Friday, May 25, 2018

Finding Relatives in Your Ancestral Hometown's Cemetery

The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's Italian hometown.
The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's
Italian hometown.
I've twice visited the cemeteries in my ancestral hometowns in Italy. In 2005 I visited three towns and photographed each grave that had a last name from my family tree.

Over time, I learned the identities of just about every person whose grave I photographed. Some were closely related, like my grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. Others were more distant relatives, but they have a place in my tree.

I learned exactly who most of them were from other relatives. For instance, my mom's cousin knew grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. She had photos of him and his family.

Two weeks ago I visited the cemetery in Colle Sannita for the first time, and two other towns for a second time.

You can't go to an Italian cemetery and find graves from the 1700s the way you can in America. Be sure to research the burial customs in the country you'll be visiting. They may condense remains into a single family grave. They will remove those who died a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed on my second trip to one cemetery was this reuse of graves. I remembered there was a Leone family grave on the left wall, so I went straight to it. The names and photos of the husband and wife who were in that grave in 2005 were now placed to the left of the marble slab. A baby who was in his own grave in 2005 was now placed to the right of the marble slab. And in the center of this single grave was a newly deceased Leone relative.

I visited the Colle Sannita cemetery on the day before I was to visit my cousins. I found their father in one grave, their brother somewhere else, and their mother in a third location. My cousins were waiting for the cemetery to say their parents could placed together with their brother. "But the cemetery never called," my cousin told me.

If you have the chance to visit a cemetery where your ancestors lived, you may also find that it has changed over time. Some people will have moved, and others will be gone.

Two headstones ready to be removed.
I don't know you now, Angela. But I will find you.
Was Innocenzo your husband?
My task now, having taken so many new photographs of graves, is to try to identify as many people as possible. Thanks to the Antenati website, I have thousands of birth records from my ancestral hometowns on my computer.

The plan is to find birth records for the deceased and learn who their parents were. Finding their parents may be enough to place the person in my family tree.

I took many photos while thinking, "This person is too young. I probably can't find out who their parents were." But, as time goes by, I may someday learn who they were.

I adore my family names. Each and every one is special and beautiful to me. Pausing to look at the photos on their graves, I did feel as if I were paying my respects to a beloved family member.

If you ever have the chance to visit a cemetery containing one or more of your relatives, look around. Especially if the cemetery is in a small town. Find other names you recognize and do a bit of research.

A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
One of my 2005 grave photos was for Michelina Leone. I didn't know who she was. A couple of years later, while corresponding with a distant cousin, I learned how important Michelina was to my family.

When my grandfather's sister Eva died from an accidental poisoning, her cousin Michelina stepped in and raised Eva's young sons. Two weeks ago, in a church my Leone family hometown, I found a plaque dedicating a church pew to Michelina Leone.

Now I knew she was someone important to me.

And that's how I feel about everyone in my ancestral hometown cemeteries. They're all important to me.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Want to receive email notifications about new posts? Email me at diann@forthecousins.com.