Cemetery Weather

AI Generated

Spring has sprung in the Midwest and last Saturday was the first cemetery walk of the year. The old cemetery in a small northeastern Indiana town held a plaque dedication ceremony. That was followed by portrayal of 10 notable families that were buried there.

It just so happened that the woman I was talking about was having her 153 birthday that day. She had been such a powerhouse locally in the late 1800s; upon her last illness, which kept in her bed with a nurse for 8 months, her many friends bought her fresh flowers daily. In keeping with that tradition and because it was her birthday, I brought a bouquet in remembrance.

Now is the time to plan your cemetery excursions for the next few months.

First, make a list of what cemeteries you hope to visit this year. Then, group them using Google Maps to make the most out of your trip.

Next, get into your shed, garage, basement, and make sure your tool are ready to go. I usually take a shovel to right a leaning headstone, garden gloves, a hand rake, small broom, and clippers. I personally like to use Krud Kutter, available at the big box stores.

Also to include are rags, water, and a bucket. The bucket makes a nice transport for all the items. Don’t forget bug spray! A garbage bag is also helpful to cart away dead leaves and clippings.

Now, look at your calendar, speak with family and friends, and try to convince someone to go with you. Sure, you can do it alone but in some cemeteries it’s safer to have a buddy.

Dress appropriately – you’ll be getting dirty, wet, and either hot or cold.

Fill up your gas tank, put the address in your GPS and head off. I like to bring a snack but if you aren’t going to be too far out from civilization you can always stop for lunch.

After you’ve cleaned the stone, make sure to take a picture. I upload mine to Findagrave.com, even if there already is a picture because the difference in stones over time is truly remarkable. It will be helpful if you can add GPS coordinates, too, as many of those are lacking on that site.

I’m off to Noble County for to present at the society’s annual conference. Hope to see you there!

Boots On The Ground Courthouse Experience

Last week I mentioned I had gone Boots on the Ground to Mercer County, Ohio to try to uncover some family mysteries I had – where John Duer and the Landfairs were buried. Although I got closer, I hadn’t found the location yet.

I decided after spending the day in the library to stop by the courthouse to see if I could solve some other mysteries. The first was to try to pin down when Great Uncle Charlie Landfair left Mercer for Adams County, Indiana. He is my black sheep uncle and I am just intrigued with the things that man got away with. I am contemplating writing a book but I am far from extensive research for that.

I could tell by the looks on the 3 clerks’ faces how they felt when I showed up at 3:15 pm on a Friday afternoon asking for a divorce record I wasn’t sure existed for Charles and Rebecca Landfair sometime between 1885 and 1890. The clerks silently looked at each other so I volunteered that a crazy genealogist just had to show up late on a Friday afternoon, right?!

One clerk laughed and added that she was just getting ready to leave. That left two, neither of whom was excited about this task. The youngest got an old index from a backroom and began to look for a Landfair record. I was peeking over the counter and realized quickly she had the wrong volume. I knew this because I spied my great-grandmother’s name and the record I was searching for was 30 years earlier. I asked what years the volume contained and she told me to 1890. I then told her that wasn’t the right book. She turned to the front but no date was written. Ignoring me, she continued searching for the name.

The other clerk had heard me and asked how I knew it was the wrong volume. I replied my great-grandmother‘s name led me to believe this was a volume from about 1909. The second clerk told the younger clerk to go back and check the closet. Yep, here comes the correct volume, and Uncle Charlie was found quickly.

His name in the index was found quickly there was a new issue and that was no one wanted to go into the basement to retrieve the documents. From the numbers listed, it appeared that there were a lot of documents. I offered to leave my name, phone, and address in case they wanted to do this the following week but it seemed to me they never wanted to do this. I get it; if you aren’t a genealogist why in the world would you want to climb around a dusty dark basement to find a 130+-year-old piece of paper?

The second clerk informed the younger clerk where the documents would be in the basement and she reluctantly left. Meanwhile, the second clerk asked me why I wanted the documents.

