Flooding of Chicago Affects Local Cemeteries

Flood May 2013The past few weeks, Chicago has been under dark storm clouds. It has rained, completely poured and I have even seen the rain come down sideways. Usually, I love the rain. There is something peaceful about it. Most of our rain would fall under this category.   There have been a few that were terrible storms and many people had flooded, bad. I have a neighbor whose basement flooded so bad, the washer and dryer were floating. Could you even imagine that? We were lucky enough that we only got a few inches of water in our basement. Though it was only a few inches, I lost valuable items from when my kids were little. You see, we had never flooded before. We have lived in our current home for about ten years and had never had any water. This year, not so lucky with the water.

So what does this flooding have to do with genealogy?

Great question! This past week, I finished up some work for a client. I decided that I would send her a special gift as a thank you, pictures from the cemetery where her family is buried. How nice that would be? Something she did not ask for, but I thought she would definitely appreciate it.

So, off I go to the cemetery with my daughter (the youngest daughter seems to have great luck finding graves).  I go into the office and get the information as to where the graves are located. The office personal were very nice this day, my last experience at this cemetery was not so good.

Once I have the map in hand, we are on our way. We follow the map to the designated location and off we go searching, after I give my daughter the names we are looking for. She walks one way and I walk the other.

As I continue to walk, I hear the squish of every step. There is still so much water on the ground, which I cannot believe, it has been at least a month since the storm that caused the flooding in our area. Some of the graves look like they might have sunk in a bit and some of the markers are either covered in mud and debris or water. I am thankful I wore shoes that I do not mind if they get muddy.

Not even five minutes into our searching I find the grave of the husband of one of the women I was looking for. His headstone is flat and covered with light debris that I can clean off with just me bare hand. The next row beneath his grave is the grave of his wife and mother in law.  They too have flat stones, but theirs were not so lucky. The mother in law’s stone had a corner that was filled with mud a gunk. A corner only, she was lucky. The wife’s stone was at least 75% filled with mud and gunk.

Muddy Graves

Luckily, there was a water spicket close enough to the grave site and we had napkins and a cup in our SUV. I sent the daughter to the car to get these items and to fill the cup with water so we can clean the two stones that were so bad. While she did this, I removed the dry debris from the husbands grave and took a picture.

I then moved to the women’s graves and took pictures of their stones with all the mud and gunk, the before shot.

When daughter arrived back at my side, I took the napkin and cleaned off the first stone that had just a corner of mud to clean up. After removing the debris from her stone, I used the water to clean it up. It looked so much better.

I thin moved on to the final stone that was almost completely covered. Well, we had two napkins to assist us in this feat. The first one was almost completely ripped up from cleaning the first stone and I set it aside. I took the second napkin and used it to carefully pick up the muddy debris and move it away from the stone. My daughter went and filled the cup again, while I took what remained of the first napkin to finish the clean up and removal of debris on this second stone. We then took the water and poured it over the full stone to make sure all the mud was removed.

Thankfully, our cup was from McDonald’s, so we filled it with the debris that we removed from the stones and the napkins that we tore to shreds by using them to clean up these two stones.

Lessons learned from this clean up. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is this:

Do not just talk about a cemetery tool kit, have one!

As genealogists we all talk about what we need when we go to the cemetery. But I will be honest with you, I have nothing prepared. This is not the first time I have gone to a cemetery and walked out with muddy knee’s because of what I had to do to find a grave.  This lesson was really the light bulb going off moment telling me to put the darn kit together.

Some things that will be going into my cemetery tool kit are:

  • Gardening Kneeler       
  • Gallon Container for Water       
  • Paper Towels       
  • Gardening Shears

Of course I will add more things as I start putting it together. Good luck with your cemetery tool kits.



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  1. You are so caring to clean up these grave stones, Terri! And thank you for the list of the “cemetery kit.” Sometimes I wonder whether gravestones are doomed to eventually disappear, or be dug up or washed away or paved over. But that is not a productive way to think about it! Some gravestones have lasted for centuries and centuries! Every single one makes a difference.

    1. Thanks Mariann,

      I could not just leave them. It was just a sad state. I am hoping that summer will arrive and everything here in Chicago can dry out. We have had too much rain lately. Anyhow, I did all this for my client. She is a sweet lady and I wanted to let her know that I truly appreciate her business.

  2. Really like reading your information regarding cemetery flooding in Chicago. I have many paternal ancestors buried in Chicago.
    Would it be possible share/publish your information with my genealogy society in our newsletter sourcing you, your blog, etc?
    I look forward to your response.

  3. Terri,
    I enjoyed reading your post. After an experience similar to yours, I keep a cemetery kit too. I know the person you took the photograph for really appreciate the care you put into cleaning up the grave. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Bernita,

      Glad I am not the only one who has ventured out unprepared. My client was extremely happy with the photo and that I went and did that for her.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

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