Friday, June 3, 2011

A new Memorial Day Birding Tradition?

My wife and I both are descendants of Mormon Pioneers; those hardy families who migrated across the plains and mountains in covered wagons or pulled handcarts to Utah between 1847 and 1868.  That being the case, we both have several ancestors buried all across Utah.  This year for Memorial Day we decided to take the family to area cemeteries and see if we could find the graves of some of our ancestors.  Another one of my nerdy hobbies is genealogy and family history.  My secondary ambition with this family adventure would be seeing how many species of birds I could find in those cemeteries.  If you haven't learned already, cemeteries are often fantastic birdwatching locations!

Memorial Day 2011 in the Salt Lake area will be most memorable because of the amount of rain we were getting.  In spite of the rain and localized flooding, I was impressed to find that the cemeteries were bumper-to-bumper with families paying their respects to fallen soldiers and their kindred dead.  Because of the weather and the amount of traffic, the birding was not all that spectacular, though I did net 30 or so species and we did find several headstones of our forefathers and mothers.

While we were trying to locate the headstone of one of my wife's progenitors in the historic Salt Lake City Cemetery, this Mourning Dove flew right over our heads and landed behind us.  I started taking photos of it and recognized immediately the name on the monument, Ebenezer Beesley (photo at the top of the post).  Ebenezer Beesley happens to be the composer of several of the most popular hymns sung in LDS churches around the world.  Kinda cool, I think!

My kids at the grave marker of my 4th Great Grandparents - Evan Melbourne Greene and Susan Kent.  Evan and Susan's mothers were sisters, and sisters to Brigham Young.  First cousins getting married in those days was not all that uncommon.  It still is kinda weird from today's perspective and understanding of the increased risk of passing along genetic defects.  Evan was a pioneer, a school teacher, farmer, the mayor and postmaster of Provo, Utah and also served in the Utah Territory legislature where he compiled the book of laws.  Yep, there is a second wife's name on that headstone.  He was also a polygamist and had possibly three or four other wives too.  All kinds of interesting history!
My family has more plans to visit cemeteries and the towns where our ancestors lived, and of course I will combine that family history research with birding across Utah!

If you are interested in genealogy and family history here are some helpful links:

To find my ancestors graves, apart from my own personal records, I used the Utah Burials Index and

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