Oregon Public Broadcasting

cemeteryheadstone_small.jpgBonnie Stewart / OPBHeadstone at Cherryville Cemetery.

As the Memorial Day holiday approaches, many families take time to honor their dead. Joyce Yam recently found her pioneer kin buried in an overgrown cemetery near Sandy. When she organized a cleanup, she discovered something else. Cousins she had never met who are very much alive.

The Cherryville Cemetery is buzzing. Chainsaws are cutting through thick underbrush. Volunteers are pulling ivy off the tombstones. Others are recording the names of those laid to rest here in the 1800s.

hands_small.jpgBonnie Stewart / OPBCousins compare hands.

Joyce Yam stops to reflect for a moment.

"I found my grandfather Charles Pittman Ware and looked further and found out that I had second cousins. They live very close to me, I live in Beaverton, and they decided to come out and help clean up the family cemetery," she said.

One of Yam's newfound relatives is Corey Pearson. He's one of about 40 volunteers who showed up for the workday.

"Luther W. Ware, that's my grandfather. And then my great grandfather is right next to him and that's Luther J. Ware. The earlier grandfather, Charles P. Ware is just right behind their tombstones there and he actually was one of the original settlers who came over on a wagon train," he said.

cemeterycousins_small.jpgBonnie Stewart / OPBCousins gather around the table.

Corey's Mom, Colleen Pearson, places yellow and pink flowers on the uncovered Ware graves. She tidies up other plots, too.

"As I walked over to this stone, I realized it was draped with moss, and I pulled it back wonderful saying here on it. 'No pain, no grief, no anxious fear can reach our loved one keeping here.' That's beautiful," she said.

A few weeks after the first cleanup, some of the Ware women meet at Joyce Yam's house for coffee. They share family photos and something of themselves.

We all have the crooked finger, the little crooked finger. Do you two? I've never looked at my little finger. And it crooks in, and it does, I know and it's that weird. We all have blue eyes it seems, almost. We don't go gray very easy and that's not a joke.

The mood becomes more serious as the women study the faces of the pioneers who brought them together. It's a treasured photo. The men stand straight. Unsmiling. The women wear high-neck blouses.

familycemetery_small.jpgBonnie Stewart / OPBFamily photo

Yam says, " It looks like a very strong and cohesive family which you know is nice and these people worked so hard to get to Oregon it kind of gives you pause to think how our families should be closer and hopefully remember one another better."

Yam got a grant to continue the restoration of the Cherryville Cemetery. She even has an official plaque to permanently mark the historic gravesites.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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