When You Can’t Find the Cemetery of Your Ancestor

This has been a red-letter day in my genealogy calendar! I wrote in my last post of how I received a package of three CDs of scanned documents, photos and letters from scrapbooks belonging to members of my Robbins family–especially the memorabilia from my great-grandfather’s World War I service. I received a letter from my mother’s sister with some copies of commendation letters to my (step) grandfather DeVries for his many years of service in the U.S.P.S., as well as the obituary of my great-grandfather Hoekstra’s second wife. AND, I received an e-mail from my mother’s cousin with a copy of the death certificate of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Jan Martens HOEKSTRA. His anglicized name was John Martin HOEKSTRA, the same as his grandson/my great-grandfather.

I have been trying for several years to figure out where exactly Jan was buried. Our Family Record book, filled out by my Hoekstra great-grandparents, says he was buried in Muskegon, Michigan, which makes sense, since he lived there the last 14 years of his life, and I found his death record in the Muskegon County death libers (these county death records do not list cemetery information). But the Muskegon County Cemetery Records I ordered on microfiche did not list him, so I could not find the specific cemetery he was buried in. His wife, my ancestor Grietje JONKER, was buried in Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan, and the information in those records made it clear he was not buried near her. I have suspected for some time that the Muskegon County Cemetery Records which I viewed on microfiche, published by the Muskegon County Genealogical Society, were created from tombstone transcriptions, and not necessarily from cemetery office records. Family records of other ancestral lines residing in Muskegon County mentioned burials of individuals in Muskegon County cemeteries not listed in the published cemetery records. I figured that ordering a death certificate would give me the name of the cemetery, but that was further down on my list of records I needed to order. Thanks to Mom’s cousin Kathy, I now have my own copy.

As you can see by clicking on the image above for a magnified view, Jan was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. There are two cemeteries by that name in the county; one in the city of Muskegon, and the other in Holton Township (often referred to as Holton Cemetery, or Holton/Oakwood Cemetery, to distinguish it from the one in the city of Muskegon). Using the logic that he lived and died in the city and that the family records stated he was buried in (the city of) Muskegon, I conclude that the death certificate is referring to Oakwood Cemetery in the Muskegon. I did a search in the online cemetery listings, using Google, as the site does not have a search engine, and still came up without any listings for Jan or John Hoekstra. So while I don’t have a specific lot number, I do have evidence of his burial ground. I will be contacting the cemetery office soon to see if I can determine his exact burial place. I also have the name of the undertaker, which may lead me to a funeral home that can verify the body was disposed of at that cemetery.

When You Can’t Find the Cemetery of Your Ancestor

This has been a red-letter day in my genealogy calendar! I wrote in my last post of how I received a package of three CDs of scanned documents, photos and letters from scrapbooks belonging to members of my Robbins family–especially the memorabilia from my great-grandfather’s World War I service. I received a letter from my mother’s sister with some copies of commendation letters to my (step) grandfather DeVries for his many years of service in the U.S.P.S., as well as the obituary of my great-grandfather Hoekstra’s second wife. AND, I received an e-mail from my mother’s cousin with a copy of the death certificate of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Jan Martens HOEKSTRA. His anglicized name was John Martin HOEKSTRA, the same as his grandson/my great-grandfather.

I have been trying for several years to figure out where exactly Jan was buried. Our Family Record book, filled out by my Hoekstra great-grandparents, says he was buried in Muskegon, Michigan, which makes sense, since he lived there the last 14 years of his life, and I found his death record in the Muskegon County death libers (these county death records do not list cemetery information). But the Muskegon County Cemetery Records I ordered on microfiche did not list him, so I could not find the specific cemetery he was buried in. His wife, my ancestor Grietje JONKER, was buried in Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan, and the information in those records made it clear he was not buried near her. I have suspected for some time that the Muskegon County Cemetery Records which I viewed on microfiche, published by the Muskegon County Genealogical Society, were created from tombstone transcriptions, and not necessarily from cemetery office records. Family records of other ancestral lines residing in Muskegon County mentioned burials of individuals in Muskegon County cemeteries not listed in the published cemetery records. I figured that ordering a death certificate would give me the name of the cemetery, but that was further down on my list of records I needed to order. Thanks to Mom’s cousin Kathy, I now have my own copy.

