Snapping Stones – Tips for Photographing


Each Memorial Day when I was growing up, I’d accompany my family to tend the graves of ancestors I never knew. Small flags stood at attention on the graves of veterans and the scent from flowers filled the air.

My grandmother had a “cemetery box” in the trunk of her car; it contained hand clippers, a trowel, garden gloves, a rag and a paper bag. Grandma would don the gloves and clip any tall grass growing around the stone, putting the clippings in the paper bag. If weeds were sprouting my mom carefully pulled them out or used the trowel to remove before tossing them into the paper bag. Finally, the stone would be wiped down. I don’t remember seeing either spraying the stones with a cleaning product but I had usually lost interest by that time and was wandering around looking at the pictures on nearby markers.

In the older part of the cemetery where my great grandfather lay, many stones contained photos of the deceased. Frozen in time, I was fascinated by the faces staring out at me. Many were in uniform having died during World War I. Others were like my great grandfather who had died in the 1919 flu epidemic. Who knew from which others had succumbed? My imagination would kick in and I’d make up stories about their demise. I was usually in the middle of some epic made up tale when I was called to return. Back into the car we drove to yet another area of the cemetery to pay respects to family friends and former neighbors.

In all those visits it never once occurred to me to take a picture of the stones. Assuming they would always be there, why would a photo be needed? By the time I had entered by teens vandals had toppled many stones in the older part of the cemetery and those that couldn’t be moved were damaged by having the picture obliterated by blows. My great grandfather’s picture was one that was destroyed. We had a copy of the photo but the stone was never repaired.
Thank goodness for Find-A-Grave, Billion Graves and individuals who have posted gravestone photos on other sites. If you’re planning an upcoming cemetery visit, make sure you snap a picture during your visit and upload to preserve the record. Although we don’t think of a tombstone as a record, they are and need to be cited just like paper documents.

Here are a few hints for photographing stones:
It’s okay to tidy up the stone a bit but avoid major scrubbing. I’ve added a spray bottle and bleach tablets to my cemetery kit. Placing one tablet in the bottle and adding water, I can spray the stone to remove algae and dirt quickly. I sometimes need to use a soft bristle brush, too, but be gentle!

vIf someone has placed flowers or other adornments in front of the stone it’s alright to move them for the photo but please carefully replace when you’re done.

For upright standing stones – get down in front and level with the stone. It reduces distortion and if the photo is taken close up, minimizes your shadow.

For flat stones – try to take the picture from directly above making sure you don’t include your feet. If you can’t do that, please crop the photo before uploading.

Back up and take a photo of stones adjacent to the one that is of interest to you. Possible relatives, neighbors or friends may have been buried close by and might be of help when you are researching paper documents when you return home. This method may alert you to a child who died between census years or an uncle who came for a visit and passed away unexpectedly.

Remember, just because it’s engraved in granite doesn’t make it so! Conflicting evidence does occur; an error could have been made just like with paper. If the cemetery office is open, stop in and ask for a copy of the records. To save the staff time I often photograph them in lieu of having a photocopy made. Being thoughtful goes a long way!

The Truth About Ellis Island

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 16 Jul 2015.

Like so many immigrant families, I heard the story that our family name was changed at Ellis Island. Our story, however, did not blame the officials.  Supposedly, upon emigrating, my Great Grandfather, Joseph Kos, was told that his last name was awfully short for an American name. No one suggested that a short name was wrong or bad.  It was just a benign comment.  I figure the Ellis Island clerk was probably glad to finally get a short name he could clearly understand to record but it did not sit well with my Great Grandfather.  He wanted to be an American and if the name was too short then he would make it bigger, just like America!  He could do that by simply adding an “s.”  The pronunciation would then change from the long o sound, that rhymed with dose, to the short o sound, that rhymed with Ross. The seed was planted to grow from Kos to Koss.

