Accessing Restricted Genealogy Records

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Here’s a warning, Dear Readers, I’m in a mood!

I’m not sure if it is my location or if you, too, are experiencing difficulty in finding local archives open for use.

I blogged last year about my problem in locating someone who has a key to unlock a mausoleum where one of my husband’s great uncle is buried. I have yet to find a way inside.

I’ve tried to visit two local museums but they, too, are always closed. One has been under renovation since before the pandemic. No response when I sent a few messages on Facebook requesting information about their holdings. Another claims to be open between Memorial and Labor Day but it hasn’t been. There is a sign on the door that provides an email and a phone number for more info. The email is non-deliverable and the phone doesn’t allow for messages. I have repeatedly stopped by; a few weeks ago, a person was leaving the building as I drove up. I asked how I could arrange a time to visit and was given a different email to make a request. It happened to be a member’s work email. This individual said they would also email the member to let them know how I obtained their email address. Never got a reply. I got a tip last month that a group uses the basement weekly so I showed up and found the door open. A woman was at the entryway and I asked for information on the museum. Was told she didn’t have any. Asked for a particular individual I was told would be at the site that evening. She didn’t respond but the man did hear his name and came from an adjoining room. His story is that my email doesn’t work and couldn’t explain why he hadn’t tried the phone number I had also provided which is local. Claimed he’d contact me and would arrange for me to come and look at the archives. Still waiting.

Last week I blogged about visiting the Wells County Public Library. I tried to contact their historical museum to arrange a day/time I could visit as I’m trying to gain more info about my Great Uncle Charles Landfair. Their website directs folks to send a message through Facebook. No response.

Last summer I visited a small museum in Mercer County, Ohio. The docent recommended that I call and schedule a time to meet with a more knowledgeable area historian. The number is out of service. No one responds to the website form filler request for information.


If you are a long-time reader you know I do not give up easily. So, after a while, I try again. After a few more days I reached out to the local library; the response is usually, “Good luck with that.” They have no additional information. I then contact the Chamber of Commerce. They often don’t have any information, either.

Yes, this is frustrating but there is a bigger concern than poor Lori not finding records. What is happening to these small communities’ history? Without access, the stories of the past are being erased.

Sure, the pandemic took a toll on all of us. Membership declined. Folks got used to staying at home and haven’t got back into volunteering. Younger people weren’t always welcomed into historical groups. Many of them are too busy raising families and working to get involved.

We shouldn’t be letting roadblocks become dead ends!

Reactivating historical organizations and societies is vitally important. If the area has little interest in stepping up, then the archive holdings should be transferred to an organization that is willing to preserve the artifacts.

I know firsthand how hard it is to let go. Last year when I relocated and downsized I had no room for my family’s heirlooms. They have been passed on to family members who can use and enjoy them. I know that giving them to the next generation was wise as they are in good hands. Museums need to do the same if they do not have support to maintain the collections.

A Foreshadowing of Creepy October

Courtesy of SoundCloud

Fall is just around the corner and I’ll be posting my October blogs about the weird, unexplainable happenings that occurred while I researched over the past year soon. I typically write them down as they happen and save them to present in October. I’ve got my four done so what happened to me this week is too good to wait for a whole ‘nother year so here goes. . .

On Thursday I attended a local genealogy club event at a library. We were supposed to be researching early residents of the town for a timeline poster the library was making. This was a continuation of what we had begun the previous month.

It was pouring and cold. Yes, I know most places are under a heat dome but we were not. It was in the 60s and I don’t do cold. I considered not going but I had promised to be there so I donned my raincoat and drove off through flooded streets.

Luckily, there were two parking spaces available close to the library door. I took one and a male patron took the other. I sat for a moment debating if I should just pull my hood up or wrestle with the umbrella. It was lightning so I opted to just make a run for it as it wasn’t more than a few steps. The man chose the umbrella and was struggling to get it open without getting soaked.

I stood in the vestibule shaking off my raincoat when he approached but he was carrying items in one hand and the umbrella was in the other so he couldn’t open the door. I noticed and held it open. After some pleasantries, we went on our separate ways.

I happened to be the first to arrive so I was talking with one of the librarians about the project. She said if anyone came who needed genealogical help we’d do that first. I love helping people with their brick walls so this sounded great to me!

