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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Lifestyle Stories

Creative digging might just unearth lost graves

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 09:26 AM

Old Joe the fur trader died in his makeshift cabin miles from civilization. A passing trapper found his body, dug a grave, said a few words and went on his way.

John and Mary Smith, their brood of children, and Mary's parents were pioneers. They made their way across the mountains and Great Plains in a wagon train. Mary's Ma and Pa, too frail to make the trip, died along the way. Small wooden crosses were driven into the ground over their hurriedly dug graves along the trail.

Today no one knows where Ma and Pa or Old Joe are buried. Interstate highways, shopping centers or subdivisions may serve as the tombstones they never had.

Farm families often buried their loved ones on their own property and were too poor to buy engraved markers. After years of extended family dying or moving away, no one remembers the dead or their resting place.

Evidence of abandoned graves occasionally emerges when heavy equipment scoops up an old casket at a construction site. Most states require that the work cease at that point. Local officials are notified and historians and archeologists are called in to consult.

Such events create records and news reports. That's why it's important for those who don't live in the area they are researching to visit the local library's genealogy room to investigate its vertical files. Those are files that contain newspaper clippings recounting events of interest to genealogists.

My great-grandfather's 1949 death certificate states that he was buried in the little Rush Chapel Cemetery in rural Floyd County, Ga. Yet I've photographed his tombstone and paid my respects to him at the big-city East View Cemetery in Rome. How did that happen? His daughters got a permit in the 1960s and moved him to lie alongside his deceased children.

Most states' laws direct that no body can be moved from its original resting place without a permit. Such permits may be issued by the local health department, a board of commissioners or a local court. Researchers can check state laws at law.justica.com to learn who is responsible for issuing and maintaining those records in the state of interest.

Sometimes natural disasters such as floods wash caskets out of cemeteries. In such cases, the federal government's Disaster Mortuary Response Team usually works with local officials to recover the remains, identify them and reinter them. Those whose family members may have been affected by such a disaster should check with local officials for help in finding and researching the records. Try the mayor's office, the court clerk's office or even a funeral home.

Jewish society meeting

At the September Jewish Genealogical Society meeting, Deborah Shapiro Radstrom and Rita Kirstein Shapiro will present a program on Hamburg as a key embarkation port for Eastern European Jews.

The group meets at 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater.

More than 5 million people left Europe through the Port of Hamburg from 1850 to 1939. The program will include instruction on how to use the Port of Hamburg Web site and its database to research outbound ships' manifests to locate passengers.

For information on the organization or directions to the meeting, call Sally Israel at (727) 343-1652.

South Bay meeting

Spurious, baseborn, misbegotten, bastard. Those are all words used to describe illegitimate children. When a piece seems to be missing from the family puzzle or family lore just doesn't make sense, a child born out of wedlock might be at the root of the problem. Families went to great lengths to hide such information.

Join me at the South Bay Genealogical Society's monthly meeting Sept. 15 at the SouthShore Regional Library for the lecture "Child of No One: The Law and Your Illegitimate Ancestor."

Lunch will be at noon and the lecture begins at 1 p.m. Registration deadline is Tuesday. Send a check for $13 to South Bay Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 5202, Sun City Center FL 33571; then call Sally Wepfer at (813) 634-7539 to place your lunch order.


Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets that she is unable to assist with

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