Last year, a 2nd cousin emailed me to discuss his belief that the Ellis Island story was not correct and that my grandmother, Non, was really the one behind the name change.  His reasoning was that Non’s sister, his mother, Barbara, who was born in the U.S. on the 19 September 1914 has Kos as her name on her birth certificate and the parents’ names are both listed as Kos.  Barbara was born 4 years AFTER our Great Grandfather emigrated so there is no reason why he would have recorded his daughter’s name with the original spelling if he had changed his name upon his arrival in the U.S.  Non assimilated into the American culture the quickest and was the family matriarch so those factors supported my cousin’s reasoning.

Birth Certificate of  Non’s sister, Barbara Kos, born in Chicago.

I looked at the ship manifest for Joseph Kos who arrived in New York City on La Lorraine on 17 Jan 1910:

Ship Manifest from La Lorraine 1

I then looked at the 1910 Census where his name now appears more Americanized as Joseph but his last name remains Kos:On the manifest he is listed as Josip Kos.  An error was made in recording his wife’s name – it was duplicated from the entry above him instead of listing his wife, Anna’s name.

1910 Census for Joseph Kos 2

Joseph was working for the railroad, and at the time of the census, was in Chardon, Ohio. Next I decided to investigate the manifest for Joseph’s wife, daughter and son who did not emigrate until 3 1/2 years after Joseph.  Below is the manifest for Non, listed as Mara, her mother, Jana (Anna), and her brother, Joseph Jr. (Josip), from the President Lincoln that arrived in New York City on the 16 July 1913.  The last name is clearly Kos.

Ship Manifest from the President Lincoln 3

I know that when Non and Gramps were married on the 28 January 1917 in Chicago, Illinois both of their names appeared on the records with the added “s” as “Koss.”  As distant cousins from the old country, both had the last name Kos(s) so Non’s maiden name was the same as her married name.

See the 10th from bottom – John and Mary Koss 4

There are 3 possibilities as to why Kos became Koss between 1914 and 1917:

1) the marriage license was an error, There are 3 possibilities as to why Kos became Koss between 1914 and 1917:

2) my great grandfather or another family member added the “s” after 1914 or

3) maybe the Ellis Island story was told about my Gramps and not my Non’s side.

I checked the ship manifest for Gramps, Ivan “John” Kos who arrived in New York City on the 6 April 1909 with his brother, Janko (Stephen) Kos:

Ship Manifest from La Gascogne 5

The manifest shows Kos.  Next record to check is the 1910 Census.  Gramps is shown as a boarder living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  His brother, who had left a wife behind in Croatia, had returned to her.  Gramps is still shown as Kos.

1910 Census 6

So the Ellis Island story wasn’t about Gramps, either.  I have no family documentation between my Great Aunt Barbara’s birth in September 1914 and my Grandparents’ wedding in January 1917 so I can’t pinpoint when the last name changed or who changed it.

The family continued to use Koss after the wedding.  My mother and her siblings were born at home so I do not have a birth certificate for them; a delayed certificate was never issued, either.  I do have a Baptism Certificate, however, it was a copy of the lost original made when she was an adult.  Born and baptized in 1918, my mother and her parents’ names are recorded as Koss.

My Mother’s Baptism Certificate – Copy of the Original

The death index for my Great Grandfather in January 1919 has his last name as Koss but since he was dead, he didn’t provide his own name. The informant on the death certificate was Non since she was the eldest of his three children, the most educated, and with a distraught mother, Non would have been the most rational at the time.  Did she use Koss because that was the name she and her husband were using or was it because her father was also using Koss?

Indiana Death Record Index 7

Yet his tombstone in Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana is etched as Kos and according to cemetery records, Non and Gramps were the ones who purchased the stone.

See stone on right – 2nd from bottom

Photo by Lori Samuelson December 2001

The inscription is in Croatian so possibly the decision to engrave the original spelling was in keeping with that is how the name was first spelled in his birth language.

