Genealogy Serendipity in the Cemetery
October 10, 2011
If this didn't really happen to me, I'm not sure I'd believe it. What an incredible experience I had in Maine cemeteries last week. My ancestors were in control of my cell phone's GPS - for real!
While preparing to leave for my annual Legacy Genealogy Cruise, I noticed that six generations of my ancestry lived within an hour's drive of Bar Harbor - one of our ports in Maine. I admit, I had thought to myself, "what in the world am I going to do in Bar Harbor, Maine?" It turned out to be an experience I will never forget.
With the family group record of Joshua Smart and Anna Dunphee in hand, I and five others left the ship and rented a van in search for the East Belfast Cemetery. Anna's obituary stated that she was buried in East Belfast. Thanks to my smart-phone's GPS, we located the unmarked cemetery in a small forest off the main road. We looked for the Smarts but didn't find anyone. The best part, however, was seeing Ken McGinnis (one of Legacy's developers) get so excited. This was his first time cemetery-hunting, and I don't think it will be his last.
A little disappointed, and with no concrete plan of where to go next, I typed the word "cemetery" into my phone's GPS. It returned a long list of cemeteries, but nothing stood out. I put my phone down and wondered what I should do next. A moment later, I looked at my phone, and a detailed entry for Smart Cemetery appeared. Startled and puzzled, I felt my heart beating a bit faster. Smart Cemetery was not previously in the list, nor had I clicked on anything. Obviously I was excited and knew exactly where we would go next. I clicked on the Get Directions button, and after a 2.6 mile drive, we were there.
My wife and I, Ken, Diane, Luc, and Ruth walked the cemetery in search for my Smarts. Ruth was actually looking for her Nickersons who also lived in the area. She was the first to scream. She found her ancestor, Benjamin Nickerson, on the edge of the cemetery. The Nickersons were also my ancestors, and with the Families app on my phone, I learned that Benjamin was also in my database, making Ruth and me 6th cousins once removed. She found both a deceased ancestor AND a living relative!
Unexpectedly, I next found the stones of my 6th great-grandparents - Joseph Crosby and Ruth Nickerson.
Diane then found Ruth's great-grandparents.
This isn't even the best part yet...
By this time we had only about an hour before we needed to head back to the ship. Ken said "let's find another cemetery." So we typed in "cemetery" into the GPS and found the Nickerson Cemetery. It was very small and we didn't spend much time there, but we had time for just one more. My phone next located the Green Lawn Cemetery - in Swanville - not too far away. This is where it gets good.
Approaching the cemetery, I noticed it was much larger than the others. Everyone in the van started yelling at me to "turn here." I didn't see the first entrance in time, so I pulled into the second entrance. Because of time I thought we should just drive up and down the rows and stop if anything looked promising. I still hadn't found my Joshua Smart family.
About 50 feet in something told me to stop. This is where I stopped:
This is the view from the front:
Do you see the stone just to the left of the van? This was the family I had been looking for. This marker belonged to Annette Stinson, wife of John Smart who was the son of Joshua. Her stone gave me her parents' names, when she died, and her exact age which was all new to me.
Just to her left was this stone:
This was the final resting place of Joshua and his wife. The inscription is barely legible, but I'll try to use my Photoshop magic in the days to come, as it appears to give me new information about his wife.
Can you believe it?!?! With time running out, I took the second entrance and stopped at the very spot where my family was buried.
We now had to drive the country roads of Maine to get back to the ship. My phone's GPS wouldn't work. Neither did Luc's. Neither did Ken's. And so we did our best to remember where we came from. Isn't it interesting how our GPS devices led us right to our family's cemeteries? And once we were finished, we didn't seem to need them anymore. Makes me think our ancestors wanted to be found.
What a fantastic story!!!!
Posted by: Angela Walton-Raji | October 10, 2011 at 04:55 PM
I absolutely believe that when they want to be found they will be......so kind of them to lend us a hand!
