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by Becky Lower
Okay, I’ll admit it—I’m a graveyard junkie. Not in a weird way, I just like visiting graveyards—the older the better. I’m a genealogist, and anytime I can find a family connection to one of these old tombstones, I get a rush of adrenaline—the mental equivalent of scoring a touchdown. But even I don’t go into old graveyards alone anymore. Not since the time I was met at an old family plot by a man with a rifle, who stood over me, rifle cocked and ready, until I left. But that’s a story for another time. Now, the older, wiser me waits for my brother, Buzz, to visit from California. Then, we explore the east coast a day at a time, walking in the footsteps of our ancestors as they trekked across America in the 1800’s.
Last fall, during one of Buzz’s visits, we drove to Maryland, armed with an address in Hagerstown of an old family plot, and with my grandmother’s photograph of her church in another Maryland town. She carried that picture with her all the way to Wisconsin, and it was now one of my favorite family possessions. I marveled that after 200 years, the dirt road where my ancestors farmed was still a dirt road, and still bore its original name. My research and an initial visit indicated that the plot was on private land, so we cautiously drove up the driveway to the farmhouse. No one answered our knock, so we went on to the barn, then out to the edge of a cornfield. There we found the tombstones, which had been gathered up out of the field and reassembled into a rectangular makeshift monument. They were all relatives, and my excitement mounted at this motherlode of genealogical paydirt. I took pictures and documented my findings to add to my family tree. We were composing a note of explanation and thanks when suddenly an Amish man appeared from the house. He talked to us for a minute, while his wife and two little girls looked out the window at us. We smiled and waved at them as we drove away.
The next stop proved even more satisfying. I didn’t know where Grandma’s church was, or if it even still existed. I just knew where she had grown up, and the words “The Cove”, which were written on the photograph. When we came to a scenic overlook we pulled over to see if we could spot any church that resembled the one in Grandma’s picture. I stepped out of the car and looked down, where I saw Grandma’s photograph, not in sepiatone, but in full, glorious color. We rode down into the valley, guided by the church steeple, and pulled up in front of the 150 year old church. The doors were locked in the middle, but not at the top or bottom, so a gentle tug and they opened up, welcoming us inside. I said a silent prayer while sitting in the front pew, I peeked at the cubbyholes in the back of the church, where still so many relatives had their names. I took loads of pictures and found some more relatives in the surrounding graveyard. Then, we took two commemorative mugs from the church and left some money and a note behind.
All in all, it was a very good day trip, traveling the route that our ancestors had taken many years ago. Buzz and I were both quiet on the drive home, as I reflected on why these ancestors left Maryland behind and moved on to Ohio and Wisconsin—the Wild West at the time—and how life has a tendency to come full circle.
A bit later I was telling a friend about my day, and what a wonderful trip it had been. She asked, “What part was wonderful? The terrorizing of the Amish family or the breaking and entering of the church?” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.