In 1920, the family reverts to using the original spelling of Kos:

1920 Census 8

The 1920 census is the last paper record with the original spelling.  I have no idea why they returned to using it in 1920.  Perhaps they never spelled it for the census taker but instead pronounced it in the original way, with a long o sound.  If that was the case, though, I would think the census taker would have spelled it Kose and not Kos.

The record below is a scan of a textbook the family purchased for school use in the 1920’s. It was passed from child to child and they each wrote their own name inside the cover.  All were spelled Koss.

Textbook from 1922

By 1930, the name is Koss:

1930 Census 9

In 1940, the name is Koss but is misspelled as Kolls:

1940 Census 10

You’d think that was the end of the story but the saga continued…Both of my Grandparent’s used Koss when they became naturalized citizens in the 1940’s and that is what was on their Social Security Cards and death certificates.

Note in the textbook above that the top name on the left is George Koss.  When Uncle George served in the Marines during World War II he told his Sargent about the name change at Ellis Island (that we now know didn’t happen).  The Sargent told George that happened in his family, too, but the Sargent had decided it wasn’t right so he went back to using whatever the original family spelling was.  He told George he would have dog tags reissued with the original name if he was interested.  George decided that was the right thing to to do so George Koss became George Kos til his dying day.

WW II Muster Rolls 11

Since George was the only son the original family name was restored and continued down the line.  My Grandparents’ and my Non’s brother are the only ones to use Koss through the rest of their lives. Check out my Grandparents’ gravestone at Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana:

Photo by Lori Samuelson December 2001

When my Great Grandmother was to be buried, 3 plots were purchased. Going back to their roots, the original name was engraved.  So much for


1 Year: 1910; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1400; Line:17; Page Number: 105

2 Year: 1910; Census Place: Chardon, Geauga, Ohio; Roll: T624_1185; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 0056; FHL microfilm: 1375198

3 Year: 1913; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 2130; Line:24; Page Number: 149

Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Private donor.

5 Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1234; Line:2; Page Number: 178Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Private donor.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 21, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1307; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0573; FHL microfilm: 1375320

7 Indiana Death Index

8 Year: 1920; Census Place: Gary Ward 5, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T625_446; Page: 24A; Enumeration District:111; Image: 889

Year: 1930; Census Place: Gary, Lake, Indiana; Roll: 600; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0058; Image:242.0; FHL microfilm: 2340335

10 Year: 1940; Census Place: Gary, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T627_1121; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 95-83

11 Ancestry.com. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Euripides was right! Why you should leave no stone unturned.

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 23 Apr 2015

stonesSometimes in genealogy we get so consumed with the names, places, and dates of our ancestors that we overlook the details that tell us much about their character.

The cemetery records transcribed by Josephine Frost from an earlier book by Henry Onderdonk broke through a 16 year genealogical brick wall and gave insight on the spiritual beliefs of the Wilson Williams Family:

“Williams,   Wilson Williams:  died March –?, 1831; aged 76 years.”

“Williams, Margaret.  Wife of Wilson Williams, died April 26, 1807               in her 64th year

F.W.  A common field stone marked “F.W.”

W.W. A common field stone marked “W.W.”1

The obvious information provided by these records are the name of the deceased, month and year of death, age at death and type of grave marker. For Margaret, her spouse’s name is also provided.  F.W. most likely is a mistranscription of Wilson’s father, Thomas Williams.

There is much more information provided that isn’t initially obvious, however. The first hint is the mention of a common field stone.  Onderdonk and DeHart (1884) tell us that the Dutch Reformed denomination custom “In early times farmers often interred their dead on their farms and put up at their graves a rough flat stone with the initial of the name, and year of decease rudely cut thereon.”2  From the record we know that Wilson and F.W. are following the Dutch Reformed tradition of burial.

But what about wife Margaret?  There is no mention of a common field stone marker for her.

