Visiting Emily et al

A couple of weeks ago I went out to breakfast with my friend, Linda. We talked about work, friends, family and our upcoming vacations. Linda is also my genealogy buddy so we also talked about our upcoming summer visits to our respective ancestral homes – hers to Germany and mine to Ireland. We both have high hopes of connecting with our familial past and coming home with some tangible evidence of their existence back in the old country.
After breakfast, Linda and I decided to go for a walk. Being two enthusiastic genealogical explorers we headed to the local cemetery! A cemetery is always a interesting place to visit, but this had additional perks. We visited the West Cemetery in Amherst, MA which is the resting place of Emily Dickinson and her family. Linda had been on a tour there before. We visited Emily. There were little notes and gifts left at her grave some which indicated how she had impacted someone’s life and other’s paying tribute to her talent. We walked through the historic sections. I could see well known local families, some of them now mainly known by the streets bearing their names. We walked through a section which had been reserved for the black families that lived in Amherst during the Civil War. They had run a tavern in town. As we finished our walk through, we found a pile of pamphlets in a box which described the cemetery and its inhabitants. Clearly we had started at the end! There was also a mural on a wall facing the cemetery described in the pamphlet giving faces to the names we had just walked by. Someone had clearly put their heart and soul into this project, allowing us to have a better understanding of the history of the town.
Historic cemeteries are so interesting! But one certainly doesn’t have to go to the famous ones to learn something about the history of the nation. Microcosms of our national history are present in the lives of the people who lived through every historical event. I recommend taking a stroll through your local cemetery, especially the oldest section. Try not to look for your own family names and see what else you learn. These are our families neighbors. What can they tell us about the lives they lived?

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