I walked around and around in circles looking for my great aunts grave in the Maryborough cemetary. I thought I can’t have missed it, then I found the number marker. No gravestone. It’s so sad. Like they didn’t even exist. I took a picture of the grass just to somehow honour her actually being there. I then walked over further and found her parents (my great grandparents – Joseph and Annie Sanderson) gravestone and saw their double plot together . A rather pitiful grave of concrete with my great grandmothers letters fallen off from time. But I still felt so grateful to stand in front of a grave. To know that without these people buried in front of me I would not exist. It’s so funny to not know these people at all but to know that their blood and bone had something to do with being here makes it so emotional.
I didn’t know till I did my family ancestry that graves were repossessed. It sounds terrible but where the graves are located, especially in the cities the price of real estate is high and dead people don’t pay rent. To make use of space they need to let new tenants in and this is done by clearing out the old gravestones and pushing what remains of the old tenant down into the grave with a backhoe. I thought the Honourable Dr Bob Such, member for Fisher put it well when he said in the South Australian lower house “Some people find that rather distressing and I can see why because it is anything but resting in peace. It is rest until the backhoe comes and pays you a visit….”.
In Prague they have a solution for the space problem; layering. The Jewish people in Prague only had a small space to bury their dead. It is against their religion to ever disturb a grave, so no removing gravestones or pushing people around. They just add another layer of dirt and add another gravestone. It’s 12 layers deep and it dates back to the 15th Century and it’s estimated that up to 100 000 burials there with only 12,000 gravestones visible. My husband and I went there and it is just the most wonderful site to see. Cemeteries are anything but morbid, they are peaceful and full of energy. The Prague cemetery has so many gravestones it’s like looking at a sold out concert with standing room only. It’s hard to comprehend it when you are walking on flat ground and walk up onto a hill in the middle of the city that was created by graves. I love the idea on keeping everything.
When you search through family members, you get a sense of who they are. You become intrigued by their stories. Why did they come to Australia? What were their lives like? Why did they decide to settle here? How did they raise their families? Pieces of their lives come together and you feel a pull to see where their presence has been. It’s not only gravestones you can feel this from. It’s all kinds of little things that made them up that you come in contact with. From google maps of addresses and walking down the streets and seeing their homes. To seeing their signature on military enlistment forms. Or reading a newspaper notice of a wedding where they list the colours of the bridesmaids dresses.
What mementos and physical places can you think of that have a connection with your family? Take photos of those places and make sure you include all the details for your family. Think about taking a trip to places your ancestors lived. Or just put all your old black and white photos together and make sure they are labelled for the future. Share this with your present family, as you are not only building a connection with your past but one with your future too.