I told her that, as a genealogist, I was fascinated with the man. I knew where his horses had been buried as he had special coffins made for them but he never bothered, as a physician, to fill out a death certificate for his second of four wives. He had gone to prison for malpractice but then been pardoned by a governor. He was a nasty alcoholic who happened to walk out of jail once and no one went after him, figuring it was safer to let him sleep it off wherever he went and bring him back in the following day. He claimed to have completed medical school in Cincinnati but even the state of Indiana felt that never occurred yet they continued to let him practice. And boy, did the townsfolks love him. He had a large and thriving practice.

By this time the young clerk had returned with no papers. She had a blank look on her face and kept repeating, “It’s a mess.” I assumed she meant the basement but it turned out she meant the court case. After repeating “It’s a mess,” several times she shook her head and said she’d have to give it to me at some later date. I then left my contact info.

As I left I asked if the courthouse held tax records between 1850-1860 as I wanted to find out when John Duer and family arrived. None of these records are online. I was told that microfilm was made years ago but they are held in Pennsylvania and no one can access them. The clerks told me to ask in another office.

I went downstairs and found the clerk with her head in her hands at her desk. I told her what I wanted and she asked why I needed the records. After explaining she said, “But they’re in the basement.” Here we go again…

She did agree to allow me to go down with her after obtaining the key from another room.

The basement was the neatest, cleanest basement I’ve ever been in! Metal shelves line the walls and down the center. There is adequate lighting. The maintenance man had a neat workroom there, too.

This clerk took me over to the north wall and pointed to a set of books marked Duplicates. She said they would contain a duplicate property record as the bill is due in April, say 1850, but the assessment was made in fall 1849. If the property was paid on time then it was denoted in the Duplicate books. She tugged at a volume, ripping part of the spine. I suggested we pull a volume out from the end of the shelf. Once it was out she told me she didn’t know how I was going to page through and I asked if I could take the volume to a table we had just passed. She hadn’t noticed it. We walked to the table, and she said, “Good luck” and quickly left.

I didn’t find the Duers but I found several other ancestors listed and took as many photos with my phone as I could before the battery died. I had taken way too many pictures that day at the library!

By the time I left the basement, she was not back in her office so I couldn’t thank her. What a treasure trove that basement was! I will definitely be back but next time I’m bringing hubby and a back up camera. So many ancestors, so little time.

And those divorce records…two weeks later I got a call that they found them but they couldn’t figure out how to copy them. I asked how they copy them for others and was told no one has ever asked for a copy before. I knew that wasn’t true as I had asked for my great-grandmother’s records several years ago. I suggested that they turn the book on the copier and get half a page at a time.

Later that day I got a call from another clerk in accounts who asked me for a credit card to charge my record request. I gladly gave her the numbers.

Keeping my fingers crossed that the documents arrive soon!

Closer to Fulfilling Another Genealogical Wish

Editors. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions Volume VI. Celina, OH:  Mercer Co. Chapter OH Genealogical Society, 1990 found at Mercer County, Ohio Public Library in Celina.

While I was in Celina, Ohio, as I mentioned last week, I found another hint about John Duer. I had blogged twice this year about my search for his final burial site.

A year ago in June, in a book in Allen County Public Library, (Editors. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions Volume VI. Celina, OH:  Mercer Co. Chapter OH Genealogical Society, 1990, np.) I had discovered that he might lie in row 15 of Kessler Cemetery in Ohio. The transcription simply noted “John Duer, unreadable.”

Kessler’s trustee had years ago sent me a copy of their records but row 15 was missing. Both of John’s wives were buried at Kessler, along with some of his children, so it seemed logical that the book was noting his burial location.

My husband and I went out to the cemetery in March and found what we thought might be his grave but it wasn’t in row 15. The rows are not straight so it might have been, depending on how someone counted from the newer section. I thought it looked more like 14 but there was no stone in what I considered 15 so I could see how someone might interpret the rows differently. I was overjoyed anyway with the find.

Except, it wasn’t John’s burial place. When we returned in May with cleaning supplies it became apparent that it was for a child with the same name and who just happened to die the same year my John did. Sigh.

At the Mercer County Public Library, I found another book, and this transcription was clear about what was recorded on the stone in row 15. That stone is no longer standing in Kessler. You can see the top pic of the page.

