Friday, November 5, 2010

Meet Kellie Walton, author of "She Finds Graves"

The seventy second in a series
featuring a member of the
Graveyard Rabbit Association


She Finds Graves

It was my dad that sparked my interest in both cemeteries and genealogy, despite the fact he didn’t particularly like either. By profession, he was a land surveyor and spent most of his days in the field often doing large state contracts for subdivisions and road additions. At dinner he would try to engage us kids in conversation about his day, often embellishing and joking to keep our attention. One day he was telling us how he was tromping through a marshy area when he stumbled upon some bones, we all looked up with great interest. “What kind of bones?” my brother asked – and without missing a beat, my dad said “Indian” and then laughed.

Today, I’m relatively sure that the reason he was laughing was because he was joking and it was really just a cow or pig he had found that met an untimely death. But at the time, I was convinced it was because he knew we were going to be rich and famous. In my head, I could totally visualize the cover of National Geographic that featured my family and the long lost Indian bones my dad had just unearthed – which surely were billions of years old. Billions. What I didn’t know as a 2nd or 3rd grader was that the mere hint of the discovery of Indian bones could quickly halt a land development before it even began – tying up money, work and really - a huge issue which could potentially cost millions. Fortunately, my home room teacher wasn’t quite so believing and explained to me that while it was *possible* that my dad found Indian bones, it wasn’t very probable… especially because the bones were just laying there – not buried.

My interest in family history was founded around my dad pulling our legs, yet again. I was in 4th grade and started a heated debate in my history class insisting the teacher was wrong about the name of a local lake – which my dad had told us was called Jensen Lake after his family, early settlers in the town I was born and raised. Not only was the lake not named Jensen Lake, it wasn’t a lake at all. It was a man made swimming hole created a few years after I was born – and founding family, mine was not. My punishment for arguing with the teacher was to write a paper about the TRUE origins of my family, basically debunking the tall tales my dad had told us for years. While I was gutted that my familiar history wasn’t what I always thought it to be – what it actually was, was quite interesting to me on its own accord. The nice thing about genealogy is that you can put it away for several years when your life isn’t conducive to spending hours creating family trees and scanning photographs – it waits for you nicely and is easy to get back into when the time comes that you are ready. In my own life, it seemed those times were after a family member died. If only I would have taken that interest BEFORE they died, rather than after – but my timing has never been very good. I’m trying to be better about that.

What Graveyard Rabbit site(s) do you run?

She Finds Graves. My blog is very new, so there isn’t much there yet – but I am committed to writing at least a few times a week. Honest.

What first interested you in joining the GYR Association?

I’ve been a blog stalker for several years and truth be known - it’s nice to find a community that are so welcoming and share my same interests. While I’m very fortunate to have fabulous friends and a great family – not very many of them understand that my ideal afternoon is spent waiting for the perfect amount of sunlight to reflect off a almost lost grave marker allowing me to read that which hasn’t been read for many, many years. *squee*

Did you always have a fascination with cemeteries? Or did this develop out of your genealogy work?

Always. The grade school I attended was next to our largest town cemetery – sometimes during gym class the teacher would take us over to run along the road through the cemetery. I was in all my glory. I attempted to “get lost” once so that I didn’t have to go back to class but another girl in my class ratted me out. As an adult, I share a love/hate relationship with the idea of a cemetery. I worry that as a planet we aren’t doing the responsible thing by continuing chemical embalming and burial but I can’t deny the pleasure it gives me to walk into a cemetery and see a name that I recognize. Even when I don’t recognize the name – reading the stone and figuring out how old that person was when they died, wondering what they did for a living and what sort of personality they had while they were alive. That is my idea of perfect escapism. I would much rather spend an hour walking through a cemetery than in a crowded mall shopping for things I don’t really need in the first place. (But let’s not tell my husband that!)

Do your family members think you are a “little off center” with respect to your cemetery obsession?

Very much so. Not even my husband really gets it – though over the course of the last few years he’s gotten a little more accepting since the discovery that many cemeteries now hold geocaches. Both of my grown children like cemeteries but have tired of the length of my visits, which I can understand – a “quick visit” can often turn into a few hours – in particular if the temperature is right and the bugs aren’t bad.

Which situation evokes an immediate response of “Oh! Oh! Stop the car!”- you spy a yard sale in the distance- you notice a cemetery from ¼ mile away- you see a sexy man on the side of the road- from afar you spy Elvis with your eye

Definitely the cemetery – though because my family is rarely tolerant of my obsession, it usually results in my making a mental note about the location, some good ‘ol Googling when I get home – followed by a trip back on my own at another time.

What advice do you have for anyone considering joining GYR and creating their own GYR-affiliated blog?

Do it. A sense of community is important. We all have a story to tell and not one is more important than another.

What advice would you have for would-be cemetery rabbits?

One of my biggest personal obstacles is getting side tracked. It doesn’t take much – an interesting headstone, a funny epitaph, a tragic story. Any of which could cause me to spend hours if not days searching for more information on someone else’s family. That’s not really conducive to getting my own family research done – so I’ve found a happy medium that I wrote about on my blog earlier this week. The 15 minute Google! It’s brilliant – whatever I don’t find after 15 minutes isn’t my problem. You’d be amazed how much information you can dig up in 15 minutes – it satisfies my curiosity, hones my investigative skills and doesn’t side track me for weeks on end. Perfect.

Giving back and doing your part whether it be signing up to do random acts of genealogy kindness, joining an historical society or taking photographs for memorials on Find-A-Grave is important. You’ll be amazed at the number of people you’ll meet (including in my case long lost relatives) and it feels great to contribute.

I also have learned the hard way that when recording a cemetery – relying solely on my photos is often a huge mistake. Even with digital – until you see that image on your computer, you really don’t know the quality. Many times I’ve returned home only to find that what I thought was clear – was definitely not. I’m famous for shadows covering dates or a part of a name, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my camera set on landscape mode resulting in all my photos being fuzzy. Even though it takes longer and seems repetitive, I use a spreadsheet on my Blackberry in addition to my camera to record. I long for the day that camera phones are decent enough resolution so I can ditch a separate camera!

I hope you’ll stop by my blog and say hi!

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