Over the past ten years of my life, as I attended college and graduate school, and worked as a public librarian in Ohio, I found less and less time to visit my small Indiana hometown. Now that I’m back full-time and for good, I find myself falling in love with this little place that, not so long ago, I was dying to get away from.
One reason for this unexpected love affair: early morning bike rides in the country. It is quiet here, and simple. Much as I wanted it to, the city just did not suit me. Here, surrounded by towering corn stalks, horses, and farmhouses, I feel like I can finally breathe again.
Last week, on one of my rides, I discovered a fantastic little church in rural Marion County. The pointed arch (lancet) windows place the construction of this church in the 1840-1880 Gothic Revival period. The cross bracing at the roof-wall junction further narrows it to post-1860. The building also borrows decorative brackets from the Italianate style.
Such a surprising little gem to find on an Indiana country road! Sadly, most of the windows have been boarded up. I find it odd that this building has not been more lovingly maintained. The church obviously takes pride in their historic structure – the fact that it has not been torn down is testament to that. They also use the outline of the lancet window in their logo – an indication that the history of this building is an important part of the congregation’s identity.
Next to the church is a small cemetery. When I got home, I visited this cemetery on www.findagrave.com, one of my favorite free genealogy resources. Find a Grave was founded by Jim Tipton, who actually created it as a tool for his own hobby of visiting the graves of famous people, but genealogists quickly discovered it and made it their own. The site utilizes volunteers who photograph and document graves so genealogists can see them and learn more about their ancestors without traveling to small cemeteries all over the country.
I have used this resource to track down several elusive ancestors. Sometimes, the information listed on a grave is a good starting point for researching someone that you can’t seem to track down anywhere else. I began using Find A Grave last year, and since then I have added memorials for some of my ancestors, and I have photographed graves for others to use in their own research.
My growing interest in genealogy coincided with an extremely tumultuous time in my life. As I spent my weekends traveling to various cemeteries in Indiana where my family is buried, the man I loved was showing increasingly disturbing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some days, he asked me to drive him to the hospital. Other days, he attempted to cope by self-medicating. In the meantime, I found myself spending more and more time in graveyards.
It might seem strange, but it actually brought me a great deal of comfort. The cemetery became the one and only place where I could put my problems in perspective. Surrounded by the graves of those who came before me reminded me that one day, I too, would be in the ground. In this environment, it’s difficult to feel sorry for yourself, regardless of your circumstances.
Find A Grave has helped me learn more about my ancestors, and it has also given me a new way to connect with them. By visiting their final resting places, I am reminded of how many lives passed before me, how many traumas were overcome, or not, and that our time here is short, and should be well-lived.