Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oak Woods Cemetery - Chicago

In the course of researching the Edgren family, I had reason to visit the Oak Woods (or Oakwoods) Cemetery in south Chicago. This huge 186-acre historic cemetery is quite overwhelming. However, their office staff were exceptionally helpful in locating the Edgren graves in question. Unfortunately, they didn't have record of the grave of most interest to me. They are limited to two look-ups, which I can understand. I am sure the demand is great considering the number of burials in this cemetery. At any rate, we found some of the ones we were looking for.

But what I found more interesting was the old Jewish section of the cemetery. I was shocked at the condition of this section.

The Oak Woods Cemetery is quite distinguished, representing the turn of the century tradition of designing cemeteries as parks. It is landscaped and well-kept.

Except for the old Jewish section. This section is overgrown.

Many headstones are overturned and crumbling.

It appears as if the headstones were moved there. Instead of marking graves, it looks as if the stones were crammed in haphazardly. However, I have found no history to indicate that this is true. The burial sites are so close together, it seems impossible that there is enough space for actual graves. But apparently there are.

What I find difficult to believe is that there is not a historical society or other organization that feels it's important to preserve this historical site. Is it possible that there remains a bias against Jews in this area? Or is it just that no one has the time, interest, or money to make a difference?

Although I am not Jewish, it hurts my heart to see the memories of these people so disrespected. I have visited many overgrown cemeteries, but there is a stark difference here between the care of the other sections of Oak Woods alongside the neglect of this section. 

Another issue with Oak Woods is the lack of online records. Of all of the graves I captured in my very few photos, only a couple of them had already been recorded at Find-a-Grave. There are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of headstones in this cemetery. About 10,000 have been recorded on Find-a-Grave. It seems that this should be a prime project for volunteers in this area to tackle. It would be such a service to those whose family immigrated to Chicago and lived here over the years. Maybe I'll get to go back one day and take more pictures.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Does History Create Truth?

I've been reading this book - The Rapture Exposed - and have started pondering the beliefs that we take for granted. A few years back, when the Left Behind series of books came out, I read the first few, along with most of my evangelical Christian friends. I thought they were based on truth, because I had always been taught that the Bible explicitly described the Rapture... that it was TRUE.

I'm not a historian, nor a theologian. I'm a consumer of history and theology. So I don't have the breadth of knowledge required to identify what is TRUE vs. what is HISTORY. Do you understand the difference? TRUTH - in it's purest form - is not dependent on what a person says or does or believes. Outside of seeing something first-hand, none of us really know what is TRUE. We only know what we believe to be true based on our personal experiences and the particular version of history we've been taught. As eye-witness accounts reveal, even first-hand can be iffy. And I would assert that NO ONE knows the truth about things that haven't happened yet. I know; I'm a visionary.

I accepted the Rapture as truth because everyone around me did. What I didn't know, was that the theory of the Rapture was INVENTED. (And up until the point that my pastor mentioned it, I never gave it a second thought.) The Rapture is a theory based on suppositions and inferences made by theologians who lived in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The theory is nowhere near as old as the Bible. According to Wikipedia, "Pre-tribulation rapture theology was developed in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, and popularized in the United States in the early 20th century by the wide circulation of the Scofield Reference Bible." I've now read this twice - both in the book The Rapture Exposed and online. Does that make it TRUE? There are facts stated that support it. So I'm thinking, "Yes. It's true. The Rapture is made up."

Now you may not care one whit about the Rapture or any other type of theology. But do you care about truth? I would think most of us aim to believe in what is true, what is right, what we know. We probably try not to lie or repeat things that are false. But what about when we don't know that we are procreating a falsehood?

The question posed in the title to this blog entry was this: Does history create truth? In other words, is the Rapture true because people around us in our recent history believe it and have taught it to us as truth? No. Just because someone teaches you something doesn't make it true. 

