Gravestone Gravity, cont.

rathe_holton_met05asdf  Picture by Joanne Rathe, Boston Globe

Well, I starting reading about the restoration of gravestones so I could learn more about the process since we may be doing this for one of our ancestors this year. There is a lot of information on this topic, but if you need to preserve a stone, be careful and talk to several experts before hiring someone or conducting the work yourself.

There are companies who focus on repairing grave sites and sunken stones so if that is a problem for your family cemetery, conduct an online search for those in your area. There are several techniques which make sense when you consider the different sizes of stones. The larger ones may need a cement base added for support. But smaller gravestones may be fine by adding another small stone underneath to provide enough support to stop further sinking for a long time.

In my search I found a blog belonging to Jack Robinson, a retired Marine who researches abandoned or endangered cemeteries, and he details his technique to personally restore headstones to an upright and stable position on this post.

For more on cleaning and resetting ideas, you can see a detailed pictorial at the blog “Beyond the Gravestone” written by a husband/wife team who conduct a consulting business around gravestone restoration in Connecticut.

What a wonderful act of honor to make sure our ancestors’ memorials are preserved for future generations.

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Gravestone Gravity

We went to a cemetery a couple of weeks ago to look at an ancestor’s stone to make a plan to install a second stone – for his wife. We have known that she was buried there for many years, even though she has no gravestone. We measured his stone, copied every word and took lots of pictures. We wanted to get the new stone to match as close as possible.


What I wondered was how deep is a stone buried in the ground – it must be several feet. So then I wondered does the stone continue to be buried over the years? This ancestor died in 1857. I know in my garden, stones around a tree get buried in a couple of years and I have to dig them up and re-position them. Could this mean the gravestone has continued to be buried a little bit each year over the last 157 years – is that what happens?

I looked it up on the Internet to see how deep a gravestone has to be buried, but didn’t find an exact answer.  I need to do some more research and report back because I wanted to get this posted on Halloween night so I’m out of time.

Happy Candy Passing!

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Quilts Can Preserve Family History

On a whim, I went to the Asheville Quilt Show put on by the Asheville Quilt Guild last weekend. I just loved all the creativity displayed there, but I was overwhelmed with the thought of making any quilt, especially those abstract designs, until I found the “Art” categories. There was “Pictorial”, “Naturescape/Landscape” and “Special Quilt Technologies”. I instantly thought of all the family pictures I have and wondered if there was one or two that I could transfer to cloth to become a new heirloom.

IMG_2527  Pictorial

IMG_2528  Naturescape/Landscape

IMG_2537  Special Quilt Technologies

All of these quilts won awards so they are great designs to use as inspiration. More inspiration comes from the following traditional style blue and white quilt that was pieced together by a group, signed and dated for posterity:

IMG_2523  What a great find this will be in 100 years!

In 1987 I inherited an unfinished quilt top when my paternal grandfather moved into a nursing home. My parents took their time cleaning out his house out of respect for him, but when he died six months later they began to work in earnest. I received the quilt top immediately because it had my name pinned on it.

My grandmother died in 1962 and she had carefully wrapped some quilts in pillow cases and pinned small scraps of paper with names on them. I loved mine, but once it was stored in my trunk, I forgot about it.

IMG_2562 My great grandmother made this “Dresden Plate” quilt top for me when I was a baby.

I stored that quilt top for years until 2004 when I started working on my family history and brought it out to imagine how long it took to make. Now, with my experience in sewing, I have a much deeper appreciation for this quilt top, pieced together from 1940s flour sacks and sewn by hand by my great grandmother.

After seeing the blue and white quilt at the show, I plan to finish her quilt. Using her top decorated in the “Dresden Plate” design, I will choose a complimentary backing, add a colorful binding and a fabric label that tells the story of how this family quilt came to be. The story will include her name and dates, my name and dates and my descendant’s (who hasn’t been chosen yet) name and dates. I can hardly wait to get started!

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Where Did They Come From?

I’ve had a really busy summer and was not quite in the habit of writing this blog on a regular basis so I let it lapse for a while. Now I am back and ready to share more genealogy tips and trends. While I was doing some research a few days ago, I found a most interesting interactive map on the New York Times website that shows the movement of people in and out of each of the 50 states between 1900 and 2012. When I looked at North Carolina, I was not surprised to learn that today, there are twice as many people living in NC who were born in New York than those who were born in South Carolina! Where I live in Asheville, in the mountains, we call New Yorkers who live here “Half Backs”. That’s because they usually moved from New York to Florida and then come here to NC to escape the summer heat – thus, they moved half way back!

Thinking about this phenomena in today’s community, I wondered what migration trends people witnessed in the 1700s and 1800s. Maybe they had pet names for those trends, too. Some of our family moved further south from the NC mountains for Georgia, Alabama and Texas seeking new land to farm and mining for gold. Maybe there was a “Georgia Gold Rush”? So I Googled it and found out one did exist and started in 1828, around the time my people went south in the early 1830s! In fact, there was so much gold being mined in GA that the state government held a “Gold Lottery of 1832″ which awarded land to settlers – in 40 acres plots – that was previously held by the Cherokee. The federal government even got into the act by building a branch mint in Dahlonega, GA. That town was said to have supported 15,000 miners at the height of the gold rush.

