Three years ago, I finally returned to my grandparents’ cemetery for the first time since my grandmother died in 2012. It’s a 7-hour drive to visit my grandparents’ cemetery so the trip takes some planning.
The visit was one of the few times I wasn’t coming for a funeral. Just coming to visit my grandparents’ grave didn’t seem like enough this time.
The New York City area has many Find A Grave volunteers but it’s a rare chance that many of these volunteers could read the Russian gravestones and crosses at Novo Diveevo Russian Orthodox Cemetery.
My Russian is probably at the higher elementary level but this cemetery could give me the practice I needed to improve my language skills. I started with photographing about 600 gravestones and wooden crosses.
I was hooked to coming back the next summer in 2016 to photograph more when a Russian-American Find A Grave volunteer thanked me for my efforts. He posted many memorial pages for Novo Diveevo before I started my journey and has been a great help to explain anything I couldn’t understand.
I pushed myself to photograph more gravestones and crosses for my visit in summer 2016. I was done with the clicking on my digital camera after 1,300 photos but I had no idea about how much work was ahead of me for the next visit.
After two visits, I was hoping to be done in summer 2017. When I returned again, I went into panic about how much wasn’t done and worried about the upcoming rainy weather.
Thankfully, I came armed with two memory cards and two camera batteries. When I got too hot and sweaty, I went into my car for some bottled water and air conditioning while I recharged my camera. Of course, my second battery discharged when I was an hour away from being done.
So off I went to the nearby Subway to take a lunch break, when I hid that I was charging my camera under the table. I killed time by poking around on my smart phone. I was determined to finish the cemetery on the third visit.
In the end, I pressed the shoot button about 2,700 times. At times, I was hiding under an umbrella. My abundant eagerness allowed me to ignore the time that passed after sunset.
So it wasn’t a surprise when I found some photos were too grainy to post or even read. My stubborn soul knew a fourth “quick” visit was needed for this summer.
I thought I had to only retake pictures of a small section and the newer gravestones and crosses since my last visit. Another surprise came my way when I checked on my smartphone whether my grandparents’ section was done. I hardly touched that section.
Once I was getting closer to finishing the section, two cemetery workers passed me by on their vehicle, with one saying in Russian “Why is she taking pictures?” I turned around and acted as if I was talking on my phone. I moved to the back of the cemetery for the newer graves and returned to that section when they were gone.
It felt so good to finish the cemetery after the 4th visit. I sweated, bled from prickly bushes, climbed under low tree branches and pushed aside many bushes and tree branches to take photos.
Three years ago, this cemetery had less than 200 memorial pages. Now the cemetery has more than 7,100 people in the database. Many of these people had the courage to escape the USSR for a better life and all the sweat and effort to include them on Find A Grave was well worth it.