By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Cemeteries bring memories of family spread near and far
Cemeteries bring memories of family spread near and far, writes Amy Choate-Nielsen. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
As we drove to the cemetery just before Memorial Day, my children had a lot of questions.

They asked all kinds of questions, like, What is a cemetery? and Will we see dead people? and Can I go into it?

They started talking in very high-pitched voices, yelling over each other, escalating in volume, as they do when they are getting nervous or excited. So we answered their questions and attempted to teach them the rules about cemeteries. We told them to be quiet and respectful, not to run around or climb on the headstones and to be careful where they walked.

I will be so quiet, I will close my mouth so tight, my 4-year-old said. A declaration like that from him is a momentous occasion, and I was grateful that he meant what he said, even if 4-year-olds tend to forget their promises pretty quickly. When he and his sister got out of the car, they tip-toed over to the gravesite with their arms clasped behind their backs, sticking their necks out as they took in the images around them.

Wed never been to a cemetery before.

They walked up to the big granite headstone where their great-grandparents are buried and touched the engraved "Nielsen" with their fingertips, taking it all in.

What does that say? the 4-year-old asked, and we told him the name was the same as his. Its interesting to watch my kids absorb information about death, ancestry and family connections. On the way home, my son said, How come Grandma and Papa dont have any kids?

It is beautiful to see how simple and self-centered the world of a child is, sometimes.

I remember when cemeteries were places filled with flowers and marble and granite. As a child, they were places I went with my parents on occasion to visit people I didnt know. Now I look at cemeteries and wonder where I would want to be buried someday.

Ive only recently realized that burial is a tricky thing, especially for a family like mine, which is spread across the country. There is no central place for us. As a result, I cant remember the last time, if ever, I visited the graves of my family members.

My fathers parents, Fleeta and Irvan, who both died before I was born, are buried in a plain little cemetery in Ada, Oklahoma. I know this because of one of the many available online genealogical resources, a site called The site holds photos of gravesites from across the country, searchable by name, cemetery and location.

Someone took a picture of my grandparents graves and added them to the site, so I can see that they are buried under simple, long, granite plaques embedded in the grass. My great-grandparents, Austin and Mary, who traveled on donkeys from Texas to Oklahoma so their children could get a better education, are in the same cemetery.

Austins father, Gabriel, who was a Texas ranger and fought with the Confederate army, is buried in the Cold Creek Cemetery in Texas, along with his mother, Keziah Dawson. The photo of Keziahs grave with a record of the year she was born is the only information I have about her.

The only memorable connection I have with a grave belongs to that of my grandmother, Lenore. She died in 2006 and is buried with her first husband, Homer, in a cemetery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. After being separated by death for 23 years, they were reunited.

As for my children, I am glad they can visit the graves of their great-grandparents with their papa and grandma and hear stories about where they came from. One day, my children will touch that memorial and know their ancestors are real.

Perhaps then, they will know the world, and their family, is bigger than they imagined.

But I hope it will still be simple and beautiful.