Posted by: Lisa Swanson Ellam | October 10, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Posted by: Marian Pierre-Louis | October 10, 2011 at 05:16 PM
When it is time, they practically nab you! Did almost the same thing last fall near Joplin Missouri, not quite as close, but nearly. Hubby drove way up a side drive way, with me wondering, WHY so far, thinking I would start at the front of the cemetery and work my way to the back. I got out of the vehicle, and could see the surname I was looking for, and there is ONLY ONE of this name buried here, so I had been napped! He was buried about 30 feet from the front of the vehicle. I take it you got back to the ship on time. :-)))
Posted by: Carol | October 10, 2011 at 05:24 PM
That's WONDERFUL!!!! I love to hear stories like this. I truly feel they can take over your search sometimes. I go grave hunting with my friend and sometimes we just wait for a sign.
Posted by: Lis @ Discovering Family Roots | October 10, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Posted by: Linda McCauley | October 10, 2011 at 06:16 PM
I had a similar experience. I knew ancestors were buried about 12 miles from where I live (100 miles from where my family was from) so I went looking for cemeteries in the area. I drove into a small cemetery and immediately stopped. There were stones with 2 of the surnames in my tree. I got back in the car, asking for guidance to find more. Four more times I was directed to stop at specific spots and get out. Four more times I found the graves of members of my family. I truly know I was "guided" to those graves, whether it was by my guides or my ancestors, there is no doubt in my mind. They wanted to be found by me!
Posted by: Jan | October 10, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Congratulations on your wonderful finds!
I had an experience just like this. I was in a huge cemetery last year and I couldn't find the stone I was looking for. I spoke out "Aunt Florence, where are you?" I turned partially around and I was looking exactly at her stone a few rows away. She had answered me.
Posted by: Michelle | October 10, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Posted by: Polly Kimmitt | October 10, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I can believe that...easily. I have had many unexplainable experiences in cemeteries similar to that...I've begun to call it my "Cemetery Sense". I can't recall all the times I've gone into a new cemetery, with no idea where my people are...and somehow drive or walk right up to the stone, even in very large cemeteries.
It seems to me that our ancestors are calling out to us to be found...how else can it be explained?
Posted by: R. W. Prinkey | October 10, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Reading your post with tears in my eyes. How beautiful. Had a similar experience and it just reaffirms my belief that we are constantly receiving guidance if we only stop to listen.
Posted by: ScrappyGen | October 10, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Wow, I was going to ask you about this cemetery trip when I saw you at NEHGS in Boston, but it was worth it to wait and read your blog post. What a great experience!
Posted by: Heather Wilkinson Rojo | October 10, 2011 at 06:59 PM
Another one that gets me, but obviously can't be proven: there are times I'm in a cemetery,have read every stone, and still can't locate a grave I need, even though I know for a fact (or am reasonably sure) that my ancestor is buried there....and I'll find a spot that appears to be a grave, but is unmarked. After walking the cemetery a seconfd or third time, I find myself drawn back to the unmarked spot.
Is that my ancestor calling out to me there, as well? Who knows....
This is actually a good time of year to have this discussion, with Halloween coming up!
Posted by: R. W. Prinkey | October 10, 2011 at 07:01 PM
Jeff I love this account of how you found your family. I believe that God does work in mysterious ways. Thanks for sharing this with us all!
Posted by: Shirley McGinnis | October 10, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Ancestors DO want to be found....when they're good and ready!! It's happened to me and also to genealogy friend.
Posted by: Linda | October 10, 2011 at 09:49 PM
I'm so happy for u! That was a great entry to read. Thank u for sharing :D now let me wipe my tears away....augh!
Posted by: sarah wood | October 10, 2011 at 10:38 PM
your find gave me tears... i had one like it just 3 wks ago while looking for one grave in a cem. i drove past another one i didnt know was buried in the place giving me new informatino on 4 gg father
Posted by: m thompsen | October 11, 2011 at 05:58 AM
I had a similar experience in a cemetery in the middle of a cow pasture in Johnson Co Missouri. I had permission to open the gates to the field and drive across to the "woods" where the Old Symrna cemetery was located. I climbed the broken down fence, looked around and found complete devastation! Most of the stones were lying on the ground, years of grass and debris covered them. I thought this would be a hopeless search. One stone, was standing, held up by a small tree growing behind it. Thinking that I might as well start with that one, I carefully brushed the moss off and was amazed to find that it was my Elias Frey, who died in 1969. A miracle? I thought it was. Amazing that we are led back through history to our roots. I searched for Elias for years. I finally had time to travel to Missouri. Elias was calling, wanting to be found.