To locate picture of the markers, death dates were inputted into Find-a-Grave. No record for F.W, W.W., Thomas or Wilson Williams was found.  The common field stone markers may be missing or may have been missed by the volunteers who photographed the cemetery.  There is a record for Margaret Williams; she is noted to be buried in Christ Church Cemetery, Manhasset, Nassau, New York3. :

margaret-williams-stoneWe know this is our Margaret because the death date, spouse’s name and her name match the church burial record of Frost’s transcription.

Margaret’s headstone reveals that she did not follow the field stone custom as did her husband.  Margaret also did not follow what Walter (1987) notes is “the traditional Dutch practice of the wife retaining her maiden name” on her marker.4

A more careful examination of Margaret’s tombstone will give a better insight of her belief system.

Margaret’s stone is worn so a transcription is needed.  Enlarging the picture uncovers:

In Memory of Margaret

Wife of Wilson Williams

deceased the 26th of April, D. 180_

In the 64th year of her age

Behold my friends, as you pass by

As you are now so once was I

As I am now you soon shall be

Prepare for death and follow me

By researching the poem more knowledge about Margaret becomes available. With some variation in the third line, the poem was commonly used in colonial times.5  Meyer (2006) noted that the poem was “Influenced by the ‘British pre-Romantic graveyard school’ of poetry” and the ‘Americanized Puritan mind-set’.”6 He cites George and Nelson (1985) who identify it as a “mori gravestone epitaph found throughout New England” between the 16th-17th century.7

Wilson and Margaret lived between 1754-1831.  Margaret was born, lived and died in Long Island, New York and there is no record that she ever ventured to nearby New England.  The use of a common New England epitaph tells us that:

  • Margaret or her spouse’s ancestors were originally from New England or
  • The area in which Margaret lived was influenced by New England

History tells us that Long Island was populated by former New England colonists and during the Revolutionary War, some Long Islanders fled back to New England for safety.  Thus, New England’s influence could result from either Margaret’s childhood or later, during her adult years.  Only further research of Margaret’s parents can determine when the origination of her spiritual influence occurred.

The poem, however, does provide us more insight into Margaret’s belief system at the end of her life.  It is considered to be memento mori, Latin for “remember, that you have to die,” a Medieval theory that the Puritan community espoused.8

We know from Frost (1941) that at the time of Margaret and Wilson’s burial, Christ Church Cemetery belonged to the Reformed Dutch Church.9 Today, the cemetery belongs to the Episcopalian Church. 10  Is there a relationship between these denominations?

Boettner (1932) notes that “it is estimated that of the 3,000,000 Americans at the time of the American Revolution, 900,000 were of Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin, 600,000 were Puritan English, and 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed.  In addition to this the Episcopalian’s had a Calvinistic confession in their Thirty-nine Articles…”.11  The interrelationship is explained further by Monsma (1919) “The Pilgrims were perfectly at one with the Reformed (Calvinistic) churches in the Netherlands and elsewhere.  In his Apology, published in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims left Holland, Robinson wrote in a most solemn way, ‘We do profess before God and men that such is our accord, in case of religion, with the Dutch Reformed Churches, as that we are ready to subscribe to all and every article of faith in the same Church, as they are laid down in the Harmony of Confessions of Faith, published in that name.”12 Clearly, the Puritan English, Dutch Reformed and Episcopalians have a shared history.

“You never really understand a person

until you consider things from his point of view” –Harper Lee

What were Margaret’s spiritual beliefs?  Although we may never know for certain, based on the selection of the epitaph, Broker (2003)13 cites Stannard (1977), “the Puritan worldview included the following beliefs:

