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06 August 2016

Secrets of the Grave: Find clues to help you solve your family puzzle

Are you a fan of Find-A-Grave? 

Then come join our own Bill O’Neil for his take on providing you an illuminating overview of graveyards and markers, along with his own personal stories of genealogy discovery, as well as an exploration of the variety of available death-related documents. Bill's talk will include images of interesting tombstones from some of his favorite haunts. 

Bill O'Neil
 photo courtesy of Jane Knowles Lindsey
I asked Bill why cemeteries are such a rich source of material when looking for our ancestors, as well as the potential pitfalls to be aware of and he explained, “I get records from the cemeteries and their custodians much of the time, but sometimes they will not let you see the records because they plot is not fully paid for.”

Sometimes a cemetery can potentially create a family controversy.  Bill describes one such event, “My cousin sent me a photo of the O’Neil tombstone in Scotland. She didn’t know the last listed person and assumed that this woman might have been someone’s mistress because her maiden name was on the stone. She wasn’t. She was a great, great-grandmother, Mary McIver. In typical Scottish tradition, I knew that all of the women were listed on the headstones by their married names and as  “wife of’”, yet there was no husband listed for Mary McIver (my great, great-grandmother). However, obituaries in Scotland list both the maiden and married names---so that’s how we knew there was no controversy.”

Funny things also happen when dealing with cemeteries. Bill said, “I sent a request to the Oakland Cemetery in Little Falls, MN. It was returned with the following comment":  
“ALL DECEASED R(eturn) T(o) S(ender)”

Lastly, I asked what drew Bill to cemeteries.  He said, “I don’t really know why they fascinate me, but in addition to the obvious cemetery documentation that’s available, you can learn more about your relatives just by observing how their markers were decorated. Were they simple, fanciful, or morbid?  In an odd way, observing how your loved ones were treated in death actually helps you understand how the family felt about them when they were alive.”

In Bill’s opinion, “the bottom line is that the cemetery is the starting point for finding out about your ancestors”.

Bill O'Neil is a retired high school art teacher who loves books and cemeteries. He is the chair of the California Genealogical Society Book Repair Committee. Bill has been researching his family genealogy for over twenty years. 

How do I sign-up?
Pre-registration is required, but class size is limited so register now
Are you a CGS member?  Then admission is free.

Not a member?  That’s fine, but the fee is $30.00 and can be applied towards a new one year CGS membership ($40) the day of the class.

Bill has a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes that he can’t wait to share with you.  Join him and learn what makes a cemetery a fascinating place to discover clues about your ancestors.

Copyright © 2016 by California Genealogical Society