Friday, December 01, 2017

Visiting My Roots

The death of my parents this year has triggered in me a desire to explore and connect with family history.  

My mother's side of the family is a great mystery.  A death at a young age, fights over farms, a suicide and feuding left my mother distancing herself from her family. I have very little connection on that side.   

My father's side of the family is clearer.  My paternal grandfather had six brothers and a three sisters.  The Godfrey family line has been traced back to England and Ireland - in the mid 1800's one of my great-great-great grandfathers was married twice, both times to Mayflower descendants (he had money and good taste.) My paternal grandmother was born in Hammersmith - London.  Her mother was born in Swansea on the south coast of Wales.  My Great-Grandmother Mary Wood, lived with my grandparents on the farm for about a decade when I was growing up.  She died the year I finished high school. It was raining like crazy the day of her funeral, the cemetery didn't allow the family to go into the cemetery for graveside services - the services were in a chapel on the grounds. I moved away from Michigan shortly after that and never went back. 

On my most recent trip I made a pilgrimage trip to Roselawn cemetery in Detroit, Woodward Avenue at 12 mile road, to visit my great-grandmother's grave. It was full circle, closure.  She was an important part of my childhood, I learned a great about life listening to her tell tales of growing up, emigrating, raising a family, and surviving two World Wars. Growing up I thought she was born in London, long after she was gone I found that she was born in Wales.  Visiting the cemetery I found that my great grandfather died the year after I was born. Looking through Dad's slides there is a picture of a baby on his knee - I now know that baby was me.  He was a tunnel builder, he started out on the London Tube system, and came to the US on the eve of World War I.  They moved every few years, as the tunnel projects finished and another one started.  His specialty was working in soft soils, digging under rivers and lakes.  He built water intake tunnels in Chicago and Detroit that are still in use.  I wish I had heard his stories first hand, rather than handed down as family legend, but looking at it, he live to 79, for a many who worked in compressed air most of his career, 79 is not a bad life expectancy.  

I have tried several times to find where my father's paternal grandparents were buried.  I knew it was someplace in the Detroit area (my father was not one to visit cemeteries.)  Sorting through one of the boxes from my parents home office, I found a funeral card from my great grandmother's funeral (the year after I was born) and found that she is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Detroit.  I will make another pilgrimage trip. I suspect that a couple of my great-uncles are in the same cemetery.  

Have you gone in search of dead relatives? 


  1. no, not really. my maternal & paternal grandparents are buried nearby my location.

  2. Yes. And I do find it fascinating. We've even found the grave of one of Jerry's early American ancestors who arrived in 1639. If you've got ancestors from the Mayflower, you and he may even be related.

  3. Like you, I don't know much about my Mom's side of the family, but I have documentation for Dad's family going back to the 1740s.



  4. Usually death certificates will list what cemetery the person was buried in. If you know the county of death I'd go that route to find someone if you don't know which cemetery. If you definitely know what cemetery go on Find A Grave and see if they are listed, if not, make a memorial and put up a photo request so someone local can fill it for you so you have a photo without having to go there yourself.
    I filled a photo request for a total stranger this Summer while in Montana visiting my 4 x GGrandfather's grave in a real out of the way spot.

    You could also contact the cemetery's office to find out the location of whomever you are looking for. Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Detroit has about 25,000 graves so get the section and lot location before you go and try to fine them yourself. 8-)

  5. Yes, I have. About ten years ago, I solved a family mystery with a letter my mother wrote me. I also cleared up false information which was supposed to have come from my mother. This cousin thought my mother said her older brother was her son. How could that be? My cousin had lots of things wrong, but she has done a lot of work on her genealogy.

  6. I come from a family well-researched by many family genealogists. I don't have to go looking for it is already done/there. You get born in my family and you get the owners manual.