This past weekend was the first chance I've had this year to get away. I say "get away," but to be honest it was an excuse to get out and do what I enjoy most -- immerse myself in history and graveyards. It was a gorgeous weekend with low humidity and a lot of sunshine, and so I headed off to Gettysburg where I could escape into the past and reconnect with my ancestors.
My roots are planted deep in Civil War history. I personally live just off a well known battlefield in Virginia, but it goes much deeper than that. My ancestors fought for both the North and the South in what my mother called the "War of Northern Aggression," and my dad referred to as the "Great Rebellion." Dinner conversation during my childhood was interesting to say the least.
There was a time when I was deep into the research of my ancestors' experiences in the Civil War. My dad's Grandfather (yes, we have very long generations on his side of the family), fought with Company M, Massachusetts, 4th Calvary Regiment. My mother's 2nd Great Grandfather fought with Company G, North Carolina 38th Infantry Regiment. Obviously they both survived, because I am here to write about it, but in doing their research I came to learn of the hardships they personally endured. One grandfather, in particular, never recovered from his wounds of war and was unable to work. The affects of the war on his body extended to the hardship on his family who struggled to break free from government assistance for another generation.
It can be overwhelming touring a place with such a great history.
Absorbing the information can be compared to drinking from a
firehose -- definitely information overload. I chose to do a self guided tour of the battlefield. Gettysburg has been greatly preserved and I have to say, the audio tour was of great benefit to me. Since I knew the Regiments of a few of my ancestors, I was able to follow the detailed map to the areas in which their troops would have set up camp, as well where they marched directly into battle.
Walking where they marched and trying to envision what they experienced was quite a sacred experience for me. Here we were as visitors, enjoying a gorgeous weekend, embracing the beauty of the landscape, escaping our crazy busy lives at the very location our ancestors came to lay down theirs for our freedom. It was humbling to say the least.
The battlefield today is peaceful and beautiful, and people come from around the world to study and remember the events that took place there. But just off the battlefield is another location that I took the time visit: the cemetery. Like the battlefield, it too has been maintained and tourists walked the pathways and talked in hush voices.
I spend a good deal of my free time photographing cemeteries for record preservation. While there are thousands of headstones in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, none of them, to my knowledge, are my forefathers (and not all are of Civil War era). They are somebody's ancestors though, so I took some time to digitize as many headstones as I could before having to leave for the day. Later, as I began transcribing the information from these graves, it touched me to see that matches were being made with entries in FamilySearch. It is my hope that the images I took this weekend make it to those individuals who have been searching and searching for their ancestor's information.
It was a wonderful retreat. I could easily have spent a week in Gettysburg and still not done all the things I would have like to have done. If you get a chance to visit any location of your ancestors, I suggest you take with you notes about their lives and time spent there. It really makes the visit meaningful and brings it to a very personal level.
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