HANGING OUT WITH THE GHOSTS IN THE GRAVEYARD
Cemeteries can give people the creeps, but not me. I find them very tranquil and full of vital information. When I visit all the relatives at Moravian Cemetery, I occasionally roam about looking at the different headstones. The ones that fascinate me the most feature individuals who lived whole lives before I was born. I suppose the reason why they fascinate me is because it really puts things into perspective for me. It's hard to be egocentric when you realize that you are merely a grain of sand on the beach of life. Millions of people existed on this earth before us and millions will exist after us. Some people leave their mark for eternity, others do not.
Before my father passed away, he informed me that I do not need to visit his grave because he won't be there. He never understood why my mother spent money on Palm Crosses and Christmas wreath blankets every year. "Anna, the souls are not there, just their physical remains." He would say this all the time. When I do go to visit his grave, I realize that he is not there spiritually, but it gives me comfort to know that that is his physical resting place.
With the exception with four great-grandparents, the rest of my Italian-American ancestors are buried right up the street from my house. The cemetery is beautifully landscaped and dates back several hundred years. The headstones from decades ago were so ornate. Some of them break my heart and only have engravings that say, "Daughter" or "Son". There is no other identification at all. Who were these people? How did they influence others while they were on Earth?
Cemeteries can provide heritage hunters with a wealth of information. However, if you don't do your research, mistakes can be made. If you kindly view the photograph on the right, you will see an image of my ancestors' headstone. When I first saw this as a child, I took it at face value. I understood that the people buried in this grave were my great-grandparents, and my 2x-great-grandmother. As an adult who hunts dead people, I have come to realize that there are several mistakes on this headstone.
1. In Sicily, where my ancestors came from, "D'Angelo" is actually spelled "d'Angelo".
2. Domenica Inserra was not born in 1871.
3. In Italian tradition, women retain their maiden names, therefore, Domenica Inserra should have been listed as "Domenica Maugeri" and Anna D'Angelo should have been listed as "Sebastiana Inserra".
I'm sure most people would not find this to be too serious a dilemma, but to someone like me who desires accuracy, it actually bugs me. Granted, I was not alive when my great-grandfather and 2x-great-grandmother passed away, and I was eighteen-years-old when my great-grandmother died and unfamiliar with heritage hunting, but if I knew then what I know now...
Last year, my mother-in-law and I were trying to locate some relatives on her side of the family, a task that has proven to be extraordinarily difficult. We found a death record on Ancestry.com for her ancestors and sent away for a copy of it. When it arrived, we obtained the name of the cemetery. She never knew the name. Funny enough, one of my great-grandfathers is buried in the same cemetery! Her ancestors and my great-grandfather were only two sections away from each other. We made a road trip to the cemetery that day. We left very early to miss the traffic and drove out to Queens, New York. To see the happiness on my mother-in-law's face in finding a connection was very satisfying. I am hoping to assist her in finding out the answers to more family mysteries. One day at a time.
When I first located my great-grandfather, Vincenzo Esposito's grave, I noticed that he was buried with several other individuals. Some I am assuming are relatives, but the others I'm not so sure about. I am hoping that my relatives can assist me in identifying the other people.
I cannot help myself. You already know that I read obituaries, and now you know that I roam cemeteries. Am I weird? Probably, but visiting cemeteries helps me to realize that my ancestors did live. They had full lives and experiences. Their stories are passed down from generation to generation and visiting their remains assists me in honoring their memories.
When it comes to tracking down the resting places of ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago in Italy, the task is a little more difficult. In Vizzini, my ancestors are buried in the "common grave". The common grave was used before headstones and is in a very old section of the cemetery.
The photograph on the left is a fan chart for my 3x-great-grandmother, Lucia Pitrozzello. She was born Sortino, Siracusa, Sicilia. I know that the parish church was called San Giovanni Apostolo ed Evangelista. I believe it is still standing and it is more than likely that there is a cemetery in the town of Sortino with a common grave section. That is probably where I would find all of these relatives and I hope to visit there one day.
In closing today's excerpt, perusing your local cemetery may give you some insight about the people who existed in your town centuries before. Some of those names engraved on the headstones may also be the names of local streets in your town. Consider it a mini-history lesson...you may learn a lot! Thanks for reading and happy hunting!