GraveDiggers Blog

Never Leave An Ancestor Behind!

In the Beginning…

Lottie's Reminder

“I’m bored,” said Marlene.

“Me too,” I replied, and then concentrated on my soup.  I hadn’t seen Marlene in…geeze…ten years?  Okay, I’d run into her around town, said a few words; but, I’d gone my way and she hers.  Once upon a time we were good friends.  Life, kids, spouses, work… got in the way.  And then, a week ago, she called me and said something about lunch.   So.  Here we were.  Eating lunch at the local diner.  Catching up.

It wasn’t so much that I was bored.  Exactly.  I felt…adrift.  A tad angry.  And old!  I was staring my 55th birthday in the face, three of my grown children had long left the nest, with the fourth one  (presently eating lunch with us) still hanging in there, trying to find his way in this gawd-awful economy.  When he graduated five years ago, I thought my husband and I were finally free to do the things we wanted to do.  I was euphoric that I no longer had to be so darned responsible every moment of my waking life.  In that same month, my father became ill, was hospitalized, somewhat recovered, and walked smack into Alzheimers.  Although its not right — my anger at my circumstances boiled — that my career had been derailed by the needs of others.

Again.

By the time Marlene called for that fateful lunch I was monitoring medication, cooking full meals, doing laundry, playing cabbie for doctor appointments — flap hand, yada — for my 84-year-old father who simply refused to do anything for himself.  We’d just gotten over a major fight because he insisted on pissing in a bucket instead of walking ten paces to the bathroom.  He didn’t see the sense in using the brand new toilet if the bucket was at hand.  I won the battle; but, carried emotional wounds and the near miss memory of a swinging cane.  Although my husband of thirty years was sympathetic, he’d long since retreated to the television on a daily basis as soon as he got home from work, nurturing his own frustration in the boob tube escape.  I felt like an unappreciated, old biddy servant who’d be better off dead.

Yeah, bored was a good catch-all word — and then some.

“I’m thinking of taking a genealogy course,” said Marlene.  “I’ve been doing it for years; but, I’m sure I could learn something new.  The local historical society is giving a class.  Its forty bucks — six weeks.”

“You know,” said my son.  “You two should do something together.  You really need to get out of the house more, Mom.”

Hmmm.  Ain’t that the truth.

“Why not go to class with me?” asked Marlene.  “I’ll even come and pick you up.”

“I don’t know…” I hesitated.

“I think its a great idea,” encouraged my son.  “You should do it!”

I could feel my right eyebrow raise.  Genealogy?  Okay, so I knew that meant looking into your family history.   I knew some things about my family, especially my father’s side — my mother’s side was a different story and I’d always been curious…

“Oh come on,” wheedled Marlene.  “We’ll have fun!”

Had I but known.

We waited about a month for the class to start, which gave me plenty of time to prep my husband and father.  Hubby was great about it — not so my father.  At the time, whenever my father knew I was going somewhere he would have “spells” — sometimes they were angry outbursts, sometimes he would just collapse on the floor (no, not writhe or black out — just plop down), and other times he would push my buttons with well placed words of complaint.  However, I remained firm.  I was going to that class if it killed me because my lifestyle was certainly murdering my brain now!  Oh, did I mention that my father is OCD?  Yeah — mix that with Altzheimers and see what sort of puppy you get.

The night of my first class came and my father decided he would take three hours to eat his dinner (he usually takes two — no kidding).  He played with his food as much as possible so I couldn’t clear the table before I left.  When Marlene came to the door he tried to brain the dog with his cane, screaming at me that some woman was on the porch.   I gave my husband a look of quiet thanks, grabbed my notebook and literally fled.

In the next six weeks my father calmed down about my leaving, resigned I guess, that there would be a time or two that I would be unavailable for a few hours.  Every week my husband would make a of point of helping me gather my genealogy gear and usher me out the door.  Marlene and I had a great time.  Suddenly, around week five, I noticed I wasn’t so angry with my life any more.  By week six I knew how to spell the word genealogy, bought the Family Tree computer program, and had 235 people in my tree.  I worked on my tree, at first, on the weekends and about once a week — building, documenting, and researching.

Throughout the genealogy course my husband asked me if I’d started his tree yet.  At the time I snorted, because although he was supportive, he had no real clue how much work it was.  He was just happy that I was becoming a human being again, and I think that he thought that if I finished my tree I would go back to the old me.  Understandable.

When our class ended, Marlene didn’t want to give up our weekly time together.  “Why not meet at my office (she owns several businesses),” she said.  “Let’s keep going!”  She asked a few others in the class if they would like to participate, and they agreed.  Marlene is an excellent researcher and I owe her a great deal.  Not only did she provide the means to pull me out of my mental muck, she gave me tons of good advice on just about everything on the subject of genealogy.

