You cannot travel very far in Madison County without finding a cemetery. Some of them are well over 200 years old. There are church cemeteries, government-sponsored cemeteries and family cemeteries.
Most of these cemeteries are well cared for. Many are fenced to prevent children and animals from damaging the graves. Others are neglected, or in some cases, all but forgotten. Some have become the playground of local children. Others are overgrown with trees and brush.
Here in the South, we take the memory of our ancestors seriously. It is through our ancestors that we trace our family connections to one another.
Now, if you don’t think that family is important here, just sit around at the barber shop where old-time Southerners hang out. You will hear endless discussions about who is related to whom, which families have ties to what old farm place, and what roll their ancestors played in the “War.”
My own family was fascinated some time ago to learn that the Maverick Brothers, the ones who were the subject of a TV series a few years ago, were born on the same plantation once owned by my ancestors in South Carolina. Another of my ancestors was a neighbor to Thomas Jefferson in Virginia.
Now some of you newcomers to Madison County may laugh about this. “What difference does that make,” you ask? Well, to those of us born and raised into Southern culture, it means everything. We were raised to be independent, to be responsible for ourselves to the greatest extent possible, and to call on family and community when we need help.
By identifying our family and social connections, we establish the right to ask them for help, and to extend help when they need it. And the source of those connections lies buried in those cemeteries.
That is why all people who were raised in the traditions and heritage of the Old South are concerned when we find a neglected or abused cemetery. The people resting there gave us those traditions. It is from them that we gained the friendliness and hospitality that sets our region apart from the rest of America. It is from them we gained our sense of patriotism that results in our region providing a larger percentage of soldiers, sailors and airmen than any other part of the nation.
Those cemetery markers identify those who passed down our culture and heritage. They deserve our deepest respect and protection. They deserve to have their final resting place protected from neglect and carelessness. And it is up to us, their descendents, to see that they are properly remembered and honored.
Many of these cemeteries have a memorial fund that is used to keep the grass cut, fences mended and drives graveled. If you have ancestors in such a cemetery, they depend on your donations to keep their maintenance fund filled. If your ancestors are in a private family cemetery, then it is up to you and your relatives to clean and protect it.
Honoring and protecting the graves of your ancestors, and teaching your children to do the same, is an important part of preserving your culture and heritage.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.