Old Tombstones Tell Stories

Ocean Beach There are many things that you can learn from the dead. This is why genealogists spend time in cemeteries, searching for the gravestones of their ancestors. Every so often, you can find some fascinating stories in the news about cemeteries, or parts of them, that genealogists have found. Sometimes, those stories can be quite bizarre!

There are tombstones surfacing on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California. Imagine, walking down the beach and finding a large, intact, tombstone sitting on the sand! It seems that, every so often, the shifting sands on the beach uncover some tombstones. Everyone talks about them for a while, and then forgets about them shortly after the sands move back to cover them.

These tombstones tell many stories. Genealogists can transcribe the gravestones to learn more about the person that each was created for. The oddly placed grave markers also tell a story about the history of San Francisco. In the past, several old cemeteries were moved so that the city could use the land to build shopping centers, housing developments, and the campus of the University of San Francisco.

Families of the people who were interred in the cemeteries could have the remains moved for free. However, they would have to pay to have the tombstones moved. Many could not afford to do that. The gravestones ended up being used as landfill, breakwaters, or to line the gutters of Haight-Ashbury’s Buena Vista Park.

In South Carolina, members of the Aiken Barnwell Genealogy Society have been working on locating the remnants of two cemeteries that once belonged to the Aiken County Home. It was also known as the Aiken Poor Home or the Alms House. It was a place where people who were poor could live, and many ended up buried there as well.

There are some records about the two cemeteries that existed, but the records are incomplete. What is known is that there was one cemetery for people who were White and one cemetery for people who were Black. The genealogists have found information that led them to believe that James Wheeler, a Civil War Veteran, was buried in the White portion of the cemetery. Efforts are being made to have a Civil War marker placed there.

In California, the Salinan Tribe of Monterey and San Luis Obispo countries were recently able to repatriate seven Native American skulls and several jawbones that were located in a museum in England. The bones were in the University of Birmingham in England, and were on display in a medical museum. About a year ago, the bones were declared available for repatriation.

This is an unprecedented move, for many reasons. The tribe is not a federally recognized tribe. The bones were located in the UK, and had to be transported to the US, which means that it was a government-to-government exchange.

Image by Eric Wittman on Flickr

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