Thursday, September 8, 2016

Graveyard Adventures

Photos Courtesy of Myers Creative Photography

About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I started doing genealogy research on my dad's side of the family, surnames Molloy and Menkalis. I was mostly interested in the Molloy genealogy because I had this borderline obsession over all things Irish and wanted more than anything in the world to someday go to Ireland.

I really got into the whole genealogy research thing for a few months there. I never researched my mom's French-Canadian roots because well, my very meticulous grandmother had already done that. I had a whole packet of genealogy lines tracing all the way back to 1651 in France. I appreciated my grandmother's efforts and all the information that was passed down to to my generation, but for me, the fun part of genealogy was the process of discovering all these ancestors and relevant facts about them. I wanted to be part of that process.

After a while, I got stuck in my genealogy research. I found some information, but I couldn't get any further back. However on a website called Ancestry.com, I had actually located a woman living in California (I live in Massachusetts) whom I was related to. Her grandmother and my grandfather (Molloys) were siblings. It was pretty exciting at the time! We were able to exchange information, but as time went on, we lost touch.

Fast forward to this past summer. I was getting ready to finally make my dream trip to Ireland and I pulled out all those genealogy notes from fifteen years ago. I did a little poking here and there online. I knew that the Molloy surname originated in County Offaly, Ireland. When we went to Ireland, we did go to Co. Offaly and visited the genealogy research center there. I was able to purchase two books that mention the Molloy surname and I got some information on how to follow up with a researcher there who may be able to help me more in my genealogy quest.

A few days ago, I came across some information on the free version of Ancestry.com and I decided that it would be worth my while to purchase a membership on Ancestry.com. However, life has been a little hectic since we came home and I decided to wait a little longer so that I could maximize my investment for when I had more hours to spend on the website.

During that evening of searching, I was getting confused about my great-grandfather Molloy. I had some legal documents about him I had gotten back in 2001, but I realized that maybe it was for the wrong Joseph Molloy. It dawned on me that some of the documents I had may be for his son, my great uncle. The clue that tipped me off was that there was a different wife's name than the gravestone I had gone to see in Millbury, MA in 2001.

So I decided that it was worth a trip back to Millbury to check out the stone again. Maybe I had written down the wrong date or maybe there would be other information on the stone that would help me. Maybe the document place had sent me the wrong information. When I went to Google search the address for the cemetery, I came across a website called "Find A Grave". In my search for the Molloy name, I came across my grandmother's (Menkalis) grave information. I have visited her grave many times, so I know where it is, the dates on it, etc., but the important part is that HER father's name, Julian Menkalis, was listed with a link. I clicked on the link and it brought me to HIS grave page. I read it and was astounded...

My great grandfather, Julian Menkalis, was buried in a cemetery ONE TOWN OVER! Literally, about ten miles from my home. Now I had known that my grandmother was born and raised in this next town over, but I had never pursued it beyond that. Life got busy and my health needed tending to. I didn't have much time for genealogy research.

But now that I had this newfound information, I just had to get myself to this cemetery. While there was a number assigned to his grave on the website, I had no clue where it was. But let me tell you, I was certainly determined to find it.

I unexpectedly had a few extra, unplanned hours this afternoon so I drove the ten or so miles to the town next door. It was pretty much an impulsive move. I had very little water with me and I was in heavy capri jeans because the temperature had been much cooler this morning. It was cloudy and overcast when I got there, so I figured I would be good to go.

The size of the cemetery was a bit daunting. I needed a plan. At first I thought I could scan the front of the gravestones four to five rows at a time. Shortly thereafter, I realized that there were a lot of grave markers that were cement plates in the ground. It became obvious to me that I would have to go row by row, grave by grave.

When I say that there were roughly a thousand grave sites, I am not even kidding. There were probably even more than that.

About ten minutes into my search, I panicked because there were a few older stones that were unmarked. And then I noticed that there were some that were so old, I could not read them. Since I had my phone with me, I went back to that grave website and checked the birth and death dates of Julian Menkalis. Then I checked the dates on some of the headstones. Nope, my great grandfather wouldn't have a stone so old that I couldn't read it. However since he died in his thirties, leaving a wife and three young kids, he might be in an unmarked grave.

Those unmarked graves made me sad. Just a little block of cement resting on a patch of grass. No name, no dates, nothing to mark the fact that someone, who once upon a time meant something to someone else, was actually buried there.

I didn't let this stop me though. I continued on, grave by grave, at almost race walking speed, slowed down only by the rolling hills that seemed to characterize this particular cemetery.

Then the sun came out. I checked the temperature and it was now 85 degrees. And humid. I knew I was walking on thin ice. Because I have Sjogren's syndrome, extreme heat and sun can make me sick  much faster than the average person. I went back to my car, mopped my head, drank the water I had left, and let the air conditioning of the car work its magic. I did consider going home and coming back another day. I also considered possibly calling the church to find out where exactly the grave was located.

So why didn't I?

Well, that would have ruined the discovering process for me.

There's no adventure in getting the information over the phone.

I decided I would press on, with the stipulation that I had to go back to my car every twenty minutes for some air conditioning time and I would drive from one section to the next as much as possible.

I continued my search for about an hour and a half. I was so determined to find this grave! I could feel the anticipation building up in me as I passed each grave marking that was not my Lithuanian great-grandfather. What a great feeling it was going to be when I finally come across the grave marking that read, "Menkalis."

This is the part in the story where you guys are expecting me to wrap up my little adventure story with a tidy ending. Yay, she found the grave!

I did not find the grave.

As I walked by the last several headstones and ground plates, I could hardly believe it. I never expected to NOT find my great grandfather's resting place. I thought I surely would, if for no other reason than because I had put so much effort into my search.

I drove home with heavy disappointment, but realized that the search was not over yet. I could still call the church. They must have the plot information for where he is buried and maybe they could point me in the right direction. I also could possibly find out more information once I registered on Ancestry.com. The important part as that I TRIED to do it myself and in the process, got a heck of a lot of exercise; never a bad thing for me!

A little while after I got home, my mom called and I told her of my afternoon adventure. I could hear her talking to my dad in the background, telling him how I spent all that time trying to find his grandfather's grave. I had talked to my dad the other night on the phone about his Molloy relatives and my dad had told me that he didn't know a lot of information about his extended family. Part of that was because my grandparents were a lot older than the norm when he was born and a lot of his relatives passed on when he was young. He also told me that they just didn't really mingle much with his extended family.

So after my mom relayed today's adventure to my dad, she also asked him some questions about his grandfather's grave. Apparently, surprising to me, my dad HAD gone to that cemetery to visit his grandfather and also his grandmother, who was buried right next to Julian Menkalis. He said he wouldn't remember now how to find it, but he DID remember that they had an unmarked grave in the very literal sense: no blank stone, no nothing. They had no money and were literally buried underneath the grass with no marking. My dad also said that it was the church who had directed them where to go to find the gravesite all those years ago.

So the good news is, I probably walked right over my grandparents. The bad news is, I spent a lot of time today looking for something I wasn't going to find on my own.

I don't feel that it was a waste though. It was still a small adventure for me and I have to be honest, minus the sun and heat, I find cemeteries very relaxing and peaceful; I always have. Now I know that my next step needs to be contacting the church and hopefully, I will find the graves of my great-grandmother and grandfather. But this time, I am going to bring something along with me. I'm not sure what yet.

But something.

Some type of item that marks the spots where their remains lie.

Something that states that somebody important lies beneath those spots.

Something that says, "these are my people"

My immigrant Polish and Lithuanian ancestors.

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