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Preserving Family History Proves Rewarding

Angela Gustafson
Fullerton, Neb.

Most people may find it odd, maybe even a little eerie, but frequenting cemeteries is a favorite pastime of Carolyn Russell of Palmer, Neb. In fact, one can often find her on many a summer afternoon, wandering through rows of gravestones, pen and paper and camera in hand, carefully documenting information about her ancestors’ past.

No cemetery has proven too far for this avid genealogist, as she has visited numerous ones all across Nebraska and the United States. On a trip to New England in the fall of 2010, Carolyn visited a monument erected in honor of her eighth great grandmother, Mary Barrett Dyer. Dyer was a Quaker martyr hanged on Boston Common in Boston, Mass., in 1660 for publicly speaking out against the Puritan law opposing Quakers. She, her husband and many other people who were banished from Massachusetts, had a large part in founding the state of Rhode Island. Dyer is rumored to be buried in an unmarked grave on Boston Common, a place that derived its name from being a common place for farmers to bring their cattle to graze. It serves as a public park today.

Though Carolyn’s passion for family history has taken her hundreds of miles from home, her fascination began much closer to her heart. Back in 2003 she decided to create a scrapbook to commemorate her father’s 80th birthday. She had collected many family photos, stories and items throughout the years, so she thought a scrapbook was a fitting way to preserve them, as well as to honor her dad. Little did she know those few pages of memories would send her on a journey through time more rewarding than she ever imagined.

After Carolyn’s father passed away in 2004, her mother moved from the farm into town. As she and other family members cleaned out the old farmhouse, Carolyn discovered many more items pertaining to family history; some that were almost discarded.

“I rescued an old Bible that was going to be thrown out,” she said. “I took it home and looking through it found original obituaries pasted in the back.”

Upon discovering these treasured items from the farm, Carolyn’s interest in her past was especially peaked. She decided to buy a genealogy computer program to better help her store and organize all the information she was collecting. The program allowed her to input ancestors’ names, birthdates, spouses, children and so on, even pictures.

“My children took a project in 4-H about family history,” she explained, “so I already had the family tree (traced) back so far.”

Another way Carolyn utilized technology to further her search was to use websites on the internet such as familysearch.com and ancestry.com.

She began visiting local cemeteries to “get as many pictures of gravestones as I could,” she said. She also bought cemetery books from the Boone/Nance County Genealogical Society and online from cemeteries further away.

Cemeteries are a good place to find information because, “a tombstone for a husband and wife, for instance, may offer a birth date and death date for both spouses and if I’m lucky, a wedding date,” Carolyn explained. “Often family members will be buried in family plots, or at least close together, and you can find infant’s and unmarried children’s graves, as well as married children and their families.”

At first Carolyn didn’t want to branch out very far onto the family tree, but when she would uncover another piece of information, it would just lead to another question that she couldn’t leave unanswered.

“I feel a sense of wonder when I find a tombstone knowing that it’s been there a long time and these were real people,” she described. “I want to know about them; what they did for a living; why they made their home where they did. Sometimes I have this urgency to find out more; to put it all down so others can see and read it.”

“I started (researching) my husband’s side of the family too,” adds Carolyn. “So now I have about six large scrapbooks and six smaller ones for the combined sides.”

When it seemed as though she had come to a dead end on one branch of the family tree, she would “Google” a relative’s name on the internet. For example, she learned there was a Hunter Cemetery in Illinois where her third great grandparents were buried just from searching her third great grandmother’s name, Tryphena Hunter, on the web. Carolyn was able to visit there and photograph the gravestones for her records. Consequently while at Hunter Cemetery, she stumbled across the grave of her fourth great grandmother, Rhoda Tuttle Hunter, as well.

In addition to gathering facts from these resources for her personal records, Carolyn has been able to contribute information of her own to online genealogies and websites. She has filled in the blanks of other people’s records with missing information or pictures, therefore helping to complete their records and ultimately preserve history for future generations.

One website in particular which has benefited from Carolyn’s information, is The Nebraska Tombstone Project. She has submitted numerous photos of gravestones to this site and not just of her own family. She is so truly dedicated to preserving history that she has submitted photos of all the gravestones in the small Glenwood Cemetery near Palmer, Neb., and it is her goal someday to do the same with the Main Cemetery near Belgrade, Neb., which is slightly larger.

