Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

September 6, 2013

Cemeteries reveal personal histories

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — BROOKVILLE – By taking a walk in a cemetery, persons can learn much more than just the names of those buried there and their birth and death dates.

On Aug. 21, Julie Schlesselman, Franklin County Library District local history and genealogy department manager, presented “The Tombstone Trail” at the Brookville Library. She showed pictures from various county locations and told audience members, “Cemeteries are more than just grounds for dead people. They have architecture, flora and fauna.

“You will see tombstones, but notice what is on these stones. They can provide a list of nativity/ethnicity, maiden names, military service, occupations, cause of death, religious affiliation, and they tell stories.

“Sunny McQueen was born in 1941. Apparently, he was a rodeo cowboy,” because there was a picture of that on the stone. “There was color on it, too, which is unusual .... A Kopp stone shows a tree stump with a squirrel, which means he was interested in hunting or woodland scenes.

“Susan Oglesby had an interesting stone. She must have loved her house” because there is a picture engraved along with a street sign that “tells you she lived on 12th Street. Forrest Seeley had a school bus on his stone, which indicates he had a connection with the schools. He was a bus driver .... A Drake gravestone had a picture of a house and dogs, meaning he either liked dogs or raised them.

“For Earl Case, you’ll notice his stone is complete on the right, but the left is unfinished. That indicates a life cut short. His wife’s name is noted on there, but her birth and death dates are not listed. Since he died so young, she probably remarried and is buried elsewhere.”

Many people purchase the tombstones before their deaths. They can be made from a variety of materials, including concrete, cement, limestone and granite. “They could also be made from field stones or tree trunks, also called tree stones. Those were more popular in larger areas during the 1800s to 1905. You could actually buy them from Sears and Roebuck.

“You’ll also notice stones have a lot of different icons and images (compass representing masons and links meaning friendship, love and truth). Many of the stones will also tell you the maker of them. There are small metal markers on the contemporary ones and on older stones, the carver’s name is on the bottom,” the presenter revealed.

Some tombstones have a lot of wear on them. She stressed the importance of photographing markers so the information isn’t lost.

Some graves “don’t even have a stone. Little Owen Smith was visiting (Franklin County) when he went bathing in the east fork of the Whitewater River in 1892. He was nearly 14 and waded out in the current and drowned. There was no marker for his grave, just a story about him.”

Schlesselman noted, “In cemeteries, if you’re looking for a particular stone, look at the ones around it. It’s usually some sort of relative.” Also, if there are numerous persons who died within days of each other, it probably meant something tragic happened, such as an accident, fire or cholera epidemic.

She read part of “The Dash,” a poem by Linda Ellius: “‘I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone, from the beginning to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years .... For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth .... What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.’”

She pointed out, “The next time you go to a cemetery, think about all the things that have happened to people over the years.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.