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  • Writer's pictureJulie Wilmot

Genealogy at a Funeral

Julie Wilmot

My husband, my daughter and I traveled to Pittsburg, Coos County, New Hampshire last weekend to bury my grandfather’s ashes. My grandfather died in April after suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last three years. He was buried in a small cemetery near his parents. After the service, many of my relatives were talking about the names on the headstones around my great-grandparents’ stone.

My grandfather’s surname was Hall, as was his parents’. Around their plots were stones with the surnames Haynes and French. I knew that women with those surnames had married into the Hall line; however, many of my relatives apparently did not. My Mum, of course, decided to do me the favor of telling everyone that I was a professional genealogist and could tell them who was who with no trouble at all. Thank you, Mum.

One stone in my family’s group, for lack of a better term, belonged to a seven-year-old boy. I don’t profess to remember every ancestor I’ve ever identified; however, I did remember this child in particular. He died of a brain tumor in 1932. I recall feeling sad for his parents. One of my grandfather’s nieces asked me who he was. I told her what I knew. Her response was, “He doesn’t show up on the Ancestry trees I’ve seen.”

I explained to her that I had a copy of his death record, which very clearly named his parents. I offered to email a copy of it to her. I also showed her that he was buried beside his parents. Her response? “Huh.”

I admittedly do much of my work online. Many modern genealogists do. However, I realize the value of original documents and the worth of visiting cemeteries. I also recognize that family trees found online are full of mistakes, of which being incomplete is the least worrisome.

Many genealogists, both professional and amateur, are in a rush to move backward in time. We like to tell people, “My ancestors came over on the Mayflower,” or, “We’ve been here since 1700.”

Here’s the problem with that. We miss too much between the Mayflower (or 1700) and now. Ancestors become names and dates, and nothing more. These people who gave life to us have lives of their own. If you limit your research to birth, marriage, and death, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. Our ancestors had occupations, hobbies, and lives that can’t be boiled down to three dates on a piece of paper.

I remember researching a client’s ancestry and coming across a woman in their line who was a talented quilter. She was noted in several newspapers and local histories. If I had taken her parent’s names from her marriage record, located her birth and death records and moved on to the next generation, I never would have known she was a quilter, never mind a gifted one.

Do yourself a favor. Search historical newspapers and local histories. Examine genealogies. Look at your ancestors’ occupations in census records. Try to piece together their lives. It will enrich your research in countless ways.


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