Thursday, November 20, 2008

Searching For My Ancestor's Grave: A Wild Goose Chase, Part One

As I promised a little while ago, I have finally decided to share the story of how I found my ancestor's grave. And the search for this ancestor's grave was quite an adventure. Well, sort of ...

Until a few years ago, no one in my family knew where our ancestor (whom I will call John) was buried. Or at least those of my family members who were still alive who remembered him. The only person who knew was my great-grandfather, and he died several years before I was born. Plus, he did not like talking about his family history, so it almost seemed as though the secret of the location of John's burial was buried with my great-grandfather when he died. Or so it could have turned out that way, if it were not for my grandfather. My grandfather had the desire to find out where John, his grandfather, was buried, and he expressed that wish to me several times since I had taken over the research into our family's history. So, one of my earliest research goals was to help my grandpa find John.

So, what did we know before we began searching for John's grave? Well, we knew John had either died in 1940 or 1942 in Detroit since my grandfather remember John passing away and remembered attending his funeral. Unfortunately, we did not have an exact date of death for John, and since we did not have that date of death, we couldn't order his death certificate. (You have to have an exact date of death in order to obtain a death certificate from Detroit, and since we did not have that date, we obviously could not get the certificate. Obtaining a death certificate through Detroit is cheaper than obtaining it through Lansing.) Of course, that death certificate would not have helped us if we had been able to obtain it. (I'll explain why, later.)

Since John died fairly close towards the end of the Great Depression, my grandpa's family did not have a lot of money, and in consequence, the funeral they had was small. (My grandfather is unsure if there was a funeral notice in the newspapers since the funeral was held within a couple days of John's death.) The day after the funeral, my great-grandfather arranged to have himself and John's body transported to Three Rivers by train. Once my great-grandfather arrived in Three Rivers, we know he was picked up a local undertaker since he told my grandpa about being picked up. What we did not know was where my great-grandfather had John buried. My great-grandfather apparently only had a limited amount of time before he had to catch the train back to Detroit, so he did not accompany the undertaker to the burial site. All we know is that my great-grandfather later received a letter informing him about where John was buried, and of course, my grandfather was of the opinion that the letter was eventually thrown away. So, in short, we did not have a clue as to where John was buried.

Based upon what we did know, we figured that John had to have been buried in a cemetery somewhere around Three Rivers, but we did not know at the time if it was north, south, east or west of the city. After my grandpa spoke to his sister, he thought that maybe we could narrow our search down to cemeteries south of Three Rivers. Of course, we were just speculating as to the location, but we decided to make a research trip to Three Rivers in the summer to see if we could find John's grave.

In my next post, I will continue with the search for John's grave once we reached the Three Rivers area. Stay tuned ...


Terry Thornton said...

OK Jessica, You've got me hooked into a most interesting saga about your search. I'm looking forward to Part Two.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi USA

wendy said...

Jessica - I can't wait until the rest of the story!