Although we like to think that the things we've always believed are true, don't take it for granted. Look into it. If there's no absolute, decide for yourself what you want to believe. But don't just believe because your parents did. 

I think that many of my Christian friends and relatives would balk at the notion that the Rapture is false. Many of them would probably gasp, point in my general direction and whisper, "Liberal!" 

If by "liberal" you mean "willing to question things" then slap that label on me, baby!

PS: The Rapture is not the only widely-accepted Christian opinion that I don't take at face value. Take a second look at gay marriage, for example. *gasp* (again) Here's a couple of articles worth considering: When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite | Homosexuality Is Not a Sin

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finding Family

It's been a long time since I've found something really exciting in my own family tree. I have been working on mine long enough that all that remains are unfinished rabbit trails, dead-ends and holes. There are no more easy answers for my family tree... or at least none that I've found recently.

But since I've been working on the Edgren family tree, I've been able to find some facts that the family didn't already know. I love that! There's nothing quite like being the first person to reveal a set of names that no one has heard before.

I think that's why I like working on other people's trees. It's much more fun to start with nothing and gather a lot of "new" information for people than it is to search and search for some tidbit that you never saw in your own tree.

Maybe I'm just lazy and prefer the easy "finds." Not maybe; definitely.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being Single

A friend of mine just posted a blog that has made me pensive. In said blog, he explored a very sensitive part of his life that at one point in time involved me. I can't say I enjoyed the part I played in his "coming of age" - but I do still like him as a person. In fact, on a personal level I still consider him one of the best friends I've ever had because he's pretty much just like me in a lot of ways (and, let's face it, I think everyone should be just like me).

But it got me to thinking about my story. If you had asked me ten years ago... or maybe even a year ago... or a week ago... or a day ago... I might have said that my part in Shannon's story is one of the reasons why I'm still single. It was one of the first relationships I had, and I didn't really want to go through that again. But it's not fair to place blame. My singleness is not Shannon's fault, or anyone else's either. [I think I've posted about this before... or was that just in my journal?] Anyway... I can blame the few failed relationships I had for "making me single." I could even blame myself - but it's really not my fault either because I've never had the chance to do that part of my life differently. I could place blame... or I can be objective about it and just realize that life happens. Sometimes it happens the way you thought it would. Sometimes it doesn't. But either way, you should be thankful for it.

So what if I happened to be the last girl Shannon cheated on. At least no one else had to be the next one. At least I didn't end up married and divorced in a matter of months... or even worse, years later. At least he found who he was supposed to be so he could live his dream. If we went through all that angst for nothing... that would suck. [Note that the angst really didn't last that long in the big scheme of life.] And if I still thought - almost 20 years later - that Shannon being gay ruined my chance at happiness... well, seriously... that would be just plain silly!

If we want to, we can all go back and pick apart the turning points in our lives. We can dwell on them - as Claudia says, "wound our heals" - or we can look up and look around us. See that the sun is still shining and the flowers are blooming and the puppy dogs are happily kissing our faces. There are people that love us and appreciate our work and our insight and our laugh. (And by "us" and "our" - I mean "me" and "my"... lol.)

The middle school me wanted to be single forever. And so now that I got what she - er, I - wanted, I should be happy! I am happy. I have absolutely no complaints about my life (except that if I were married I would have the benefit of two incomes and possibly decent health insurance - but I'm told that's not a good enough reason to get married. hmpf.). Blah, blah, blah... I'm happy enough.

This has been a week of loss in several lives in the general vicinity of mine. And I sometimes feel guilty for being happy. For not having lost people who are precious to me. I have been very blessed to not have to endure such things. Maybe that comes from my hesitation to build relationships with people. But, more likely, it comes from the workings of the cosmos that has taken one life and spared another.

Enough introspection. Thanks alot, Shannon.

There's a song playing lately on a Lowe's commercial that reminds me of our daily choice to make the most of life. I think it's a good one for a day like today.