Friday, May 22, 2009

Meet: Greta Koehl, Author of 2 Graveyard Rabbit Blogs

The thirty fourth in a series

featuring a member of

The Graveyard Rabbit Association


I should have recognized all the signs and clues that genealogy and graveyard roaming were in my destiny. The fascination with family stories. The curiosity inspired by the names on a small family tree. The attraction my husband and I have to the peace, beauty, and stories to be found in graveyards. The love of solving puzzles, figuring out mysteries, and playing detective. Even the thrill I experience when deciphering a document in a foreign language with faint, nearly illegible handwriting should have given me a clue. But for so many years I was too thick-headed to realize what all of this meant. On top of that, as an adolescent and young adult I was probably “too full of myself”: the life experience and the perspective it brings were just not there.

The process of gaining this experience and perspective was finally put into motion by having children and the nonstop roller coaster of highs and lows, exhaustion, frustration, and hopeless love that children inspire. This prepared the ground, and when the seeds of a few chance ancestor discoveries were sown, I got totally and absolutely hooked on genealogy.

This brought me back to graveyards, and the realization hit me that these places I loved to visit “just because” now had an added attraction: They are great research resources, and the stories they have to tell are a piece of the larger puzzle of the lives of the people buried in them. I remembered the thrill I felt many years ago when visiting Tikhvin Cemetery in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), where Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov are buried, and Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, where Chekhov, Bulgakov, Eisenstein, Gogol, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich are buried. Now the “celebrities” whose graves I wanted to visit were my ancestors. But I still have a full-time “day job” and children at home, and most of the ancestors’ graves I am aware of are more than a day trip away. Discovering Find-a-grave and then the genea-blogging world, including the Graveyard Rabbit Association, however, showed me that I could do locally what others do for the distant graveyards in which my ancestors are buried: research, photograph, catalog, and write about cemeteries (and most of all, have a good excuse to visit them). So when Terry Thornton asked me if I wanted to be a Graveyard Rabbit, the answer was an enthusiastic “Yes”.

My Graveyard Rabbit blogs are
The Graveyard Rabbit of Northern Virginia and The Graveyard Rabbit Afield, which is for graveyards I visit and photograph while traveling. Bad weather and an extremely busy work and family schedule have conspired to keep me from my weekend graveyard visits for the last month or so, but I am planning an outing this weekend (weather permitting) to the historic graveyard of the church for which my corner of Northern Virginia is named: the Falls Church. My genealogy blog, Greta’s Genealogy Blog, also occasionally strays into graveyard territory; a recent article on the Tinner Hill community in Falls Church touched on two of the local graveyards I am particularly interested in, which are associated with the Second Baptist Church of Falls Church and Galloway United Methodist Church.

A bit about my background: I was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in California and Texas, and went to college in Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, where I majored in Russian and Slavic Studies. Languages are my other passion besides graveyards and genealogy. I have been married for 27 years to my husband, whose main interest is in history (another great side benefit of genealogy has been to draw our areas of interest even closer together) and is a great resource for me in my research, not to mention a frequent companion on my visits to graveyards. We have two daughters, neither of whom have I been able to get hooked on genealogy, yet, though they might have the beginnings of an interest in graveyards. We also have three cats who don’t care about genealogy or graveyards at all but provide us with endless hours of entertainment.


Becky Thompson said...

How WONDERFUL to read this and get to know Greta better! I'm printing it out so my Dad can read it too. Thanks so much for the terrific interview!

Greta Koehl said...

Thank you so much, Becky. (Speaking of printing out articles, I printed our your "Get Over Yourself" post from "Gramma's House" - words of wisdom to live by!) Say "hi" to Ernie for me!

Linda Hughes Hiser said...

I am delighted to get a chance to see Greta and get to know her better, too. Greta always has such interesting blogs and adds wonderful comments on mine.

Diane Wright said...

That is a great interview. I think I like you!! I went to high school in Northern Virginia, Alexandria, near Falls Church. I wish I had been more in tune to graveyards then, Now I need to go back and see what I missed then. You sound like a luck women!

Sheri Fenley said...

Well done Greta! Thanks for being a wonderful wabbit.

Greta Koehl said...

Thanks Linda, Diane, and Sheri! I went out to one of my graveyards today but found lighting is going to be a challenge there (lots of shade, may have to go in later afternoon to get the right light).

My girls went to school in Alexandria through 8th grade (St. Stephen's & St. Agnes). You are right - I am lucky - this is a great area for both family research and graveyard research. I also feel very fortunate to know you all through the Genea-bloggers and Graveyard Rabbit communities!

Cousin Russ said...

Greta - It's nice to meet you and congratulations. Next time I am DC, I'll have to get in touch with you. I lived in the DC area for 15 years. Sorta miss it, but.... All the best.