Moments later a woman came in with a question; how accurate are death records? She had found some inconsistencies. We talked about, how family members are often distraught by the loss of a loved one, and provide incorrect or incomplete records. I gave an example of my Maria Duer Kuhn who was born in Ohio but her son had stated she was born in Germany on her death certificate. Nope, that would be his dad. Dad had been active in the immigrant community so Maria had an obituary in both the English and local German newspapers. Her son was just confused at the time of her death.

Next, the umbrella man arrived; those papers he had been carrying were death certificates for two of his Hull ancestors and he was stymied by the oldest which stated that the deceased had been born in Virginia. He could find no records in Virginia for this man.

I pointed out that the northwest territory had once been assigned to Virginia and that at the time of the man’s birth, the late 1700s, it was possible that the named location was somewhere else but under that jurisdiction. Seriously, once upon a time, in what is now Indiana, deeds were to be presented to Williamsburg, Virginia. Crazy, huh?!

I asked him if he had looked at online family trees for clues, warning him about unsourced or poorly sourced trees. He hadn’t. I brought up Ancestry but my personal version since the library edition that is available doesn’t give patrons the option to search public member trees.

I knew I had a few Hulls in my tree as my Revolutionary War patriot, John Duer’s sister married a Hull. I figured a lot of people would have the Hulls in their tree as it sounds to me like a common name.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at public trees and discovered my tree contained the information he needed.

Umm, yes, we were distant cousins. I then brought up so he could see the will which named parents and siblings. I’ve complained about that will for YEARS as my John’s will omit his deceased children and I wished that he had done the same as his brother-in-law – named everyone.

I then showed him I’d taken the Duers back to Merry Ole England and that he was eligible for several lineage societies. He had no idea and needed time to process this. Nothing like showing up in a downpour with two documents and leaving in the sunshine with hundreds more already nicely packaged for you.

But that’s not all. I decided to stop at another library on my way home to look at a book that the deceased author’s daughter had emailed me about that might be of help for a cemetery project I’m working on with a local high school. I went directly to the librarian and told him I didn’t have the name of the book but knew the author and publisher’s date. He found it for me in seconds. Yes, it had EXACTLY what I was looking for. Pleased, I put the book on the cart to be refiled. Then I stopped at the cemetery but no one was in the office. Sigh.

I didn’t check my email until I got home but I could hear it pinging. Sure enough, an email, related to what I had just accomplished.

It was sent by the author’s daughter while I was in the library. She had pulled out the copy she owned and sent me a list of former residents I could use in the cemetery tour. While reading the email I got a call from a friend and fellow member of our local genealogy society. A few minutes after I left the library she had arrived with the intent on looking at the same book as she had read in the newspaper that a barn was being moved from a neighboring county to our county to use for horses during the fair. The barn was coming from one of her great uncle’s farms. That family had lived in our county but relocated to a neighboring county in the 1800s. She remembered while reading the article she had intended to confirm a burial date on the now unreadable stone for this several times great aunt buried in our county.

When she arrived at the library she couldn’t find the book on the shelf so she went to the librarian and he told her Lori Samuelson had just used it. They went to the cart and there it was, right where I left it to be reshelved. See, they know me well in this library and I always return the items to the cart for reshelving as that is their policy.

Moral of the story – genealogical connections are integral and coincidences are icing on the cake. Were my Duer ancestors and the local deceased author giving us a nudge? Possibly though I can’t prove that. Sometimes we just need to appreciate the findings, however, they occurred.

Worldwind Summer Cemetery Tours

John A and Elizabeth “Betsy” Troxell Long, Photo by Lori Samuelson

Last week I mentioned I combined a cemetery tour of ancestors with my husband’s 50th high school class reunion. Today I want to go into depth about planning a whirlwind cemetery tour.

Most family historians have a list of places they want to visit – to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps, see the sights, and reflect at the site where their family permanently rests.

I know I was surprised when I learned that in many European countries, remains are dug up if the family did not continue paying rent to the church. The remains are then gathered with other deceased whose family didn’t pay up and reinterred together in a common grave. Sometimes, the tombstone is placed as a pathway or wall around the cemetery. Other times they’re destroyed. I’ve even heard that occasionally, the stone is bought by construction crews to reuse.

