Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mapping Ancestor Burials: Hitting The Road And Paying Respects

I don't live near my family. Nearly 1,700 miles separate me from the Rocky Mountain home where I grew up.

However, when I put my Family Sleuther deerstalker cap on, I'm much closer to my people. True, they're not living and most of them rest eternally in the ground, but they're closer'ish.

Whether for work or leisure, I'm occasionally on the road. As a family historian, it would be a gross dereliction of duty if I overlooked my ancestors during those travels.

Using Google Maps, I've pinpointed the cemeteries where my ancestors are known to be buried. I reference this map when I'm traveling somewhere new, so I can assess just how close I may be to an opportunity to pay my respects to those that have come before me.

Ancestor burials mapped out using Google Maps

West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful
Last weekend, a quick getaway trip to West Virginia unexpectedly put me in close proximity to my sixth great-grandparents Anthony and Margaret (Messersmith) Rosenberger. They are the closest known ancestral burials to me on the East Coast.

My first stop was to Martinsburg, West Virginia. You may recall that I just wrote a blog two weeks ago about Anthony's public opposition to the presidency of Andrew Jackson. His 19th century viewpoints were only known because of their publication in the Martinsburg Gazette.

Buried in the German Lutheran Reformed Cemetery, Anthony, who passed away in 1853, rests eternally beside his second wife Nancy (not my direct ancestor). After entering the grounds through the wrought iron gate, I wandered among the markers - most of them well over a 100 years old - until I found his stone.

His headstone no longer stands upright, and the engraved text is weathered away, largely illegible. In fact, the only way to identify his stone was by comparing its shape to a copy of a photo that was taken years earlier - when the inscription was still discernible - and uploaded to Find A Grave. It helped, too, that he's buried beside his wife Nancy and her marker is still legible.

German Lutheran Reformed Cemetery, Martinsburg, West Virginia

Anthony Rosenberger (1771-1853)

Anthony's first wife and my direct ancestor, Margaret (Messersmith) Rosenberger, pre-deceased him in 1830. Her Find A Grave memorial mistakenly states that she's also buried in Martinsburg at the German Luthern Reformed Cemetery, but I discovered this is not true.

I noticed a comment online that flagged that she was actually buried about 15 miles away in the Union Church Cemetery in Middleway, West Virginia.

A short drive later and I discovered that, sadly, her headstone is one of the few no longer standing upright - just like Anthony's. I was further disappointed to discover that her stone - facing skyward - is now fractured into several pieces although largely intact. This unfortunate development must have happened since 2008 when a photo uploaded to Find A Grave showed the stone flat on the ground, but still in one piece.

Union Church Cemetery, Middleway, West Virginia

Rebecca Margaret (Messersmith) Rosenberger (1772-1830)

I count myself fortunate that I had my ancestor burial map to remind me that I had family in the area - less than 100 miles from where I live. After seeing firsthand the rapidly deteriorating condition of the stones, I'm very glad I made the visit when I did. Time is brutal to stone markers. Nothing lasts forever.

Don't you think it's time to draft your ancestor burial map and hit the open road (don't forget flowers and to upload photos to Find A Grave!)?


  1. I've just used Google maps for vacation site-seeing locations. Thanks for sharing your idea.

    1. Just a typical genealogist...repurposing tools to our needs. :)

  2. Isn't it sad how these stones erode and disappear? It was one of the saddest parts of my trip to Germany---knowing that an ancestor was buried in a cemetery, but being unable to read the stones. But I guess nothing is truly permanent.

    1. It really is sad. It's one thing when you know where the stone is and can't read it, but another thing when you know generally that an ancestor was buried in a cemetery but there's no trace of a marker to clue you in to his/her specific burial location. Apparently, I have other ancestors - without markers - buried in Union Church Cemetery. Alas, nothing is truly permanent.

  3. Thank you for your great idea. I'm glad you were able to to visit family gravestones and still find them, albeit deteriorating.

    1. You're right: finding stones - even if they're deteriorating - is much better than nothing. Let me know if you give the map a try and how it works out.