by Delia

We genealogists love cemeteries, don’t we? Our friends and family might think we are a bit strange in our enthusiasm for these cities of the dead. We wander among tombstones, seeking ancestors or just reading interesting inscriptions. We note ages and dates, letting them suggest a story. It might be when several children in a family died at the same time, suggesting illness or disaster. Or maybe we marvel at an older woman buried beside a young husband who died many years before her. We visit long-deceased ancestors, allowing them to speak to us concerning their lives. And sometimes we seek in vain to locate those final resting places.

But what will happen in the future, when there are no resting places? Although cremation has long been a part of the funeral customs of many cultures, modern cremation in the western world is less than 150 years old. For many years, a majority of those who were cremated were placed in niches in mausoleums in local cemeteries, which still provided a place of memorial. But the scattering of ashes removed the probability of a physical memorial and record for future generations to determine just where someone ended up.

I’ve known a number of people through the years who have had their ashes scattered. One couple had their ashes scattered in the enclosed garden of their church, and had very small metal memorial plaques placed there. This was fine until part of the garden was repurposed and one of the plaques was lost. Another man I know hired a small plane to take him up over the mountains near where his mother had lived so he could scatter her ashes. He did not realize that one is supposed to toss the ashes in their plastic bag out of the plane’s door so that the force of the wind would break open the bag, allowing the ashes to descend. He opened the bag to pour the ashes out, and the draft blew most of them back into the plane. I am not sure what he did after vacuuming his mother from the inside of the plane, but there’s no marker.

This has all come to mind recently because my father-in-law died. He wanted to be cremated and his ashes placed, with no stone or marker and no ceremony, at the graveside of his second wife. However, they had separated before their deaths and her family really did not want my father-in-law in their family plot. So my husband and his sisters decided to place his ashes at the graveside of a sibling who died long ago, but, as per his wishes, with no marker. This disturbs the genealogist in me and I finally decided that once they placed the ashes, I would add him to the Find a Grave website within that cemetery, with a notation that his remains are with his child. While looking on the website to see how it might be done, I discovered that the website organizers already have a part of their site dedicated to Cremated or Cemetery Unknown. I browsed through the 167 entries and noted that most provided more information than many entries in Find a Grave, often including obituaries.

So if you know someone who has been cremated, you might want to take a few minutes to add that information to this website, so that future researchers will know where all of their ancestors rest.