Friday, June 26, 2009

Beyond the Vault: Making Connections at the Cemetery

What I love the most about visiting New Orleans' cemeteries, besides the architecture, is the information they hold. Visiting the cemeteries has filled in quite a few holes for me as far was my genealogy research and in some odd way, they make connections.

My first experience with this was my great-great maw maw. Yes, maw maw. Her name was Anna Costa Diliberto. I knew that she married Salvatore Diliberto and that both were probably immigrants from Sicily. I had no idea who her parents were, where she really came from, etc.

I was visiting St. Louis #3 and was actually looking for the tomb of a completely different branch of the family. Upon looking at the "map" in the cemetery office, I found a wall vault with "Costa" marked on it. I visited the spot and found the burial place of Anna, her daughter, her granddaughter and her father! This one little vault held the names and dates of three relatives of mine that I didn't even know existed until then!

This opened the door to finding that her native land was a suburb of Palermo. She came across the ocean with her sister and a cousin in 1882 and married another Sicilian in New Orleans in 1886. Later she brought over her father, presumably after he was widowed. She had five children as well. As the information started to surface, family members began volunteering information. I found out that while on a trip back to Sicily, her husband died there and she received what they called a "black letter".

How difficult this must have been to lose your husband so far away. He is buried there as they could not afford to bring his body back. 15 years later she would lose her 12 month old granddaughter, Marie, who is buried with her. As I wondered about the strength and patience of this person who was my great great grandmother, an Aunt of mine gave me a gift for Christmas. It was a photograph she had found of Anna and all five of her children. It was beautiful!

It was as though, over the course of a few months, I found Anna Costa at the cemetery and because of that, she came to life for me. Her struggles, decisions and triumphs all came together. I finally felt that, in some way, I had connected. It can happen for any of us. Just a visit to the cemetery can bring an ancestor into your life so that you may glimpse some of theirs.

Just a note to Genealogists: The Historic New Orleans Collection now has electronic obituary index available. This can be very helpful in finding the resting places of your ancestors!

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