  1. The earth is positioned at the center of the Universe [a decidedly pre-Copernican belief].
  2. The world is infused with design and divine purpose.
  3. God is omniscient and omnipresent, and the course of every man’s life is predestined.
  4. God is inscrutable.
  5. Death is inevitable, and it is God’s punishment for the original sin of Adam.
  6. Children are born with and imbued with this original sin.
  7. Evil spirits and evil men occupy the earth. In fact, all suffer from “utter and unalterable depravity.”
  8. Death is a reward, at least for the chosen few.
  9. Upon death, the soul is released from its earth-bound world.
  10. The millennium is at hand, whether one takes it to mean the apocalyptic Day of Judgment or the thousand-year reign of Jesus prior to the Day of Judgment.
  11. The most glorious purpose to which a Puritan can espouse is to work to ‘bring God’s kingdom home.’
  12. Some will receive eternal salvation as a gift bestowed by God, but most face eternal damnation. Hell is a place of ‘unspeakable terrors.’
  13. It is impossible to know with confidence that you are among the saved. The best you can do is to examine your life constantly and maintain faith in your own goodness and God’s own justness”14

There is one piece of evidence that is atypical, however, for both Puritan and Reformed Dutch believers at the time the marker was made.  Margaret’s stone has NO artwork.  Shortly after the Revolutionary War, stone cutters from Great Britain arrived in the New York area.  The most typical motif for the Dutch Reformed in New Jersey was a tulip, shell, or fan; in Long Island, as in New England, urns and willows became dominant over the cherub or winged skeleton found on grave stones from the pre Revolutionary times.15

Why Margaret has no artistic design on her marker remains a mystery. Perhaps it was Wilson’s decision to keep the marker plain as was his own marker years later or maybe Margaret adhered to the earliest Puritan custom of no artwork. Without family records we can only surmise.

Analyzing death records and grave markers can provide the researcher with more than just vital statistics.  Careful study can unlock further clues about the family’s convictions.  Euripides was certainly right!

Your comments are most welcome.  Next time I’ll take a break from the scholarly and give you IMHO the ins and outs of visiting the Family


1Frost, Josephine C. Microform p. 41 & 47. Church Records from Reformed Dutch Church at Success, Long Island, Later Known as North Hempstead, and Now Known as Manhasset, 1731-1878 (1941): 17748 item 1.

2Onderdonk, Henry, and De Hart William Henry. History of the First Reformed Dutch Church of Jamaica, L.I. Jamaica: Consistory, 1884. 33-34. Web. 19 Apr 2015.

3Dyane. “Margaret Williams ( – 1807) – Find A Grave Photos.” Margaret Williams ( – 1807) – Find A Grave Photos. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

4Watters, David (Ed). “Markers : Association for Gravestone Studies : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. University Press of America, 1987. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

5Meyer, Richard E. “”Death Possesses a Good Deal of Real Estate”: References to Gravestones and Burial Grounds in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Notebooks and Selected Fictional Works.” ” by Meyer, Richard E. Studies in Literary Imagination, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 2006. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

6Palmer, Sara A. “Spinning Wheel Magazine.” Google Books. 417., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

7George, Diana Hume, and Malcolm A. Nelson. Epitaph and Icon: A Field Guide to the Old Burying Grounds of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Orleans, Mass: Parnassus Imprints, 1983. Print.

8“Memento Mori.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web 19 Apr. 2015, Translation from the Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, June 2001.

9Frost, Josephine C. Microform preface. Church Records from Reformed Dutch Church at Success, Long Island, Later Known as North Hempstead, and Now Known as Manhasset, 1731-1878 (1941): 17748 item 1.

10Dyane. “Christ Church Cemetery – Find A Grave Photos.” Christ Church Cemetery – Find A Grave Photos. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

11Boettner, Loraine. “28.” The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1932. N. pag. Web 19 Apr. 2015.

12Monsma, John Clover. What Calvinism Has Done for America. Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1919. 72-73. Print. Web 19 Apr. 2015.

13Broker, Stephen P. “03.02.01: Death and Dying in Puritan New England: A Study Based on Early Gravestones, Vital Records, and Other Primary Sources Relating to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.” 03.02.01: Death and Dying in Puritan New England: A Study Based on Early Gravestones, Vital Records, and Other Primary Sources Relating to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

14Stannard, David E. The Puritan Way of Death: A Study in Religion, Culture, and Social Change. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.

15Watters, David (Ed). “Markers : Association for Gravestone Studies : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. University Press of America, 1987. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.