That also happens in the U.S.; my husband’s Harbaugh family left Waynesboro, Franklin, Pennsylvania for St. Joseph County, Indiana after the Civil War. They left behind two deceased children in the Old Union Cemetery. That church cemetery was sold and for those who did not claim the graves, the bodies were interred in a mass grave in Green Hill Cemetery as the new church did not want to care for the cemetery of another church’s former parishioners. The tombstones were transferred to the new cemetery and supposedly reside in the same order they were originally in but are now laid flat instead of upright.

I have a few family members I still don’t know where their remains are located – Daniel Hollingshead likely on his farm in Somerset, New Jersey, John Duer probably with a missing headstone in Kessler Cemetery with the rest of his two wives and most children, and Mary “Polly” Dennis Hodge Adams Elder Search somewhere in Mercer County, Ohio. I may have even missed a husband for Polly! More research is needed for those folks.

While my husband and I returned to our childhood home area we decided to visit the graves of family in that location. We happened to arrive earlier than expected and were only 10 minutes from Oak Hill Cemetery where my mother, maternal grandparents, and great-grandparents are interred.

I had routed the distance between cemeteries with the plan to save time and gas by going directly from one to the next. I had also contacted the cemeteries for maps but not all complied. If it is a large cemetery this is an important first step.

Come prepared as you don’t know what you’ll find. I was saddened to see that my mom’s flat stone was covered with dirt. It had sunk somewhat and the grass hadn’t been trimmed which made it appear even lower. That, and the remains of dried cut grass covering it, didn’t help.

Luckily, I had brought a shovel, garden gloves, D-2 which still didn’t work, Krud Kutter, bottled water, a soft scrub brush, and rags. I should have brought garden shears to trim the grass. Learn from my mistake! It is not fun to try to pull the grass out with your hands.

My great-grandfather is buried in the old section of the cemetery as he died young in the 1919 flu epidemic. Funny how I remembered exactly where his grave was located. My grandmother would tend it when I was small and I often accompanied her. Um, yes, she had a cemetery gardening kit she transported in the trunk of her car and it did include shears. I thought about it when I didn’t have the shears with me.

I am so thankful that Find A Grave had photographed that cemetery years ago as the stone is now unreadable. Vandals had destroyed the photo it once held and removed the top, which I believe was a cross. I also have a rubbing from years ago which I’m glad I saved.

The next stop was where my husband’s maternal grandparents and great-grandmother are buried, about 10 minutes farther away. We had never been there before. He attended her funeral but not the burial at the cemetery.

I knew the section but had no map of Ridgelawn. This hasn’t been the most friendly cemetery I’ve corresponded with over the years. They refused to provide burial information for years until I discovered a book in the Germany Library in Tampa that stated his great-grandmother was buried there. Another call only gave me the grave section. I didn’t bother to try to get a map as I hadn’t planned on visiting at that time.

Luckily, I happened to just park the car directly across from where the family is buried. I LOVE coincidences! Saves so much time. Car is on the left, the stone is where that little bit of red (my husband) is showing to the left rear of the large upright stone in the middle:

The following day we were going to visit where my husband’s parents and my dad and paternal grandparents were interred as it was in the next county over and on our way home. The cemetery had sent me maps of the sections but not a map of the cemetery itself which became problematic. The signage was down in many areas and we could not find the Memory Section. Turns out we were close but it wasn’t until we returned home that I wrote back to get specific directions did I realize we were just steps away. Sigh! Will use the map for an upcoming visit.

Why do cemeteries bury people in all different directions? Between upright and flat stones going north, south, east, and west we gave up. We did find his parents and had to clean the graves. Like with my mom’s they were weed-infested. We also realized that his dad’s death date was not inscribed which we had paid for years ago. The cemetery was supposed to send pictures when the engraving was done but had one excuse after another. I put in a request for Findagrave but no one went out so I gave up.

We had considered this cemetery as our final resting spot since it contained both our families but after seeing the condition and getting the response we have from the office staff, decided to look elsewhere.

