About the last thing Cindie and I had expected to find on our evening stroll was a tombstone. But there it was, at the base of a large oak tree where the forest met the meadow, not a hundred yards from Bottlerock Road.
Quickly 11-year-old Cindie ran to the stone, knelt beside it, and began trying to make out the inscription. Together we pulled away the dry moss that obscured some of the lettering and read:
wife of Rufus Deming
died Jan. 5, 1855
in the 56th year of her age
Her eyes shining, my auburn-haired Cindie said, “Oh, dad, I can just see what happened. There were Mormon pioneers crossing the plains, and poor Maryann was killed in an Indian raid, and her husband and children were heartbroken, and they buried her here and sadly left her and went on to Utah. It was so tragic!”
“I don’t think so, Red. The Mormon pioneers didn’t pass through Lake County, California, in 1855 or any other time. More likely she and her family were here as part of the gold rush or to find a good farm or something like that. But I’m sure you’re right about her family being very sad when she died.”
“Well, we’ll just have to do her temple work for her. I just know that Heavenly Father led us to this spot so we could find Maryann’s tombstone and do her temple work for her.”
“I’m glad you thought of that, love. But we can’t do her temple work with just a tombstone inscription. We’d have to have her birth date and other information—and anyway, her work may already have been done.”
“But what if it hasn’t? Oh, dad, I can just see it now: One of her great-grandchildren has been looking for her records for just years and years, and they need her death date, and they’re praying that someone will find her tombstone and send in the information to the Genealogical Library, and give me your pen and paper.”
Well, I’ve never been one to deter an 11-year-old daughter of mine from doing something good. We copied down the tombstone inscription so that it could be sent to the library in Salt Lake. Why not? My exuberant, fervent, firstborn might be right—maybe someone somewhere was looking for Maryann Deming.
When we got back to grandma and grandpa’s summer cabin, it was nearly dark. Cindie recounted our discovery of the tombstone and our plan to send the inscription to Salt Lake.
Cindie didn’t join the rest of us for our usual evening game of dominoes that night. She spent the entire evening at the kitchen table with the old portable typewriter, trying to get a letter to the Genealogical Library ready to go.
The next day was Sunday. Together with grandma and grandpa our family drove to the Lakeport Branch to attend our Sunday meetings and to enjoy a nice dinner and a leisurely drive.
On the way back to the vacation cabin grandpa took Bottlerock Road, and we were nearing home when Cindie cried out, “Grandpa! Stop the car! There’s a cemetery!”
Well, we stopped, and Cindie ran the hundred yards or so to a small cemetery atop a hill. She walked quickly from one stone to the next, peered intently at several inscriptions, and then ran back to the car. “It won’t take but a few minutes,” she announced. “If we divide up the cemetery, and if everyone helps, we can write down all of the inscriptions in 15 minutes! We’ll add these names onto the list with Maryann’s and send them all to Salt Lake!”
Now, I’m not one to discourage an 11-year-old daughter of mine from doing something good, but we were dressed in our Sunday clothes, and the cemetery was dusty and overgrown with dry weeds, and we didn’t have enough pencils, and it was really hot. “Tell you what, Red. You’ve got a great idea, and I’m all for it—but let’s do it this evening, okay?”
As it turned out, Cindie couldn’t wait until evening. As soon as we got back to the cabin she put on her dust-and-dry-weeds ensemble and began organizing a cemetery safari. Everyone else opted for hammocks and shade, so old dad got elected to provide transportation. Besides, I try never to discourage an 11-year-old daughter of mine from doing something good.
We took a couple of pencils and pads of paper and drove back to Mountaintop Cemetery. Working together, with one of us reading the inscriptions and the other writing, we finished the job in less than an hour. As we worked, I marveled at the unflagging enthusiasm of my tall redhead: It was a scorching day—there was no shade—dust and weeds were everywhere—we had nothing to drink—and yet she chattered continually and gave the impression that she was having the very time of her life.
That evening Cindie tried to type up the 85 new inscriptions so that they could be sent to the library in Salt Lake. At length her mom took pity on her and took over the typing chores.
I was enjoying my favorite Sunday evening activity: lying in a lounge chair, sipping lemonade, and looking up at the stars peeking through the pine trees. Cindie pulled a lounge chair over next to mine, helped herself to my lemonade, and thanked me for helping her with her cemetery project. “Oh, dad, I can just see it all,” she said quietly. “There are people somewhere who have been looking for those names for just years and years. I’m sure Heavenly Father guided us to take Bottlerock Road today so we could find that cemetery and copy down those names.”
“Could be, love. But it could also be that someone has already written down those inscriptions. They might already be in the library in Salt Lake.” It was several minutes later when Cindie broke the silence.
“Do you suppose there are other cemeteries around here?”
“Hard to say. There’s probably one down in the valley in Middletown. Why?”
“Oh, I was just thinking.” Well, that should have tipped me off, but somehow I completely missed it—until next morning at 5:30.
“Psst. Dad. Get up.”
“Get up. It’s already light outside. We’ve got to get started before it gets hot.” There was urgency in my Cindie’s dark brown eyes.
“The cemetery in Middletown. I’ve got a jug of ice-water, and I’ve made a sack lunch—I mean sack breakfast—and I’ve got pencils and the note pads.”
