Most of the United States was still a wide open wilderness when the Great War between the states broke out. Young men who knew little about life beyond the borders of their own farm’s fence rail were suddenly far from home and doing what was previously unthinkable.
While some boys came home with doctoring skills, others brought home the lucrative specialty title “Embalming Surgeon.” Those who were willing to abandon their post (and could stomach it) were hired away from the armies of both sides by the booming embalming service businesses.
Field embalming could be completed in about two hours, with a minimal investment in chemicals. These gruesome entrepreneurs followed behind active battles with their tents and supplies. They employed men as “pickers” to glean blood soaked fields in search of freshly dead and mostly intact men.
“Runners” were used to contact the agents whose territory included the deadmen’s hometown. With such a streamlined system in place, the embalmer’s agents often delivered the grievous news before the official Army telegrams were dispatched. No time was wasted in the rush to sell devastated loved ones services for preservation and shipping of their soldier’s remains.
By railroad rules, only embalmed corpses would be accepted for transport. No spoiled (foul smelling) cargo of any kind was allowed. At the beginning of the great conflict between the states, bodies were packed and crated in straw and ice. However, as the war continued, delays and detours became common, and iced corpses could putrefy beside other cargo before reaching home.
When Pickers ran out onto a new battlefield, officers’ remains were favored over enlisted men. Their families were likely to be wealthier. With fees around $50 for an officer, and $25 for an enlisted man ($2500 and $1250 in today’s money) there were fortunes to be made. The service’s price included packing the remains in crudely made wood transport coffins lined with zinc against leakage.
Of course there were some Agents who were just plain cheats. These swindlers set a price upon seeing the dead soldier’s home; sometimes demanding outrageous fees at large homes with the threat of discarding the body; effectively ransoming the corpse to loved ones.
After President Lincoln’s body made its fourteen day farewell tour by train, the public in all parts of the country embraced the previously rare practice of routine embalming. Still, the market for Embalming Surgeons quickly evaporated. Undertakers at home were already set up with profitable furniture and coffin making shops. They had digging crews and fancied-up funeral hacks called “hearses” to tote the departed in.
For hometown undertakers, adding this service was an easy moneymaker. Some Embalming Surgeons found work with established undertakers; most turned to farming or whatever trade they’d left off with before the war.
Can’t find an old photo of an event relevant to your Family History? Check out the Library of Congress Image Collection. You can search by collection, events, or key words. In most cases, usage availability is noted. A few will suggest a search before using the image for publication or display (like on a blog or publication). Their cache of available photos and other forms of imagery is incredible–make it a part of your writing and researching toolbox!
Before you head out to visit a cemetery for some genealogy or family history seeking, be sure to read over Mom’s list.
Here’s a little sample chapter of one of the two books that will be on shelves this month written by “Moi.” Since the summer days are long, the weekends are right for road trips, and maybe you have the kids captive and can load them up with a little family history education–I thought this would be a good preview to share.
Kids love this stuff–right?
From the upcoming “The State of Boone,” companion to “Boone County” enjoy this little “How-To” for Visiting the Relatives…
My family tree has many branches, both living and dead… but all equally important. I cherish the memories that make its roots run deep.” (Lynda I Fisher)
For me, visiting relatives usually means getting down and dirty. I think cemeteries are a tranquil, fascinating place. So many lives, so many stories untold–so much history we might otherwise miss! As a Family Historian, going relative hunting is one of my favorite adventures.
I’ve done this grave hunting thing all over the place. On vacations I’ve traipsed around above-ground crypts built inside below-sea-level cemeteries in the “Big Easy”– New Orleans. In old Louisville, I plopped down on the jutting-up exposed ends of vaults because it was the closest thing to a level spot around. Closer to home, I once spent a long snowy afternoon chatting with a gentle herd of cows while traversing acres of laid-over winter wheat. The cows were searching for leisurely snacks; I was seeking a lonely little plot.
There is little I love more than crisp autumn colors next to bleached-out marble. Except, maybe a majestic lawn of showy statuary at a big beautiful graveyard on a sunny day.
Nope, it doesn’t creep me out.
Yes, I guess that’s a little nutty.
The point is–I’ve done a lot of field-stalking for the graves of my forefathers, and I’ve learned some good tips and tricks. Sure there are lots more “do’s and don’ts” but this is my standard list of rules, go-to methods, and stuff to drag along.
Finding an old grave can be a challenge, but if you hang with it, you’re bound to make a discovery or two worth your while.
So here are my “rules” for visiting, and some handy-to-have stuff to take along. I hope you’ll take time to try some hunting yourself, and then let me know how it panned out for you and your kin!
- MANY cemeteries are on private property; especially the defunct ones. Some are even in people’s yards–very close to their house. Often, these properties are owned by seniors. No matter who lives there, be respectful.