What had me totally floored is that this book has the exact same title page as the one I found in the Allen County Public Library but the contents of the book differ. One must have been updated but it doesn’t note that anywhere in the volume I found in Celina. Here’s what the page looks like for the volume in Allen County Public Library:

At this point, I decided to call it a day at the library and I headed for the courthouse.

Meanwhile, this wish remains, too, but with every find I get closer to solving this mystery.

Next week I begin my Creepy October series. By the time that concludes I can’t wait to share my courthouse experience AND the weirdest identity theft I uncovered from 1891. Stay tuned.

Boots on the Ground Library Search Turns Up Gold

Dr. Charles Landfair’s home once sat between the two trees in Bluffton, Indiana. Photo by Lori Samuelson

I’m positive you’ll laugh at how I ended up on a genealogical journey that was unintended.

My car needed service and I was asked to drop it off for the day. Since I no longer live close to the dealer my husband decided to follow me in his car. Our plan was to stop at a few stores and then return home, waiting for the mechanic to call to inform me that the work was done. Then, we’d go back and retrieve the vehicle.

Our first shopping errand was to purchase a few garden tools for a family member who was working and couldn’t take advantage of a very good sale. Unfortunately, the hoe was not available and the great computer in the clouds found only one, in a town called Bluffton, about an hour and a half from where we were.

My husband and I visited there last year when we were searching for a new home but hadn’t been back since. It’s on my list of places to research, however, and since there’s no time like the present, I thought I’d try to fit some research into my schedule.

I Googled the historical museum address as soon as we had the hoe in the trunk. Unfortunately, it’s only open on Sunday and Wednesday and it was Tuesday. Sigh. The next stop was the Wells County Public Library.

We arrived at the Genealogy Department on the second floor and were immediately assisted by Jason. I was totally unprepared – no thumb drive, no notes, not even a research question. I asked for any information on Dr. Charles Landfair who had resided in the city from the late 1800s to 1936, with a break for jail time in Michigan City.

Yep, Charles is one of my black sheep ancestors that I always wanted to learn more about. My father was quite proud of his great-uncle who had been a physician. What no one in the family conveyed to me was the character, or lack thereof, of the man known as Uncle Charlie.

Charlie had serious addiction issues and was a violent alcoholic. His patients loved him, though, and after his jail stint, re-established care with him as their doctor.

This fascinates me and I wanted to learn more about him and his brother, my great-grandfather, who shared many of the same characteristics as Charlie.

Jason readily asked me if I’d like a copy of the obituary which I believed I had. He helped me sign on to a computer so I could bring up my tree info as I was having difficulty seeing it on my phone. While I was doing that, Jason was looking on a microfilm index for newspaper records that aren’t available online. Small-town newspapers have the space and the knowledge of their community members so the articles provided me with much richer details of Charlie’s life. I hadn’t known he had first been a schoolteacher, where he attended and purportedly the date of his graduation from medical school, and other towns where he had practiced medicine. I had guessed which medical school he had attended, however, they had no record of him. Hmm, now that I have a graduation year I plan on rechecking with them.

Jason also found burial records that listed medical conditions I also hadn’t known about.

Jason didn’t stop there; I had the census records and therefore, addresses of Charlie’s home. Jason checked Sanborn maps and then helped me find the addresses by using Google Maps as he was aware that the addresses had changed since 1920-1930. The picture you see at the top is where the house, long gone, once was and where Charlie died. I confirmed with the business in that back that now owns the lot that was once the address I was searching for. Charlie lived right across the street from the Wabash River and what is now a city park. The business behind where the house stood was there when Charlie was alive and the founder likely knew his neighbor. After Charlie’s death, the neighbor purchased the lot and tore the home down as it is in a flood plain.

I wish I could get Jason a raise, as he is a valuable asset to the Bluffton Library, however, we all know that for some reason, money for pay raises for librarians and teachers is hard to come by. My blog today is to celebrate Jason and all those other librarians out there that work tirelessly and respectfully to those unprepared patrons who like I did, walk in looking for what they don’t even really know what they want. Thanks, Jason, I greatly appreciated your help!

And I can’t wait til the next time I need an oil change; no telling what genealogical discovery I’ll make.

