By Jill Ball aka GeniAus
My husband and I love to travel to distant lands where we enjoy visiting sites of historic interest or natural beauty. We don’t mind a dab of architecture either.
While we often visit cemeteries, graveyards and memorial parks on our geneajourneys we also visit cemeteries for pleasure. Cemeteries tell so much about the life, history, and customs of the places we visit. The monumental masonry can be spectacular or quirky and the landscapes can range from stately to stark.
We have visited final resting places from Albania to Zambia and many places in between. Perhaps our interest in cemeteries is macabre or maybe it has developed from our interest in family history. We enjoy being Tombstone Tourists.
When wandering around towns and villages in rural locations we often pop into the local cemetery, look at the graves and memorials and take photos. If time permits, we take photos of some graves and upload them to FindaGrave on our return home. I appreciate the Genearosity of others who have done this in cemeteries where our ancestors rest so I like to “pay back” the favours.
In our walk around the Punic Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia we encountered some very old graves from the 3rd to 1st century BCE.
Cemeteries come in all sizes. On occasion we have happened across a lone grave in an isolated location. The King Island Settlers Grave commemorates some of the early settlers on the island.
In contrast the most famous tomb in the world is the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum built for two. When we shared our visit with thousands of other tourists the serene atmosphere that the builder Emperor Shah Jehan probably envisaged was lost.
We were surprised to see the wealth buried with deceased in ancient tombs and burial mounds. We were blown away by the gold items we saw on our visit to The Flying Horse Tomb (Cheonmachong) in South Korea.
Sailing through the Three Gorges in China we were fascinated to see the ancient Hanging Coffins of the Bo people. These suspended ship-shaped wooden coffins were placed in crevices high up on the steep sides of the rocky gorges.
In many Christian areas graves were often found in burial grounds attached to churches or in plots of land owned by the Churches. Ancestral trips have taken us to many Christian sites. Unique were the Moravian burial grounds or God’s Acres we visited in Fulneck and Gomersal. In these well ordered sites men and women are buried in separate sections of the graveyards in order of date of death. The grave markers are all uniform small rectangles, and the inscriptions only give the number of plot, name, date of death and sometimes age at death. The inscriptions from very solid stones of the 1700s were still very easy to read.
Some larger cemeteries have open days. Last year we were lucky to come across an open day at the historic Brompton Cemetery in London. I felt that the carnival like atmosphere with stalls and displays detracted from the tranquility of this Victorian Cemetery. We enjoyed looking at the graves, headstones and mausoleums along the major paths. Many of the minor paths are left unmown so the beautiful graves are inaccessible as they are hidden amongst undergrowth. Despite the undergrowth we would love to return and further explore. See: 20 Something Snaps – Open Day
Among the top ten attractions listed on Tripadvisor in Dublin is Glasnevin Cemetery, Ireland’s National Cemetery. We learnt so much about the history of Ireland when we did one of the regular tours. Our tour guide gave us a lesson in Irish history as we visited the graves of many Irish patriots and other famous and infamous Irish folk. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to Daniel O’Connell’s crypt. Our guide told us that it was good luck to touch O’Connell’s lead-lined coffin, so we made sure we did. See: http://geniaus.blogspot.com/2016/08/tombstone-tourist.html
When we visited the beautiful Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, New York to find some ancestors we saw that this huge cemetery offers walking and trolley guided tours. As we didn’t have time on that visit, I have added it to our bucket list. Our visit to Green-Wood.
In the Communist era Martyr’s or Partisan’s Cemetery in Tirana, Albania we were surprised to see that all of the graves were exactly the same. The cemetery looks boring like many communist buildings we have seen. The bonus from this visit was that the cemetery is on a hill overlooking the city of Tirana, the views were spectacular.
Sometimes we are drawn to a cemetery by a famous name as was the case in Buenos Aires, Argentina when we visited the grave of Eva Peron. It was convenient that the hopon-hopoff bus stopped close to the La Recoleta Cemetery. Evita lies in a mausoleum in this 19th century cemetery.
On organised holidays we often find an excursion to a cemetery is included. When we called into the St Saviour Churchyard in Jersey, Channel Islands the minister came out and chatted with us. He related the graveyards history and pointed out some of the famous folk interred there including Lillie Langtry.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission takes great care of their sites. We have visited CWGC cemeteries in Belgium, Egypt, England, France, Greece, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey. Each site has been very well maintained; they are fitting memorials to our fallen. Holidays can’t all be fun and laughter, I appreciate the opportunities we have had to visit these sites and some US military cemeteries like the Manila American Cemetery.
On our recent visit to Bora Bora in French Polynesia, as we were travelling along I saw what looked like graves in some front yards. Our guide told us that, as there is no cemetery on the island, most of the residents bury their family member in their gardens. Hurtling down the freeways in Vietnam we noticed several graves in the gardens of rural properties.
We weren’t expecting to find a cemetery on a safari drive. In the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park we saw a few zebras, some other wildlife and lovely vistas of the Zambezi River. I got most excited with what we found in a clearing in the park. It was a sign from Northern Rhodesian era that declared the area as a National Monument. It was a cemetery! This genealogist did not expect to find a cemetery in the middle of a National Park in Zambia. Read about the Old Drift Cemetery here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Drift_cemetery.
I could go on and on, but I am near this post’s word limit. This opportunity to reflect on our Grave Travels has inspired me to write about some more memorable visits. Thanks to the GSQ for the invitation to be a guest blogger once again.
Thanks Bobbie and the GSQ blog team for the opportunity to talk about my grave travels.
It’s a pleasure to have you as one of our great GSQ Bloggers, Jill.
Jill, I lived not too far from Highgate Cemetery in London. Many fascinating graves, not just those interred there, but the memorials themselves. As you say, you can learn a lot from visiting cemeteries.
How fortunate for you. The guided tour of Highgate is on my list for a future visit. I’ve read that it can be muddy and slippery there so will have to carefully choose my day.
We found Ballarat cemetery fascinating and very historical
Di,I remember visiting Ballarat Cemetery more than twenty years ago but that was before digital camera days so as I was economical with film in those days I have no images.
Thanks Jill, I thoroughly enjoyed reading of your ‘tombstone tourism’ experiences. How about conducting ‘Tombstone tourism tours’ for genealogists? I’m sure it would be a hit. Like you, I don’t always drive past a cemetery and have spent many hours scraping off the lichen in order to discipher the epitaph.
What a super idea Beverley, I would enjoy that…if only I was 20 years younger.