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When Memory Fails

Dateline: Astoria, Oregon, July 2018. Received a telephone call from a funeral director arranging an urn burial in a pioneer family plot. The relative could not recall the location of the plot, but described it as “up the entry road in the cemetery, on the right as you come in, with a tall monument by some bushes.” The mortician had the family name and the names of two family members interred in the plot.


Records searches can be tedious...

A search of the cemetery records showed three locations in Greenwood Cemetery with the correct surname, but none of the names given to the mortuary. A survey of the grounds in the area of the entry road revealed no monument that matched the description the family member gave. The mortuary had no record of having conducted the previous services for the family. Having endured a difficult session with the family member, the mortician was reluctant to seek more information, and gave the contact information for the cemetery office to pursue a more exact location description, in case our records were faulty. The conversation was less than productive. The family member definitely recalled coming to Greenwood, but the vague description did not fit the layout of the cemetery sections and roads. As the local combination of Digger O'Dell and Wire Paladin, 'Have spade, will travel...', I am familiar with the grounds of all of the pioneer cemeteries in the county. Three of them fit the description to a degree, but only one was within a logical distance of the family's historic area. I had the records and maps for Lewis and Clark Cemetery, and, sure enough, the family was there in their maps. I called the family member with the information I had found. The response was immediate, definite, negative and vulgar. The person had been to the grave site many times, and it was absolutely in Greenwood. I offered to meet at the family plot at Lewis and Clark, but was told, “I don't know when they moved them out there, but come by and get the urn and bury it.” When I get a call from someone who does not know which cemetery is the final resting place for a friend or relative, my practice is to suggest contacting the mortuaries in the area, because the mortuary handling the service will have a record of the destination cemetery. Someone may eventually construct a county-wide database of burials, but until that happens, shaking the family tree will continue to be a hit-or-miss process of attempting to discover who has cemetery records, if they exist. Relying on fading memory can lead to frustration, and that on many fronts.

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