Ancestral Hauntings

Edward Varner with Fallsburg Cemetery backdropOur time on this planet is finite, no matter how you live your life. Whether you’ve been good, in a moral or religious sense, or spend your life hedonistically bucking all society puts in place to make you a model citizen, we are all ashes to ashes and dust to dust, eventually completing that terminal circle.

Being the mongrel American that I am in bloodline, I have no deep sense of any linear connections back through time. I confess to somewhat envying those who can trace a clear path back many generations, and even more so for those relative few who remain living in or near the places where their kinsmen always lived. Roots are something you can’t buy, and since that concept is so foreign to me, I am left to only relate with my writer’s imagination what it might feel like to live as the latest version of a long line of documented ancestors on the soil they all trod upon.

One of the many reasons I love Boston and New England is the sense of place with deep history and connection that seems prevalent most everywhere in those locations. Walking the Boston area graveyards with its tombstones recording the cessation of life circa 1700s and in some cases, late 1600, gives me a deeper sense of human permanence that only a place with a deep ancestral connection can. Those of you who live in Europe may snicker a bit at our American infatuation with such relatively youthful places, but it’s all we have.

Elias VarnerAs you might suspect from this post’s pictures, I do have a trace of lineage in my family, and I might even stretch to say something close to ancestral ground, at least as far back as our family’s been able to uncover. On a recent business-trip swing though Southern Ohio, I visited Fallsburg Cemetery in Licking County, Ohio, burial ground of some related Varners. Seeing these tombstones with my last name didn’t unnerve me, although it’s uncommon to see Varner on a tombstone. In all my cemetery wanderings, I’ve never come across a gravestone with my surname chiseled for eternity. So the novelty, if nothing else, of seeing those six familiar letters arranged just so, was interesting.

Elizabeth, left, and Peter, right, Varner

Sarah Jane VarnerI didn’t feel any deep kinship to the souls buried there in Fallsburg, but did appreciate seeing my ancestral evidence, albeit worn and barely legible in places. I know very little about these people, other than my place on the same family tree is quite a few branches higher than they. After my visit, with a little help from Google, I discovered a few facts about Peter Varner (above, with wife Elizabeth’s stone), who appears to be my first Varner ancestor born in America (in Virginia of German-born parents, who immigrated to America in the early 1700s). Mere puppy age by European standards, but when your heritage is a mixed bag of ethnic origins, evidence of something is better than nothing. Of course, Varner is only one side of the equation. My mother is a Guthrie, which has Scottish influences. On a future trip to the UK I’d love to find some tombstones in Bonny Scotland that tells the other side of my story, and complete the circle of discovery.

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