I spent part of my holiday weekend a few days ago enjoying another trip to western Massachusetts. I went to a memorial concert for my college band director. It was a great opportunity to hear good music, see good friends, and get a sneak peak at the new George N. Parks Minuteman Marching Band in the final phases of construction. Of course, as a genealogist, a cemetery visit was also in order, to visit George's grave. One of my friends joined me, along with her husband. Our excursion turned into a learning experience for friends, and a gentle reminder to this genealogist.
Neither of us had been to the cemetery before. Although a Baptist, George was buried in St. Brigid’s Catholic Cemetery because of its location on the edge of the UMass campus, about a quarter-mile from the football stadium. It is a small cemetery, with about 1,500-1,750 plots in 10 sections (you can see a map on the St. Brigid website) so I was confident about locating the grave, even without an exact location. This is where George's reminders to me kicked in.
Reminder Number 1: How Reliable is Your Information?
Both my friend Dawn and I remembered another friend posting an image of a dark gravestone (either dark grey or black) on Facebook. She also remembered having been told that he was near the gate to the cemetery. Besides the main entrance, there were two other gates. We drove in and started looking out the car windows for a dark stone near one of the entrances. There were only a few, but none belonged to George.
We drove out and back in to make another loop. At this point I jumped out of the car to examine some stones in the middle of the sections. Still nothing. Dawn joined me on the ground while her husband continued driving. We started at the first rows of stones in the front sections. Her section (St. Patrick on the map) had a few new burials with no markers before the first row of stones. We walked from the front of the cemetery all the way to the back, reading every stone. We also checked the sections on the side. No stones bore the name Parks.
I explained to her that I would be in big trouble back at work when I told them I couldn’t find a grave marker in such a small cemetery and she laughed. At this point I admitted defeat. We climbed back into the car and went to join friends for dinner.
Sometimes the information you are confident about may not be quite accurate.
Reminder Number 2: Verify Your Information With Multiple Sources
We met a group at the restaurant and the conversation quickly turned to war stories about our days in the band. At one point, Dawn turned to Kerstin and told her about our cemetery adventure, to which Kerstin responded “I can show you where he is. He doesn’t have a stone yet. It just has a small marker the funeral home put in when he was buried.” The stone Dawn and I both remembered seeing in a post was not the actual marker for George’s grave.
One consultation with a second source told us that our previous information was incorrect, which is why we had so much difficulty.
Reminder 3: Never Assume
After dinner we piled into the cars and drove back to the cemetery, our group having grown by a few more people. We pulled into the main entrance and drove around the U-shaped drive up the second entrance (where Dawn and I had started walking). Kerstin led us right past the first row of monuments to one of the newer graves. There he was. The small white marker, in the shape of a cross, had his name, birth date, and death date, and was surrounded with fresh flowers. It was amazing to me that it had survived the winter.
Our assumption that the grave had to be marked caused us to miss the actual grave, which both Dawn and I walked past. When you hit a brick wall, always go back and double-check your assumptions.
Other visitors had been there, leaving mementos such as poker chips (which George used to teach us our formations in band). I suggested that for homecoming we place a line of poker chips from the gate to the grave, so visitors would be able to easily find him. I also wondered if the gravestone, when it went in, would be one of those large round reddish ones. That would be like a giant poker chip, and any bando visiting the cemetery would find him in an instant.
Our small group stood around the grave. They watched me take photographs (in some pretty interesting positions). I explained that George was buried backwards from the rest of the burials in that row. He was buried with his feet at the end where the gravestone will go, so that he would face the stadium and always be watching his band. We stood around, laughed and told stories of getting arrested (and almost getting arrested) for band performances — when planning to bring several hundred musicians to play for the public, don't forget to get your performance permit from the city of Boston.
On the road back to Boston, I thought about George and how he is still teaching me lessons (as well as reminding me of those lessons I seem to forget from time to time). I was also very grateful to Kerstin for saving me from going home and telling my colleagues how I couldn’t find a new gravestone in such a small cemetery! Good times with good friends, and a bit of genealogy thrown in, who could ask for a better day? Thanks, George.