Correcting John Duer’s Burial Info

What I thought was John Duer’s Tombstone in Kessler Cemetery

Last week I blogged about two gravestone preservation products I recently tried. After cleaning the stone I thought was for my third great grandfather, John Duer, I still couldn’t read more engravings on the stone than I had before I cleaned it.

The next step was to use the rubbing paper I had purchased and this is what I uncovered:

Still largely unreadable but I had a complete death date and age – 11 m 10 d.  This was a tombstone for an infant and not my 3rd ggrandfather. Sigh.

The tombstone did have a memorial on Findagrave and by using the death date and the cemetery, I was able to read what I could not from the rubbing:

Photo courtesy of Cousin Becky on Findagrave.com

My goodness, has the tombstone deteriorated since 2008!

I’m glad to know the stone was saved on Findagrave before it became unreadable.  You may have to use the technique I just described while visiting a cemetery and locating a stone you can’t decipher.

The question remains, Where is John Duer buried? Both of his wives are buried in Kessler as are some of his children. According to a text in the Allen County Public Library he was buried in row 15 but when the information was recorded, about 1987, the rest of the stone was unreadable. Kessler Cemetery’s records are incomplete and does not show him buried there.

One of my adult children who accompanied me pointed out that all of the older Duer adult stones on the south side have the same shape so we began looking for stones that matched but found none that said John Duer.

According to the 1987 book, he once had a stone but there was no description or picture of it. Perhaps it was a different John Duer as that name is used in each generation by everyone having children. Perhaps it was my John Duer and the stone was somehow destroyed between 1987 and 2007 when the Findagrave photos began to be taken. Perhaps he was never buried there.

All I know is that I’m back to square one! I went on Findagrave, removed the photo I had attributed to him, and left an explanation as to why.

The hunt continues.

A Genealogical Homecoming Part 2

Mary Kos’ Birthplace, Dubranec, Croatia. Photo courtesy of Google.

Last week I provided recommendations on best practices for using archives in other countries. This week I’m focusing on making the most when visiting your ancestor’s hometowns.

I always wanted to walk in the village my maternal grandmother had told me about when I was young. She had described the neighborhood church with its cemetery, a family garden, and her maternal side living in the next village.

My grandmother, Mary, emigrated with her mother, Anna, and younger brother, Joseph, in July 1913 when she was 12 years old. She would become a teen a week after arriving in the U.S. My great-grandfather had come 3 years earlier and settled in Chicago after crisscrossing the country working for the Pullman Company.

I had photos of the apartment where they lived in Chicago and the houses they rented and bought in Gary, Indiana, but I had no visual of the home she resided in as a child. Grandma had returned to visit Croatia in the summer of 1960 with her singing group, Preradovic. I have a picture of her with two village women, unnamed, who she said were cousins. Truthfully, Grandma called everyone cousins and she was probably correct as the village in which she was born had only 349 people in 2011. Her mother’s ancestral village, Jerebic, only had 41 people in 2011. If they weren’t cousins, they were called kum or kuma (godfather or godmother). Definitely supports the importance of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FAN Club! With such small numbers, everyone was connected.

There were 99 houses in town, which one was Grandma’s? For that, I turned to a genealogical report written by Sanja Frigan for my second cousin in 2008. Sanja had gone to the local church and spoke with the priest who shared records. I was able to identify the location as house number 40. This was confirmed through the only FamilySearch.org Dubranec record for my grandmother – her baptism record shows the family living in house number 40. Through the Association of Professional Genealogists, I contacted fellow genealogist Lidija Sambunjak to discover if house numbers were altered since the church record was made in 1900. I highly recommend contacting a local genealogist, historian, or archaeologist as they know details of communities that aren’t available online. Lidija was able to find the new house number. She also found a record that showed the home had been built by 1861 when a census had been taken. Lidija also discovered the home was now a tavern so there was a strong possibility I could go inside and even eat in the location my grandmother had taken her first bites of food!

Getting to Dubranec was an issue; it was outside the city limits of Zagreb so no bus was available. I could Uber/taxi but I didn’t want to just get dropped off. I needed a driver who could take me to all the places I wanted to see, wait while I explored for a bit, and answer questions that might arise from what I was seeing. I was not comfortable with renting a car as I was unfamiliar with the area and there were avalanche and flash flood warnings – not something I wanted to tackle on my own. Plus, I don’t speak Croatian well and a translator would be helpful.

