Anoka County history: The historical value of cemeteries

“Lives are commemorated

Deaths are recorded

Families are reunited

Memories are made tangible

This is a cemetery”

The Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery brochure, Middle Village New York

We approach them with depredation, sadness and respect.

They are also wonderful records of history.

In Anoka County, there are dozens of cemeteries.

Burial grounds were often a parcel of the land owned by the family and used for their family burial plots.

For instance, the Linwood/Holden Cemetery history begins on the Green farm.

“Orvella E. Green was 18 years old when she died in 1863.  There being no cemetery nearby, she was buried on her father’s farm the Green family had set aside one acre, to be a cemetery.”  From The Anoka County Historical Society – Anoka County Cemeteries.

When your ancestors sold their land parcels, they may have requested they graves be taken care of.

I have ancestors from South Dakota, where the graves are fenced and they are planted and harvested around.

The graves there are my great grandparents and some of their children who died very young.

Locating grave sites can be as easy as using FindAGrave.com.

When I was asked to assist with research about an Anoka County cemetery for the Monuments to Life or Cemetery Tours, I first went to the book “Silent Cities. A Survey of Anoka County Minnesota Cemeteries”published by the Anoka County Historical Society.

With older cemeteries, the caretakers, or sextons, were responsible for grave digging and record keeping.  \

Often, the cemetery was on the property of the church your ancestors attended, which would have the burial records.

In researching a cemetery, you may find a group of people of the same family, heritage or religious affiliations.

Tombstone art found on the headstone can be a wealth of information.

Obviously, it usually included the names, dates of birth, and death.

Some will include a spouses or parents name.

The majority of veterans graves will include a reference to their service record.

In the Oak Leaf Cemetery, Vernon Broadbent’s headstone is specific to his rank and service record.

Ethnic and religious symbols, photographs, as well as poetry and scripture are very common.

Some are very detailed about the person: “He will be remembered for his hospitality, pride, integrity, sentiment civility…above all remembered as a good man and father.”

Several years ago, I was able to visit the graves of my great grandparents and great- great-grandfather.

I didn’t want to leave empty handed, so I  brought with me equipment – so I could bring the headstones home with me!

Always check with the sexton or caretakers, in some states, it is prohibited to do any “headstone rubbings.”

I carefully brushed away the dirt, wrote down the inscriptions and took photographs.

I used interfacing fabric, taping it securely and used artists’ charcoal to bring out the inscription.

A fantastic book for reference is:  Your Guide to Cemetery Research Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.

“A cemetery is a history of a people-a perpetual record of yesterday and a sanctuary of peace and quiet today.

“A cemetery exists because every life is worth loving and remembering-always” (The Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery brochure, Middle Village New York).

The next time you are driving on a county road and see a sign for a cemetery, stop and look for the oldest headstone – take a look at history, they are, perhaps your ancestors.

Editor’s note: Leslie Plummer is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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