Ten years ago my husband and I decided to make a trip to Missouri. The main reason was so I could visit my dad’s grave. I had been working on my family tree for a little over 12 years and I had what I thought was a pretty good-sized tree. I realized that if we could spend a week there I might find some information at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence and then locate some graves. I got on the computer and started searching through my trees to find names and locations of some cemeteries where they may be buried.
The first one I looked up was my Grandpa, John Pleasant Smith. I remembered going to his funeral when I was 13 years old and I believed he had been buried in the same cemetery as my dad. Located in the small town I was born in, Machpelah Cemetery is one of the oldest ones in the State, The first burial was in 1839. I figured there had to be more than my dad and maternal Grandpa buried there, so I spent a couple of days and I was surprised how many ancestors I fond that were buried here. Bonus, they came from both sides of the family!
I found the name of a funeral home in Lexington and I called and asked how I could find out in which section my Grandpa and dad were buried. They gave me the name and phone number of a woman named Cathy who was on the Cemetery Board and had the master list. I called and was surprised she answered so quickly. I explained the reason for my call and she said she would love to help me. I explained that I had several names but my two main ones were Douglas Hughes and John P. Smith. She found my dad’s right away but after searching the list she said there was no one by that name in this cemetery. I was a little confused so I thanked her and I was ready to hang up when she asked if I had more names. I gave her my aunts’ name, check she was there, my 2 uncles’ names, check they were there. Then I gave her my maternal Great Grandparents’ names. She got very quiet. She asked how I was related to them and I told her. She then informed me that we were cousins! She was almost as excited as I was as she hadn’t met many McGowan relatives. We made plans to meet at the cemetery and she would give me the tour.
I started looking for my paternal Grandmothers’ parents and I decided to google their names just to see what came up. The third entry down was a listing for the Coffey Cousins Clearinghouse and it said there was a photo of my Grandparents on this site. I had never seen a photo of them so I immediately clicked the link. The page had a long list of photos to view so when I found the correct link I clicked on it. The link was broken! I was so bummed. At the bottom of the page was the name and phone number of the writer of the monthly “Coffey Cousins” newsletter. I figured I had nothing to lose so I called. A woman named Bonnie answered the phone and I explained the reason for my call. She got excited and told me we were cousins on my Grandmothers side. She invited us to come to visit her in Jefferson City while we were there. I couldn’t believe my luck. Two previously unknown cousins found in one day.
We made the 1200 mile one way trip in record time. I was driving and I couldn’t wait to get there. We got there on Monday and we had a meeting set for Wednesday in Jefferson City. Bonnie and her husband were such gracious hosts. Jim entertained my husband while she showed me around. Everywhere I looked were bookcases filled with binders, each one for a different ancestors’ name. We went into her office and she pulled out an old photo album that had belonged to my Grandmothers sister Rosie. She had never been married but she kept every photo that a relative had sent her and put it all in this album. Bonnie let me go through it and there were photos of me and my sister when we were young, some of my dad and his siblings when they were young and lots of photos of people I didn’t know. She spent two hours copying photos and making notes for me to take with me. She even gave me a packet with all the document proof I needed to join the DAR.
On Friday we met Cathy at the Cemetery in Lexington. She showed me so many graves and explained who they were and how I was related to them. She had a huge accordion file with names and locations of all the graves there. We just walked and talked for what seemed like an hour! She had to get back to work so we walked her to her car and she pulled out a large folder and gave it to me. It was a copy of all her research on the McGowan side of the family. It went back to our immigrant 3x Great Grandfather Francis McGowan who was born in 1794 in Ireland and came to America in 1811. She also gave me a copy of my paternal Grandmothers death certificate! I had told her when we spoke on the phone I was going to go to the courthouse while in town to find it, so she went and got it for me! She had also called funeral homes in some of the smaller towns near her and found where my Grandpa Smith was buried.
As we left Missouri a few days later I think I cried for the first hour of driving. I felt so blessed by these two women who took the time to help me on this journey. We have kept in touch for 10 years now and I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I feel that I got to meet my cousins!
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.