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Family reunions are a blast. We all get together, have lots of food, talk about our childhoods and generally remember why we all love each other. Or not. This past weekend all my husband’s siblings except one got together at a nearby State Park for a six day camping fest. Starting to gather on Tuesday, they came from all over Florida and north Georgia, taking over one corner of the campgrounds. To say a good time was had by all would be an understatement. Just about every moment was filled lots of laughs.

Since we live nearby I was not going to camp, but rather work a few days and stay at night at the house with the dogs. I went out on Wednesday, hugs all around, gushing greetings and a good gossip session. One thing we never talked about in the entire six days was the family history, who’s who and who’s not. I learned at the last family reunion that this family couldn’t care less. So I bite my tongue, zip my lip and keep my mouth shut. I’ve seen too many of those glazed over eyes to realize they are not zombies (well maybe not) but only relatives, bored stupid.

Columbus Cemetery, Suwannee County, Florida

Not to have the week be a total loss for me, I found out that there was a small pioneer cemetery inside the state park about half a mile down one of the trails. My husband had been out there  the day before and said the name was Columbus Cemetery. So I looked it up on Find A Grave and sure enough there was a Columbus Cemetery in Suwannee County and there were 20 people buried there but there were no pictures. So I printed out the list of internments and decided to take pictures and post them on Find A Grave.

I couldn’t get anyone else except my husband to hike out the trail with me. When we got there, I started taking pictures and he kept saying that person wasn’t listed so I thought I had more people to post. However, it turned out that this was ANOTHER Columbus Cemetery and not the one listed on Find A Grave.

How exciting is that? Virgin territory, a whole cemetery that no one has mapped or listed on Find A Grave. You Find A Grave volunteers know what I mean. YUREKA!!! So I took pictures, wrote down all the information and had a thoroughly great afternoon. Too bad the family thought I’d lost it out in the noonday sun. They all spent the day watching golf on TV. Their loss I’m sure.

My advice is that just because the name of a cemetery is listed or familiar to you, check to make sure you have the right one. It just could be another cemetery with the same name hiding in plain sight. Now I need to go back out there and find the first cemetery and take those pictures.

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I have to admit, I’m not a real good genealogist. So far I haven’t checked out any wills, deeds, property sales or anything like that. And I hop around a lot. When I get bored not finding anything on one ancestor I hop over to research another. All the books tell you not to do that. It’s a genealogy no-no. But I have a lot of fun with my family research. I mean, it’s all out there somewhere and as far as all that boring stuff is concerned, it’s not going anywhere. I am confident that it will still be there if I ever get around to going after it.

But talking to people, finding obscure jewels of gossip and factoids about the family makes me smile. It’s the detective spirit in me I guess. I love a good mystery. Here’s one thing I did early on in my journey that really paid off. At the time I didn’t have a lot of information. I knew where my grandparents were buried because I’d been to several family funerals there. My father is buried alongside them and his were the only dates I had.  One Saturday afternoon I got out my paper with the names on it and called the Blandford Cemetery office in Petersburg, Virginia. A very nice lady named Jackie answered the phone and I asked her if by any chance I could get some information from their files. She said “sure”.

I gave her the surname I was looking for and boy, did she give it to me! Every person in that cemetery with the same last name was fair game. Apparently it was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Petersburg and Jackie was bored. She gave me the names of all of them, birth dates, death dates and more information then I could have hoped for. Before the 1950s the cemetery records contained the place of birth and the cause of death for the deceased. The German tradition of everyone being buried together meant that most of the children were buried in the family plot. That is how I found out that my grandmother and several of the older boys were born in Rockingham County, Virginia. Never knew that. I thought they came from Petersburg,  Philadelphia or North Dakota. That’s the only  places I ever heard of when I was growing up.  She also gave me all their addresses when they died, funeral homes that took care of the arrangements, birth dates, etc. I ended that afternoon with a new best friend and tons of data to include in my family tree. I spent the rest of the day grinning like an idiot.

A few weeks later, trying to get my hands on my grandfather’s death certificate was proving to be a complicated chore. But because of my new friend Jackie, I knew the funeral home so I called them and asked if they had records that went back that far. Apparently they keep those records forever and the gentleman I talked to informed me that I wouldn’t find a death certificate in Virginia because my grandfather had died in Philadelphia and was shipped home to be buried in Petersburg. Well that little tidbit made all the difference in the world. With it I was able to find a death certificate. Never did find an obituary though.

So the next boring afternoon you’re sitting around wondering which direction to take your research, back up, regroup and do some thinking outside the box. The least normal idea just might pay off.

Grandmother Volz

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