As you can see by clicking on the image above for a magnified view, Jan was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. There are two cemeteries by that name in the county; one in the city of Muskegon, and the other in Holton Township (often referred to as Holton Cemetery, or Holton/Oakwood Cemetery, to distinguish it from the one in the city of Muskegon). Using the logic that he lived and died in the city and that the family records stated he was buried in (the city of) Muskegon, I conclude that the death certificate is referring to Oakwood Cemetery in the Muskegon. I did a search in the online cemetery listings, using Google, as the site does not have a search engine, and still came up without any listings for Jan or John Hoekstra. So while I don’t have a specific lot number, I do have evidence of his burial ground. I will be contacting the cemetery office soon to see if I can determine his exact burial place. I also have the name of the undertaker, which may lead me to a funeral home that can verify the body was disposed of at that cemetery.

An Afternoon at the Cemeteries

Yesterday afternoon, my 16-year-old daughter accompanied me to two local cemeteries so that we could honor the deceased of our families. I had planned to go on Saturday, which was a gorgeous warm day, but errands–including purchasing a new flag for the holiday and a bouquet of roses for the purpose of distributing them at the graves–took up most of my day. Sunday arrived with strong gales of wind, so strong I dared not put up my new flag for fear of bending the aluminum pole or snagging the banner on the gutters above. Thunderstorms were forecast for the late afternoon and evening, so I decided it was now or never.

The first cemetery we visited was Riverside Memorial Park, where a special little boy now rests in peace: Brandon Tyrone Chapman, a special-needs student I worked with for four years, who was like a second son to me. He is buried underneath some pines not far from the Spokane River. The cemetery was beautifully decorated, with hundreds of memorial flags fluttering along the roadsides and graves brightly trimmed with real and silk flowers, flags, and pinwheels. At the entrance, throngs of people milled, visiting Heritage Funeral Home, which normally has a historic display for the public every Memorial Day weekend. Last year, Ulysses S. Grant had been the focus; this year was Elvis, so I did not go in (I like his music, but I had hoped for a more “historical” figure). Classic cars were being shown in the parking lot, and I took a quick shot with my camera while my daughter picked up some free pizza from a nearby booth (yes, it’s quite an event!).

We then crossed the road to Greenwood Memorial Terrace, where we noticed a large American flag was posted near the monument of Chief Spokane Garry. We drove up to the first terrace where a large Midkiff monument marks the lot where George Henry, his wife Arzella (Glasgow), and their son Samuel C. Midkiff are buried. I’ve done a little research on this family, and can trace George back to Kentucky, but how he may be related to my husband is still a mystery. There are no descendants; their only son Samuel died in 1918, so our family has “adopted” the graves to clean and decorate them on Memorial Day. My daughter remarked that Samuel was only 16 when he died (her own age), and I told her he had probably died in the Influenza Epidemic.

We then went up to the top terrace, where two of my cousins, Christopher Wrex Pierson Zaagsma and Caren Jeanne “Carrie” Pierson Zaagsma, are buried in the Inspiration block. We stayed for a while at their graves, while I told my daughter the stories of my cousins, what their personalities were like, memories of special times together, and how they had died. Then we went over to nearby Honor Lawn, where some distant Midkiff cousins are buried. I shared memories with Missy about Betty Lou(Midkiff) Bryant, a petite woman who had researched the Midkiff family in the area and had contacted us about 18 years ago to try to fit us into the family tree (she was my father-in-law’s second cousin). Together, she and I organized the first local Midkiff Family Reunion in 1990. Betty’s husband, George Wesley Bryant, is buried next to her; a salty-tongued WW2 veteran, he had worked on the Grand Coulee Dam as an ironworker. On the other side of Betty rests her brother, George Vernon Midkiff, a Navy veteran whose life was cut tragically short by an automobile accident.

When we were done with the graves of family and friends, we returned to the first level, where the graves of many Civil War veterans are situated around the Grand Army of the Republic monument. We chose graves that had no flowers or flags (and sadly, there were many) on which to lay the last of our roses. I took photographs to upload to Find A Grave. There was a nest in a pine above us and a baby bird fell out, fluttering around. My daughter was very worried, but I assured her the bird’s mother would return as soon as we left, and that the good thing was there didn’t appear to be any predators in the area.

We returned home tired from our outing in the wind, but satisfied in having enjoyed our time together, knowing our loved ones had been honored.

