We have all seen the bumper sticker that says “I stop for Cemeteries”, and I have to admit that whenever I visit an area I love to stop at the old cemeteries and look around. Over the years I have made my husband wonder through cemeteries near old forts in Maine, in ghost towns in Nevada and California, way back on old dirt roads in Texas, in clean well kept cemeteries in Illinois, and in church cemeteries no longer used. Over the years he has always been most gracious and patient as I read the grave markers, agonizing over children whose only record of existence was a small grave marker or remembering a history lesson as we read the marker of a revolutionary soldier killed in battle. What a sense of joy we would feel as we found a family member missing from records or we found several families buried close together with in-laws we had heard about but knew little of. . On occasion he has even had to listen to the cries of disappointment when we didn’t find that hoped for family member or the headstone we needed was broken off, or gone completely, or so faded and eroded from time that the information was illegible.
Through the years he has been most patient and kind about walking through these cemeteries and has often gone the extra mile or miles in the hopes of a glimpse into the past. That is until our last trip to a cemetery. Now I have taught classes on how to research in cemeteries and I know all the rules but sometimes in our excitement of finding that perfect record we forget all that we have learned and throw caution to the wind forgetting which state we are working in and the hazards that might await you in that foot tall grass. We all know the stories of snakes in the cemeteries and odd little bugs but never have I encountered such a ferocious little creature as the chigger. On that particular day we had spent time talking with the cemetery wizard of the area. He was a very nice old man who knew everything there was to know about all the cemeteries in Latimer County, Oklahoma. He could tell us exactly where the cemetery in Hawthorne was but he had never been there to document its records so we decided that we really needed to check it out ourselves. After all Dan’s long lost great grandfather and his family were supposed to be there. Being caught up in the excitement of the moment and forgetting all the training I had learned and taught we promptly drove to a little cemetery nestled off a dirt road a few miles from town. Sure enough the grass was tall but in a nice somewhat maintained portion of the cemetery stood a group of graves. Sure enough there was Dan’s great grandfather, his stepbrother and their family and two graves with missing stones. At least one of those stones was reported by old family members to be the grave of his mother. Not to be put off a by a little grass Dan proceeded to walk through and explore the rest of this little cemetery. After all it was in such a serene setting, the day was beautiful we had no kids with us, and all the time we wanted. Now the story could very easily stop here but then it becomes just another trip to the cemetery story nothing exciting or unusual.
The next morning we woke up in a motel in Tennessee and Dan discovered these little red spots on his legs. There were only a few and we didn’t think much about it so we traveled on to my parent’s home in Illinois. By that night the spots were beginning to itch extremely bad and we had gone through a complete bottle of Cortisone cream. Now we were convinced there must have been bed bugs in the motel where we had stayed in Tennessee. Only silly California people would have not taken the time to think about Chiggers. Well my seasoned midwestern mother took one look at the bites and pronounced that Dan had indeed encountered Chiggers more then likely in the Cemetery. What we didn’t know was that if not properly killed they will spread to other unsuspecting bed partners and the next morning I woke up with the same types of bites. Needless to say Clothes were washed, twice, bed sheets were changed, the internet became a hot spot to look at pictures of a microscopic bug that would beat out any horror show monster if it were blown up to gigantic proportions, lots of extremely hot showers were taken, and bottles of ointment were used. After 50 bites on Dan, yes we counted them, 20 on myself (they jumped from him to me at night) we thought for sure we had subdued these little creatures. We just forgot one thing Dan’s boots. You see if you get them on your shoes they will stay there for a few days unless you give the shoes a very hot sunbath. Thus every time the boots went on the chiggers attacked and we had to start all over. Needless to say Dan has promised me that next time we pass a cemetery he will think twice about stopping or will go to the nearest store for lots of bug spray before waling in to unknown territories. I’m afraid his cemetery hunting days may limit and I may have to rely on other people’s records to make these treks for me.
What have I learned? Don’t forget to remember your training no matter how excited you might be. Always be grateful to your husband when he supports you in finding those dead relatives no matter how excruciating the experience may be and stick to well kept up cemeteries or be prepared with lots of bug spray in your car, lots of long clothes and know where you are going, and what you might be tramping through. You might want to remember your camera or make sure it has film. Mine didn’t not only did we get by Chiggers we didn’t have any film with us to record the event. Wear long pants and long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and gloves. You might want to carry a hoe to cut down brush or to defend yourself from unsolicited creatures. Bring a large can of bug spray, get permission from property owners, bring paper, several pencils, and if you plan on doing tombstone rubbings bring the proper supplies. We did have a map of the area that had been acquired off of the Internet and that became a very useful tool as we were looking for the cemetery.
I did remember the rules for making my visit count. I wrote down names, dates, and inscriptions exactly as they appeared. (Even though one of them did not correspond with my previous data). I remembered to draw the location of the plots so that I could look for other relatives at a future time. I remembered to check both sides of the stones and took look not only at the top of the grave but also for a footstone at the bottom of it.
Although I discovered that there was no film in my camera I did take the time to draw any interesting headstones and to take note of the little chapel not to far away. This was very possibly their church in earlier days and a further investigation of the area is definitely in order.
Everyone needs to visit a cemetery at least once in their life, if for no other reason then to remember the history of the people who have gone before. However be sure and make your visit count. Record the information properly and logically. Take pictures they can be worth a million words and most of all enjoyed the experience.