52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Tombstone

52 Ancestors

I once lived in Arizona, not far from Tombstone (relatively).  But I’m not going to write about that. 

I feel I must begin with what I think of when I hear “tombstone.” I consider tombstones to be a slab of stone over a tomb or sealing a tomb; headstones as the marker placed at the head of a grave; and gravestones as unmarked (or simply marked with initials) stones placed at the foot to mark the location of a grave.  Gravestones could also be a collection of rocks placed over the grave as sort of a short cairn.  And then there are monuments, markers that record several people buried around the monument or set as a decorative memorial to an important person or group of people.  So, I had to Google what the difference was between a tombstone and a headstone just to make sure I understood the definition of each.  Some websites regurgitate the same snippet: “A headstone is a gravestone, a grave marker: a monument traditionally made of stone placed at the head of a grave while a tombstone is a headstone marking the person’s grave” …huh?

OK, well.  Since I don’t have any literal “tombstones” to write about, I’m going to write about headstones and monuments.  Our ancestor’s burials are spread out all across the country, so I haven’t had much opportunity to visit many of them.  Thanks to Find-a-grave for providing folks with wonderful information and photos.

Our earliest known headstone is for Daniel Gage, who I have not yet written about.  He died in 1747/8 and is buried in the Ancient Burying Ground in Bradford, Massachusetts (Haverhill).  There are at least 48 other Gage’s buried in this cemetery.  Their relationships to Daniel vary from parents to grandchildren to include siblings, aunts, and uncles.  Even his grandfather, John (the immigrant ancestor) is reported to be buried here, though his headstone has not been found.

Our most impressive headstone is what I would call a monument and is for Julian DeJean in Fall River, South Dakota (near Buffalo Gap).  He shares this monument with his grandson H. Wilder Bond.  Not only was there a veteran’s home in the area that drew him there, it turns out his daughter, Jennie (married Ed Bond), also lived in the area, so it is more likely that he moved there to be closer to her or perhaps died while visiting her.

Julian DeJean’s monument at Fall River, South Dakota. Images from Find-a-grave profiles for Julian (memorial ID 44136378) and H. Wilder Bond (memorial ID 39483342).

A runner-up to most impressive is John and Mary (Wiegle) Rhoads at Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  There are two monuments or headstones for John, actually.  John was initially interred in Bullard Cemetery and was re-interred at Lindenwood shortly before the death of his wife, Mary.  It is possible that Mary wanted to be buried with him but was unable to secure a plot at Bullard. John’s first tombstone is still at Bullard, broken, and so has two Find-a-Grave profiles.

The most extensive collection of tombstones in one cemetery would (of course) be the Coomer’s and their associated families (at least three known associated families).  There are three generations of Coomers all buried in Bellevue Cemetery.  Clustered near Edward and Darthulia is their first-born child, Rebecca, who never married, three grandchildren who died young (all children of Hugh Coomer and Sarah Beatty), and a few empty spaces reserved for my in-laws and their children.  Hugh and Sarah aren’t far away, just across the path, and next to them is another son of theirs, Guy.  Elsewhere in the cemetery are Edward and Darthulia’s other children and grandchildren.

The first headstone I tried to locate was for Daniel and Rosetta (Johnson) Rhoads, which is also in Lindenwood Cemetery.  To be fair, there are quite a few Rhoads family members buried in Lindenwood (almost as many as there are Coomer’s in Bellevue).  But they are scattered around and in small groups of mainly husbands and wives.  I found Daniel and Rosetta’s burial locations before I learned about Find-a-Grave because the Allen County Public Library, in partnership with the Allen County Genealogical Society, has an excellent online database. I’ve collected quite a bit of information on Daniel and his family just from that website alone – to include obituaries.

Many ancestor’s headstones are missing, either through ravages of time, lack of funding, clerical errors, or simply never have been found.  James F. Johnson’s (Rosetta’s father) burial location has been lost to time, but a Find-a-Grave volunteer has found a headstone that might be his in the overgrown brush along the St. Mary’s river in Van Wert County, Ohio.  Richard Cobe and Eliza Smith have never been found.  Some opine that they must be buried near a daughter-in-law in Blakeslee Cemetery in Paulding County, Ohio, but no evidence has been found to confirm this.  Since Michigan records identify them as Catholics, I will need to research Catholic cemeteries in the area and see what the records may hold.  But here’s a bit of mystery, there is only one Cobe grave known in Ohio (from this family) and she was an in-law (Margaret Russell), how is it that for three generations only one burial location survives in records today – but no other?  Emmet’s father has a headstone, but he’s buried in the Michigan Veteran’s Home cemetery and has a military marker.  And, since Emmet was buried without a headstone by his sister and brother (who were not poor farmers), I have to wonder…was it an Irish thing?  Doesn’t make sense if they were Catholics.

My great-grandfather is missing his headstone despite being a veteran of World War I.   We know where he is buried; therefore, we know the headstone was never placed.  I found his headstone application and stamped on it is “Suspended.”  But when I asked my Uncle about it, he did not know why.  He must have asked his mom if she knew because he discovered that my great-grandmother ordered the headstone using a different spelling than was on his military record (the spelling was changed after the war), so the order was canceled by the military.  It’s an easy fix, one I hope to remedy once COVID-19 passes, and NARA can get into their offices to send me his military record. We’ll need documents from it to prove the two spellings are for the same man and apply for a new headstone.  

And thus ends my summary of headstone examples in our family.