Cemeteries and Census Records

Cemeteries and Census Records

My parents’ house is a little over a block away from the city cemetery. As a child, the cemetery was  pretty much the best park ever. We raced pine cone boats down the canal, road our bikes up and down the roads, and collected ribbons and petals that had escaped from carefully laid bouquets and become stuck in the bushes. It’s kind of strange, but I still enjoy going to cemeteries. I find them peaceful.*

We live half a mile away from a giant Catholic cemetery. The cemetery has several striking mausoleums and is stocked with a large population of geese. It’s quiet and shady, so I’ll occasionally take Cooper there in the heat of the day. We walk around looking at headstones, wondering about the people they represent. It’s fascinating what people and their families choose to represent a life no longer part of this world. If it were possible and I had the time, I would love to hear the story behind every engraving.

Lately I’ve also been doing some indexing of census records for the LDS church‘s online database.  As I try to decipher the scrawled names (it kind of makes me feel like a teacher again), I find myself again becoming fascinated by people I haven’t met. Even though I am only exposed to brief facts about these individuals (age, marital status, place of birth, number of children, etc), I can’t help but wonder how it felt to be a widow at the age of 24, how could a woman survive having 9 children in a 10 year span, and what was the reasoning behind a couple naming their only sons Juan and Juan B.

I find myself becoming more and more interested in the past lately, but I think it’s a good thing. As I was moving towards what seemed to be the arduous task of being a mom, I reflected on the generations of women that had made it possible for me to be here. Beautiful, strong women who sacrificed for their religion and their families. At first I felt inadequate. How could I ever be as self-sacrificing, patient, or wise? The more I thought about it though, the more I realized this wasn’t a standard by which I would always be shamed, but a source of strength. I came from these women; they are a part of me. Often we talk about learning from history, but usually in the context of not making the same mistakes twice. True, that’s a valuable lesson, but if we studied the less monumental things that individuals have done right maybe we wouldn’t have to worry so much about mistakes.

*This is all sort of ironic since I keep telling Noel I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread somewhere that the family would actually like to go and visit. Preferably somewhere that is only accessible on foot.

5 thoughts on “Cemeteries and Census Records

  1. I love cemeteries too and have had many of the same thoughts recently (other than the woman things). I also really like the idea of focusing on the simple good things others in the past have done, and keeping them as a source of strength rather than comparison. I shall pass that along to my two sons, Juan and Juan B.

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