Celebrating friendships, stories and discoveries along the way

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Splendors of Mount Auburn Cemetery

On a recent weekend I accompanied a group of fellow genealogists to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Meg Winslow, curator of historical collections for Mount Auburn, gave a wonderful presentation on the genealogical collections of the cemetery. After her presentation she led our group on a walking tour of the awe-inspiring cemetery grounds.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831, is America’s first landscaped cemetery and an established green space, as revealed in two of the cemetery’s breathtaking locations, the Dell and Halcyon Lake.

At every corner of Mount Auburn Cemetery the gravestones and monuments harmonize perfectly with the horticultural features of the landscape, evoking sensations of repose, relaxation, and peace.

Mount Auburn is the final resting place of many historical figures, including authors, poets, statesmen and soldiers.

During our walking tour Meg highlighted the symbolic aspects of grave markings and their evolution over time, shaped by historic events. The American Civil War played a significant role in nineteenth-century gravestone symbolism, as the aspects of untimely death touched every family. A common example of nineteenth-century gravestone symbolism is the draped broken column. The drapery indicates mourning, while the broken column indicates a life cut short.

This gravestone, revealing a hand holding a lamp, symbolizes life after death.

Two significant Civil War monuments are the Sphinx and the Shaw family monument.

Jacob Bigelow, founder of Mount Auburn Cemetery, chose the Sphinx as a symbol of physical and intellectual strength of our reunited nation, bearing this inscription on its side:
American Union Preserved
African Slavery Destroyed
By the Uprising of a Great People
By the Blood of Fallen Heroes1
The Sphinx is situated on a lovely park directly across from Bigelow Chapel, one location to honor the Mount Auburn founder and the sacrifice of those who fell to preserve the Union.

The Shaw family monument is located near the Sphinx on Pine Avenue. Boston philanthropist Robert Gould Shaw (1776 - 1853) planned the family burial location. His grandson, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, was killed in an ill-fated attempt to storm Fort Wagner in South Carolina on July 18, 1863 and is buried outside the fort in a mass grave with his men. Colonel Gould's name is inscribed on the family monument as a cenotaph in tribute to his memory. 2

As our tour ended Meg parted with our group at the front gate, inviting us to continue our exploration and encouraging us to return again. Meg was extremely gracious and we remain very grateful for the time and consideration she extended to our group.

Mount Auburn is a home for many species of wildlife and is a birding location of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Bird sightings are posted on the main gate and on the cemetery website. Recognized as a scenic and historic treasure, Mount Auburn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated National Historic Landmark of the Department of the Interior. 3

In addition to the splendors of an onsite visit Mount Auburn has a wonderful website for online exploration. The website is continually updated with events to satisfy historians and naturalists alike. The website hosts an interactive burial map that pinpoints burial locations and is extremely valuable for the gravesite visitor. Please visit Mount Auburn online at http://www.mountauburn.org.

1Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts), “The Sphinx,” African-American Heritage Trail – The Sphinx | Mount Auburn Cemetery (http://www.mountauburn.org/2013/aaht-sphinx/: 27 June 2013).
2Mount Auburn Cemetery, “Shaw Monument,” African-American Heritage Trail – Shaw Monument | Mount Auburn Cemetery (http://www.mountauburn.org/2013/aaht-shaw/: 27 June 2013).
3 Mount Auburn Cemetery, Map - Mount Auburn Cemetery, map and brochure (Cambridge, MA: Mount Auburn Cemetery, 2013), inside brochure section.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Italian Ancestors Online Project

The National Archives of Italy (Direzione Generale per gli Archivi) and FamilySearch are involved in a combined effort to digitize Italian Civil Registration records from 1802 through 1941. Italian Civil Registration records are a rich source of vital information containing birth (1802 - 1902), marriage (1802 – 1912), and death (1802 - 1941) records. When completed over 115 million digital images of Italian vital records will be searchable on the Family Search website. Agreement for this effort began in 2011 and the digitizing of records from the National Archives of Italy and from Family Search microfilms and vault records is currently underway. Digitized records are added continually to the Family Search website, http://www.familysearch.org. Indexing of the records for online searches is an ongoing project and Family Search is looking for volunteers to assist the indexing effort. If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile and significant project please visit http://www.familysearch.org, and select Volunteer and Indexing. For more information about the digitization project please visit the National Archives of Italy website at http://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it and the Family Search website at https://familysearch.org/italian-ancestors.1

1"Press Release for Italian Ancestors Project," LoSpecchio 18 (Spring 2013):4. LoSpecchio is the newsletter of the Italian Genealogical Society of America.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Italian Onsite Research Demystified

Last Saturday I attended a superb presentation by Mary Tedesco at the Italian Genealogical Society of America June meeting held at the National Archives in Waltham. Mary is a professional genealogist who specializes in Italian research. She shared her extensive knowledge of Italian research strategies in a presentation on onsite research in Italian repositories. Below are some of the highlights on Italian onsite research from Mary’s presentation:
  • Italian civil genealogical records are held either at the town/city level or at the state level.
    • Town/city level records are kept at the town or city hall (municipio) at the General Registry Office (Ufficio Anagrafe) and the Vital Records Office (Ufficio di Stato Civile). In addition to census records, which are taken every ten years, the General Registry Office holds the certificate of the Original Status of the Family (Certificato di Stato di Famiglia Originario), an important document which contains date and location information on birth, marriage, and death for members of a family group. The certificate also indicates the dates of emigration from Italy for family members. The Vital Records Office contains civil records of birth, marriage, and death.
    • State-level records are held at the State Archives (Archivi di Stato) in each province. The holdings at the state level vary from province to province, and may include civil, military, notarial, hospital, and church records. An online catalog for state-level archival holdings is available at http://www.archivi-sias.it/index.asp.
  • Churches hold archival records, including annual censuses (Stato D’Anima). Some Church records date back to the 1500’s. Other sources of genealogical information for the Italian researcher are local libraries (biblioteche) and cemeteries (cimiteri). Although cemetery plots in Italy are generally rented for a thirty-year period, the cemetery office may keep burial records for a longer period.
  • Letters for research requests should always be written in Italian. A recommendation for guidelines to follow is Lynn Nelson’s A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Roots, which presents excellent examples of the types of letters to mail to various Italian repositories.
Mary also provided information about eligibility for Italian/American dual citizenship and encouraged the audience to determine their eligibility and pursue Italian citizenship if the option is available. She concluded her excellent presentation with encouragement to take the plunge into Italian onsite research and to share success stories with her. Mary can be contacted through her website at http://www.originsitaly.com or by email at progenitore@gmail.com.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Remembering D-Day

Today marks the sixty-ninth anniversary of D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Normandy in World War II and the largest amphibious military operation in history. Parachute drops over Normandy began in the early morning hours of June 6, and at 6:30 A.M. the land invasion commenced at five Normandy beaches. The Allied forces encountered light resistance at Gold, Juno, Sword, and Utah beaches. The battle to take Omaha Beach was a desperate fight, as 2000 troops lost their lives in the attempt. The tenacity of the combined Allied forces saved the day, and by evening all five beaches were under Allied control. Many regard D-Day as the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.

Two movies that depict the bravery of the Allied forces on D-Day are The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). The HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001) also has an episode detailing the Normandy Invasion.1

1History.com, “June 6, 1944: D-Day”, D-Day – History.com This Day in History – 6/6/1944 (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/d-day: 6 June 2013).