I finally found the tombstone of my 3rd great-grandfather, John Duer, in Kessler Cemetery, Mercer County, Ohio! Last Saturday my husband suggested we drive to Ohio to check out the cemetery in the hopes of finding John’s gravestone.
I’ve blogged many times in the past about my Duer family and the frustration of not being able to find where John was buried. I had probate from Adams County, Indiana so I knew John’s date of death but have never found an obituary and the probate didn’t disclose a burial location.
No memorial was ever made on Findagrave or Billion Graves.
When I lived in Florida my resources were sparse and I didn’t find the information when I went to Salt Lake City in 2015. I contacted organizations in both Adams, Indiana, and Mercer, Ohio but nothing was found. Sue Thomas, a trustee of Kessler Cemetery had sent me records for rows 1-7 and there was a John Duer, but it was the son of the man I was looking for. I wasn’t aware at the time that the records were incomplete.
Fast forward to June 2022 when my husband and I visited the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the 2nd largest genealogy library in the country. I didn’t really think we’d find John’s burial location as the 1st largest genealogy library in the US didn’t have it. I was shocked when I handed my husband a book of Mercer County cemetery inscriptions and he found an entry for Kessler Cemetery, row 15, on the last page of the book that noted “John Duer – unreadable.”
As soon as we had settled into our new home winter hit and I had to wait for spring before I could resume my quest to find John’s burial site. Last Saturday, the snow had melted, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. I had a meeting to attend in the morning so when I arrived home the last thing on my mind was John’s tombstone but my husband thought it was a good day to go look.
The cemetery is in a rural location in Ohio so we had to use coordinates to find it. It is accessible from a county road and surrounded by a field. There is a farmhouse visible to the north and a rooster doing his singing the entire time we spent there.
There are 331 memorials on Findagrave and it’s noted that the cemetery is 92% photographed. Of course, John was one of the 8%! This man left behind a few records so it is fitting.
As soon as my husband turned into the unpaved U-shaped drive I was ecstatic. I immediately spotted my 2nd great-grandparent’s tombstone and another of my 3rd great-grandparent’s tombstones. There were Kables, Kuhns, Bollenbachers, and Duers as far as the eye could see.
I’ve certainly visited many cemeteries over my genealogical career but I have never visited a small family cemetery that belonged to my family. There are no words to describe the feeling of knowing that everyone in this location was my kin. Best of all, I knew their stories. Seeing, touching, and walking among the stones made them real. The documents, stories, and photos I’ve amassed were connected to the individuals lying right below where I stood.
Even my husband got excited, shouting “Look, there’s a Kable, oh, there’s a Kuhn, there’s another Kuhn.” He had heard me speak of these people for over 50 years and now, he too, felt they had become real.
He parked in the field and the hunt was on. It was obvious the older stones were on the south side of the drive so we began there. Several were completely unreadable. I knew from the book that John was buried in row 15 but it was difficult to determine where the rows began as the graves were not dug in lines beginning at the same point. From the records that Sue Thomas had sent me I could tell that Row 1 was where the newest graves were placed. Even counting from there was difficult.
Cold and frustrated, I said aloud, “John Duer, Come on. I’ve been searching for you for years and I’m tired of this. Where are you.” I turned and looked down and there was the stone pictured above. Standing back from and just at an angle, the late afternoon sunlight clearly showed John and 1885, his death year. The rest of the stone was unreadable. Yes, I did thank him!
I was disappointed that I couldn’t read the entirety of the stone as nowhere is John’s birthdate recorded. It appears that it could be calculated from the stone but no longer. My husband, laid upon the grave to get as close a look as possible as the stone is tilted downward.
My husband is not interested in genealogy so his actions spoke volumes to me about how much he understands my passion. Think about this, the ground was damp, it was freezing, and he was lying on my 3rd great-grandfather’s grave to get a better look at me. I told my kids if that isn’t love I don’t know what is.
I had one more mission which was to find his first wife, Jane’s grave. I’ve blogged before about the possible error on her stone giving a death date as 1866. John had married again in December 1864 and had a child with his second wife by 1866. No divorce document has been found. He wasn’t likely a polygamist as he was raised as a Presbyterian. Lastly, Jane’s grave states she was the wife of John Duer. If they had divorced she wouldn’t have been his wife. Interestingly, when his second wife died, she too has the “wife of John Duer” on her stone. He must have been something!
We couldn’t find Jane anywhere and a stiff wind began to blow so we went back to the car to look up Findagrave to see if we could identify background stones to help us find Jane. We then realized we had no cell service. Yep, this cemetery is remote. Husband stuck his phone out of the window and finally, we got a signal. Although there are two photos on Findagrave only one would display and it was the closeup with little info in the background. We got out and looked again.
I was standing catty-corner from John’s grave and my husband was in the last row before the field, about 3 rows from me. John was considered in row 13 and Jane was in row 14 but there was a large space where I was standing with no stones so I turned and immediately was facing Jane. What had happened was Jane’s top stone portion had come loose and it looked like someone had turned it 90 degrees so it was now facing John’s row. In 2007 when the Findagrave photo was taken, the stone was facing south as John’s was. When I was reading stones in row 15 I thought Jane’s stone was just another stone that had become illegible. Instead, I was looking at the back of her stone. I was beyond euphoric at finding her final resting place.
Although I certainly never met her in person, I know that she was a strong woman who used a small inheritance from her father to purchase land in Killibuck, Holmes, Ohio so she could take her garden produce to town to sell. I love her entrepreneurial spirit, unusual for a woman in the 1840s. She lost several children, one as a child, several to the Civil War, and one to a mental illness. The family moved from eastern Ohio to mid-Ohio and finally to the border with Indiana. It must have been difficult leaving her family behind as they moved west.
I’ll be doing many more cemetery visits as the weather warms as I expect you will, too. Don’t give up your search! Your ancestor is out there just waiting to be found.