Maybe it's just me, but almost all town and country
cemeteries lie in picturesque, idyllic settings. Whether or not
they were planned that way, they strengthen the faith that our
ancestors are resting in peace.
One of the four cemeteries I visited on Memorial
Day was not unlike that. It was located on top of a hill, which
captured the renewing, spring winds and added a nostalgic wisp
to the air. Below, a few blocks away and partially cloaked by
trees, was the small community.
It is cemeteries like this one in Newman Grove,
located about 15 miles northeast of Albion, where history lies.
We think of it mostly as family history, but it is the history
of our state and country, too.
All historical chronicles are written by the separate
and unique lives of people and families of yesteryear. The exploration
of these accounts has made genealogy one of the top four American
pastimes (along with birdwatching, gardening and golf).
We traveled to the small-town cemetery on top of
the hill to revisit the place where two of my great-grandparents
are buried. Charles was born in Barnstable, England, in 1849.
His wife Sarah, a native of Ontario, Canada, was born three years
Some in our family have tried to unearth more about
Sarah, with minimal success. I remember hearing from relatives
that she was a Native Canadian Indian, and the old photos I have
seen of her would give credence to that belief.
Buried alongside Charles and Sarah is their only
daughter, Nanna, who perished in a fire at age 40.
Every family's history is dotted with tragedy.
My dad's mother died from complications after a
fall down the stairs. My mom's father was shot to death in Long
Beach shortly after World War II and, ironically, her only brother
was killed the same way, also in Long Beach, two decades later.
One of my grandmothers lost a sibling during the
worldwide flu epidemic of 1918-19. About the same time, one of
my wife's grandfathers, a German-Russian, barely avoided tragedy.
He was nearly killed in the turmoil after the Communists took
over in Russia. Like other Germans from
Russia, he survived and made his way over to the United States
-- many settled in Nebraska.
My great Uncle Nick fought in World War I, when
the United States helped turn back German aggression for the first
of two times in the 20th century. Although he left few war stories
behind, it was a triumph for his unit and the nation.
Every family history has its share of triumph, too.
A Henry Letheby -- we haven't connected to him yet
-- was the medical officer of health for London in the mid-1800s.
A trio of my uncles can relate some harrowing stories
from the European and Pacific fronts in World War II, when our
country again prevailed over evil-doers. The six close relatives
of mine who served their country overseas were fortunate to come
back home after World War I, World War II and Vietnam. We have
some of their old ribbons and medals in an old storage chest in
Every family history has an abundance of tragic
and triumphant stories, of wars, of sailing overseas, of settling
a new country. They were composed by soldiers, builders, writers,
doctors, entrepreneurs and pioneers.
In my wife's and my family histories, the composers
of these annals came from Germany, Russia, Prussia, England, Denmark
and Canada. Many more, maybe yours, came from other countries.
World, national and state history has been recorded
in books and is taught to students of all ages.
But it is the family histories, yours and mine,
that puts a human face on our larger history.
Reprinted with permission of Pete Letheby an associate editor for The Grand Island Independent.