Cemeteries, Culture, History & Genealogy

A Grave Interest

New Presentations

for 2023

Joy Neighbors is a national cemetery speaker, blogger, podcaster, and author with an MFA in writing. She has spoken at national conferences like  RootTech and Midwestern Roots along with state, regional and local genealogy associations, historical organizations, and libraries.

To schedule a single lecture, a half-day, or a day-long presentation, visit the Contact page.

5 Steps to Writing Riveting

Family Stories

Family history is more than names, dates, and places. It’s made up of stories, photos, diaries, dreams, photos, and wishes. At times it is more ethereal and unsubstantiated, expressing our ancestors’ emotions, dreams, fears, and personalities. In this class, we’ll learn five steps to telling your ancestors stories in a riveting yet readable way. You may be the only person who still remembers, so don’t let their stories fade away.

Leave No Stone Unturned:

In-field Cemetery Research

Not all research can be done online; sometimes you have to head out into the field, or in this case, the cemetery. During this session we’ll learn how to search for and locate ancestors graves, how to determine what type of stone was used, and what we can learn about the time period when our ancestors lived. Discover what records to ask for in the cemetery and how to share your cemetery information with others.

Forgotten Records of Death

Death records include burial forms, death certificates, and cemetery deeds. But other records are available that can clarify our ancestors demise and lead to further research. We will explore ten forgotten records of death that offer more detailed information about the deceased. And this may offer us a more fascinating perspective about the lives of our forefathers and mothers.

Jazz Funerals:

Cutting the Body Loose

Jazz Funerals are rich in culture and tradition. While some funerals are somber and grave, the Jazz Funeral is loud and vocal as mourners express their grief. But after the funeral, there’s singing and a celebration parade to the cemetery with an upbeat brass band playing jazz. Learn how this funeral jubilee allows mourners to rejoice as the deceased’s spirit “cuts the body lose” from its earthly bonds and soars to the heavens above. (Videos shown)

Silent Language of the Stones:

How to Read Grave Stone Symbols

Symbols have appeared on tombstones for centuries, but during the mid-1800s, this cryptic language flourished. The Victorians decorated graves with carvings, symbols, and statues that offered a narrative about family relationships, military service, occupations, economic status, and social standing. We will discover what many of these symbols mean, what certain abbreviations stand for, and how to read this "silent language.”

Victorian Celebration of Death

A One Woman Portrayal

During the Victorian Era, mourning customs and funeral rituals had very rigid rules. Grief had gained social status, and families were judged by how well they “did death.” Edwina, an Edwardian librarian, will take to the stage to explain life during the Victorian Age. Learn about mourning requirements, expected etiquette, and the rules of mourning attire. Discover why families spent vast amounts of money to present a socially "acceptable" funeral. And what part superstition played in these mourning customs.

Stories From the Grave

(August, September, and October)

Everyone has a story, and many of those tales continue to be told, even after death. There’s the young boy who’s still mourned 150 years after he drowned; the man murdered in cold blood in a courtroom while seeking justice; a woman whose determination and bravery made abdominal surgery possible; a faithful companion who continues to keep watch at his master’s tomb, and the murder of a civil rights activist who’s death still haunts a community.

Things That Go Bump

in the Cemetery

(August, September, and October)

There’s a sudden chill, a strange sound; you feel like you're being watched! A figure disappears, batteries loose their charge, and then something touches you… Welcome to the cemetery! Each year, A Grave Interest goes on after-dark cemetery treks, ghost tours, and paranormal investigations to get a firsthand look at some of the ‘liveliest’ places on earth. Enjoy stories of hauntings, restless spirits and eerie encounters Joy has had in the cemetery.

Christmas on the Frontier

(November and December)

After the founding of our country, celebrating Christmas became contentious. But for our ancestors living on the frontier, these quiet, religious observations slowly grew into community celebrations. Discover how settlers decorated their cabins, what were the anticipated annual festivities, what carols did they sing, and how did families prepare for the long-anticipated meal. (I'll even share some menus.)