Friday, May 3, 2013

Cemetery Week

Well, it's been a cemetery week for me. No, I did not attend any funerals! I decided I was long overdue to visit some of my ancestors buried in and around the San Fernando Valley (suburb of Los Angeles), where I just happen to live. The first visit was to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. This particular cemetery is well-known as the final resting place for many legendary performers: pop legend Michael Jackson, the Andrews Sisters, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Walt Disney, L. Frank Baum (author of "The Wizard of Oz"), Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.  But my attention was for my great-great aunt, Lillian Schmidt and her second husband, Emil Goetschel. Lillian is the younger sister of my great grandmother, Annie Schmidt Hendel . Although I had the chance to spend time with Grandma Annie as a young girl back in the 60's, I never had the chance to meet Lillian, even though she lived several decades here in the L.A. area. What struck me the most is that Lillian died in 1990, several years after I began my genealogical research. I can only imagine the conversations we could have had.

My second stop was to Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood to see my great-grandfather Shirley L. Gates.  Yes, his name is Shirley. Seriously!  Shirley is buried with his wife Florence (Kinne) Gates. Again, I re-discovered that Florence and I could have met--she died in 1976, when I was a teenager. Next to Florence is her mother, my great-great grandmother, Jennie Mae Kinne. Jennie is the oldest of my ancestors buried locally.  What also saddens me about not meeting Lillian and Florence is that they are my father's great-aunt and grandmother, respectfully. It makes me wonder why that side of the family did not have any family reunions or simple get-togethers. At least Grandma Annie (sometimes with her daughter Bea) would occasionally fly in from Minnesota to visit. How sad!

My third trip was to San Fernando Mission Cemetery, in Mission Hills. Like Forest Lawn, this cemetery is known as a resting place for a few celebrities--comedian Bob Hope, 1950's singer Richie Valens, and actor William Frawley (Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy"). But, this time I was visiting members from my mom's side of the family. I took some time to be at my mom's gravesite, her parents, Dutch and Helen Wombacher, and three of Helen's siblings--Bernardine, Paul, and Uncle Bob. This time, I left a single red rose for the ladies.

My fourth and fifth cemetery trips were not for me.  A few months ago, I decided to volunteer for, a website focusing on posting online burial plot information. The website makes it quite easy to post written information about our deceased ancestors, and to post photos of grave-markers as well.  The job of volunteers is to photograph grave-markers for those who are unable to visit and record the information for themselves.

My fourth cemetery was Oakwood Memorial, set against the rustic, oak tree-filled mountains in Chatsworth.  Legendary dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are resting in this cemetery.  The rustic, oak tree surroundings really set this cemetery apart from the others in the L.A. area.  The fifth and last cemetery was Eden Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery right up the street from San Fernando Mission Cemetery.  Eden Memorial is the final resting place for comedians Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce, actor Howard Caine (most famous role was a Gestapo officer in "Hogan's Heroes"), and Dan Curtis, producer of the 1960's gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows".

I know the idea of visiting cemeteries, especially to take photos, sounds macabre, but I don't wholly agree with that sentiment. As a genealogist, burial information can be very important in the research process--especially in the absence of death certificates and obituaries. And, so far, my experiences with the cemetery staff has been stellar. Without their help, I would not have found the burial plots I needed to find. So, a special thanks to the staff of these five cemeteries.

Now onto the NGS conference!! In Las Vegas!!

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