Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Catholic Cemetery Records Online

Catholic cemeteries in any given location generally are owned or controlled by the diocese or archdiocese for that area. The good news is that all of the major dioceses and some not-so-major ones have web pages devoted to their Catholic cemeteries. But these websites vary in terms of the genealogical information one will find there. Most will at least include a note about the diocese's policies and procedures for genealogical research. My (less-than-scientific) canvass of diocesean procedures indicates that many will respond to mail requests for information and charge a small fee for the service. Many dioceses have PDF forms online for genealogical requests or direct email access for questions. But several dioceses have gone a step further, with searchable databases for their cemeteries.

Two of the better searchable databases can be found in the Archdiocese of St Louis and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Other U.S. dioceses with searchable cemetery records online include:

Archdiocese of Seattle
Diocese of Fresno (Calif.)
Diocese of Wilmington (Del.)(includes Eastern Shore of Maryland)

If you know of other sites with searchable databases of Catholic cemetery records, please share in the comments here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sixty-five Years Ago . . . Isn't Really That Long Ago

The American Cemetery and Memorial, Normandy, France
Maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an agency of the United States Government

Friday, June 5, 2009

Greenwood Cemetery, St Louis

Greenwood Cemetery is an African-American cemetery in St. in St. Louis County. It has a rich and storied history in has seen good times and bad. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greenwood has an estimated 50,000 graves. The earliest grave dates from 1874. Here is an excerpt from the national register of historic places nomination form for Greenwood Cemetery:

Established on January 19, 1874 by Herman Krueger, this is the first non-sectarian commercial cemetery for African Americans in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The cemetery has approximately 6000 marked graves, but is thought to contain over 50,000 burials. The graves represent a cross section of the African American community in St. Louis from former slaves and common laborers to community leaders in the small but thriving black middle class. The cemetery is characteristic of the rural cemetery movement, however, remnants of African and Southern black burial customs can be found throughout the cemetery.

Many of the people buried at Greenwood were originally inhabitants of Mississippi and other Southern states who participated in this Great Migration.

With desegregation, however, the need for separate cemeteries eventually ended, as did the commercial viability of St Louis' black privately owned cemeteries. By the 1980s all three commercial black cemeteries in the city had been sold to new owners, who soon discovered that there were no perpetual-care funds to maintain the facilities. The only source of income was the sale of new plots—a source inadequate to the maintenance needs at Greenwood. The result was that the cemetery rapidly declined and became a dumping ground and target for vandals.
State of Missouri, Department of Natural Resources, Nomination Form for Greenwood Cemetery to be on National Register of Historic Places (2004) [edited for brevity and consistency].

Bud light was soon on the horizon for Greenwood Cemetery. In March, 2000, the Attorney General of Missouri acted to declare Greenwood "abandoned" in that way forced the sale of the cemetery to St Louis County. Since that time, a nonprofit group known as Friends of Greenwood Cemetery has worked tirelessly to improve the condition of Greenwood Cemetery. Many of the group members are individuals who have family members buried in the cemetery. The Friends' efforts have been supported by the Missouri National Guard, Monsanto, the Boy Scouts, Southwestern Bell (now AT&T), and other organizations. Their efforts, though sincere, have at times been frustrating.

I recently was in contact with a Find-A-Grave volunteer who said while parts of the cemetery are still in poor condition, the group working on it has "cut down brush and tress in the center and uncovered some markers that go back to the 20's." They've also fixed a road.

At this link, there is a video that describes recent efforts to rehabilitate Greenwood Cemetery. All those who volunteer for such projects deserve the community's gratitude!

A number of notable people are buried at Greenwood. These include Harriet Scott, the wife of Dred Scott, and many musicians, artists, businesspeople, educators, and other prominent persons in the history of Black St. Louis.

My great great grandfather Elias A. Bowie [not to be confused with his son Elias G. Bowie, or his other son, Elias Bowie Jr., my granduncle] who died in 1970, is buried at Greenwood.

Also buried at Greenwood is a man named Lee Shelton. Lee Shelton died at the Missouri State penitentiary in 1912. He was serving a term for the murder of a man named William Lyons.

Contest Question [what's this?] : What were the meteorological, astronomical, and seasonal conditions on the night of the murder of William Lyons (according to the most popular folk culture account of the murder)?

If you know the answer to this question, put the answer in a comment to this post, or as a comment to the post on this link over at Geneablogie. State the source for your answer!

Image Sources:

1. Greenwood photograph: State of Missouri, Secretary of State, Missouri State Archives Missouri Digital Heritage Collections: Greenwood Cemetery Funerary Art [photographer and date unknown], available at

(accessed 5 June 2009)

2. Shelton Death Certificate: State of Missouri, Secretary of State, Missouri State Archives, Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1958. Available at
http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/deathcertificates/#search (searched 4 June 2009)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

If you haven't been to Arlington Cemetery in the last several years, you may not recognize the memorial shown above. It is the "Women in Military Service for America" memorial and it stands near the gate of the cemetery.