- For visits on private property with no public right of way, drop a courtesy note in the mailbox of the occupant well in advance of your site visit. State your business, and ask for permission to come by at their convenience to take a look. Respect their wishes. Please describe your vehicle, ask before photographing, and give them all of your contact information.
- Do not stomp up next to someone’s home and start taking pictures of a little plot sectioned-off with some pretty iron fencing. Not cool.
- Take notes of your visits. Record the who, what, when, why, how and what I should do next time. Be sure to carry your notes at all times.
STUFF to TAKE — THINGS to DO
Here are my best tips for a successful trip to any cemetery for ancestor hunting. These can be especially important to heed if you’re setting off for a very old, defunct, or out-of-the-way location.
- Make a list of who you are looking for, and where they are buried ahead of time. You can use the spaces next to cemetery names in this book to jot down some notes, or make your own dedicated notebook. Most places (remember to check for additional names when more than one is noted) can be found with the mapping or GPS feature online at Find A Grave. This is a free site and a great resource when searching.
- Whenever possible, take a companion. This is good advice anytime you start an adventure.
- Also take along a bag with a large towel or heavy blanket, a flashlight, your notebook and pen, any emergency medications you might need (inhaler, nitro tablets, Epi-pen etc), a spray bottle filled with distilled water, a few old toothbrushes, some sturdy gloves, a small roll of aluminum foil, some kitchen shears heavy enough to cut through vines. Oh, and personally I do love a super sturdy trash bag to put between me and nature as I sit and kneel in the mud, bugs, and weedy grass.
- Always make a note of where your car is parked in your records during each trip (what entry point did you use?). No, I don’t think you’ll get lost, but it will be of use to you later when you are mapping sites and recording the position of certain graves.
- Never step out of your car without taking along a fully charged cellphone. In case of emergency–and lots of emergencies can happen–this simple tool can really save you!
- Have your camera on hand and ready. Carry spare batteries or be sure it is fully charged. If you will be using your cell phone’s camera, be sure you have it set for high performance with the automatic flash turned off. If you don’t know how to set up your phone to do its best picture taking, stop by a retailer and have a sales tech do it for you. Digital photos are the best tool for reading old stones.
- When possible, take a large stick with you. Though you may not have to fight back bears, you may stumble upon a snake or other critter. I’d rather shoo away a curious groundhog with a long stick than my camera bag any day! Also, uneven ground is a given–especially in the graveyards with the oldest interments. Count on them to be riddled with animal burrows, large roots, broken off stones and sunken spots. All of these can easily cause a fall or a broken bone. Use your stick as a “leading leg” to test the ground before you. Although it may seem awkward at first, one you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever hiked around without one.
- Be sure to keep your eyes and ears keen to your surroundings. Be on the look-out for feisty Hobos or thieves. Be sure to lock your car. Also, hornets, or ground bees, seem to adore living in old cemeteries. If you hear their hum, just steer clear of them and you will all have a better day.
- Wear a hat if you’d like, but be sure to remove it, or turn it backward before taking photos. The shade of the brim or bill can affect the automatic light level detection on today’s cameras and cause a lesser quality image.
- Long pants, boots or sturdy shoes, bug spray and long-sleeved shirts are a great defense against ticks and biting insects and poison ivy rashes.
- Once you’ve found who you’re looking for (especially in large graveyards) make yourself a little map. Remember how you noted where you left the car? Now is the time to use that. Photograph the grave marker so the name and shape are clear. Then, stand at the grave with your back to your parked vehicle (make a habit of beginning from this position). At eye level, take a photo. Make a quarter turn, and do the same. Keep going until you have an image of what you see in all four directions when you are standing graveside. Digital photography rocks! This 4-way-shot of the site will help lead you easily back to your ancestor next time.
- Visually inspect the stone/marker for signs of dangerous deterioration. Inspect each one closely before touching it. Watch for chipping, cracks, breaks, previous repairs, crumbling, or any open grainy or sandy looking spots. Be warned that even the thinnest upright markers can be very heavy and cause some serious damage if they “snap” while you’re nicely wiping moss away. Safety first!
- If you encounter old, very faded stones that are not quite legible, then a companion’s extra set of hands will come in really handy. Using the blanket or large towel to shade the tombstone, prop your flashlight onto the bottom edge of the grave-marker. Without a flash, take a close photo while under the shade of the cloth. Then try shining the flashlight downward on the faint markings (while still keeping it and the camera shaded from sunlight). The results may not be immediately apparent, but at home with some simple editing features found on most cameras and phones, you might be amazed.
