Monday, January 12, 2009

Top reasons Genealogists love funerals

I don't know which is the bigger shame, that it takes a funeral for these things to come about, or the fact that there was too much else to deal with the last couple of days, including my own emotions, to fully appreciate and take advantage of the goldmines.

5. Long Lost relatives
I finally got to meet several of my grandma's cousins. Unfortunately I probably won't remember most of them, but the good news is, there is talk of putting together a family reunion and I did get some phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

4. Future reunions
Ironically enough, the last several family funerals I've attended have resulted in family reunions being planned. Usually because people decide they'd rather not wait for another funeral to see one another.

3. Funeral Programs
Grandpa had a suit coat that we called his funeral coat, since that was about the only time he ever wore that particular coat and he wore it to nearly every funeral he attended. At every funeral he would pick up a program, and eventually it would find its way into his pocket. Grandpa never took them out of his pocket. Eventually grandma would intercede and remove the large stacks, and most would get moved to "the case" a small brief case where grandma stored such things.

This week, we pulled out "the case" so gma could look at other funeral programs in order to decide how she wanted gpa's done. What a wealth of genealogical information. All these names and dates, and occasionally locations. And most of them contained lists of descendants, and their relationships.

One in particular caught my eye. A simple design, with a temple graphic on the cover. Opening it up unleashed a power that's beyond words. The sacredness of this document overwhelmed me. And I could only view it with reverence and respect. And in doing so, I discovered that this was the funeral program for my father's mother, my other grandma, who passed away when I was only 2 years old.

This is what critics of genealogy and genealogists don't understand. To them, these documents are just pieces of paper. They are names and dates of people long since past, they have no relevance to them today. They don't understand. They don't get that these are real people, that while their time on this earth is gone, their spirits live on. They haven't felt that connection, or enjoyed the strength, the comfort, the joy that comes in feeling that connection. They don't understand...

2. Now it comes out

Grandpa was a Veteran of WWII. Most of the things he saw horrified him to the point that he refused to talk about it. But when I was in the sixth grade, I had to do an oral report on Germany. Since Grandpa had been to Germany and had some 'souvenirs' from his time there, he broke down and helped. He pulled out one small trunk, mostly with tapestries and other cloth items. So while the stories still did not deal really with the war, but rather than country itself, I had at least seen this small trunk.

Grandma needed his discharge papers in order for Gpa to get the military honors. Only she had no idea where they were. She thought of one place they might be, but when we investigated, we found in that location, only my great-grandfather's discharge papers.

Then out of nowhere I had a memory of seeing discharge papers when gpa had pulled out that trunk for me. Amazing that I would even recall that after nearly 18 years, especially when I hadn't thought about it any other time during those years. But we made an excursion to find the trunk and check it out.

Like gma, I was half-right. the spot held discharge papers, but they belonged to gpa's brother, not gpa. But the really amazing thing, were the other trunks that were found with that one. Small trunks, but they were full of old letters and pictures (of course not labeled, but many of them were of famous landmarks so we still got some sort of 'diary' of his journeys at least). I look forward to going through them all in the coming weeks and months.

1. Cemetery time that doesn't creep others out
:) I don't know, it sounded good, since most people avoid cemetery's whenever possible, but we spend our lives searching them out.

But as long as we're on the topic. Let me give a HUGE shout-out to our Veterans. In particular the Honor Guard of VFW Post 4918. They performed the military rites for gpa. It was incredibly touching. Of course at least some of the honor guard members were friends with gma, gma has friends everywhere she goes. So after they completed the official presentation and he handed over the flag, the veteran was also able to share a more personal moment with gma.

But as for MY personal experience, I knew gpa would have the military rites. I've never witnessed the military rites in person, but I was still prepared for the 21 gun salute, and for the flag ceremony. What I was not prepared for was seeing the helmet on top of the rifle. Gpa's plot is near the road, and of course we've had a lot of snow lately, so there are some large snow banks where the roads have been plowed. The added effect of the pile of snow placed extra emphasis on the message of the rifle. I had hoped to get a picture of it afterwards, but they took it down too quickly. But still, the picture of the rifle protruding out of that deep snow, topped by the helmet, will forever be etched in my mind.

If anyone knows where I can get a picture similar to that, with or without the snow, please let me know. I know there's a name for it, but I can't recall it at the moment. Consequently, I'm not having any luck searching for a pic either.

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