St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Digging Up The Family

Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time digging up
the family. Every time we go past a cemetery, my children ask, "Who do
we have buried here?" Yes, my children are used to playing in
cemeteries while I search for familiar names or sketch out locations of
family plots. They have even been responsible for uncovering a name
plaque of a long ago infant cousin.

One of the first steps you should take in digging up the family in a
cemetery is to research the area your family resided in. Look at their
religious preference and look at the available churches at that time.
For example, in the Pittsburgh area in the 1800-1806 time frame, there
are only three church cemeteries for me to choose from when searching
for family. It wasn't until 1806 that the church cemetery opened which
is now the final resting spot for many of my kin.

I just spent some time this week in looking at those three early
cemeteries. People researching the Pittsburgh area are blessed to have
several faithful genealogists who go and survey the local cemeteries,
and there is a central site online to go search for your names. The
downside to this is the lack of extremely old headstones which have
survived. I am fortunate to have in my possession a survey of one of
these cemeteries from 1940. The online list was performed by a boy
scout troop in 2000. Sixty years is a long time for weathering and
vandalism to occur. Many of my early family names are not listed on
the recent survey. So, I took my older survey and sent some names to
the online list. After all, if one is new to searching for cemeteries
online, and doesn't realize these surveys are not complete nor official
lists, one could easily think their kin are not there. It can take
input from many dedicated researchers to get a more complete list.
Unfortunately, should the church not have the records from long ago,
many people buried there are unlikely to be identified.

Another comment about online cemetery surveys is they put them in
alphabetical order. That does make a name search easier and it is
easier on the person maintaining the list. The inherent concern is
you have the opportunity to miss some names. If I had just looked at
the alphabetical names for HENRY, I would see several. What I would
miss are the names of others buried in their plots with them or
adjacent to their plots. Once again, many early families who were all
members of the same church would have their plots adjacent to one
another. Or, they could have buried their grandparents with them. An
example of this is the plot of Col. James GLENN of the Civil War. In
his plot are his DORRINGTON grandparents. A name I would have never
known had I not gone to the cemetery and seen this. The DORRINGTONS
were on the alphabetical list, yet I would have completely overlooked

My suggestion to you is to contact the faithful keeper of the list and
ask them if they have a survey of the cemetery as it was read. Many
researchers do retain a copy of this, especially when they also take
digital pictures of all the headstones. Another suggestion is to check
old genealogical society journals from the region. On the other two
old cemeteries we have looked at today, one of them has a survey
performed in 1926 published in a Pennsylvania journal. How exciting to
see this survey was printed in the order the researcher wrote them
down. Other clues suddenly emerge on names to look into.

Check online, check regional journals, check the old churches and local
written histories. Then go to the cemetery to see who is buried where.
Your kin will speak to you through the type of stone, stone patterns
and locations. However, it you are like me, they won't even get up or
bake you a cake. Even when you've come hundreds of miles to see them!!
Happy Digging.

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