Today’s Sharing Saturday post comes from The Graveyard Detective who found a gravesite guarded over by a cat. Check it out.
One of the best things about wandering old graveyards is the names.
1925 was the most popular year (365 girls) for parents naming their daughters Ophelia, while in 2000, only 21 girls sported the name. Yet according to Social Security Administration data, the name seems to be growing in popularity once more.
As of 2013, there were 184 Ophelias out there. Makes me wonder how many will be out there in 2025, the 100-year anniversary of the original peak.
Karl Marx, cheerleader for the working classes, is buried in one of the toniest Victorian cemeteries in the world.
I must admit that using matchbooks as advertising (Gosh, real bad cough you got there. You a smoker? Here, have a matchbook.) seems a wee bit ghoulish.
Nonetheless, I still think the Chapel of the Palms sounds more like one of those quickie Las Vegas wedding places than a funeral home.
Thanks for sending this over, JoAnne!
Today’s sharing post comes from the Climbing My Family Tree…One Branch At A Time, blog.
One of the most important search tools genealogists have at their disposal, is the newspaper obituary section. Most of the notices are run of the mill. This one is definitely not.
So without further ado, I present, Death Comes After Fall in Geyser.
Note: This is the second half of Tuesday’s post, Tracking Down Civil War Veterans.
Congratulations! You finally figured out the veteran’s name on that severely damaged headstone way over in the far ends of the old cemetery. Now it’s time to finish the job by replacing the marker. It should be a piece of cake, right? After all, the Veterans’ Administration has that nice web page about how to go about obtaining a replacement stone.
How hard could it be?
Well, if you’re a family member of the deceased (and this includes both immediate and extended), all that’s needed is completion and submission of VA Form 40-1330. As long as the stone is damaged and unreadable, the VA will pretty much warrant its replacement.
The challenge comes when the family is no longer around to submit the replacement application, a situation David Waggoner and his wife, Barbara, know all too well. They’ve been working with Linda Hjelm to re-discover all the Civil War veterans buried in Hillside Cemetery up in Issaquah, Washington.
So far, they’ve found approximately 17 veterans, and David believes there are still several more out there.
However, “If there are no family members in the area, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” says David. In cases like this, he recommends checking local historical society records as a way to track them down, noting that this method paid off for 9 of the damaged stones.
Currently, David’s only received one replacement stone (see the photo at the beginning of the article). It’s a small victory, but David’s determined to obtain as many as he can. To that end, there are a few tricks he’s willing to share with those of us who might feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of taking on the VA behemoth.
Tips for completing the VA Form 40-1330
- When signing the form, attest that it was completed to the best of your ability.
- If no immediate or extended family members are around to submit the application, include a statement to that fact.
- Include a photo of the marker that clearly shows the damage and illegibility of the headstone inscription. Keep in mind that the VA does not consider a stone illegible if there is any lichen or moss on it. If this is the case, consider using a good cleaner or two, and move on to the next headstone.
- Send in the request, and keep your fingers crossed.
Tricks for adding ‘oomph’ to the request
Want to make a bigger impact? David suggests getting someone who’s directly connected with the VFW, American Legion, or Disabled Servicemen of America, etc., involved in the request because it tells the VA your group is taking the replacement seriously.
“Because I’m associated with a local VFW post and am a veteran service person, this designation’s been very helpful in expediting matters,” he says.
Another suggestion is to add a letter of support from local elected officials. For example, David writes a cover letter from himself (as a VFW member), and obtains a second cover letter from the mayor to attach to the application.
Right away, the VA is put on notice that this request should be taken seriously.
One final trick is to have a local funeral home attest the document and request that the replacement stone be sent there, and not to the researcher’s (or family’s) private residence, for proper storage and preservation until the actual replacement ceremony can occur.
Because it shows your desire to respect the stone through proper handling versus simply storing it out in the dusty corners of a garage or tool shed.
Appeal the initial rejection
Unfortunately, the VA often rejects the original request. When this happens, don’t give up. Instead, consider sending an appeal that includes a statement regarding the amount of due diligence completed on the family, and why you had no luck finding them.
Next, get someone who’s connected with the VFW (or who is a local elected official) who can attest to your appeal if you didn’t do this with the first submission.
Ultimately, if you…
- Do your due diligence,
- Are persistent,
- Use the local historical society and mortuary funeral home to find family members,
- Clearly communicate the purpose of behind the application and why it’s being done, and
- Don’t take the first rejection as gospel,
…There’s a decent chance of getting a spiffy replacement headstone.
Still, more times than not, the VA will say no to your request/appeal. What then?
Well, just because you can’t get a new stone doesn’t mean the original can’t look as good as possible. In Hillside’s case, Eagle Scouts come in to clean and straighten stones under the supervision of cemetery restoration experts.
And lest the Girl Scouts feel like they’re missing out on all the fun, David adds that, “We’d also love to work with the Girl Scouts. The research, tracking, maintenance, restoration–it’s a wonderful learning experience.”
You did it! You successfully negotiated with the VA and now there’s this beautiful replacement headstone just waiting to be set into the ground. So what do you do with the old one?
Destroy it, of course. A good sledgehammer should do the trick nicely. And since many cemetery headstone re-setting projects have teenaged Eagle Scouts helping out, I’m sure they’re more than thrilled about this part of the task.
But I digress.
