Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Finding Roots

     During a trip out east this month to visit our son near Washington DC my wife and I made a side trip to the Philadelphia area where Wendy was born and grew up until she was about 13 when she moved to Michigan.  She was armed with maps and copies of documents found on the internet.  We were on a mission to find her ancestors.

     In particular, she was looking for the graves of her father, her grandparents on her mother’s side as well as the final resting place of her great-grandfather.  These were all located near Philadelphia.  She’d never been to visit them before. 

     We were putting a lot of trust in our ancestral internet research as well as in our Garmin to find these places.  I don’t trust Garmin all that much either as our navigational device sometimes wants us to go off-the-beaten track, once telling us to take the wrong exit when we were only miles from our house.

    “Where’s she going?” I asked.

    “She doesn’t know,” Wendy replied.

     Wonderful, as we’d be navigating through busy and crowded streets, highways and roads adjacent to Philadelphia.  We did find our first cemetery without issue, a sprawling property on a hill overlooking Philadelphia’s downtown skyline.   Finding the grave of her great-grandfather proved a tougher test.  So we checked at the office.

     Two matronly looking ladies looked up as we entered and stood at the counter then asked if they could help us.    “Is there any rhyme or reason to this place?” Wendy asked, causing them to flinch a bit.  Then Wendy pulled out her paper and the women began checking computers and pulling file drawers.  With their help, we found great-granddad, his headstone heralding his volunteer service in the Spanish American War.

     The next cemetery to visit was where Wendy’s father was buried.  He died when Wendy was still quite young and living with her mother as the two had divorced.  So she never knew his final resting place.  We had the name of the cemetery but not the address. 

     Could Garmin help us out?  As my three-year-old grandson often says, “Uhhhhhh, no.”  Very frustrating as our navigational device can give you the exact address of any Dunkin Donut within 70 miles (seriously, it did this once when we were looking for a bakery), but try searching for a prominent local cemetery and it comes up empty.  It did give us the church address, however.

      So we went there.  By the way, the neighborhoods where Wendy and her relatives lived have become quite run down and are now what could be called blighted urban districts.  Not places where you want to be at night.  Even in the daytime a local library even had a police guard at the check-out station.  And the church we located via Garmin had a parking lot surrounded by a ten-foot tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

     While I waited in the car, Wendy had to ring an intercom, then explain what she wanted before they would buzz her in.  But she did get in and we did get the cemetery address, arriving just before the office closed—good thing too since we would have never found her father’s grave on our own.  Wendy had me query the office lady for help this time since I complained she could have been more diplomatic on our first go-round.

     We did find her father’s grave, a serviceman’s grave as he served in the Navy during World War II.  Wendy called out who she was, introduced me, then we took some pictures before moving on.  Found the gate where we had come in was now locked.  And I knew the office was closed too.  We hadn’t seen another entrance but after driving to a dead end or two, pun not intended, we finally discovered a road to the main gate, still open.

     The last cemetery we found quite quickly.  No, Garmin didn’t step up its game.  There was a sign on the main road that took us right to the cemetery.  Garmin was actually trying to take us down the road farther.  Maybe it just doesn’t like going to cemeteries.  Superstitious perhaps?