In the following weeks I bought a subscription to http://www.newspaperarchive.com , http://www.Genealogybank.com , and http://www.Ancestry.com .  I was really getting into this new genealogy thang.  In honor of Marlene, I bought the rights to my website — Gravediggersgenealogy.com (Marlene’s father among other things, was a grave digger, and his father before him).  I didn’t exactly know what I was going to build; but, I knew I wanted to build it.   Marlene took me on my first historical society archive trip, and I found a gold mine of information.  I was revved — there’s no doubt about it.

One weekend, my husband drove me all over the county on a Sunday afternoon looking for one particular old church so I could get photos of a few of my ancestors graves.  When we got back he said, “When are you going to work on my tree?”

Ohhhhh.  “Soon.”  Uh-huh.

Later that week my husband said, “I’m bored.  All I do is sit and watch television when I get home.  Everyone else is going places and doing things… and I’m not.”

I felt really bad.  “Give me some names,” I said, “and we’ll start your tree.”

Had he but known.

I’m delighted to say that we  began a whole new and exciting chapter in our marriage.  Genealogy gave us both something different to explore, time together, good conversations, and a common interest other than my father and our children.  Recently, we joined Find A Grave, and have started to take pictures for others across the country.  This blog is about our adventures, the mysteries we ran into (and continue to wrestle with), things we have learned, and hopefully…just cool stuff about genealogy.  Our website is still in its infancy and we hope that as we grow, it too, will grow in interesting material and content.  Don’t worry, we didn’t leave Marlene behind.  You’ll be reading about her, too.

Come join our crew — the GraveDigger Genealogy gang.  We’d love to have you travel the road of ancestral history with us.  The more the merrier!

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One thought on “In the Beginning…

  1. Marlene Bentz Badger on said:

    I am not the writer that Silver is, so bare with me. After finally having a chance to read what she wrote, brought back some of the wonderful memories from that class and our extended classes and research trip. We found out during our six weeks that we were not only re-united old friends, but that we were actually related. Yes, 5th, 6th, and 6th cousins once removed. So researching your family history can bring you a lot of joys that you would never have dreamed of.

    It also brought me other new friends, that I can share the joys of my research with and they totally understand the feelings I get when I find something new. Listening to their stories or reading about them as Silver wrote also peaks the need for more researching…as you never know what you might find.

    As I was helping the others get started with their research I wanted to make sure that people researched wide (like Annie) since I had found so much information from doing so in my research.

    I was always interested in the family history as a child, but didn’t know how to do it or had the time and understanding to do it. As a child, I played in the cemetery at Barrens and often wondered how many of the Bentz’s in that cemetery were related to us. I asked my Father one day and his reply baffled me when he said, “Non, they are all dead.” After I started my research I found out that they all were, and took him back there before his death to show him is great, great-great, and 4th great grandparents graves. We also found his Uncle Charlie’s grave that he never knew where it was, and it was just across the drive from his parents graves.

    Around the time I turned 40, after my girls were grown and my parents where still alive, I started on paper, just asking them questions. By this time we had lost my husband’s grandmothers and his mother, (my grandparents all died long before this) and I didn’t want to loose the verbal help I could get at that point. My Mother and I spent two years before her death working on the family tree. She wasn’t into the research part like I was, but sure enjoyed going to the cemeteries with me, especially the ones that she knew family members were buried in. She also enjoyed talking to her cousins, aunts and uncles, and planning trips for us to go meet with them to get all the information we could about our immediate and extended family. It was the greatest times I had ever spent with my Mother.

    After her death my father went to some of the cemeteries with me, I guess it was the connection we needed to deal with her loss. He had been the “Gravedigger” at several local cemeteries, and one day I asked him about his father, “He said, well you know.” My reply was, “No, he died when I was 6-months old.” That is when I found out that my grandfather was also a gravedigger of Barrens Cemetery. My family is now in at least the 4th generation of grave digging, as my brother took over the job at the cemeteries when my father passed, and now my son-in-law has done it since my brother’s untimely death.

    As a semi-seasoned researcher/genealogiist, I would like to encourage you to talk to every living family member you can…before it is too late. Attend family reunions or start planning them…you never know what you will find out, whether the family reunions were discontinued because of family fueds, or find a distant cousin that you can be best of friends with. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions of other researchers for help, whether seasoned or new at it, everyone has has trials and tribulations that we can all learn from to help us with our “detective” work.

    Enjoy your researching…”Happy Hunting”

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