Lidija recommended a colleague, Nikolina Antonić, who was a historian and archaeologist. We agreed on a price for the day and in our email exchanges, she shared with me her dissertation which just happened to be in the area my family resided. Finding a knowledgeable professional might take some time so start looking as soon as you book your trip.

I shared with Nikolina my family stories regarding defending a castle, building a church, going on a pilgrimage, and being titled a nobleman. Her dissertation was about the land records for the area beginning in the 1200s so she was an expert with location and history.

Nikolina met us at our hotel at 9 AM sharp. After reading her dissertation I had questions about how my family fit into the culture of those times. Her answers helped me put the records I had found the day before into perspective. Our first stop was a recreated home that would have been typical of a noble family. Although we couldn’t go inside, we were able to walk the grounds, peer in the windows and my husband found pottery shards in the freshly turned garden. Nikolina identified them as the late 1800s. A few days later we toured a castle in Bled and in the museum was an identical pottery piece labeled the late 1800s. It helped me imagine that my two times great-grandparents likely used a similar jug.

Our next stop was a recreated castle where my family tale says we fought off Turkish invaders. I’ll be writing more about this next week.

As we climbed the mountain through a forest I could visualize my ancestors hunting in the woods. It was breathtakingly beautiful – spring green leaves budding on the trees, a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds – a picture postcard.

The village Dubranec was larger than I expected. From the land records discovered the previous day I knew where some of my family’s property began and ended. The lots have been subdivided over the years and now, many more buildings were housed on what was once farmland. I was disappointed to find the home where my grandmother was born that had been turned into a tavern closed. A man walking down the street informed us that the owner had recently died. The picture at the top was from Google; the building has changed somewhat and for privacy, I am not displaying the photo I took.

Next, we went to the village Jerebeic where my great-grandmother’s family was from. It was about a 5-minute drive further up the mountain. The village was exactly what I had envisioned – all old wooden buildings. The well, unused now, was still there, roosters still roamed the yard, and hay was stored in the barn. I was surprised to learn that my family had been known for their vineyards and some very old plants still produced grapes. Which great grandfather had planted them I don’t know but I still have the recipes. We spoke to the farm’s present owner who knew it had once been owned by the Grdenic family. He kindly let me take photos.

Back down the mountain, our next stop was Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church. The earthquake had damaged the structure so we could not go inside. I was shocked to see the cemetery intact and with just a few older stones. I learned that rental needs to be paid annually and when it is not received, after a time, the body is dug up, the bones collected, and placed in a group grave. Nikolina was not sure what happened to the old tombstones. The beautiful day had turned rainy and with thunder and lightning overhead, we did not stay long among the graves. I plan on writing to the current priest to obtain more information.

We then drove miles to visit Marija Bistrica, a pilgrimage site. On our way, we saw a group of pilgrims with walking sticks making their way to the church high on a mountaintop. I’ll write more about my great-grandmother’s reason for the pilgrimage next week. I was amazed to see how far she walked over such difficult terrain. I know I come from a strong line of females but this discovery really surprised me.

It was time to return to our hotel as our Gate1 tour was meeting that evening. I will never forget this emotional experience and I believe I would not have gained such insight into my family’s background had it not been for Nikolina’s expertise.

If you are planning an excursion to your ancestor’s home turf, do your research first, then check out transportation options, and hire a guide who is familiar with the area’s history. Although most people in Europe speak English, if you are going to a rural area it is best if you have someone who can translate for you. Don’t forget your camera or phone charger!

Next week I’ll be giving you some tech tips for your ancestral experience.

A Genealogical Homecoming Part 1

L-R Genealogists Sanja Frigan, Lori Samuelson, and Lidija Sambunjak at the Croatian State Archives

It was time for me to cross the pond to search for family information. You might, like me, have reached that place in your research.

My maternal line is all Croatian and when I began my genealogical journey over 50 years ago, I thought I knew everything there was about those lines. I was so wrong!

