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.
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.
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!
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.
And the small stone to the right of the large Gunzendorfer stone is my grandmother’s brother, Wilton Louis Gunzendorfer.
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.
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.
For all those ancestors I haven’t located yet, I’ll be looking for you!