Needle In a Haystack

cemetery 5Researching for my book (which may or may not be published someday) has become my favorite part. Delving into old records via Google and the variety of internet sources, not to mention old, old family letters and photos, has been like a giant puzzle. Super sleuth that I am, I love puzzles! 🙂 And I hoped I had found that final allusive piece – my grandfather’s burial site, his final resting place.

For reasons somewhat confusing and mostly sad, to say the least, my grandfather was separated from my family in the 1920’s.

A year or so ago, I believed I had found him. It was a simple death certificate written in the coroner’s hand with detailed facts. The one difference was, for some reason known only to him, my grandfather dropped his first name. The death certificate stated his name – using his middle name in place of his first given one, date of birth, place of birth and parent’s names. All were right-on accurate.

He died in Indiana.

It was a complete surprise as we knew his last location before the trail went cold, was Chicago; prior to that Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

How he ended up in Indiana we’ll never know.

But how excited I was! I told hubby the next time we are in Indiana, we need to track him down. I had the name of the cemetery, located in Ft. Wayne.

Last month we had our opportunity. After visiting friends an hour or so north of there, we headed south to Prairie Grove Cemetery. I’m thankful for GPS!

Finally, after driving around little back roads, there it was. Or at least I was hoping this was it. There was no sign, no office, no official entrance. But according to GPS, this was the place. We turned on one of the roads and finally found a sign posted which actually said “Prairie Grove Cemetery Association” so I was excited to know we were in the right place.

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There is a small old chapel on the grounds – built in 1850 – that has seen better days. It appeared to be locked and my research indicated that it had undergone major damage from a fire deliberately set in 2008. Apparently restoration was underway. The earliest recorded burial in the cemetery was 1834.

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Okay, so here I was, surrounded by a sea of headstones and a small chapel. Now what? How was I supposed to track down the actual location of my grandfather’s final resting place? Online, some of the named locations were listed as someone actually went through major parts of the cemetery and cataloged all they could find. But my grandfather was not listed. I assumed maybe no one had provided a headstone for him or maybe his part of the land was not yet recorded. But I knew somewhere – as in all cemeteries – were official records. I had hoped there would be a little office on the property, but alas, no. Not even a caretaker was present.

We drove back to that original sign posted by the Prairie Grove Historical Association and found a phone number. The lady on the other end of the line was very gracious and most helpful – to a point. Her first question: “What year did he die?” 1931. There was a long pause on the other end. Finally the kind lady informed me that there had been a fire in the records office in 1936 and all prior records were destroyed. My heart sunk. I questioned if maybe there was a certain spot where ones of that age were laid to rest? No. Apparently anyone could choose any place. I concluded that was true as I walked a bit around looking at old and new graves next to each other.

There was no way I’d be able to find my grandfather’s grave.

I was sad; I was deeply disappointed.

But then I thought about it and I felt a tad closer to my grandfather – someone who I obviously never met, and that made me smile. I’m encouraged that when I get to heaven and hopefully meet him there, he’ll tell me the rest of the story!

With some peace and the knowledge that I had tracked him this far, we drove away.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Trust in God, trust also in Me.

In My Father’s house are many rooms;

if it were not so, I would have told you.

I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-2

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A Cemetery Encounter

IMG_7906Growing up in Michigan as the youngest of four was fine and good but at age 20, Carol decided a change of pace was in order. A friend previously transplanted to California beckoned and before she knew it, Carol was heading west.

Immediately the job hunt began and being adventurous, Carol applied to be a limo driver. As a female in a mostly male world of drivers, she became an immediate hit and established herself well. Carol raked in the tips, met celebrities, saw the sights and had loads of fun along the way!

Eventually Carol met and married Bill and his job took them clear across the country first to Boston where their daughter was born and then, after six years, it was back to California with a job change. And their son was born.  It turned out to be an unhappy, bad fit of a job so seven years later the family landed mid-country this time, in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was so much a better fit job-wise and location-wise for a young family of four and they began to put down roots, becoming involved in the schools and communities. Carol felt, however, that something was missing. Something Big! She thought back to her childhood, her own family life. Carol came from a parochial background – church and school, although church wasn’t exactly attended as much as her parents thought.

Carol tells of her and her brother riding their bikes around the parking lot during church until they could hear the service almost ending. Her brother would run in, grab a church bulletin, and they both would head for home, delivering the precious bulletin to the parents as proof of their church attendance.

Being in a parochial school at least established in Carol’s mind and heart that God was real.

As she sought to establish those roots in the family’s new community, Carol decided that maybe they needed a church – for the kids. She looked in the yellow pages; she looked in the white pages. Actually Carol had no idea what she was looking for. It became just one of those nagging ideas in the back of her mind that she hoped to act on one day. And life went on.

When her daughter was in 5th grade and on a swim team, Carol and Bill befriended other parents of those on the team. One day, one of the dad’s committed suicide. Just like that! No warning. Obviously shock and sadness took over Carol along with everyone else close to the situation.

Carol went to the funeral. Before the service, as Carol arrived early, the attendant insisted three times that Carol join the family in a room set aside. They were praying. Carol slipped in and stood in the back of the room. Pastor Kevin was praying. Carol had never heard anything like it: so personal, so real, so relational. It touched her heart and awakened her soul. Following the service, Carol accompanied the family and guests to the cemetery.

After hanging on to Pastor Kevin’s prayer prior, then hearing his message at the funeral itself about how one can be assured of Eternal Life by simply believing that God’s Son Jesus died for our sins and asking Him for forgiveness, then final sealing words at the grave site, Carol knew. At that exact point in time, surrounded by death, in her heart she had just met Jesus. She accepted. She repented. She believed. She was born again!

This was nine years ago. With Carol’s obvious change and her positive influence on her entire family, they immediately began attending that church together where Pastor Kevin was employed. Carol found, not only a place for the children, but one for her and Bill! They both observed and marveled how the church “family” came alongside the bereaved family and met just about their every need. Bill and Carol both had found a home and God. One day early on, Carol confided to a friend at church of a particular problem, and the friend responded, “I’ll pray for you.” Carol thought to herself, “So that’s how they do it!” She understood then that there is a direct connection with God. It brought joy to her heart!

Carol immediately was discipled by others as she yearned to learn more about Jesus and desired to grow in her personal walk with Him, and became involved in many  Bible Studies since then, hungry for and gleaning from the Word of God. Life evolves and brings many challenges and changes. Carol knows it’s not a journey she is taking alone. She is grateful.

Barely two months ago, Carol’s dad passed away. Through her grief, knowing that he too had a personal relationship with the Lord, she is comforted by the fact that she will see him again.

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4