Many years ago, I was lucky enough to take a class from the queen of Chicago cemeteries, Helen Sclair. She was not just a singularly fascinating person, but also a principled one. Her concern for cemeteries, and their residents, has always stuck with me. In that vein, I wanted to set down a bit of the methodology and ethics that I use in my research.
“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: It gives back life to those who no longer exist.” — de Maupassant
I had to name myself. There’s no official club for Folks Who Get All Up in Dead People’s Business, but in the barest sense, that’s what I do. For fun.
It works like this: A couple times a year, I will walk a cemetery, looking for interesting stones. If you died young, I want to know why. If your stone makes me stop and look, I will start asking questions. I take pictures and note names.
If there’s a portrait of a lady in a giant hat? She is definitely coming with me.
Before I get too deep into telling stories, I wanted to show how I work. Belle Ullmer here has (been) volunteered to run us through the process.
I think I noticed this one because I liked her name. Belle is just so pretty.
I thought she would be a good Snooping 101 test case because she has a distinctive name; she lived in years that are well documented in vital records; and as she is a woman, finding her might be a little trickier.
The lives of women can be hard to trace. Maiden names vanish from the record. Housewives rarely made the news. But they were here.