Genealogy: A Family Affair
Years ago, I spent copious hours doing genealogy research on my mother’s family. In all, it took five years. I spent countless hours in NOLA’s main library (their Louisiana Special Collections on the third floor is chuck full of great NOLA genealogy information), UNO’s library, courthouse archives, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and cemeteries throughout the city.
I went back five generations and ended up with a family tree that includes over 300 family members. My niece looked at the tree and exclaimed, “It’s a whole city of people!” My great- great- great-grandfather came from the Alsace region of what was then Germany (now France) in the 1840s. He came with nothing but the proverbial clothes on his back. Within a year of setting foot on NOLA soil, he was a landowner. That piece of land, I learned, is still in the family.
Along for his own research was Pete. He was digging to find more specific information about family members whereas at that time I was simply trying to find as many of us as I could. Pete also enjoyed reading old news pieces (my favorite being about a father who got tired of his daughter practicing the piano so he went downstairs and shot her dead).
After my grandmother died, my family pored over the sketchy research I had to date. That inspired me to wrap it all up. I made copies of all the death, marriage, birth certificates; death notices; census records; newspaper clippings; Judgments of Possession and other probate pleadings; real estate transactions; old letters; and photographs. It filled a three-inch binder.
My grandfather was very pleased with all my hard work and told me he read my book every day. I don’t think he still does, but I know it means an awful lot to him. He and I would meet with his cousins for me to give them a binder too. It’s been given to over 20 family members who live in various states in the country.
After I was done all my research, I took my grandfather to St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery No. 1 to “visit” his father and siblings. He hadn’t been there in years. His cousin and my sister joined us. Surprisingly, my grandfather looked at his family tomb (yes, it’s NOLA–it’s an above ground tomb) and announced that his siblings were NOT buried there. Well, where are they? I asked. He proceeded to tell us they were in a coping (click here for a picture of a coping) made of marble (not concrete). He went into great detail about the coping–he visited it regularly as a child with his mother. As a matter of fact, he said, they were buried on the other side–St. Vincent de Paul No. 2 (St. Vincent de Paul No. 1 and No. 2, together, are more commonly known as Soniat Cemetery).
I insisted that we walk over right then and there (it is literally right next door–it’s hard to realize that it’s two cemeteries; I looked at my notebook that I’d brought with me that had notes from the death notices and sure enough his siblings were in No. 2 and his father in No. 1). The four of us walked over to the very small cemetery and began to walk. In no time, my grandfather was certain we would not find it and quit walking. I begged him to keep looking; my sister urged him; his cousin pleaded, saying it was the least he could do after all my hard work. But my grandfather is a stubborn man and once he makes up his mind, that’s it.
So we left the cemetery. A few days later he called me and told me that he should have kept looking in that cemetery for his siblings. He surprised me by saying that if I was interested (if?) we could go back sometime. That was just under three years ago.
I talked to my grandfather today and told him I had visited my grandmother at her grave this past weekend. He’s going to visit her Friday–her birthday. I asked if he was still interested in going back to Soniat Cemetery with me. He said yes. So we are going next Tuesday. My aunt, his daughter, is joining us.
I had returned to the cemetery soon after that last visit with my grandfather taking into account his description of the grave. I could not locate it. I hold out little hope that it will be located next week. But so many things have been discovered well after I gave up hope on them that nothing will surprise me. The actual discovery of the grave, now that would excite me to no end. Wish us luck!