Over the years, I interviewed my maternal grandmother, mother, and one of my aunts. I wrote down the stories they told, made sure the people in the photos they left behind were identified, and diligently added their U.S. made records in genealogical software programs. When DNA came along I tried to connect with family that had scattered across the world – Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and throughout the U.S. I visited the FamilySearch Library twice hoping that records from the small villages outside of Zagreb would be available. Only one currently is and last month I was informed that there were no new films that would be available to search anytime soon. If I wanted more I had to do boots on the ground.

In January I discovered a Gate1 tour with a special price for Croatia as the country began accepting Euros in 2023. My husband and I booked a 10-day tour and decided to extend it by two days so I could research my family in an archive and visit their villages. I have researched cemeteries in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America but I have never before researched in an archive outside of the U.S.

Here are my recommendations if you are planning a genealogical journey abroad:

  1. Identify the area where your ancestor resided – Check immigration, census, vital records, obituaries, and family member recollections. Mugbooks and family genealogies may also be helpful. You need to know where they were and under what flag when they lived there to discover where records are housed. My family lived for generations in what is now Croatia but at the time they were there, it was under Austria-Hungary. Step 2 will help you figure out where some of the records reside and who ruled the land at the time your ancestors lived there.
  2. Use FamilySearch.org Wiki – After logging in, click on the ribbon “Search” and then “Research Wiki.” Either enter your location in the search box or click on the map. My villages are not an option so I selected the biggest city to the villages of Dubranec and Jerebic which was the capital, Zagreb. The information provided will give you some knowledge of what records are available and where. Look at any records for the country that are online, even if they are not for your desired location. Often the headings will be similar so you can familiarize yourself with what the information will look like. I took headings from the only document available for Dubranec (1895-1900 baptisms) and transferred them to an Excel doc. Under the Croatian headings, I wrote the translation. I then filled in all the info I knew for each individual. This way, when I entered the archive, I had the child’s name in the correct category, along with a time frame (the birthdate), and the parents’ names. I knew ahead of time what lines to scan to find what I needed. I also had the info in chronological order which speeded up the research as the microfilm is by years.
  3. Check out archive websites – Don’t worry that you don’t speak or read the language, most websites are easily translated into English. Look at the top and bottom of the home page for a translation button. Every archive has different rules and regulations. Knowing what is required ahead of time will save you grief. Things to think about – Do they accept credit cards or cash only? Can you take photos? Do you have to make a reservation? Can you bring a laptop?
  4. Book your trip – Some folks like to be independent and others like a canned tour. I prefer a little of both. There are many tour companies online and deciding which can be daunting. Look at ratings, talk with family and friends, and read the fine print. I highly recommend hiring knowledgeable locals to assist you in the archives. I used the Association of Professional Genealogists website, of which I am a member, to find a genealogist. Via email, she advised me what archive I needed to visit and which record sets would be helpful to search. She accompanied me to the archive, stepped me through the process to obtain a pass, and sat nearby so I could get clarification and translation. I had trained my husband on using the one available FamilySearch film so we were able to go through all the record sets in one day. And for my long-time readers, you know weird things happen to me when I do boots on the ground! Also in the archive the day I was there was another genealogist who my second cousin had hired 16 years ago. Her report had been on records housed in the village church which has since been damaged by an earthquake. Those records are no longer available and I’m so thankful to have that report. It was a confirmation of names and dates I was given verbally and allowed me to delve further into the records housed by the state.
  5. Remain calm and flexible – Traveling today is not as easy as it once was. I had hoped to spend a day and a half in the Croatian State Archives but because Lufthansa was incompetent (I’ll spare you how rude they were in Munich) our flight was delayed 5 hours. By the time I reached the hotel, the archive was an hour from closing. In hindsight, I was jet lagged so I wasn’t in the best of shape to research in a new place with a language I wasn’t proficient in. Still, I was disappointed that I lost valuable time. Go with the attitude that you are grateful for finding something instead of thinking you must find everything. I was astounded to discover that my family owned so many plots of land. I would need many more days to go to the courthouse to pull all the deed records. A volume I needed for information on the nobility of my Kos family was missing so another archive needs to be contacted to obtain that record. I also learned that military officer records are housed out of the country. For now, I’m content with what I did discover and can plan to either go back in the future or hire a genealogist to pull the records for me.

