery in Plano, Texas. It’s the final resting place of two members of my Finley line, my 5th great uncle Thomas Finley, and his sister, Prudence (Finley) Jackson along with their families. It’s a well loved pioneer cemetery with the burials of a few of Collin County’s first settlers from the 1840s! Iris and daffodils bloom throughout the cemetery in Spring, something I hope to see for myself, someday!
- Cemetery Rose Gardens: I’m not likely to find 200 year old roses growing here in central Wisconsin, but in warmer climates, there are some cemeteries that are home to some very, very old roses. Maybe there are some around here? Who knows? Roses pop up in old cemeteries quite often. Mid summer is a great time to look for them blooming. You can also find some really amazing collections across the country.
Lynchburg, Virginia is home to Old City Cemetery, which holds the commonwealth’s largest antique rose collection. While the collection was started in the 1980’s, many of the cultivars are hundreds of years old.
In Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery volunteers have worked for over 20 years to collect and grow California’s historic roses. Roses are collected from cemeteries, homesteads, and the wild and replanted at the once derelict cemetery.
Now…on to Taco Tuesday.