A note to my readers: The crocus…or is that croci?… are peeking out of the ground and there are tiny buds appearing on the maple trees. February will soon be a memory and that can only mean one thing. FIELD TRIP! My field pack is open and the contents lie on the floor in front of me. Digital cameras. Check. Digital Voice Recorder. Check. Batteries. Check. Notebook…the old fashioned kind…low tech…but better safe than sorry in the field. Check. And the padded space that awaits my laptop. I have added a new device this year…a Christmas gift…a wand scanner.
And there is my “cemetery kit”…much smaller than in previous years as I have learned what I really need. My digital cameras are high resolution and the detail that I achieve is astonishing most of the time. There are those old stones that tantalize with the faint and almost indistinct impressions…is that an “A” or an “R”? Does that say 1863 or 1836? There are tips and tricks to reveal what the naked eye cannot do unassisted, but CAUTION! is the word. A good number of well meaning folks spray the old monuments with shaving cream…or rub mud into the inscription…a few throw on talcum powder. I might be a fussy preservationist, but those practices don’t sit well with me so I carry distilled water in a spray bottle and a generous sheet of Mylar to fight the good fight without compromising a weathered and fragile tombstone. Distilled water darkens a stone and the Mylar sheet reflects sunlight at the best angle to bring up the contrast. If it needs a more delicate touch, I spray a water color brush and apply it to the impressions. I have been known to gently adopt a Braille touch…fingering the inscription…but, oh so gently. AND only if I cannot accomplish a discerning image with my digital cameras.
Lichen and mildew are a natural occurrence and though they, too, act on the stone, scrubbing it away is a bad idea. I have a soft brush to tease it away and if it doesn’t yield….it stays. Believe me, it goes against my inquisitive nature and my Virgo need to be pristine and scrub the world clean. That is outweighed by my respect for it being someone’s monument…not a stone…and to preserve it at all costs.
Of course, the monuments are not the only considerations. Even well kept cemeteries represent challenges. I have only visited one cemetery in all of the years that I have been “in the field” that was even close to level or on firm ground. But I trek the pioneer cemeteries of central New York where the Ice Age glaciers dug out the deep rivers and lakes and deposited soil forming the drumlins and rolling hills. Mother Nature rolled out the welcome mat for all manner of beasties. Mosquitoes. Ticks. Gophers and Woodchucks. AND snakes. Hence, my walking stick…my Wellies…my long pants, and sleeves and cap and two fresh pair of socks. My poncho is neatly rolled up and tucked in the kit…I have been known to spend hours in a cemetery…pouring rain or not.
This year…a NEW walking stick fashioned by Native Americans…I love it on a number of levels!…and the order is in for the new Wellies. A few years ago, I would spend ridiculous amounts of money on high fashion shoes and designer label clothes tiptoeing on the balls of my feet and giving Paris Hilton a run for her…well…money. Now I am so terribly content with my sensible mud boots and a walking stick to scout out uneven, unstable ground, critter holes….and the hapless snake that wants to get away from me as much as I want to run from it. Dolce Gabbana who?
While I find a sentimental dedication to locating ancestral burials, archiving them with hand written notes or by voice recording, digital still and video images and using my iPhone for GPS coordinates, I have begun the task of learning about land records…where they lived. After all, life is what we are seeking. Some of us are fortunate to find ancestral dwellings still standing…or places of business…where we can stand in the moment…still…slow breathing…and letting the dust motes drift in and out of instant syncopation…and sense the bending of temporal existence. Our ancestors voices and footsteps…the smell of a hearth or sawdust underfoot…or the gentle nicker of a horse. Senses wide open to a rift in time.
And so I go home twice a year. Something I did not do in my youth…I was so busy with the frantic nature of everyday life…and the pleasure of a great wardrobe. I worked like a marathon runner…raised my children…cared for my mother and my dear Tim in the last two years of his life. Life was full and challenging and I was everywhere at once. On demand…a cable TV term now…
This year I go once again to the little rural community of Enfield with a fresh spirit. I know where you are buried GGG Grandparents, Peter Van Dorn and Mary Irwin. I spent time at your resting place with my brother…and then my son. And I found you GGG Grandparents Samuel David Purdy and Semantha Ingersoll after my son pushed his way through thickets to access your obelisk. Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll…you surprised us a few feet away and I was in one of those “time stops” moments that you never forget. But this year…this year…I know where you lived.
I am Lorinda “Lura” Smith Williams great great great granddaughter. And she left me everything in her probate records. Everything. Her signed probate records spoke to me…”I am your grandmother.” It is the one confirming document that I have that tells me my analysis was 100% accurate. It also is pages and pages of legalese and surveyor language that tells me where the boundaries are for their home and the surrounding property. Property which includes a saw mill and the creek that runs through Enfield. The very creek that flooded in 1935 and that probably compromised the eastern end of the Presbyterian Cemetery in Enfield where Samuel Purdy and his family were buried.
Reading the description of the property…chains and links and rods…with the occasional reference to a stump or a blacksmith shop, the dam and the creek, left me agog. Now I am not THAT anal that I have to dot those i’s and cross those t’s, but getting a sense of where they trod and toiled, laughed and ate, gave birth and died was important to me. Their lives are important to me and the land that provided them with footfall is the bridge.
I was fortunate enough to find a map on Bill Hecht’s wonderful site...all FREE!
And there is Enfield, New York in 1853 with its inhabitants and their homesteads written in the neat script of the day. So..no surveyors needed…I know Applegate Corners and Enfield Center and Van Dorn Corners and I can go back home and slow down time…let the dust motes drift…breathe and listen for my Grandmother Lura.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
(c) Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved