Genealogy in Old Photographs

Facebook reminded me yesterday morning that I went to Washington, DC six years ago — July 4, 2014 — for a Washington Nationals game and A Capitol Fourth.

That trip provided me with one of my most-trafficked blog posts of the past decade on why I didn’t stand for “God Bless America” at the Nationals game. It’s not something I do. It’s a choice.

I scrolled through the photos in my Facebook album, and I saw this was the first time I walked past Christ Church on G Street. John Philip Sousa attended that church. I suspect that my great-great-grandfather and his family did as well, at least for a time, as they lived on 6th Street in the 1860s.

Christ Church, Washington

The intriguing thing in my Facebook album, though, were two photographs I took at Congressional Cemetery that showed family sites that I didn’t yet know about.

Let’s take a look at one of those photographs from 2014. (The other isn’t very interesting.)

Reichenbach headstone, Congressional Cemetery

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, a headstone that read “Reichenbach” instantly caught my attention. Reichenbach, as in the Falls, where Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty met in their fateful confrontation in “The Final Problem”! I stopped, took this photo, thought nothing of it, and shared it on Facebook the next day with a silly caption that there was no sign of Moriarty here.

Looking at it today, with another six or seven visits and more genealogical knowledge, I saw entirely different things.

This photograph shows:

  • The base of my great-grandfather’s brother Thomas Hardy’s headstone (the rest is obscured by a tree)
  • The headstones of Thomas’s wife’s parents and siblings
  • The location of three of Thomas and his wife’s children
  • The Location of my great-grandfather’s sister Ella

But then I got confused. Where was Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington? I should be looking right at Marion Marry. He should be, from my vantage point in 2014, to the right of the obelisk directly in front of me, between me and the road.

Except he’s not!

Once I looked on Wikipedia and saw that Marion Barry was not dead yet — he died in November 2014 — suddenly it all made sense. Along the road I can see the backs of Chambers and Welch (moving left to right) next to the wide open area where Marion Barry is now, and then the base of Thomas Hardy’s headstone (shared by his wife, daughter, and son-in-law) can be seen behind the tree.

Picking out the Davises — Thomas’s wife’s parents — is a little more difficult. They’re at right, beyond the road. There’s a large, gray headstone there, and the Davises appear to to its right. They’re not actually next to each other in that way on the ground; the Davises are one row to the east of the large, gray headstone, and Thomas’s infant children are next to them unmarked.

Ella has no stone, and her husband’s stone is difficult to find, as it’s mostly sunk into the ground, so I can’t point to a spot and say, “That’s where they are.” You can see another row passing behind the obelisk in the middle, and they are beyond that, just a little bit to the obelisk’s left midway between where it crosses the road and its cap.

I have no idea what the big red thing behind the obelisk is, as there’s no structure like that in that part of the cemetery.

Here’s a photograph from 2017, that shows Thomas Hardy’s headstone along the road.

Thomas Hardy and family

My vantage point for the 2014 photo was behind the tree that’s in the center. The Reichenbach stone can be seen, though not well; the low branch that extends to the right from the trunk crosses it.

The tree along the road had just been planted in the 2014 photo. And you can see Marion Barry’s site. (Google Maps, in its satellite view of Congressional Cemetery, used to show, and may still, an image of the cemetery when Barry’s grave is either being excavated or his monument installed. It’s hard to tell. I couldn’t figure out what was going on there; today it all “clicked.”)

The Hardy and Teachum stones are identical because Mary Teachum and Emma Hardy were sisters.

The style of the Chambers stone is the same as the style of the Kerper stone adjacent to where my great-great-grandfather William Gardner is buried.

One unfortunate thing about the Facebook memory from this trip is that my photo album showed my lunch that day:

Burrito at La Lomita

I don’t know about you, but I could really go for a La Lomita burrito right about now. Maybe when this cruel plague is over…

Published by Allyn Gibson

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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