The women's memorial is intended to recall all women who gave their lives in military service. But there's one group of servicewomen who were nearly forgotten by the Government with respect to recognition. That group is the Women's Airforce Service Pilots ("WASPs") of World War II. These were the first women pilots employed by the United States military.

The government first used women to fly military airplanes in 1942. The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) was formed in September of that year under the command of Nancy Love at New Castle Army Air Base, Delaware. This unit ferried aircraft from factories to airfields, freeing the male pilots for combat duty.

In 1943, the Army activated the 319th Women's Flying Training Detahcment at Ellington Army Air Field, near Houston, Texas. The commander was renowned aviator Jacqueline Cochran. Later, the two women's flying units were combined under the name "Women's Airforce Service Pilots." Cochran was given overall command, and training was moved to Avenger Field near Sweetwater, Texas.

The women pilots flew almost every military aircraft in the U.S. inventory. In addition to ferrying duty, the WASPs towed targets for live-fire antiaircraft exercises, trained male pilots in some of the advanced aircraft, flew simulated bomb and strafing runs for training combat troops, and performed other flying duties when and where necessary to relieve male pilots.

On March 3, 1943, Margaret Sanford Oldenberg of Contra Costa County, California, became the first WASP to die in the line of duty when her plane crashed five miles from the airfield. Overall, thirty-eight women were killed in the line of duty.

But the Government did not consider the WASPs to be service veterans. They were therefore entitled to no medals, and no funeral honors. That changed somewhat in 1977 when Congress passed a law permitting the Secretary of Dfense to recognize the WASPs as having performed military duty. Despite this change in status, the Army, which operates Arlington National Cemetery, refused to allow WASP members to be buried there until 2002.

In 2002, former WASP Irene Kinne Englund died at age 84. Her family attempted to have her buried at Arlington based on her WASP service. They were told that she eligible, but onl;y because her husband was a World War II veteran, not because of her own service. Her daughter, Judith Englund, took up the cause for her mother and all WASPs. Several months later, the Army changed its mind.

One June 15, 2002, WASP Irene Kinne Englund became the first of her sisters of the air to have a full military funeral at Arlington.

Cross-posted at Geneablogie.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tomb Sweeping Day

As I write this from the Bloggcast Center in the Pacific Time Zone, it's nearly dawn on April 5, 2009 in China. That means that one of the biggest holidays in China is nearly over. That would be "Tomb Sweeping Day."

Tomb Sweeping Day is called "Qing Ming" in Chinese, which means "clear and bright." A traditional holiday, it was made an official holiday by the Chinese government last year. People go to cemeteries to remember their dead ancestors by cleaning the family gravesite and placing flowers and other memorial items.

China Daily reported yesterday (Friday in the USA) that an estimated 21.6 million people will travel by rail for Tomb Sweping Day activities, according to the Chinese Ministry of Railroads.

Not too surprisingly, I suppose, is the fact that Tomb Sweeping DAy has taken on political significance. The Chinese government is using this year's Tomb Weeping Day to dedicate monuments to "heroic martyrs" of the Communist revolution. And in Taiwan, a womens rights group has brought attention to the apparently gender-biased attitudes of Taiwanese funeral directors.

According to yesterday's (today in USA) China Post, a professor at Chengchi University says that women who marry have their names registered with their husbands' families for memorial purposes. As a result, says Prof. Yan Wan-ying, Tomb Sweeping Day is a day of "common sorrow and regret" for Chinese women who, because of marriage are unable to honor their deceased parents.

These unequal traditions are being kept alive by government policies that favor men over women. For example, according to the professor, of the 151 questions on the government licensing examination for morticians, thirty-seven are "gender-related."

I should point out that tradition would celebrate Tomb Sweeping day on April 4 this year; the government's statutory holiday is Monday, April 6. So whether you celebrated today or you're just eager to have Monday off, Happy Tomb Sweeping Day and the highest regards to your ancestors.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Changes Coming to The PGYR

The blogosphere is a dynamic place, constantly changing, and going in directions that we may not be able to predict with any degree of confidence. That's what makes it interesting. For awhile now I've been thinking about that subset of the blogosphere where I spend a lot of my time. I've been observing what I think may be an evolution in its nature.

But watching the blogosphere is like watching the galaxy. It can't be done in real time. By the time you see it, it's already moved on. Nonetheless, I think it worthwhile to try to flow with the dynamism rather than fight it or be swept away by it. In that frame of mind, I've spent some energy thinking about how The Peripatetic Graveyard Rabbit continues to orbit in its sphere (all those who get the unintentional mixed cosmological metaphor, well, . . . !).

Though we're just months old here at The PGYR, it's time to change. Over the next two weeks, The PGYR will roll out its changes--changes that I hope will flow with the dynamism (which I'll also explain) that I've been seeing in the genea-blogosphere.

Watch this space!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Most Photographed Gravesite of 2009 Is . . .

. . . this one at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. The fascination with it is due in part to the fact that its intended beneficiaries are not dead yet. (click on image to enlarge)

Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers (reallyboring on flickr.com). (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic), uploaded to flickr 17 May 2008, viewed 3 Jan 2009.

Thanks to Chris Dunham for noticing before we did!