Next week I’ll write my recommendations about visiting your family’s ancestral home.

Finding John Duer’s Burial Site

Kessler Cemetery, Mercer County, Ohio

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.

Boots on the Ground Remains Important

Courtesy of Aunt Becky on Findagrave.com

Do you have a family line that just fascinates you? Mine is the Duers who emigrated from England to New Jersey, moving on to what is now West Virginia and then into Ohio.

I’ve blogged before about the difficulty of identifying individuals as each generation reuses names – John, Thomas, Daniel, Joseph, and John(athan). I have been trying to prove for years that patriot John Duer (1758-1831) had a son, Thomas, who predeceased him. Thomas had a son, John, whose burial location was unknown. Both of grandson John’s wives, Jane and Margaret, were buried in Kessler Cemetery, aka Liberty, in Chattanooga, Mercer, Ohio.

Several years ago I contacted the cemetery staff and they kindly sent me a handwritten listing of burial plots. John Duer was shown buried in row 6 space 23. Unfortunately, that’s not the John I’m seeking; that John was the man I’m seeking’s son John Fred (1836-1939).

While I was in Fort Wayne recently at the genealogical library, I asked my husband to check books for cemetery records in Mercer County, Ohio. John died in Allen County, Indiana, across the border from Mercer as that is where he owned property later in life and had his will probated. No obituary has been found for him. His will omitted many of his children from his first marriage. My theory was that he was buried in an unmarked grave either in Adams County, Indiana, or in Kessler Cemetery.

My husband is not interested in genealogy and sometimes, not having a background makes for the best finds. He didn’t bother using the indexes provided in the back of the books. He scanned every page for the name John Duer. He also was looking for alternative spelling as he was aware that the original spelling was Dure. In Judith Burkhardt & Gloria Schindler. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Records of Liberty Township (1987) he hit gold! The last entry on the last page (52) noted in Row 15: “Next several stones missing, sunken in ground or unreadable John Duer – Unreadable”

Wow! It’s likely this was the John that I was trying to find. He wasn’t listed on the Kessler Cemetery sheet sent to me because the document only went to row 8. I had no idea I hadn’t been sent the entire cemetery listing.

I definitely need to take a trip to Kessler to see the stone for myself. I’m not holding out hope I’ll be able to glean information from the stone that was unreadable 34 years ago but I still need to make the attempt.

Interestingly, the Burkhardt & Schindler book also noted that the first wife, Jane’s, tombstone death year was 1888 which is a mistranscription. Her stone is shown above. Actually, that death year on her stone is probably also in error. John married second 11 December 1864 to widow Margaret Martz Searight. It is likely that his first wife Jane died in July 1861-4; no divorce record was found by staff who searched in Mercer County.

I definitely need to check for myself and also search divorce records in Adams County, Indiana, where John purchased a property in 1860, leaving Jane off the deed. When they lived in Holmes County she was listed as an owner with him.

I suspect her tombstone was not added until after the Civil War as the family had several sons and sons-in-law fighting for the Union. I’m thinking 1866 was the year they had the tombstone installed. Or, there was a divorce I haven’t yet found.

Boots on the ground are still necessary and it’s definitely exciting to step away from the computer to make a find in person. Kudos to my husband who made this exciting discovery for me. Happy Hunting!

Research Challenges and How to Overcome Them

I’m blogging a day early as I will be out of town giving a lecture tomorrow. Yep, back in person. With a Mask. Hooray!!

I’m reflecting today on what should have been simple research tasks locally that turned out to be anything but. I’m avoiding using specific names and places as I don’t want to cause further problems; I do think you need to be reminded, however, on how to get over, under, around, and through to discover your research goals.

My two research goals were: 1. Find the name of an individual who lived on a street in an unincorporated area of a county in the late 1990s. 2. Find living members of a pioneer family who once held the first bounty land in the area in the mid-1850s.