Carolyn has even taken a cemetery tour offered in Grand Island by the Hall County Historical Society, where she learned about the symbolism of certain designs and markings on old gravestones. For example, some stones have clasped hands on them.

“If the wife’s hand is above the husband’s hand, it means she died first and is welcoming him into heaven and vice versa,” she explained.

For gravestones that are designed like tree trunks, Carolyn learned that the taller the trunk, the longer the person lived. Also the limbs on the trunk represent the person’s children.

She offered some advice for those interested in genealogy or who desire to start researching their family tree.

“Talk to older family members about any ancestors they remember to get you started,” she said. “Ask for any old pictures they might have or obituaries, birth, death and marriage certificates, wedding announcements or birth announcements.”

An item that Carolyn has found very helpful in gathering information from family members is an all-in-one scanner/printer. She brings it along when she visits people, so she can make copies of old photos or documents on the spot. She has found that people are more comfortable with this rather than loaning out their items to her, fearful that they might not be returned.

Carolyn’s fervor for genealogy has even spread to her husband.

“Every time we go on a trip, I try to convince my husband to take a side-trip to a cemetery,” she laughed. “He enjoys it too; he even found a tombstone in Newport, Rhode Island, that he wants to copy for his own headstone.”

Most people may find it odd, maybe even a little eerie, but frequenting cemeteries is a favorite pastime of Carolyn Russell of Palmer, Neb. In fact, one can often find her on many a summer afternoon, wandering through rows of gravestones, pen and paper and camera in hand, carefully documenting information about her ancestors’ past.

No cemetery has proven too far for this avid genealogist, as she has visited numerous ones all across Nebraska and the United States. On a trip to New England in the fall of 2010, Carolyn visited a monument erected in honor of her eighth great grandmother, Mary Barrett Dyer. Dyer was a Quaker martyr hanged on Boston Common in Boston, Mass., in 1660 for publicly speaking out against the Puritan law opposing Quakers. She, her husband and many other people who were banished from Massachusetts, had a large part in founding the state of Rhode Island. Dyer is rumored to be buried in an unmarked grave on Boston Common, a place that derived its name from being a common place for farmers to bring their cattle to graze. It serves as a public park today.

Though Carolyn’s passion for family history has taken her hundreds of miles from home, her fascination began much closer to her heart. Back in 2003 she decided to create a scrapbook to commemorate her father’s 80th birthday. She had collected many family photos, stories and items throughout the years, so she thought a scrapbook was a fitting way to preserve them, as well as to honor her dad. Little did she know those few pages of memories would send her on a journey through time more rewarding than she ever imagined.

After Carolyn’s father passed away in 2004, her mother moved from the farm into town. As she and other family members cleaned out the old farmhouse, Carolyn discovered many more items pertaining to family history; some that were almost discarded.

“I rescued an old Bible that was going to be thrown out,” she said. “I took it home and looking through it found original obituaries pasted in the back.”

Upon discovering these treasured items from the farm, Carolyn’s interest in her past was especially peaked. She decided to buy a genealogy computer program to better help her store and organize all the information she was collecting. The program allowed her to input ancestors’ names, birthdates, spouses, children and so on, even pictures.

“My children took a project in 4-H about family history,” she explained, “so I already had the family tree (traced) back so far.”

Another way Carolyn utilized technology to further her search was to use websites on the internet such as familysearch.com and ancestry.com.

She began visiting local cemeteries to “get as many pictures of gravestones as I could,” she said. She also bought cemetery books from the Boone/Nance County Genealogical Society and online from cemeteries further away.

Cemeteries are a good place to find information because, “a tombstone for a husband and wife, for instance, may offer a birth date and death date for both spouses and if I’m lucky, a wedding date,” Carolyn explained. “Often family members will be buried in family plots, or at least close together, and you can find infant’s and unmarried children’s graves, as well as married children and their families.”

At first Carolyn didn’t want to branch out very far onto the family tree, but when she would uncover another piece of information, it would just lead to another question that she couldn’t leave unanswered.

