Sunday, April 29, 2018

52 Ancestors: Cemetery

While I haven’t spent a lot of time in cemeteries, I do love visiting and find it to be such a quiet and reflective place.  Each grave stone tells a story and I like to think about the circumstances that brought each person there.  Was there a lengthy illness?  Were they involved in an accident?  What loved ones did they leave behind?

Of course one very special cemetery is Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose, the cemetery my parents are interred in.  I have so many memories as a child/young adult driving by this beautiful place and listening to my dad exclaim “people are just dying to get in there” or “they tell me business is really dead in there”.  Of course he’d laugh and no one in the car would even begin to think that someday the joke wouldn’t be at all funny as we made arrangements to lay him to rest, to be joined 8 years later by Mom.  I also wrote a bit about finding my 3x great grandfather in the same cemetery HERE

This post wouldn’t be complete without memorializing Mom & Dad one more time – of course it wouldn’t have been complete without Dad having his favorite Stanford hat with him!



One of my most treasured visits to a cemetery was in 2012 when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to wander through Hills of Eternity Memorial Park in Colma, California.  Colma has quite an interesting history which you can read about HERE.  In a nutshell, San Francisco cemeteries were “evicted” in 1912 and the little town of Colma became the City of the Silent when the living became drastically outnumbered by the dead.  In fact, in 2006 there were 1.5 million souls interred within the area and the 2010 census found only 1792 living residents.  Thus was born the slogan “It’s Great to be Alive in Colma”.

There are 16 cemeteries in Colma, including a pet cemetery.  And while I’ve only scratched the surface, since my husband and I both have strong ties to the area, between us we have many, many ancestors within this small town.

I remember driving up to Hills of Eternity with great anticipation of what I’d find.  Since I haven’t spent a lot of time searching in cemeteries, I wasn’t really sure where to even start.

Hills of Eternity

Hills of Eternity 1

We decided to start at the office.  Seems obvious now but it actually took me a minute to figure that out.  The woman was only too happy to help and was I ever surprised when she pulled this out from behind the desk.

Hills of Eternity Register Book

Of course my memory is fading now (darn this getting old sucks) but I remember the thrill of seeing the beautifully written entries (why didn’t I take a picture of that?) and as I scanned, seeing many of my “peeps”.  At one point the woman walked away for a minute to look for something and I remember thinking how easy it would have been to grab the books and run!

The most important visit of the day (and one in which I can remember almost every detail) was coming upon this.

There were my peeps! 

Gunzendorfer Plot

In the front on the left is Ferdinand Gunzendorfer, my 2x great grandfather.  And next to him is Fannie Goldstein Gunzendorfer, my 2x great grandmother.

Gunzendorfer Ferdinand and Fannie

And the small stone to the right of the large Gunzendorfer stone is my grandmother’s brother, Wilton Louis Gunzendorfer.

Gunzendorfer Wilt

Wilton Gunzendorfer 1969 cropped

After wandering around to see many other ancestors, we stopped at the grave of one of the famous residents, Wyatt Earp.  It’s strange to think that my ancestors are sharing a final resting place with a famous person.

And finally we moved on to Portals of Eternity Mausoleum on the grounds of Hills of Eternity where my great grandparents, Abraham and Bertha (Schwartz) Gunzendorfer, are interred.  It fascinates me as to why so many of my Jewish ancestors were cremated and I was especially disappointed to find that Birdie and Abe were interred so high that it was almost difficult to see their final resting place.  I wish I knew the story behind the scratch – it’s not like someone could have vandalized it.

Gunzendorfer Abraham

Abe and Bertha Gunzendorfer

I’ve been fortunate that when I visit a cemetery, there are typically more than one family member interred there.  And several times I’ve unexpectedly found a surprise ancestor or two.  It sure does pay to look around to see who else you can find.

I’m looking forward to many more cemetery visits in the future but the one that I am most anxious to see is McPherson Cemetery in Kansas, the final resting place of my elusive 3x great grandfather, Emery Waller.  I won’t repeat the story of finding Emery in an unmarked grave and then the honor of having his grave marked but you can read about it HERE.  And just because I love seeing the photo, here it is again.

Emery Waller gravestone

For all those ancestors I haven’t located yet, I’ll be looking for you!


  1. Wow. Very well said Debi. You're a master of your craft. Your genealogy work and your blog stories will keep your ancestors alive forever. Something tells me that they are looking down and saying, "Thanks for remembering us."

    1. Awww, thanks for the comment, Bart. While I do enjoy blogging about my ancestors, sometimes life has just been getting in the way. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Great post, Debi! I also have been surprised by how many of my relatives were cremated---including most recently Milton Goldsmith. One question: were these Jewish cemeteries or non-sectarian? I ask because I assume that Wyatt Earp was not Jewish....but you never know!

    1. It is a Jewish cemetery. Wyatt Earp was not Jewish but his wife was. They are both cremated and buried below ground.

  3. Something new every day. I had no idea he was married to a Jewish woman. And I also didn't know that cremated remains were buried or placed in a mausoleum. I thought that people were cremated because they did not want to take up space in cemeteries!

  4. Nice post - glad you got to share this.

  5. What a beautiful post Debi. I live far from where any of my ancestors are buried, but I still love to walk through the local cemeteries and look at the different gravestones. (Please tell me that is a genealogist thing and not weird). I have visited some of my ancestors' burial places however but some of mine have been in unkempt cemeteries way out in the country and it makes me sad that I am not close enough to help keep them up.

    What a fascinating story about Colma! I've never heard of it before. It breaks my heart to think that most of the dead who were moved were buried in mass graves and that many of the grave markers were used to build gutters etc!!! I have heard of people finding gravestones that have been used as steps or thrown out in the river because someone didn't want others intruding on their property where there was a small old cemetery. Sad!

    Beautiful post.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. I took my granddaughter to a cemetery once when she was about 10-12 and I think she thought I was weird!