An Afternoon at the Cemeteries

Yesterday afternoon, my 16-year-old daughter accompanied me to two local cemeteries so that we could honor the deceased of our families. I had planned to go on Saturday, which was a gorgeous warm day, but errands–including purchasing a new flag for the holiday and a bouquet of roses for the purpose of distributing them at the graves–took up most of my day. Sunday arrived with strong gales of wind, so strong I dared not put up my new flag for fear of bending the aluminum pole or snagging the banner on the gutters above. Thunderstorms were forecast for the late afternoon and evening, so I decided it was now or never.

The first cemetery we visited was Riverside Memorial Park, where a special little boy now rests in peace: Brandon Tyrone Chapman, a special-needs student I worked with for four years, who was like a second son to me. He is buried underneath some pines not far from the Spokane River. The cemetery was beautifully decorated, with hundreds of memorial flags fluttering along the roadsides and graves brightly trimmed with real and silk flowers, flags, and pinwheels. At the entrance, throngs of people milled, visiting Heritage Funeral Home, which normally has a historic display for the public every Memorial Day weekend. Last year, Ulysses S. Grant had been the focus; this year was Elvis, so I did not go in (I like his music, but I had hoped for a more “historical” figure). Classic cars were being shown in the parking lot, and I took a quick shot with my camera while my daughter picked up some free pizza from a nearby booth (yes, it’s quite an event!).

We then crossed the road to Greenwood Memorial Terrace, where we noticed a large American flag was posted near the monument of Chief Spokane Garry. We drove up to the first terrace where a large Midkiff monument marks the lot where George Henry, his wife Arzella (Glasgow), and their son Samuel C. Midkiff are buried. I’ve done a little research on this family, and can trace George back to Kentucky, but how he may be related to my husband is still a mystery. There are no descendants; their only son Samuel died in 1918, so our family has “adopted” the graves to clean and decorate them on Memorial Day. My daughter remarked that Samuel was only 16 when he died (her own age), and I told her he had probably died in the Influenza Epidemic.

We then went up to the top terrace, where two of my cousins, Christopher Wrex Pierson Zaagsma and Caren Jeanne “Carrie” Pierson Zaagsma, are buried in the Inspiration block. We stayed for a while at their graves, while I told my daughter the stories of my cousins, what their personalities were like, memories of special times together, and how they had died. Then we went over to nearby Honor Lawn, where some distant Midkiff cousins are buried. I shared memories with Missy about Betty Lou(Midkiff) Bryant, a petite woman who had researched the Midkiff family in the area and had contacted us about 18 years ago to try to fit us into the family tree (she was my father-in-law’s second cousin). Together, she and I organized the first local Midkiff Family Reunion in 1990. Betty’s husband, George Wesley Bryant, is buried next to her; a salty-tongued WW2 veteran, he had worked on the Grand Coulee Dam as an ironworker. On the other side of Betty rests her brother, George Vernon Midkiff, a Navy veteran whose life was cut tragically short by an automobile accident.

When we were done with the graves of family and friends, we returned to the first level, where the graves of many Civil War veterans are situated around the Grand Army of the Republic monument. We chose graves that had no flowers or flags (and sadly, there were many) on which to lay the last of our roses. I took photographs to upload to Find A Grave. There was a nest in a pine above us and a baby bird fell out, fluttering around. My daughter was very worried, but I assured her the bird’s mother would return as soon as we left, and that the good thing was there didn’t appear to be any predators in the area.

We returned home tired from our outing in the wind, but satisfied in having enjoyed our time together, knowing our loved ones had been honored.

Using Funeral Homes for Genealogy

Last weekend, I wrote about connecting with cousins using the cemeteries where your ancestors are buried. Today I would like to talk about another great genealogical resource with Memorial Day connections: funeral homes.

If you have obtained your ancestors’ or relatives’ death certificates or obituaries or even their funeral cards, chances are you have the name of their funeral home printed somewhere on that document. Funeral homes are an excellent source of information, much like cemetery offices. Keep in mind that families often utilized the same funeral home service for several generations, which can help you find missing information on ancestors and relatives. Also, it’s my understanding that funeral homes did not really come into much use until the late 1800s.

