Gaps in the family tree can be hard to fill. Perhaps DNA databases will eventually become sufficiently complex and extensive to establish connections, until that time genealogical searches can sometimes reach a dead end.
Bob was a man who could make connections between the living and the dead, but who would acknowledge that among the dead there were people who had no known connections.
Near his farmhouse, there seemed numerous graveyards. There were burial grounds to be found in unlikely places, often unconnected with any church. Some were the last remnant of ancient religious sites, some had begun as the private burial place of particular families, some seemed likely to have just appeared because people had to be buried somewhere. In many places, the burying ground was rough and poor land. In Nineteenth Century Ireland, good land would have been too precious to be used for anything other than growing food.
One graveyard was no more than a quarter of a mile from his gate. “Do you know the space at the gateway?”
“There’s no headstone but there is a man buried there. Joe was his name, or was the name we gave him anyway.
He used to walk the roads around here. He would do a bit of work here and there; get his dinner or his tea. He didn’t mind where he slept, people’s sheds or barns. Everyone knew him.
Anyway, one night a man was going up the road there and Joe was lying at the roadside. He went over to him, and Joe was dead. They got the doctor, and the doctor said ‘what can I do? The man is dead’.
So they went to the priest and the priest said he couldn’t be left at the roadside, so they fetched spades and they dug a grave and the priest said the burial prayers and they buried Joe. No-one knew who he was’.
It was hard to fault the legality of the process. The man had been certified as dead by the doctor and he had been buried with the usual rites and ceremonies of the church, but there seemed a great sadness.
This man had once been a member of someone’s family, once loved by a mother, once, perhaps, having brothers and sisters, once a boy who played in the country and enjoyed the company of friends. Once he had been someone more than “Joe” who walked the roads, and even Joe had thoughts and feelings and, perhaps, even hopes.
Would someone one day attempt a family tree and find someone missing, missing because he lay unknown in a small country graveyard?