After a week and a half got a return call from the cemetery stating they hadn’t noticed the engraving wasn’t done. Um, right. Of course, no proof of payment in the file. Re-paid as it wasn’t worth the time to look for the canceled check from years ago. Will be following up next month when we swing by that cemetery after a lecture I’ll be giving nearby.

Then it was an hour and a half drive to Fair Cemetery in St. Joseph County, Indiana to visit the graves of my husband’s maternal great-grandparents, George Frederick and Margaret “Maggie” Long Harbaugh. A half mile from the cemetery we hit a dead end. The road was closed. No detour. We were in the middle of the country with fields on each side of us. The car and phone GPS wouldn’t reroute us. So close, yet so far!

We decided to go to the next cemetery on our list, Porter Rea. We thought the GPS might start working for an alternative to Fair if we were approaching from a different direction.

When planning, look up the cemetery address online but I want to warn you that it is not exact and often wildly wrong. GPS coordinates would be wonderful but often they are missing in these remote locations.

Porter Rea is now a part of Potato Creek State Park so you have to go through the ranger gate to access it. The Rangers gave us great directions and the signage to find it was wonderful. They also had a nice paved parking lot, a water pump (that needs priming), and this cemetery was beautifully maintained. The stones you see at the top were repaired sometime in the past. They are in remarkably good shape, likely because they face west so most of the algae gets burned off in the summer sun and the north wind doesn’t blow snow on the stones, further preventing their deterioration.

We found the stones in seconds as the former trustee told me to find the pump, look for the white mausoleum, and walk 100 feet back. How he could remember is beyond me as he has given the records to the new trustee. Wish all cemeteries had someone like him.

I had read in the diary of Mary Ann Eyster Johnson that she had planted a white rose bush on Betsy’s grave in the 1880s as that was Betsy’s favorite flower. Find A Grave photo showed no flowers so I brought a white Snow Drop rose to plant. Actually, hubby planted it and we decided it was best to put it between the two stones to make the mowing easy for maintenance.

Mary Ann Johnson was a friend of Betsy and related distantly to her through marriage. Mary Ann’s sister, Sarah had married George Henry Harbaugh. One of their sons, George Frederick, married one of Betsy’s daughters, Maggie Long. Maggie was buried at Fair Cemetery, the one we had been unsuccessful in reaching.

GPS gave us an alternative route so we were now backtracking from my original plan. The distance was about 10 minutes. On our way, we passed a beautiful old white church and I told my husband to stop. Yep, it was St. John’s Lutheran and that was where George Frederick and Sara Eyster Harbaugh were buried. We found their graves quickly as the cemetery is small. It needed a mowing but we had heavy rains at the end of the week and that likely messed up the lawn schedule. The stones were clean so after a short visit we were following GPS to Fair Cemetery.

The car told us we had arrived at our destination but there was no cemetery; it was a field across the street from the Pine Creek Church of the Brethren which the family had attended. Interestingly, the address was the only location of the family’s 1880s farmhouse which is long gone.

No one was at the church so we drove down the road and luckily, found two women in the front yard of their farmhouse. One said she’d ask her husband because she knew of no cemetery close by. A few minutes later she returned to our car with her adult son who offered to drive us to the cemetery, a short drive (2 roads) away. We hated to bother them but she insisted saying he needed to drop items off at his uncle’s house who lived the way we were going.

He kindly got us there; honestly, we would have never found Fair Cemetery without their help. This cemetery was also well maintained and we found the graves quickly. We also found many other graves of both my husband and my family. Our families have followed the same pioneer trails in many places over the past 1000 years so I guess that’s not surprising.

We were quite tired by this time but I had one more cemetery to visit in South Bend as I had promised a distant family member I would check on his grandmother’s grave.

Once again, GPS routed us to the wrong cemetery but it was easy to find where we needed to go as it was across the street, Highland Cemetery. We had the section and found it quickly but the sections were HUGE and without a map, we were not successful in finding the grave. The storm had left down trees and knocked over stones. The ground was soggy and uneven. My husband went to the middle of the section and I started at the road walking in circles as graves went in every direction. I knew what the stone looked like from Find A Grave but so many stones were of the same shape and color, we gave up after an hour when it began to thunder.