“I feel a sense of wonder when I find a tombstone knowing that it’s been there a long time and these were real people,” she described. “I want to know about them; what they did for a living; why they made their home where they did. Sometimes I have this urgency to find out more; to put it all down so others can see and read it.”

“I started (researching) my husband’s side of the family too,” adds Carolyn. “So now I have about six large scrapbooks and six smaller ones for the combined sides.”

When it seemed as though she had come to a dead end on one branch of the family tree, she would “Google” a relative’s name on the internet. For example, she learned there was a Hunter Cemetery in Illinois where her third great grandparents were buried just from searching her third great grandmother’s name, Tryphena Hunter, on the web. Carolyn was able to visit there and photograph the gravestones for her records. Consequently while at Hunter Cemetery, she stumbled across the grave of her fourth great grandmother, Rhoda Tuttle Hunter, as well.

In addition to gathering facts from these resources for her personal records, Carolyn has been able to contribute information of her own to online genealogies and websites. She has filled in the blanks of other people’s records with missing information or pictures, therefore helping to complete their records and ultimately preserve history for future generations.

One website in particular which has benefited from Carolyn’s information, is The Nebraska Tombstone Project. She has submitted numerous photos of gravestones to this site and not just of her own family. She is so truly dedicated to preserving history that she has submitted photos of all the gravestones in the small Glenwood Cemetery near Palmer, Neb., and it is her goal someday to do the same with the Main Cemetery near Belgrade, Neb., which is slightly larger.

Carolyn has even taken a cemetery tour offered in Grand Island by the Hall County Historical Society, where she learned about the symbolism of certain designs and markings on old gravestones. For example, some stones have clasped hands on them.

“If the wife’s hand is above the husband’s hand, it means she died first and is welcoming him into heaven and vice versa,” she explained.

For gravestones that are designed like tree trunks, Carolyn learned that the taller the trunk, the longer the person lived. Also the limbs on the trunk represent the person’s children.

She offered some advice for those interested in genealogy or who desire to start researching their family tree.

“Talk to older family members about any ancestors they remember to get you started,” she said. “Ask for any old pictures they might have or obituaries, birth, death and marriage certificates, wedding announcements or birth announcements.”

An item that Carolyn has found very helpful in gathering information from family members is an all-in-one scanner/printer. She brings it along when she visits people, so she can make copies of old photos or documents on the spot. She has found that people are more comfortable with this rather than loaning out their items to her, fearful that they might not be returned.

Carolyn’s fervor for genealogy has even spread to her husband.

“Every time we go on a trip, I try to convince my husband to take a side-trip to a cemetery,” she laughed. “He enjoys it too; he even found a tombstone in Newport, Rhode Island, that he wants to copy for his own headstone.”

Most people may find it odd, maybe even a little eerie, but frequenting cemeteries is a favorite pastime of Carolyn Russell of Palmer, Neb. In fact, one can often find her on many a summer afternoon, wandering through rows of gravestones, pen and paper and camera in hand, carefully documenting information about her ancestors’ past.

No cemetery has proven too far for this avid genealogist, as she has visited numerous ones all across Nebraska and the United States. On a trip to New England in the fall of 2010, Carolyn visited a monument erected in honor of her eighth great grandmother, Mary Barrett Dyer. Dyer was a Quaker martyr hanged on Boston Common in Boston, Mass., in 1660 for publicly speaking out against the Puritan law opposing Quakers. She, her husband and many other people who were banished from Massachusetts, had a large part in founding the state of Rhode Island. Dyer is rumored to be buried in an unmarked grave on Boston Common, a place that derived its name from being a common place for farmers to bring their cattle to graze. It serves as a public park today.

Though Carolyn’s passion for family history has taken her hundreds of miles from home, her fascination began much closer to her heart. Back in 2003 she decided to create a scrapbook to commemorate her father’s 80th birthday. She had collected many family photos, stories and items throughout the years, so she thought a scrapbook was a fitting way to preserve them, as well as to honor her dad. Little did she know those few pages of memories would send her on a journey through time more rewarding than she ever imagined.