“Prmp?” inquired mom.
“Hurry, dad,” implored my redhead. “And be quiet. We don’t want to wake anyone at this hour.”
Now that last statement was something I could believe in. But I’ve never been one to discourage an 11-year-old daughter of mine from doing something good, so I got up and got dressed.
When we got to Middletown the thermometer by the bank displayed 6:15 A.M. and 80° F. Just outside of town on Highway 29, we found what looked like the largest cemetery in the Northern Hemisphere, with major portions overrun with poison oak and blackberry vines. In my mind I pictured the rest of the family sleeping in.
We soon discovered that it’s hard to keep track of which stones have been copied and which haven’t, so we drove back to town and bought a box of chalk at a variety store. The display at the bank now, showed 97° F.
It took until lunchtime to get through the poison-oak-and-berry-vine section of the cemetery. Page after page of notes had been taken, but we had made chalk marks on only a few dozen of the hundreds of tombstones. We had barely made a good beginning.
We took time out to go back to town for a hamburger and a milkshake, and then checked out the temperature again: 105° F. In my mind I could see the rest of the family enjoying a swim at the resort near the cabin.
It was nearly dark when we finished, and both Cindie and I were exhausted. We left Middletown and its heat and drove back up the mountain to the cabin in the cool, shady grove. My redhead slept as we drove and was too tired to even eat supper.
But the next morning she was up and at it. All through the morning, while other family members swam and hiked and picked berries, Cindie hunched over the old typewriter.
After lunch I offered to help Cindie with the typing, and she gratefully accepted. Together we worked our way through the pile of notes: typing, proofreading, rechecking. It was evening before we finished the last page.
Grandpa went with Cindie to the store near the resort to buy a binder for the completed project. When they returned, Cindie reported that she and grandpa had decided one thing was lacking—an index.
All through the evening Cindie and her grandpa worked on the index. Twenty-six pieces of notebook paper—one for each letter of the alphabet—were laid out on the table. Slowly, carefully, the names were written down and organized. As portions of the index were completed they were handed to mom, who typed them. It was midnight before the title page was completed and we all stumbled into bed. The next day we sent Cindie’s book to the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake.
A few weeks later, with summer vacation behind us, Cindie came home from school to discover an impressive-looking envelope in the mailbox. Excitedly, she called me at my work and read, “The Genealogical Society wishes to thank you for your 41-page booklet, Cemetery Inscriptions of Lake County, California. You have provided important information which we did not have in our collection—information which will no doubt be very useful to many of our patrons in the years ahead. We congratulate you, at age 11, on having your own author card in our card catalog.”
As she read the letter and chattered happily over the telephone, I thought to myself how important it is to never discourage an exuberant 11-year-old from doing something good.
Then Cindie spoke again: “Dad,” she said, “when do you want to start on Los Angeles County?”
Can you make a difference by helping document cemetery records like Cindie did? If Cindie’s work is any indication, the answer is yes, loud and clear.
“Cindie’s contribution to the genealogy records is one of the finest we’ve ever received,” said Jim Kurocik of the Genealogical Department. “Further contributions like hers would be very valuable. Often, records like that supply the clue that people need to search out their ancestors.”
If you’re looking for a service project on a lazy Saturday afternoon, this may be just the answer. A few suggestions may help:
Find out all the names by which a cemetery may be or may have been known. (Sometimes a graveyard, especially a smaller one, has been known by several names.) Check with neighboring families or older townspeople to find out.
Describe exactly where the cemetery is located. For example, Cindie described the location of one cemetery this way: “100 yards east of Bottlerock Road, opposite Gordon Springs Resort, 1/4 mile north of Cobb Schoolhouse.” Another she described as “four miles north of Cobb Post Office, on Bottlerock Road.”
It’s a good idea to check with the Genealogical Department in Salt Lake City to see if the cemetery you’re interested in has already been documented. Send the name (or names) and location of the cemetery to: Technical Support, Genealogical Library, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.
When you start recording names, write down exactly what’s on the tombstone, epitaphs included, and be as accurate as you can. Don’t write down anything that’s not on the stone. Put any of your own observations in parentheses. For example, if you think a man and woman listed on the same stone are husband and wife, write, “(I think they’re husband and wife).” If a certain word or phrase is illegible, write “(illegible)” where the word or words should be. If you are copying some information exactly but you know that the way it’s written on the tombstone is a mistake, underline it. For example, 1857 1763 for a birth and death date couldn’t be correct.
List the names as you find them when you walk down the rows of the graveyard. Don’t alphabetize them. Cindie’s method for recording them is excellent:
SMITH Rodney H., 1885–1951
JONES H. Carl, Jan. 20, 1892–Dec. 28, 1971, PFC US Army, World War I
Grace F., August 25, 1895– (I think they’re husband and wife)
MAYO Lucile R., Feb. 9, 1879–May 15, 1971
May we meet again in the eternities
After you’ve listed the names, add an index at the end that lists all of the people alphabetically and the page in your project on which they can be found. For example:
ADAMS, Velma C.—17
ANDERSEN, Peter N.—23
ANDREWS, Melissa A.—18
So sharpen your pencils, pack a picnic lunch, get some friends together, and go exploring some cemeteries. Your notes may be just the key to unlocking somebody’s family history!