First of all, you’ll need to find the funeral home. The documents mentioned above may not have the funeral home listed, or perhaps you’ve done a little investigating and discovered that a funeral home by that name no longer exists in that community. Don’t be discouraged! Here are some tips for finding a funeral home. A great website is www.funeralhomes.com. This link will lead you to a database of funeral homes in the United States and Canada–good for current ones in business now. If your ancestor’s funeral home is not listed, look for one with a similar name in the same city (Smith Funeral Home becoming Smith-Jones Mortuary, for example). You can always call a funeral home in the area and ask where the records for the obsolete business are now located. Very often, when one funeral home went out of business or was absorbed by another, the records were archived by either another funeral home in town or by the business that took over.

Many public libraries may have old copies of the Yellow Book (not to be confused with the Yellow Pages business directory in telephone books). The Yellow Book’s full name is The National Yellow Book of Funeral Directors, and by browsing through several years’ worth, you can often see the evolution of a funeral home business from one name to another to sometimes even another (Smith Funeral Home > Smith-Jones Mortuary > Jones Mortuary > Jones-Brown Funeral Parlor). The Yellow Book has a website, but it is only accessible for industry practitioners (a.k.a. Death Care Professionals). You may also wish to check city directories as well. And check with the local genealogical or historical society in the area to see if they can help you locate where old funeral home records are archived. Cyndi’s List of Cemeteries and Funeral Homes is also helpful.

Once you’ve found the funeral home, you’ll want to make a call. I prefer calls rather than letters, because it’s quicker and often in a conversation with the funeral home employee I will think of other questions I wish to ask. I’ve created a “Funeral Home Employee Interview” form on my website here. It’s been amazing what I have discovered by calling a funeral home. I’ve also been able to get copies of death certificates and funeral cards, names and addresses of family members, occupations and causes of death of the deceased, and names and addresses of cemeteries (especially helpful when one isn’t listed in a death notice). George G. Morgan has a nice list of other items that can be found in funeral home records in his article here. As we near Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to contact an ancestral funeral home.

Happy Hunting!

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day

Using Funeral Homes for Genealogy

Last weekend, I wrote about connecting with cousins using the cemeteries where your ancestors are buried. Today I would like to talk about another great genealogical resource with Memorial Day connections: funeral homes.

If you have obtained your ancestors’ or relatives’ death certificates or obituaries or even their funeral cards, chances are you have the name of their funeral home printed somewhere on that document. Funeral homes are an excellent source of information, much like cemetery offices. Keep in mind that families often utilized the same funeral home service for several generations, which can help you find missing information on ancestors and relatives. Also, it’s my understanding that funeral homes did not really come into much use until the late 1800s.

First of all, you’ll need to find the funeral home. The documents mentioned above may not have the funeral home listed, or perhaps you’ve done a little investigating and discovered that a funeral home by that name no longer exists in that community. Don’t be discouraged! Here are some tips for finding a funeral home. A great website is www.funeralhomes.com. This link will lead you to a database of funeral homes in the United States and Canada–good for current ones in business now. If your ancestor’s funeral home is not listed, look for one with a similar name in the same city (Smith Funeral Home becoming Smith-Jones Mortuary, for example). You can always call a funeral home in the area and ask where the records for the obsolete business are now located. Very often, when one funeral home went out of business or was absorbed by another, the records were archived by either another funeral home in town or by the business that took over.

Many public libraries may have old copies of the Yellow Book (not to be confused with the Yellow Pages business directory in telephone books). The Yellow Book’s full name is The National Yellow Book of Funeral Directors, and by browsing through several years’ worth, you can often see the evolution of a funeral home business from one name to another to sometimes even another (Smith Funeral Home > Smith-Jones Mortuary > Jones Mortuary > Jones-Brown Funeral Parlor). The Yellow Book has a website, but it is only accessible for industry practitioners (a.k.a. Death Care Professionals). You may also wish to check city directories as well. And check with the local genealogical or historical society in the area to see if they can help you locate where old funeral home records are archived. Cyndi’s List of Cemeteries and Funeral Homes is also helpful.

Once you’ve found the funeral home, you’ll want to make a call. I prefer calls rather than letters, because it’s quicker and often in a conversation with the funeral home employee I will think of other questions I wish to ask. I’ve created a “Funeral Home Employee Interview” form on my website here. It’s been amazing what I have discovered by calling a funeral home. I’ve also been able to get copies of death certificates and funeral cards, names and addresses of family members, occupations and causes of death of the deceased, and names and addresses of cemeteries (especially helpful when one isn’t listed in a death notice). George G. Morgan has a nice list of other items that can be found in funeral home records in his article here. As we near Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to contact an ancestral funeral home.

Happy Hunting!

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day