Congratulations to, Cis4Chris, the Find a Grave® featured volunteer of the month for April, 2023. Other members have told us about her enthusiasm for Find a Grave and how she has helped them learn more about using the site. Let’s get to know more about Chris and how she terms life as “one big scavenger hunt.”
I’m a history nerd, a semi-pro photographer, artist, lover of trivia, and the person my friends and family approach when a Google search is required. I simply can’t turn down a good scratch and sniff project. My work with Find a Grave has provided the perfect opportunity that melds these passions into one. It may not stop the eye-rolling of friends and family who think I’m crazy for visiting cemeteries, but it’s proof positive that the little I do for Find a Grave provides a great impact for others. That is a blessing unto itself.
For those who think visiting cemeteries is morbid, I encourage them to think again. Did you know that in Victorian times, death was actually celebrated? Did you know that an entire symbol-based language was created for purposes of honoring the dead? The icons and epithets carved into the stones carried secret messages: Lambs and doves were often associated with children’s deaths; a wilted rosebud signified a life cut short.
From the first photos I took for Find a Grave until now, I continue to seek out new and unusual headstones and symbols, like these below. This pursuit has allowed me the privilege of speaking to adult education groups, genealogy clubs, and even geocaching members.
Epitaphs themselves are often touching with parting phrases, providing more information about hobbies or interests, but sometimes you come across the humorous. A couple of Chris’s favorites are “You Dirty Horse Thief” and that of a man who was nearly bankrupt at the time of his death telling his story, “I really went in the hole on that one.” She couldn’t help but chuckle reading the surnames on headstones near one another named Heinz and Hamburger.
Chris has had many memorable experiences over the years. One of which is helping bring to light the physical location of Wyatt Chapel Community Cemetery in Prairie View, Texas. The exact cemetery location and many names of the enslaved people buried here have been lost over time.
All that indicated the existence of the cemetery was a historical marker. My husband and I were in the process of reading the marker when a couple on horseback approached us. They asked if we were looking for Wyatt Chapel Cemetery. They told us they had come across it a few days earlier, when one of the horses decided to detour directly into the woods. They asked if we’d like to see the cemetery, to which we gave a resounding “Yes!” Not far from the marker, through a dense thicket of bramble and fallen trees lay the remains of the cemetery. Scattered here and there were several fallen stones. My favorite was one with the simple inscription, “Old Pap.” This was one of the first cemeteries to take advantage of ground-penetrating radar as a way to finding unknown burials. Rice University, Prairie View A&M University, and ancestors of Wyatt Chapel continue to work tirelessly to rehabilitate this cemetery. Chris photographed the remaining headstones and added the memorials to Find a Grave.
This last year a friend dared Chris to visit Martha’s Chapel Cemetery, said to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in Texas. The cemetery’s history is peppered with stories of numerous hauntings by a regiment of Union Soldiers and their widows. Photographs on various websites even showed floating blue orbs – a sure sign of ghostly apparitions. “Ok,” I thought. “I’ll bite.” Exploration? Check. Scavenger hunt? Check. Photo op? Check and check.
Martha’s Chapel Cemetery was located deep in a state-protected forest. The further I drove, the thicker became the tree cover. A sharply winding gravel path carved its way about 2 miles to my final destination. I could understand why this isolated place might lead people to think the cemetery was haunted. Locals had even named the gravel road “No Return.” In the clearing stood several old headstones dating from the mid-1800s.
When I opened my car door, what had once been a hot, humid, day of sunshine turned ominously dark. A sudden blast of wind shook the leaves of nearby trees. Just for grins I told the ghosts “hello,” that I was there just to take photos for Find a Grave. Nothing untoward occurred, no orbs appeared, no apparitions. Did I see, or feel the presence of ghosts? All I can say is that once I returned to my car, the skies cleared again.
Find a Grave is an incredible teaching tool. I’m blessed to be part of this incredible volunteer-based community. The more I participate, the more I learn. The more I learn, the greater the challenge to pay it forward. Whether or not you can get out and about, you can volunteer. Stay curious. Create your own scavenger hunt. Seek out the unique. Your life will be enriched beyond measure.
Chris, we are appreciative of your efforts and the efforts of all Find a Grave volunteers. This work connects us as a community as we help one another and also allows people everywhere to discover information about those that have passed on.
Do you know a Find a Grave member who would make a good Volunteer of the Month? We welcome your suggestions. Please send an email with details of their work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cis4Chris expresses so much of my experience and enthusiasm for finding graves and posting to FindaGrave. I still stay close to home but will venture forth eventually. FindaGrave is a great source and inspiration.
Thank you Chris for your work and I really enjoyed reading your remarks. What a treasure you are! I am going now to look up the cemetery’s you mentioned and view some stones.
I appreciate folks doing this sort of thing. When I was younger I would take my kids to cemeteries, to read the headstones, check out the “monuments” and enjoy the peace and quiet. Mostly we would hear birds, grasshoppers, cicadas and a mosquito or two, and the occasional car tires on the road. I still enjoy a foray into cemeteries. The wife never did…..still doesn’t.
What a nice enthusiastic post. Love the photos and the lore. Thank you!
🎉 Congratulations, Chris! You are a fascinating person! 👏🏼
Chris, you are not alone in your love of visiting graveyards. My family has lots of photos taken on holidays at the graveyard when we visit family members buried in that location. I work at Westminster Graveyard in Baltimore where Edgar Allan Poe is buried. If you ever make it to Baltimore, let me know. Keep up the good work–especially your photographs, which were gorgeous.
Thank you, Chris for all your hard work. Your enthusiasm inspires me❣️
Love your stories, especially the haunted cemetery.
Keep up your great work.
Excellent story of two wonderful gravers that deserve to be praised for their efforts.
Thank you, everyone, for your positive words. I can’t begin to express the joy felt from knowing my experiences impacted y’all!
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