Thursday, August 1, 2013

Coffins, Urns, and Ziplock Bags

J. Mark LoweThursday morning J. Mark Lowe gave the final keynote address of the 2013 Brigham Young University Conference on Family History and Genealogy. We all laughed our heads off. And I cried. What he had to say was exactly what I needed to hear.

Lowe is a full-time professional genealogist, author, and teacher who researches primarily in original records and manuscripts throughout the South. Mark has been researching families for more than 40 years. His weekly local history article appears in the Robertson County [Tenn.] Times, and he is the Director of the Regional Indepth Genealogical Studies Alliance.

“As genealogists, we have a lot in common,” Lowe began. “Really, we have too much in common. You get a group of genealogists together and the discussion will revert to cemeteries.”

At a conference with seven colleagues in California the topic turned to visitation and gathering (“viewings” as we say in Utah). Lowe was curious about how that process was handled with cremations. They started telling him stories. One said her husband’s mother wanted to be buried in the fork between two rivers back east.

“How long has it been?”

“Six years.” (Amazement and confusion.)

“Where is she now?”

“In my husband’s sock drawer.” (Surprise and dismay.)

Lowe said he could imagine the husband getting ready for work, looking down, and saying, “Hello, Mom.”

A woman was considering mixing the ashes of her parents. The funeral home said, “We can comingle their ashes but you must sign an agreement that you’re not going to ask us later to separate them.” Lowe jokingly suggested that they color the ashes. The lady said, “What a brilliant idea!”

Lowe continued regaling us with story after story about cemeteries, about telling stories, and about telling stories in cemeteries.

“We can’t go to a cemetery without having a family gathering,” Lowe said. “All my relatives are there and I want to talk with them.”

My thoughts turned to the aunt who got me interested In genealogy. She passed away on Monday. She’ll be laid to rest Saturday in a small cemetery in a small town where my mother grew up. I can see it vividly. I have been there often. She will be buried next to my grandparents who are buried not far from grandpa’s parents. I know there stories. She will be buried next to her brother. His story is especially poignant. He died as a little boy. In his memory I carry his name.

“I never thought about any of the people I heard about as being dead,” said Lowe, “because for me they weren’t.”

Thanks, Mark. I needed to hear that today.


  1. I always love to hear Mark talk. His sense of humor blends well with mine, and he's a wealth of knowledge, helping me especially with some thorny problems with my NC ancestry. Thanks, Mark, for the laughter and the information!

  2. I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!


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