Our cousins still live in northwest Georgia, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, and when researching their ancestors’ land deeds they found the earliest ancestor did in fact own a gold mine – one they set up and mined themselves. Apparently there were many such personal mines in the area so it was competitive. They didn’t get rich because it was hard work to get the gold out of the granite, but they were happy with the extra income.

Now I am even more inquisitive about family migration – there were usually good reasons to move, and those reasons will add generously to the ancestor’s stories. I really must go to north Georgia to explore the area. I’ve heard the Pine Mountain Gold Mine and Museum in Villa Rica, GA is a good example of the mines that sprang up in the 1830s. I want to get a feel for the gold fever that my ancestors felt!


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Family Picnics

We had our family picnic yesterday in Asheville on Lake Julian. We started having them again on the second Saturday of June because that was the habit for most summers since the 1920’s. We stopped the picnic sometime in the early 2000’s because many of the old-timers were gone and we started having reunions that included bus tours and planned events, but those are held infrequently and don’t replace the casual visit once a year, so in 2011 we resurrected the tradition of the annual family picnic.

We also formed a family association in 2004 to help fund special events, share our genealogy research and maintain family burial sites. The association has been funded by membership dues and sales of memorabilia related to the family. I’ve been serving as the Secretary/Treasurer for the last couple of years to keep the mailing list current and the lines of communication open, but we need to form a committee to plan our next reunion. It will be one of the big ones!

Our common ancestor is Benjamin Hawkins who came to the western North Carolina mountains when the counties were being formed. He settled in just before the very first U.S. census was taken following the Revolutionary War. Benjamin was living in Rutherford County at the time of that first census (in 1790). Two years later, in 1792, Buncombe County was formed out of Rutherford and Burke Counties, so he next appears in Buncombe County in the U.S. Census of 1800. I’ll write more about him in later postings, but for now you know where the family comes from and why we still gather together.

Below is one of our pictures from the picnic last year. We have as many people interested in the genealogy as the ones interested in the food, so there is plenty to keep us busy for a few hours. One of our family members, Bill Trantham, passed away in May and I am so happy to have his picture from last year. Sharing pictures is just one of the benefits of a family gathering. You will also meet interesting cousins, catch up with the children and hear the stories from the old-timers who are so happy for fresh ears. And don’t forget, the best banana puddings are found at picnics!




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My Thrift Store Families

I was in a thrift store last year looking for some sewing patterns and found an envelope marked $5.00. Inside were some pictures of people from the early 1900’s that looked like they were related. In fact, several of the pictures were marked with names and one or two had dates written on them.

Wow! I thought, how can pictures as interesting as these have been donated to a thrift store? Did someone die without any family and someone unrelated had the task of cleaning out the household goods?  At any rate, I decided right then that I would buy the pictures, research the family on and post their pictures for other researchers to find and use. I have done this several times since then and call them my “Thrift Store Families”.

It took me a little time to get these scanned and the family researched, but I found them in the census records and other documents and built their tree. Below is a picture of Jonathan Hamilton Kelsey. He was born in 1873 in Iowa and died in 1935 in New Jersey. How did he end up in New Jersey? I’m not sure – according to what I found in the census records, he was seven years old and living with his family in New Jersey by 1880. His father was an insurance agent, so he might have moved for a job. In the 1900 census record, Jonathan H. Kelsey was listed as an insurance agent as well – like father like son, right? Well, he went on to become an attorney and had an interesting career.

It’s great practice to build the family trees of unknown people. If you don’t know anything about them, you have to use your skills and deductive powers to figure out their identities and their relationships, especially when you’re looking for someone alive before the 1850 census. Look for your own thrift store pictures and start a new family – you won’t be sorry!


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A Disposing Mind

Today I was talking to another researcher about a will that he transcribed for me and he said he figured out one of the words he just couldn’t decipher earlier.  He recently found the word – disposing - in several other wills he was working on. Here is how it was used in a sentence:

“I, Benjamin Hawkins of the county of Buncombe in the state of North Carolina being distressed in body but of sound and disposing mind and memory….”

The word disposing was used in a way that was unfamiliar to us so I thought about looking it up in Black’s Law Dictionary to see what they said. I had used the dictionary earlier today on another legal term so it was top of mind. Black’s was first published in 1891 by Henry Black, and the second edition,  published in 1910, is still the best resource on legal terminology and is online for free.

According to Black’s, the definition of a disposing mind is “…alternative or synonymous phrases in the law of wills for “sound mind,” and “testamentary capacity.” Obviously, this term is important in describing the capacity of the person giving final directions for their estate while their life is coming to an end. I’ll have to do some more reading to find out if the term is still being used.

Put a link to this dictionary on your favorites bar – it will help you discern the smallest nuance when trying to analyze a document. Sometimes, the meaning of one word in a sentence can completely turn around your interpretation of a piece of evidence. We need all the help we can get!

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