July 6, 2017

The Rub on Rubbings

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy is in the catacombs and finds the remains of a knight from the crusades? He takes out a large sheet of paper to complete a rubbing from a stone tablet that matches the knight’s shield. I’d heard of people doing the same thing with headstones. Like Indiana Jones, I thought this was more for informational purposes. But in researching how to properly do it, it seems lots of people ply this hobby for the artistry of the stone carvings as something interesting to hang on their wall

I say why can’t it be both?

During my recent trip along the National Road I found the need to do a rubbing in order to read a really old headstone. I purchased some packing paper that looked big enough and a small pack of crayons hoping these would do the trick. They didn’t. We were only able to read a few more words than before.

Weeks later I wanted to give it another shot. This time on a legible headstone from my family tree that was closer to home.  So I did a little more research. Most of my findings recommended things like interfacing paper, rubbing wax and other such tools that my local arts and crafts stores didn’t carry. I decided to make due with what I could find – the packing paper, crayons and maybe some charcoal sticks.

I chose my most recent genealogical person of interest, my 3x great grandfather Lewis Pearce. He’s buried in my hometown so I paid him a visit last time I was there. The paper was just big enough, almost as if it was made for this headstone. The charcoal produced a decent rubbing but it was very messy. I’d recommend rubber gloves if you use it. Or have access to a sink or at least bottles of water and a roll of paper towels.

I thought the end result was an interesting conversation piece. So I bought a frame and hung it on my wall.

My wife’s historical preservation training taught me to print a label for the back of the frame that might be handy if it ever changed hands or became illegible.

It’s not the most beautiful headstone, rubbing or wall art. But it’s personal, it has a great story and its about a real person. So, for my money, it works.

June 15, 2017

A Second Look

One of the great things about genealogy is that it isn’t always a solitary hobby. It enters you into a community of people doing the same work that sometimes intersects with yours. Since beginning my journey I have met many people (some relatives, some not) in chat rooms, through web sites or even in grave yards. But not everyone starts their journey at the same time. And not all journeys happen at the same pace. This is why it can be beneficial to periodically revisit web sites you’ve already searched. You never know what information or hidden gems could have been added since you were last there. Case in point…

A while back I highlighted my 3x great grandfather LewisPierce. He fought in the Civil War and is buried not far from where I grew up. I already had some great information on him including newspaper articles and a couple grainy photographs. So I thought this was all I was ever going to get. When I recently started using the FindAGrave smartphone app, I discovered someone had added to his listing and even included some great photographs!

I messaged the poster but haven’t heard back yet. Hopefully I will. And hopefully it will yield even more revelations.

But genealogist beware. More people posting things can also mean more misinformation. So I would advise you to discern you information. Get verification from at least one other official and objective source like a census record or death certificate.

June 7, 2017

What A Card!

Old timey photos have become popular fodder in the greeting card industry. Especially awkward family photos or stern-faced black & whites. But this article takes the cake for digging up the past while wishing someone a happy birthday!

May 29, 2017

Road Trip to the Past - Day 8: “The National Road” and “Returning to the Present”

Our final stop was The National Road and Zane Grey Museum in Zanesville, OH. This quaint little museum looks like it is housed in a former theater. But its impressive exhibits and very eager staff made it a worthwhile stop. It gave us great perspective on the history of The National Road and the role of its coach drivers (like Parris Eaches).

The staff even allowed my wife to peruse their collection of books and research materials where she found an entry about Parris!

Then, like birds in the fall, we started heading south again. Our time on the road was up. We had to head home and back to the present. We still didn’t touch our CDs, discussing our trip, highlights, what all we saw and found, and what we’d like to research in the future.

Parris was the character I was most interested in going into this trip. But I met a lot of other colorful characters along the way. And while census records and other publications disagree about the spelling of his name, we feel confident it was with 2 R’s. Maybe one day we’ll raise some money and put up a marker in South Side Cemetery for him and his family.

Now, weeks after returning home, my wife is still on fire for researching her family history. She is still deep in that rabbit hole. And I’ll admit I’ve started to wade back into mine. Maybe a trip to North Carolina is in our future. I wonder what distant Bakers lie waiting there to be rediscovered.

May 28, 2017

Road Trip to the Past - Day 7: “Genial Genealogists” and “Old New Galilee”

Back in research mode, we started the day in the nearby and newly-formed Beaver County Genealogy and History Center. Housed in an old 9-1-1 call center bunker, we found a wealth of information that included tax records, land deeds, bound newspaper archives and more. And the volunteers here were a huge help! They even used their ancestry.com membership to help us find more!

We ate lunch at a cute downtown diner in Beaver then set our sites on New Galilee. We were now entering the realm of recent memory for my father-in-law. He remembered visiting his grandparents here. His father even mowed the cemetery where we found our next group of relatives.
His memory was helpful in finding a lot of the headstones. But some of the more distant relatives were a little harder to find. One such was hiding behind some flowers. We tried doing a rubbing of these hard-to-read tombstones but even that was difficult. One tombstone was covered in moss that I tried to scrape away with my shoe. Other markers were flush with the ground and thus covered with mud that we easily washed away with water.

