Sunday, May 29, 2016

What I've learned about death from genealogy

Sure, we who work on family history have this peculiar relationship with death. We seek dates and places of death and spend an unusually large amount of time in cemeteries. Were did they die, when did they die, and who is buried with them? We want to know as much as possible about the circumstances of our ancestor's deaths.

I'm feeling that I've learned something about death from doing this work and I'd like to share observations with you here. As always, feel free to comment:)

1. No one gets out of this life alive. Everyone gets to die. I think that I want to live like I actually know that, and that I know time is limited. When I was in my early 20s maybe I did stuff that indicated I thought I was immortal. Maybe you did too? Now I know that death will come. Morbid? Naw. Just practical. It's good to know firmly that my stuff and especially my genealogy stuff will not go with me when I die. Therefore I need to figure out who gets it.

2. I'd like a nice smallish stone. We can't help but stand in the graveyard and think, gosh, that's a real nice stone over there! I am partial to the older ones, especially the Victorians. You can spot them across the way. They stand tall and maybe have a female figure atop. I like that even though it's not the style now. My Dad, his brother and brother-in-law all chose black granite. Maybe it's a guy thing? I'd really prefer a white marble stone but they deteriorate too quickly. Isn't it frustrating to see an old marble stone all eroded and losing the clarity of the inscription? It's amazing how quickly the old stones are going now. Maybe it's air quality.

3. I do want a stone. I wouldn't feel right without knowing that a stone was in place and waiting. Scatter my ashes where you please, but I want my page on Find-A-Grave. Stop by, leave a note or a flower. I like that FAG iris. When I think about it, that stone will be my placeholder in the physical world.

4. How long did your ancestors live? Having seen a whole bunch of tombstones that say the person died in the 90-something year of his life, and what with Mom being 98 now and going strong, and Dad making it to 92 plus, I need to take care of my parts and pieces because I'll be using them a while, most likely.

5. You can die anytime. A car accident took my aunt on a snowy day. Coal mine accidents took friends and neighbors of ancestors. My grandma, when she was just in her 50s, slipped on ice and hit her head hard after church one Sunday and was gone by the following weekend. Yup, you can go anytime.
If this is true, and it appears to be so based on the lives of the ancestors, it would benefit all involved if we were well prepared. Like with a will and making peace and stuff. Legal documents in order would be helpful. For gosh sake, we've looked at plenty of wills and know their benefit to heirs and genealogists too!! Ancestors dying intestate can be fun, but think of the relatives and heirs!

6. Back to tombstone designs. I don't want one that's overly tall and thin. There must be a ratio, I'm thinking, wherein the thing won't crack and fall over. Don't you think? I really am sad to see those old stones with a stub in the ground and the top asunder.

One can hope for an easy death but that's useless. We have little power over those aspects of life's end. But there's so much else that we do have power over and that's a joy to think about.


  1. Nicely written and I agree. Genealogy really makes you put life into perspective.

  2. I've been thinking a lot more about death lately, too. I've said the same thing about a stone - put me where you want but leave a mention of me with a stone, plaque, or some place that my descendants can visit. I worry about my research because there really doesn't seem to be anyone who has much interest. I guess the good news is that if someone throws it out I won't know about it :-)