Posted by: Barbara | October 11, 2011 at 06:24 AM
oops--former post-should read 1869 not 1969! Not enough coffee this morning!
Posted by: Barbara | October 11, 2011 at 06:28 AM
Like Geoff says. I'm not sure I'd believe it if I hadn't been there. What a story. It was awesome to be part of this miracle. When Ruth found her grandparents and great grand parents she was so cute with tears running down her cheeks. She couldn't control the emotions. It was only late the night before she had Luc start up his laptop and she wrote down by hand a few generations (no printer on a cruise ship) showing a 4 generation pedigree chart. It was most of the names she had taken the time to scribble down. What an emotional experience this was.
Posted by: Ken McGinnis | October 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM
Even the sun helps sometimes. In Iowa having walked most of the cemetery, the sun came out for just long enough to spotlight great-great grandmother's stone and just as my husband was right there. Another time on vacation stopping in Stowe, Vermont, we decided to walk through the cemetery simply because we were there. Low and behold there were distant relatives. That solved the puzzle as to why a great-great-great grandfather had visited that area. You just never know what you will 'dig up'.
Posted by: Jean Arp | October 11, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Geoff, your story just had me in tears when you told it then, and I'm warm and fuzzy again reading it today. In Boston, I found a book next to the one I was hunting in the NEGHS. When I picked it up, to my great delight, I found it had information on my 9th great-grandfather detailing birth dates and places (all I had was his name) AND his parents information including a place - Belgium!! I'd long suspected but never had the proof. Now I'm out of the US and across the pond. Coincidence? I think not!
Posted by: Sandra Brock | October 12, 2011 at 07:26 AM
I had a similar experience a couple of years ago looking for my Great grandfathers grave. The first time I went there I was overwhelmed by the size of the cemetery. I had no information as to where in the cemetery that he was buried and there wasn`t anyone at the office to talk to. I walked around for a while and left. About a month later I went back still having no information. I walked up a path and stopped and said to myself, this isn`t going to work. Just as I was thinking of leaving, I looked across the path and there he was including my great great grandmother and my great aunt. It gave me chills but I had another link to my family.
Posted by: R. Bogart | October 13, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Cemeteries are fun. There is nothing quite like the feelings and connection that you get when you find an ancestor's grave.
Love the story.
Posted by: David Armstrong | October 13, 2011 at 12:26 PM
I just love these serendipitous moments. I had a cemetery experience where I broke down in tears and just somehow "knew" my ancestors wanted their story to be told (I'm working on it). And when I was in Dumfries, Scotland, researching Kirkpatricks, I just "happened" to drive by their family history society's building where, "coincidentally", a Spanish family member had recently donated some binders of family history. Another coincidence was that this was a sister society to the one I belong to in Canada and the people there knew someone from my society! Sure makes you think...
Posted by: Dawn-Ann Kirkpatrick | October 13, 2011 at 04:01 PM
There is absolutely nothing like strolling around a Maine cemetery! So, I tried to make this easier for you...I had actually set up memorials for Joshua and Ruth Crosby in the Smart Cemetery on findagrave.com back in July. I had neglected to upload the photos of their stones, but just took care of that. We're glad you enjoyed the visit to Maine and left with good memories and stories.
Posted by: Dale W Mower | October 13, 2011 at 04:11 PM
I've had too many serendipitous experiences in cemeteries to not believe our ancestors are leading us. I had two in August & September of this year in NY - I will only tall the second. I knew my ancestors were buried in a Marlatt Cemetery near Jasper, Steuben County, NY, but was unable to locate anything on a cemetery by that name. We stopped at the library in Jasper to inquire. The librarian said she had never heard of it. Just then a man entered the Post Office which shares the building with the Library. The Librarian called to the man and inquired about the cemetery. He said "it's on my brother's farm about 4 miles down the road - up the hill through a pasture in a grove of trees." The brother was in Alaska, however. We found the farm and bushwhacked up the hill, navigating a few barbed wire fences and voila - there is was in the little grove. What an experience. Pewrhaps Legacy should publish its own book of Serendipitous Roots (like Hank Jones).
