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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 thereĀ  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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Genealogists are a ghoulish bunch. We talk about dead people all the time, we spend hours in cemeteries where we rarely know anyone buried there and we get absolutely silly about obituaries. If you find a printed obituary about one of your ancestors you may have hit pay dirt for information. One thing to remember about obituaries is that the person who gives the information out usually knew the deceased well and the data is pretty accurate. Mostly.

Looking for inspiration to make a hit one boring day, I called the library in the town where most of my father’s family are buried. I found that the library had copies of all the old newspapers and the research librarian spent about two hours on the phone with me, finding all the obituaries she could based on death dates I gave her. I immediately sent off a check to cover copies, postage and a small donation for the library since they didn’t charge for genealogy help. In a few weeks I received a large envelope full of goodies. I spent the better part of a day reading all the obituaries. It was just like Christmas. You know that feeling. You know you do.

A good example of serendipity is the obit I received for my Aunt Agnes (my father’s older sister). My aunt Agnes was a character. She was one of the oldest of the eleven kids and my father being the youngest, she practically raised him. She drove an automobile before you had to have a license in this country, picked wild Muscadine grapes and made wine every year, held every office a woman could in the VFW auxiliary, USO and always won the best hat award at her Half Century Club meetings. Her and my Aunt Mabel went to funerals for people she didn’t even know, and when one of my uncles died, she would stay at the funeral home all night long so they wouldn’t be alone. And when the funeral was over, she would go back to the cemetery and spend hours just sitting and talking to her brother.

Even with all I thought I knew about her, the obituary gave up some great stuff. I learned that she was born in Baltimore, MD, and I always thought she was born in Petersburg, VA. I knew her grandfather was from Maryland but didn’t know the city. On a hunch I started searching Baltimore and made a few connections. I also learned that she belonged to many more groups than I had thought.

Obituaries can reveal real treasure for the family historian. Read them carefully, they’re solid gold.

Agnes Whitt

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