Monday, February 4, 2008

Searching for Ghosts

Me, near Heart's Content, Newfoundland, 2005

Some of our best friends are ghosts. I don't mean Halloween ghosts. I mean people who have died. Our job is to bring them to life again by telling their story.

One particular ghost had died in 1780, and Dee was hired to find more dates, the names of family members, and other details; to flesh him out, so to speak.

We started with the name of a cemetery in Heart's Content, Newfoundland. Driving along the rocky coast north of St. John's bordering the Atlantic Ocean, we passed tiny fishing villages called Old Pelican, Cupid's Bay, and Come by Chance; small communities built right on the water. The town we were searching for was minuscule, but we followed the road signs until we saw church spires. That is usually the location of a cemetery, too.

As we got closer, we could see that the cemetery was on a very steep slope plunging down into the bay. The parking lot of the empty church was walled for safety, and there wasn't an entrance to the tiny grave yard. We had come a long way to get the information on the headstone. We had to get inside! It was October, and the rocky ground was very wet, and spongy, with slippery moss, thistles and tiny flowers everywhere.

I told Dee I would check it out. The guardrail was too high to climb over, so I went under it.

Carbonnear Cemetery near Heart's Content, Newfoundland 10/05

It was misty and cold. I could imagine myself slipping on the soggy grass and rolling off the cliff into the icy water, but I hiked around until I found the surname I was looking for.

On the headstone was the information we needed:

John Ghost
Born whenever
In someplace, Ireland
Son of Mary and John Ghost
Husband of Annie Jones Ghost
Father of Many Little Ghosts

There were crucial dates listed as well. Surrounding his grave were other graves that matched our names, places and dates, obviously his wife, children and grandchildren. We copied it all down, took a bunch of pictures, and slithered under the guard rail to further explore the village.

Libraries often have small unpublished histories written by local historians. Sometimes they are handwritten in an old-fashioned script, others are in scrapbook form, or they are printed in booklets. A librarian goes down to some dusty vault at Dee's request and brings up the applicable volumes.

Dee in Library Petersham, MA 10/05

Flipping through the materials, we find old newspaper clippings of births, deaths, marriages, land purchases, etc. and search them for any mention of our ghosts. There might be a listing of town meetings and who spoke, legal issues over a cow, notes about property boundaries or wells . . .whatever. When we spot a name we recognize, we match the rest of the facts we've discovered, and add a piece to the puzzle.

Collecting information about the area during the ghost's life is very important. That can be pieced together with a more general history of the larger community. The ghost starts coming to life! It's great to find the name of a shop owned by our ghost, or the location of his farm. Copies are made of the research, and we set out to photograph the vicinity.

Dee in Belfast, Maine 10/05

Ghosts hang out in used book stores and so do we, looking for old drawings of the neighborhood landmarks, and stories of his contemporaries.

Eventually we love our ghost. When all the findings are compiled into a book and turned over to whomever is paying for the history, it's a little scary. Will he just be put on a shelf? Will anyone else realize how real he is? People can be so insensitive to ghosts, it's spooky! We'll remember him, though. He can come and haunt us anytime.


Stie: My Favorite Things said...

Awesome pictures. So beautiful!

gab said...

You two are the best ghost busters ever! Think how many friends you already have up in heaven!!

Ashlee said...

I think it's wonderful what you do. Bringing the forgotten back to life. I'm sure the ghosts are grateful. :0)

Anonymous said...

that first picture could be me or Jolyn. I'm glad we are all so cute!

mama jo said...

love that picture of you crawling under the fence.

Bridget said...

Wow, Newfoundland looks beautiful. Way to go for crawling under the guardrail!

andrea said...

i loved your comment on jessica's post today. i can't wait to hear my kids tell stories of their childhood... i hope they have all of the jaded memories you described! you've given me hope!! :O)
your trip looks like a lot of fun.