Posted by: Kay Fordham | October 13, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Great Dale! I had a nice time looking at what you've uploaded to findagrave. We need to get every stone in every cemetery covered there somehow.
Posted by: Geoff Rasmussen | October 13, 2011 at 04:32 PM
You are so lucky to find the cemetery has been so well looked after. We have just spent some time in Daugavpils, Latvia in the old graveyard. Did not find the ancestors and the cemetery has not been looked after with numerous graves desecrated and robbed. Well done to all those who care for the old cemeteries of the world and maintain our links with our ancestors.
Posted by: Fred in Australia | October 13, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Whoa! My kind of story indeed. Love it. My new book (Volume Two of "True Miracles with Genealogy") is almost ready to be published, and it's full of stories like this. So inspiring and goose-bump-creating. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Anne Bradshaw | October 13, 2011 at 05:12 PM
I had a similar experience in the Quaker cemetery in Salem, New Jersey. While hunting my spouse's ancestors, we weren't able to see the names on some very old grave markers. A group of people came over to us and wanted to know what we were doing there, and we really should leave because we were standing under the oldest and most dangerous oak tree in the cememtery. After explaining who we were and what we were doing there, one woman grabbed my arm and said "You need to talk to Asa!" She took me across the street to a diner, and introduced me to Asa, the keeper of the Burial Book for this old cemetery. He agreed to let me look at it, and lo and behold, were all the records for every one of my spouses Quaker ancestors. We couldn't believe our good luck. And we met some really nice people, besides.
Posted by: Anita Woodnutt | October 13, 2011 at 07:12 PM
Last night I heard a speaker who quoted someone else "Our ancestors know where our records are and they will lead us to them." Your experience and many others validates it.
Posted by: Denise Damm | October 14, 2011 at 09:59 AM
Hearing your story firsthand was captivating and thrilling Geoff. On the last night of our cruise, Luc and Ruth joined our table at dinner and gratefully Ruth sat next to me. To our joy she shared her part in that remarkable experience. Thank you Geoff for filling in all the gaps and more especially for sharing your story. Without a doubt our ancestors want to be found. There is no other explanation.
Thank you for making my first Legacy Cruise experience 'the Best'.
Posted by: Rosely Webster | October 14, 2011 at 01:24 PM
Thanks for sharing your story. Cemeteries can be such incredible places of discovery and information. They do "speak" to us. I think it's really God helping us out.
Posted by: D. Hall | October 16, 2011 at 11:40 AM
Wow -- after all those great finds, I'm surprised you went back to the ship.
Posted by: Wendy Mathias | October 17, 2011 at 07:27 AM
Not only did they want to be found, it sounded like they didn't want to let you go so soon either! Excellent adventure! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by: Megan Heyl | October 20, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Dito to the comment about our ancestors knowing what we need and where we need to find the missing pieces of information. When our ancestors speak we need to listen. They were speaking right off the ship. This is a great read.
Posted by: Carla Coleman | October 20, 2011 at 09:56 PM
I just loved this article!! For the past 11 years now I have been helping people reconnect with thier long lost families by taking photos of entire cemeteries and putting them into a book, writing whatever that I can find out about our great ancestors whether they are directly related to me--they are related to somone!!
If I can be of help to anyone in the tacoma, wa area please feel free to contact me @ Chuck H.
Posted by: Chuck Haviland | October 23, 2011 at 09:39 AM
I was ghooling(that's what we call cemetery hunting) in Morris, NY. The Hillside Cemetery is huge and I only had afew names to look for. I pulled in the 1st entrance and decided to go to the left, about 10 stones down on the right, next to the road were my Houghtaling gr, gr grandparents. I am facinated with the old cemeteries and with trying to figure how some of my ancestors ended up in some of them, whether it be after moving in with a child or a spouses family plot.
Posted by: Sue H | October 27, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Just found your blog today - love it! I like walking tuhorgh cemeteries - especially in the Fall. Most people I know think that's a little odd. : ) Now I can say there are others who do the same thing.
Posted by: Basma | March 16, 2012 at 04:19 PM