Here’s the backstory – in the late 1990’s I met a neighbor who told me a horrific tale about a local family. The tale has haunted me since and I was determined to now research it fully. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the neighbor’s name. I was hoping to discover that and see how that individual was connected to the event. That neighbor had told me the name of the family who had experienced the event and claimed they were descended from the first pioneer family in that location. A quick internet search showed me that was correct. Their last names are common, however, so finding a living family member in an area that had grown exponentially over the years wouldn’t be quick. The neighbor was elderly so I didn’t think I would be able to find her, 27 years after we had met.

Now think about my goals and how you would quickly and ACCURATELY reach them. My thought for goal 1 was to locate City Directories. I first checked the public library, in person, for the area where the person had resided. They had no directories. I then went in person to the historical society who happens to be located within a block of where the individual I was seeking lived. They don’t have directories, either.

I also checked with the society about the pioneer family. One of the members knew of the goal 2 family and of the event that I was researching. Since it was the holidays it was suggested that we meet again in January.

As genealogists, we all know that names and places change over time. The location of the event occurred on an island that has since split in half and changed names and geographically, locations, as it has moved apart. The portion of the island where the event occurred has migrated north and is located across from the unincorporated area I visited. The unincorporated area was once incorporated but then unincorporated, thus changing its name several times. The bounty land was located today in the unincorporated area, too, but a city to the south now claims that the family was their first city inhabitants. Although the area is now well-populated, the city to the north of the incorporated area was at the time of the event, the largest city. Today, the largest city is the county seat located to the south of the city claiming the settler as their town founder.

I called the library for the city that claimed the pioneer family and was told they had no city directories for the unincorporated area. I checked the larger city to the north, they didn’t have the city directories, either. I looked online for the county seat’s library holdings and they did not have the city directories for the unincorporated area.

At the end of last month, I reconnected with the unincorporated historical society and was told they had looked but were unable to locate any members of the pioneering family remaining in the area. I had found some descendants through online family trees but they were not local and had no knowledge of the event. They also had no knowledge of any family member ever living on the street my neighbor lived on.

Meanwhile, I used newspapers and books to learn more about the tragedy. I found numerous accounts in the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. Tampa is in a neighboring county but had been the county where the event had occurred just a few years previously. St. Petersburg was a growing city well south of the event but was trying to become the regional powerhouse paper at the time. Neither newspaper exists today; they have combined and are now called the Tampa Bay Times.

When the event occurred there were many small local newspapers but the remaining issues are not available online. I put in requests with two other historical societies who have been known to have some issues. Nada.

I wrote the article with the information I had found. Like all stories, both newspaper accounts and the neighbor’s version of events vary.

Thursday, on a whim, I decided to stop at the city that claimed the pioneer’s library to check for myself that they didn’t have the City Directories. Imagine what I discovered. The information I was looking for was in a 1998 directory listed under the city that is the county seat. The clip is shown above.

As soon as I saw the page I quickly recognized the neighbor’s name. Internet research then unveiled that the neighbor’s husband had lived next door to the family in the 1940 US Federal census. The road both families lived on was the name of the pioneer and was the homestead land. I then looked for obituaries and discovered that descendants had left the area. Just tie this up and put a bow on it!

After the library visit, I decided to stop by that city’s historical society to see if they had any accounts of the event. I’m sad to say that the two folks on duty had no knowledge of local history. I was given the name of someone who supposedly knew all about the town’s past. I sent an email which was promptly responded to with complete misinformation. I knew it was wrong as I had already checked property records, published journals of a neighbor to the family who had been involved in the tragedy and census records.

I thanked the individual and shared the information I had found. Never got a response as I likely ticked the person off. That wasn’t my intention; I believe it’s important to find the documents, analyze them in comparison to everything found and then write up the findings for future folks so that history is not forgotten or rewritten by whatever the culture of the day believes.

So, my dear readers, the lessons learned are as follows:

  1. You have to do boots on the ground research. Everything you’ve been unable to physically check out yourself during the pandemic you will need to verify in person as soon as you are able.
  2. “Authorities” are not unless they can prove to you how they came to their conclusion. Don’t rely on what was told to you by an expert without evidence.
  3. Widen your net and expand your geographic area to locate information. This was my first experience with researching an event on a land mass that had physically moved and I guess, with climate change, it won’t be my last.
  4. Don’t give up! Somewhere is the information you seek. Persistence pays off.
  5. Make sure you write up your findings for future generations.