On a chilly but sunny day in March, I went looking, once more, for the graves of several of my ancestors. In the middle of a small wooded area, I found their markers not far from the land they had first settled in the 1820s. Several of the stones were deteriorated or broken. Another was leaning against an ancient oak where a nuthatch began scolding me as I knelt close to read the inscription. Nearby, were several spring beauties just beginning to poke their delicate petals through a mass of fallen oak leaves. It was a quiet, serene setting. I could only wonder what had befallen so many members of this family at a young age.
Ohio has some 3,300 cemeteries. Some as tiny as the burial place I was visiting while others cover several hundred acres. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, all told, these resting places encompass nearly 65,000 acres. This size rivals Shawnee, Ohio's largest state park.
The preservation of Ohio's cemeteries has long been important to historians and genealogists. Some were on private lands. When families moved on, many were neglected, forgotten, plowed under, and even buried beneath homes, buildings, and highways.
Despite these losses, many have been beautifully cared for. And almost by accident, preserved with the graves are some of Ohio’s only unplowed prairie grasses and at least two dozen types of endangered plants. The huge Green Lawn Cemetery, south of Columbus, now classified as an arboretum, features nearly every tree native to Ohio. Some of the oaks are more than 300 years old!
Twenty per cent of Ohio’s 190 big trees can be found in cemeteries, according to the Division of Forestry. Many of these are conifers – pines and spruce. To Victorians, always fond of symbols, evergreens represented eternal life. The Department of Natural Resources notes that these cone bearing trees are a blessing to winter finches that include pine siskins, redpolls, and purple finches. Toledo’s Woodlawn Cemetery is noted among birders for its abundance of winter finches.
We can be grateful for the Victorian cemeteries that feature trees, bushes, flowers, and even bridges. Their beauty brought so much solace to those grieving for their loved ones. Today, many of these serene spaces have become Ohio’s urban oases.