Burying the old headstone in the veteran’s grave is a big NO. Instead, the VA directs that the original must be completely destroyed, down to the pebble level. Why? Well, what happens if someone digs up the grave and finds the second stone or if flooding causes the second stone to re-surface?
There’d be a lot of interesting questions swirling around if that happens.
Of course, the best thing about the reduction-to-gravel process is that when it’s complete, you can either toss the remains onto the grave or instead of concrete, use it as fill to help support the new stone when it’s placed.
It’s certainly a nice way of honoring the original stone.
If you do use the gravel, keep in mind that 1/3 of the stone goes into the ground while 2/3 remains above ground. Use a level to keep the stone straight throughout the process of putting into the dirt, pebbles, and water. Tamp it all down, rinse and repeat.
Then take a moment to admire your work.
P.S. #1. Many thanks to David and Linda for taking the time to share their hard-won expertise with the BTG readers. If any one else has some good hints that we missed here, please feel free to share them in the comments section.
P.S. #2. Ever wonder where the veteran headstone marble is quarried? Check out the profile on the Granite Industries of Vermont.
Now that the snow and ice are finally beating a retreat, it’s time to start thinking about how to handle all those cemetery clean-up chores. Whether it’s hiring a herd of goats to clear out the underbrush, washing the stones clean, or calling in an expert for a day (or two) of hands-on restoration, I think everyone will agree that there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done where historical cemeteries are concerned.
And if there’s ever been one on-going restoration/genealogical task, it’s the deciphering of all those illegible headstones to discover who’s really hanging out under there.
Several weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to speak with Linda Hjelm and David Waggoner who are hard at work locating the Civil War veterans buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Issaquah, Washington. Linda figures out the names and hunts down the history while David and his wife Barbara, help with obtaining replacement markers.
Despite the worn out stones, transposed date of birth/death dates, and misspelled names, they’ve tracked down over 17 Civil War veterans at Hillside, and believe there are still more out there. In this post, Linda generously shares with BTG readers some of her hard-won detective wisdom.
Step 1: So who’s on the stone?
This is just common sense, yet before a search can get underway, you have to know who’s out there. Sometimes the headstone’s tipped so badly, the only way to get an idea of the name is to take as many pictures of it from as many angles as possible, and then use the zoom feature (either on the camera or through your computer’s photo program) to figure out the letters.
If the letters prove to be almost illegible, Linda suggests making a rubbing (using tissue paper and some sidewalk chalk) to make the letters ‘pop’ more.
Step 2: Prepping for the Plunge
Here’s Linda’s primary secret to researching that too many people (including yours truly) fail to keep in mind: There is NO replacement for looking at actual records, especially when you’re searching online indexes. Why? Because the quality of an online index is based on someone else’s typing skills.
Specifically, you might have the right person, but whoever entered the information into the index may have transposed death dates with birth dates. Be prepared to step away from the computer, roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dusty.
Step 3: The Deep End of The Pool
Now comes the fun part. You’ve got the veteran’s name and the burial site, so what’s the first step toward finding out more about your man? One or more of these hints should help you strike gold.
- Got a nice chunk of information on your veteran? Try using the paid military records search feature on Ancestry.com.
- Want to dig a little deeper? Search the 1890 Veterans Census site on Ancestry.com that shows both Union and Confederate soldiers and their widows.
- Don’t want to pay the Ancestry.com fee? Complete a family search on the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website. It’s got probably the biggest number of genealogical records out there, and it’s free. Note: LDS also has family history centers scattered around the world which can come in handy if the information you need is on their microfilm. Right now, they’re in the process of digitizing it all, but if you have to go to the centers, you can rent the film at a low cost for a specific period of time.
- Check the May 31 issue or prior, for local Memorial Day newspapers that run the names of all the vets both living and dead. Many times, the papers even run photos of the veterans.
- If the Memorial Day papers don’t pan out, make a note of the death date and then pore through the local papers’ obituaries. Linda says she checks each year’s issue to see what came out prior to Memorial Day because many times, the families come back to put flowers on the graves and the newspapers mention those who came to visit.
- Check the state census records because some states take a census more than once a decade. Note: Just because a state says they don’t have a particular year’s census doesn’t mean you should stop looking. It just might be mis-filed. Linda remembers discovering an original census in a library.
- If the veteran comes from a small town, check with the local historical society. Perhaps there are some old letters or photos that could shed some light on the person and his family.
- Finally, if you discover that the veteran was born and raised in a particular town, see if there are any churches that date back to his time. There may be a chance that the vestry has family baptismal, marriage, and/or death records you can search.
- Last but not least, Google the name when all else fails. You’ll be surprised what comes up.
So now that we’ve gotten some new hints on how to search out veterans, let’s ask the most interesting question of all. Just what was it that got Linda started down this path in the first place?
The answer: A mystery.
The Hillside Cemetery Board was already researching faded headstones when a member decided to add in the overlooked Civil War veterans. The spark that hooked Linda was the enigmatic Charles Swartwood. “I couldn’t figure him out,” she said. “All the military records I’d seen for that time are on 5×7 cards that are pre-printed and done by hand, except for Charles’, and his records are typed. Perhaps he was a member of what passed for the CIA in those days.”
She’s still determined to find out.
P.S. Don’t’ forget to check back on Thursday when BTG readers can read some of David Waggoner’s tips on how non-families can get a veteran’s replacement headstone from the Veterans’ Administration. Hint: It’s difficult, but not impossible.