- Do check (and photograph) the sides, back and top edge of each stone as well as the front. Often you will find a little surprise like a fraternal emblem or an ornamental symbol carved in the stone. Compare any findings like these to the exhaustive list available on the AGS website (address below). These may lead you to a previously unsuspected clue about your relative’s “earthly” interests.
- If the surface is obscured by weeds or dirt, cut away the vegetation with your kitchen shears. Mud and dirt deposits, along with any grass overgrowth on flat stones should be peeled off by hand (use the gloves if you’d like). Lichens and moss often plague markers in shady areas. Use a dry toothbrush to scrub them away. If you need a little something more, spray the area with water and allow it to soften the crud before wiping it away with a towel or toothbrush.
- Spritzing the face of a stone with water is another trick for reading barely-there etching. Be sure to try photographing the tough to read ones both wet and dry.
- Occasionally, you can get a good result by laying aluminum foil (shiny side down works best) over the epitaph and lightly rubbing it to conform with your hands. Once you’ve done your best, photo the stone again while the foil is still in place, and then carefully set the sheet aside to reexamine at home.
- Think you have a great idea for how to clean/read/repair a gravestone? Check in with the AGS website first (the Association for Gravestone Studies). These folks know their stuff and are up-to-date on what does and does not cause harm to these precious relics. Find their fascinating, info-rich website at https://gravestonestudies.org/
- And, Indiana-Boone-Jones, if you think you’ve found a previously undocumented grave site, be sure to contact the county health department to inform them of your discovery.
You’ll probably make the papers!
Today, I’ve posted a story
–well of course it is true–
over on the blog Share Boone Stories.
Its about two very different communities. Both are places I’ve called home at one time or another. But mostly, its about the weird, gigantic piece of cast sculpture they’ve shared.
The stuff you can dig up without trying!
I hope you’ll check it out. Especially if you like Baseball, Shopping, Funerary Art, Mysteries, Syphilis, or things made by Tiffany’s
Today’s post is about the house I consider to be the most beautiful and amazing one ever built here in the heartland. I’ve enjoyed watching its restoration, meeting the amazing craftsman who had the vision and hands-on skill to do it, and shared some amazing stories. All the photos are from the private collection of Jerico Properties, and these and many more can be viewed on the company’s Facebook page. Thanks John and Jodi!
Golden Hill is not just a neighborhood or its centerpiece home. Golden Hill is a beautiful footbridge–an umbilical tether to the storied past of Indianapolis–Crossroads of America.
The makings of dreams are never easily traced. That is how I describe finding the simple entrance to Golden Hill. Tucked behind a small play park, it hides hugging a stretch of a wide urban route running between newer suburbs and the commercial hub at the city’s center. You must navigate your way past history on all sides as you try to find the magical hidden gem, Golden Hill.
The entrance cuts away to the west off a wide thoroughfare bordering Crown Hill Cemetery. Here is the final resting place for an impressive roster of celebrities, inventors, politicians and war heroes since opened in the middle 1800’s. The White River and the old Canal Towpath serve as a scenic twin boundary lines to the West.
Across these waterways, in winter time, one can glimpse a world class velodrome, a public golf course. Just beyond the line of sight a private Catholic University, the old Marian College, and the adjacent Seminary count themselves as Golden Hill neighbors.
To the north Golden Hill’s property adjoins Woodstock, arguably the city’s most prestigious Country Club. Just past the legendary sweeping greens of the old club’s golf course comes another main thoroughfare of the city, 38th Street. Rather poetically named “Maple Road” in the 19th century, overtime it was renamed with only the number “38.”
Facing Woodstock is the grand gated entrance to the Indianapolis Art Museum. Of international renown, the IMA and its acres of woodland, formal gardens, and Clowe’s Hall theater are proud neighbors as well. Even prestigious Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary are within reach of Golden Hill’s enclave. Look south as you near the entrance and you gaze upon the towering glint of the ever renewing Indianapolis skyline.
Once found, Golden Hill strikes stirrings of a miniaturized Biltmore Village in the heartland. It is an enclave of homes where the mythic Great Gatsby’s lawn parties were inspired by those hosted here in real life. The guests in attendance were the power brokers of the nation, stars of the silver screen, and darlings of the stage. Poets, playwrights, and novelists enjoyed all the ambiance of the most metropolitan cities of the world, while entertained by their Hoosier hosts and hostesses.
Houses here were inhabited by those of generational wealth like the fictitious Magnificent Ambersons. Here in Golden Hill, the long-monied lived happily next to neighbors who were new initiates to the growing Midwestern aristocracy. All the residents shared a common appreciation for finery and show.