After Carolyn’s father passed away in 2004, her mother moved from the farm into town. As she and other family members cleaned out the old farmhouse, Carolyn discovered many more items pertaining to family history; some that were almost discarded.

“I rescued an old Bible that was going to be thrown out,” she said. “I took it home and looking through it found original obituaries pasted in the back.”

Upon discovering these treasured items from the farm, Carolyn’s interest in her past was especially peaked. She decided to buy a genealogy computer program to better help her store and organize all the information she was collecting. The program allowed her to input ancestors’ names, birthdates, spouses, children and so on, even pictures.

“My children took a project in 4-H about family history,” she explained, “so I already had the family tree (traced) back so far.”

Another way Carolyn utilized technology to further her search was to use websites on the internet such as familysearch.com and ancestry.com.

She began visiting local cemeteries to “get as many pictures of gravestones as I could,” she said. She also bought cemetery books from the Boone/Nance County Genealogical Society and online from cemeteries further away.

Cemeteries are a good place to find information because, “a tombstone for a husband and wife, for instance, may offer a birth date and death date for both spouses and if I’m lucky, a wedding date,” Carolyn explained. “Often family members will be buried in family plots, or at least close together, and you can find infant’s and unmarried children’s graves, as well as married children and their families.”

At first Carolyn didn’t want to branch out very far onto the family tree, but when she would uncover another piece of information, it would just lead to another question that she couldn’t leave unanswered.

“I feel a sense of wonder when I find a tombstone knowing that it’s been there a long time and these were real people,” she described. “I want to know about them; what they did for a living; why they made their home where they did. Sometimes I have this urgency to find out more; to put it all down so others can see and read it.”

“I started (researching) my husband’s side of the family too,” adds Carolyn. “So now I have about six large scrapbooks and six smaller ones for the combined sides.”

When it seemed as though she had come to a dead end on one branch of the family tree, she would “Google” a relative’s name on the internet. For example, she learned there was a Hunter Cemetery in Illinois where her third great grandparents were buried just from searching her third great grandmother’s name, Tryphena Hunter, on the web. Carolyn was able to visit there and photograph the gravestones for her records. Consequently while at Hunter Cemetery, she stumbled across the grave of her fourth great grandmother, Rhoda Tuttle Hunter, as well.

In addition to gathering facts from these resources for her personal records, Carolyn has been able to contribute information of her own to online genealogies and websites. She has filled in the blanks of other people’s records with missing information or pictures, therefore helping to complete their records and ultimately preserve history for future generations.

One website in particular which has benefited from Carolyn’s information, is The Nebraska Tombstone Project. She has submitted numerous photos of gravestones to this site and not just of her own family. She is so truly dedicated to preserving history that she has submitted photos of all the gravestones in the small Glenwood Cemetery near Palmer, Neb., and it is her goal someday to do the same with the Main Cemetery near Belgrade, Neb., which is slightly larger.

Carolyn has even taken a cemetery tour offered in Grand Island by the Hall County Historical Society, where she learned about the symbolism of certain designs and markings on old gravestones. For example, some stones have clasped hands on them.

“If the wife’s hand is above the husband’s hand, it means she died first and is welcoming him into heaven and vice versa,” she explained.

For gravestones that are designed like tree trunks, Carolyn learned that the taller the trunk, the longer the person lived. Also the limbs on the trunk represent the person’s children.

She offered some advice for those interested in genealogy or who desire to start researching their family tree.

“Talk to older family members about any ancestors they remember to get you started,” she said. “Ask for any old pictures they might have or obituaries, birth, death and marriage certificates, wedding announcements or birth announcements.”

An item that Carolyn has found very helpful in gathering information from family members is an all-in-one scanner/printer. She brings it along when she visits people, so she can make copies of old photos or documents on the spot. She has found that people are more comfortable with this rather than loaning out their items to her, fearful that they might not be returned.

Carolyn’s fervor for genealogy has even spread to her husband.

“Every time we go on a trip, I try to convince my husband to take a side-trip to a cemetery,” she laughed. “He enjoys it too; he even found a tombstone in Newport, Rhode Island, that he wants to copy for his own headstone.”


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