Last weekend, the City of Bryan sponsored their annual Bryan City Cemetery Clean-Up Day from 10 am – 2 pm. Held annually the second Saturday of May each year, it’s an opportunity for families to spruce up the land around the grave markers and monuments after April showers have produced May flowers (and weeds and pollen), and leaves have fallen in abundance, covering up the markers and the names of those you love whose grave markers are flush with the ground.
If you are the genealogy researcher in your family, you know the importance of being able to locate the names of ancestors you are searching for. If you go to cemeteries and family plots out of town, you’re brand new and don’t know where everything is. If the markers you’re seeking are covered up with leaves and other brush and trash, you might miss out on finding a person to whom you are connected, beyond this life.
On my father’s side of the family, we’re lucky we’ve all stayed close in contact and in geographic location over the last six decades. We know many of our family’s stories, our history, and we have photos of homes where various family members grew up. I guess that’s why I’ve always been so strong on “legacy” and the information we leave behind for generations that come after ours. Preserving stories, labeling pictures, and getting full names, dates of marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and the locations where loved ones are buried are key for any family to preserve history.
Preserving history. It’s funny. In our lifetimes, we don’t stop to think that we are the generation making history for our future generations to come, do we? In between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I often think back on the stories they told me, when I was growing up, about my ancestors who came before me. I have a few ideas about preserving family history I’d like to share with you.
We think of history as the times in which our great-grandparents lived. We don’t even thing about generations before that unless we are trying to see if we’re connected to Americans who arrived here by the Mayflower, or whether we are descended from people who were trying to escape potato famines. Many stories grow “bigger” with time, or retelling.
Sometimes we forget all the options we have for places to bury our loved ones. Some of us have family cemeteries that have been the place for all our family members for five or more generations. Thinking about the smaller cemeteries, often times they are the ones who have people traveling from everywhere to update the grounds around family plots on the first or second Saturdays in May. May isn’t always the magic month; occasionally it’s the first Saturday in June.
Some of the events are called “Homecomings” for the cemetery sites. I looked up how many different terms have been used for this event. In the reference “Encyclopedia of Religion in the South,” it is written, “Homecomings may be times to coincide with a historically significant date in the church’s history, but the great majority are held in the summer months. Reprts of early gatherings tie the timing to the cycles of agriculture, stating that May meetings are held ‘after the roads are passable’ and August meetings come ‘after the crops are laid by.”
Another familiar term is “Decoration Day,” and often refers to the replenishment of new American flags and/or plastic flowers, if such are allowed as part of how the gravesites can be treated.
The head of the cemetery is the Sexton, and many private cemeteries operate with volunteer or city-appointed Boards of Directors, who plan for the care of city cemeteries. You’ve also heard of “Perpetual Care” cemeteries as well, where you can count on someone (if you don’t have family members) always taking care of the land around the places where loved ones are buried.
In burial as in cremation, there are more choices than you realize. One of them is whether cremated remains are to be interred in a columbarium in a church building, in an external building, or in cremation urns until such time as the wishes of the deceased are carried out further.
In Bryan, did you know there are three city cemeteries? There are: Bryan City Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery and Yellow Fever Cemetery. Bob Holmes is the Cemetery Sexton and Parks Manager. As well, we (the Jones Family) owns and operates the Restever Cemetery on North Texas Avenue.
In College Station, there are two cemeteries, the College Station Cemetery and the Aggie Field of Honor & Memorial Cemetery. College Station City Cemetery Sexton is Ron Schaefer.
Talking about cemeteries always reminds me about genealogy. It’s so important that we keep good written records for the generations that follow ours, to let our family knows where their great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother are buried. It’s also important to make notes, draw landmarks, or even take photos of the locations where loved ones are buried, especially in the smaller private cemeteries.
Not every cemetery is as technologically advanced as the Veteran’s Cemeteries or larger family owned, or privately owned, cemeteries that have computer stations available for visitors to print out maps showing the specific locations of your friends and families.
It’s never too late to update records or ask questions of your oldest living relatives about where they recall their ancestors are buried. Write their answers down or better yet, get an audio or video recording of their responses as it makes wonderful history. And, if you don’t have anyone to ask, you can still find what you need. Visit www.findagrave.com where wonderful strangers to us, yet serious genealogical researchers, have compiled a wonderful online resource that have helped many of us (including me) find the gravesite of a loved one.
Please feel free to comment below and share other resources you’ve found helpful in your genealogy researching! Remember, write everything down and keep a copy for future generations. And, when you think of it, go out to the cemeteries where your loved ones are buried and make sure everything around the graves are in their very best shape possible. You’ll be glad you did. One day, someone will be doing the same for you.
Cody D. Jones ‘02
Owner & Community Member