On the Hunt for Lionel Dugas

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I called my mom one weekend to ask about her maternal grandfather. My online research had not revealed anything, and I hoped that she could provide some missing links. The U.S. Census takers seemed to have skipped his home – which was surely in the middle of nowhere – for a few censuses, so my great-grandfather and his family were not listed. Unfortunately, my mother knew nothing of his side of the family. I found that to be strange since he was a major male figure in her life after her father died of cancer when she was just a teen. I called my grandmother three times, and she never answered the phone. Without even thinking, I grabbed my purse, camera, and phone, and headed out of the door. I was about to do one thing I said I would never do alone.

On a warm November morning in Louisiana, I drove about an hour to the middle of nowhere to find evidence of my great-grandfather’s existence. Our family’s cemetery is out in an area that no longer has a name. Cemeteries are creepy in general, but this one is way off the beaten path on a gravel road surrounded by woods. It’s a place I earlier said I would never go alone, but I insisted on getting some information to move forward with my genealogy research. I could only recall being there twice, so I navigated there based on years-old memories since Google Maps couldn’t offer any assistance.

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Out past the burned sugar cane fields, parallel to the railroad tracks, I drove half a mile down a gravel road surrounded by woods. Thankfully, it had not rained in several days, so it was not muddy. Just when I began doubt my location, the wooded area opened and revealed a small gated cemetery. My memory did not fail me.

I turned off the gravel road and into the cemetery  but I didn’t drive to far past the opening. I rolled my window down and left the keys in the ignition in case I needed to make a quick getaway. By the time I had arrived, I had talked myself out of all of my fears except for snakes. I treaded the ground carefully to the corner of the lot where I recalled my family being buried, and found my mother’s mother’s father with ease.

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That was the easy part. The more pressing question regarding his parents was more difficult. I wandered around reading each headstone carefully, but uncovered nothing. Quite a few of the headstones were heavily deteriorated and unreadable, and quite a few graves were sadly unmarked. As I stepped carefully around each grave, some names I read were familiar to me, while others were names I never recalled knowing. I could only assume that Lionel Dugas’ family lay amongst one of the unmarked graves or one of the graves with heavily deteriorated headstones. Where else could they have possibly been buried?

I felt a bit defeated at the idea that I didn’t uncover more information during my visit.  In addition, seeing the overall of the condition really hurt my heart. I understood that it was November and the leaves were falling, but my family’s corner section of the cemetery looked highly neglected. Sure, someone cut the grass regularly, but I was certain that my living family only visited that cemetery when someone died and never more than that. A beautification project was desperately needed.The idea of that cemetery reinforced my stance on being cremated. I don’t want to be buried in that middle-of-nowhere cemetery in an area of Louisiana that I never resided. Who wants to be buried in a cemetery that looks abandoned and uncared for? Just throw my ashes in the trash and call it a day. That’s more environmentally friendly that being buried anyway.

My mom asked me an important question about my genealogy research. “What are you going to do with this information?” At this point, I don’t know. I’m at a dead end in many ways, and I haven’t even reached the days of enslavement where it would be damn near impossible to trace family.

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