What we did discover was this historical marker:

How cool is that?! We don’t often think about the folks who once walked about the ground where are relatives are now interred. The Native Americans and LaSalle, sitting under the now-dead tree, I could picture.

As summer comes to an end, we plan a few more cemetery stops. Next time, I’ll be prepared with shears!

Combining Genealogy With a High School Reunion

In late July, graduates of my husband’s now-closed high school held their 50th reunion. Only about 60 of the 352 graduates attended. Some didn’t care to attend, others probably didn’t have the time or funds to make the pilgrimage home. The remainder had no choice; about 18% of their classmates are deceased.

I heard a lot of stories about those missing members. A memorial had been created for them – a 1970-style school desk in the corner of the Pavilion, the same location where Senior Prom had been held. Upon the tabletop were listed the names, birth, and death dates of the individuals. The first died barely two months after graduating and the most recent, three months ago. There was an increase in deaths between 2020-2022. Was it aging or the pandemic?

This reunion made me aware of the folly of youth. At 17, when I danced the night away in that very same room, I hadn’t thought much of the prom’s theme – Stairway to Heaven. I hadn’t even remembered that was the theme until my husband’s close friend since kindergarten mentioned it. This was the same friend who had introduced me to what would become my husband. It was the same song that just happened to play on the radio when hubby and I were meeting at a city cemetery in Florida to select our grave sites. We’ve since sold those back to the city and are now in the process of deciding AGAIN where our final resting place will be.

So, being frugal (you can insert cheap in here, no worries on my part!) and time conscious, I decided we would visit cemeteries of deceased family members during our trip to our old hometown which is now a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our new city. I was thinking we might want to be interred there eventually and could save if we combined trips. We hadn’t visited some of the gravesites in over 20 years and in other cases, have never been. This seemed like a good time to check them out.

When I was thinking about the reunion I wasn’t thinking at all about those that weren’t going to be attending because they had passed away. I guess I was still thinking as we did at 17; aging and death would happen but not any time soon. In those days anyone over 30 was over the hill and we were far from that. Funny how fast time passes. Appropriate that we sometimes get a jolt of reality during a regular humdrum day.

I planned to visit seven cemeteries during this two-day trip which would include five hours plus of driving and four hours for the big party. I also wanted to drive by our old haunts, like our childhood homes, schools, friends’ homes, and places that held special memories – our first date, our favorite beach, and so on.

They say you can’t go home again. That’s not true; you can and you should. Does it look the same? Definitely not. Without the people you knew, like Mrs. Chellich who made the best grape jelly every summer, or Vera Shobach, who owned the corner store, the visit wouldn’t be the same as returning to an earlier part of your lifetime. Life goes on and it is worth the travel to your origin, to remember, reflect, and both laugh and cry.

Did I record any of the conversations that were held during the reunion? Nope. I was a guest. I heard apologies, regrets, and lots of memories of good times. I hope the attendees return home and someday write or record their memoirs.

Perhaps they’ll change their minds in ten years but it sure sounded like many had decided this would be their last reunion, which could explain the depths of some of the conversations that occurred. Well, at least at the table where we sat that I have labeled the Nerd Table, where we talked about philosophy and what colleges give seniors free classes online. The jocks seemed to still be interested in their past glory days and who got drafted for what major league team today. The ladies seemed to be comfortable with their old friends; most came alone, kicked off their shoes, and danced together as they once did. There was also the smoker group that convened outside. I guess some things never change!

This was the first high school reunion event I ever attended. None of my schools are in existence today. I left for Florida two weeks before my senior year in high school was going to begin in Indiana as my mom had been transferred. I graduated early by attending a school that no longer exists in St. Petersburg, Florida; it’s become a condo. My Indiana high school was leveled in 2014. It was tough to see that beautiful building gone.

Luckily, my husband’s former elementary school is now an art antique mall so we were able to visit. I took pics of him standing in the doorway of every one of his classrooms. On the main floor behind the cash register are three class photos hanging on the wall and he is in every picture. One of the vendors had attended the school a few years before my husband so they reminisced about the teachers, principal, and students. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the greater community who had experienced a shared past.

Friends – Associates – Neighbors enrich our family stories. Make the most out of your upcoming reunions to reach out and gain new perspectives on your past events.