TIP: Bring tombstone cleaning supplies when visiting old cemeteries. Include a brush, water and pick tools to clean out lettering.

TIP: Rubbings would be a fun kids activity when visiting a graveyard or cemetery. You can also create a game of bingo by giving them a list of names of graves to find.

Using my smartphone, we double checked the listings for this cemetery on findagrave.com. Later we learned just how helpful the smartphone app for this site would have been. Not only does it give you the listings for each cemetery, it also has a map feature that shows you each cemetery in your area! If only I had downloaded this in Donegal!

Downtown New Galilee showed us the Nazarene Church where an uncle was pastor.

A few blocks away was the empty lot where my wife’s great-grandparents' house once stood. Being a small town, our unfamiliar vehicle was scrutinized by suspicious locals. But a conversation with a passerby put her at ease.

TIP: When visiting graveyards, cemeteries, or old sites, dress respectfully. Especially if you are taking a lot of pictures. Dressing too casual could earn you a conversation with a cop where you will bear the burden of proof for you benign intentions.

May 27, 2017

Road Trip to the Past - Day 6: “Itchin’ for Eaches” or “Peaks and Pitts-burgh”

We awoke the next day with renewed determination. First stop – Pittsburgh’s South Side Cemetery, the final resting place of Parris Eaches. Pittsburgh has a surprisingly diverse terrane of hills and flats that made navigation a challenge. Across the river from downtown, we found the cemetery in an older part of town. In the cemetery offices (yes, some larger cemeteries actually have offices) we met a very patient employee who helped us pour through the surprisingly detailed records for the locations of our relatives’ graves.
He highlighted the relevant residents’ final resting places on a map of the grounds. High winds were all that remained of the previous day’s storm, but that was enough to make our searching difficult. The first few groupings were easy to find. But after driving to the final area where we hoped to find Parris, we found nothing. Another "shy grave". We returned to the office to look closer at their records. The burial plot was clearly marked. But, after looking at other records, we discovered that these Eaches were buried without headstones or memorials of any kind.
My wife standing on the memorial-less plot of Parris Eaches.
I was really disappointed. I was really hoping to find evidence of Parris Eaches etched in stone. But genealogy can sometimes be a cruel companion.

Not far from the cemetery, my wife directed us to addresses she had recorded in her research. We found where Parris lived his last years. An older house stood on the spot, suggesting this could've been his house!

Not far away, we came to the childhood home of my wife’s grandmother. Old family photos matched the house. It was still here!

My father-in-law was thrilled to find this place. The gentrified neighborhood preserved the simple charm of the street where grandma would walk and roller-skate. The day was looking up! So we headed up!

Grandma had always told of her days walking around Pittsburgh and of riding the incline. So we found one of the two inclines still in operation. The Duquesne Inline (pronounced doo-KAIN) offers a fun trip to the past, up the hill to Mt Washington, and a great view of Pittsburgh!

May 26, 2017

Road Trip to the Past - Day 5: “Boondogle in Donegal” or “Shy Graves”

The next morning saw us backtracking a bit to see if we could find some family graves in Donegal, PA. Our research showed some of our “persons of interest” buried in Miller’s Cemetery. But we couldn’t find that particular cemetery listed online. Experience taught us that cemeteries can change names like anything else. So we thought we would just take some shots in the dark. We started with the city cemetery near the center of town.


My father-in-law struck up a conversation with a man mowing his yard adjacent to the cemetery. Turns out he also mows the cemetery as well as a few others nearby. He didn’t know of Miller’s Cemetery. But gave us directions to an older cemetery down the road. While this was taking place, I searched Google Earth and spotted another cemetery up the road. We visited both of these with no luck. Lots of cool old tombstones though. Driving around, it became like a game of "slug bug" pointing out every cemetery we passed. But we couldn’t get distracted.

A bit discouraged, we took another side trip to see Fallingwaters, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. The forest canopy provided a cool retreat. You can tour the house for around $30. But we opted for the abbreviated outside grounds tour (we peeked in a few windows, though).

While we ate lunch there, we checked the weather and saw that a heavy storm was due to hit Pittsburgh later that day. Since we were planning to visit more outdoor sites, we decided to change our plans and visit a genealogical research center north of Pittsburgh and do downtown the following day.

As we left Fallingwaters and headed north, we stopped in Brownsville – the final resting place of a few more people. We found the cemetery here in desperate need of mowing. As we spread out to locate the headstones, we were playing chicken with the oncoming storm. The tall grass and surrounding trees swayed in the wind, hissing at us to leave as the sky grew dark. After finding only a few of our relatives, we finally retreated back to the car. The remaining "shy graves" would have to wait for another time.

We drove north, bypassing Pittsburgh while our windshield got spotted with raindrops. Beaver County was another prominent location in our genealogy’s geography. We found one of the county libraries but were quickly referred to another that kept newspaper archives. We drove down the road to Aliquippa where we found their impressive Carnegie library juxtaposed within an unimpressive neighborhood. Searching their microfilmed newspaper archives yielded a few nuggets of information to satisfy our wandering wet day.