At it’s center, the home on Spring Hollow Road is both the anchor and the original. This is a bold house; a home built for a man wealthy by virtue of hard work and an inclination towards tenacity. For years a Totem pole that once decorated the Alaskan pavilion at the 1876 Chicago Exposition–the World’s Fair in the White City–stood sentinel at the entrance. As the original, it was christened and named “Golden Hill” and then later lent the name to the neighborhood developed by the home’s owner around his own breathtaking manse.
The house DM Parry built for his family was meant to be more than an address. It is a central member of the family–a back story character witnessing growth and heartaches alongside the fortunate and privileged lives unfolding beneath its roof. The walls were built to be a sturdy rival to the massive monuments in Rome. Their purpose was well served as they were put up to impress, engulf, embrace and, yes, even protect those within them.
In contrast, the wide ornate doors were placed skillfully to invite in others of the same mind. Those who had a vision for a better way of living amid the cornfields and prairie lands along the White River found it here. The movers and shakers, the barons of the industrial revolution in the newly birthed Tin Lizzy marketplace all longed to live amid the bucolic curving lanes of Golden Hill.
this little cutie is from the image collections available on The Old Design Shop web page
This is not my favorite month. Maybe its a wee bit’o jealousy because the only Irish in my family’s DNA runs through my husband’s side of the equation. St Patrick’s Day has always been a fun day of green beer and sheepish pretense.
I’m not Irish, but kiss me or pinch me anyway! I do have green eyes though…the better to be “pea green with envy” with my dear…
Perhaps my disdainful attitude toward March is more about the weather here in the heartland. Good Lord what a ride! I, like many Hoosiers, dream of retirement in the desert, any desert. A place where the humidity level rarely flinches. Here, my sinus cavity is under a constant state of attack with it’s little faucet running full on, then suddenly dried up to a painful pinching sensation, only to find a tortured relief in the post-nasal agony of the drip..drip..drip. Yep, Indiana weather~ if you don’t like it ~ stick around for an hour, it’ll change.
Regardless of the snow, no snow, shorts and t-shirt weather and/or tornado laden skies outside, we Family Historians must push on. For that end, I offer you a list of To-Dos for March~
1. Do something really nice for yourself this month~ begin a little achievement journal. Nothing big and fancy (unless you just crave that kind of candy…I don’t judge). This can be as simple as making a to-do list on your calendar at the beginning of the week, and then checking off the “done-did-its” as you go. It’s a gift to give yourself. Mark down exciting (to you) stuff that happens on that day: Found cousin Dehlia’s Christmas card with her contact info under the sofa cushion…bonus…also cleared the underside of all sofa cushions!
During points of drought over the seeker’s field, these can be reviewed to help you re-inspire yourself.. RahRah Me!
2. Start getting the kids involved. This is a great time to plan and gather. Spring break car travel-time looms, or being stuck at home with “bored” loved ones. Instead of hiding inside your head, invite them to start their own spiffy project. Call in the cousins for support and reinforcement. If you would like to see a shining example of what a kid’s book can look like click the link and visit Raelyn of Telling Family Tales…all her little book projects are fringed with magnificence. You don’t have to be this elaborate, just drink it in for inspiration ~ http://tellingfamilytales.com/2013/03/04/when-he-was-young/
3. Toward the end of the month, prepare and send out another “mailing” to let everyone know you are still working on this project (call it the “story of us” or something clever and inclusive). Include a little crumb of “reactive bait” like a photo, or a couple of little questions (does anyone recall the name of the road Grandfather’s farm was on? Was it named? Was it always paved?). If you have been lucky enough to elicit a response or two from the last letter binge…build on it. I find that others are kinda generous with sharing scans of photos, and that they love telling me about how much fun it was “digging through the dusty boxes with mum” but, they don’t really convey the meat of that to me~without direct and subtle inquiry 🙂
So, I then start feeding back to them…hey, that pic of Granny and Harry, where do you think that was taken? Do you know about when? What the heck were they doing there in that place? Wonder who took the picture? That looks like the 60’s to me (when clearly it’s more like the 20’s…trust me on this one…try it!).
Then, it never hurts to throw in something utterly stupid (this is a great technique to get info…everyone loves “correcting” me). Ask a questions that you are sure you know the answer to ~
Say something really, profoundly, ignorant…”Did Harry have any bothers?” This would be a good one if in fact, Harry comes from a brood of 10-12 assorted gender children, or was the younger brother of a famous prize-fighter, or was taken in as an infant or purchased from Gypsies (as my family generally insists about me)
Everyone loves to be right. Everyone likes to “school those fools who have it wrong.” So say your dumbest stuff, and listen to every little utterance that comes at you as fall-out. That’s YOUR pot o’ gold! Have fun with March where ever the weather and the “stupid questions” land you, and I hope you get kissed on St Paddy’s day too!
ps…definately make sure that Someone writes this down!