Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Recently, I made a trip home to PA (I currently live in England), in Bucks County. I try to use the opportunity when I'm there to do some offline family history research and organization I can't do in England. Right now, it's mostly visiting cemeteries and helping my mom scan all the old photographs of our ancestors. This last trip, we found a bunch of photos of people we don't know. I think they were friends of our ancestors but there's no names on them so sadly, I may never figure out who they are.

As for the cemeteries, we visited several, most were successful but I had some unclear records that led me astray. One death record told me the individual was buried at "Chestnut Hill Cemetery" and I found some reference that suggested a place called Ivy Hill Cemetery (where several other of my ancestors are buried) was once called this. But the individual wasn't buried there. Her husband's death record just said "Methodist Church" so I thought maybe we'd have luck at the Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church. I wasn't even sure they had a cemetery. We pull into the parking lot in the back and sure enough, there is a very small cemetery of old looking headstones. My hopes weren't high - old headstones can be too eroded or damaged to read and what were the chances my ancestors were among this very small group of headstones? But sure enough, my mom spotted the family we were looking for.

As you can see, they are hard to read. And you may also note that there are four graves in the plot but only three close-up shots. The fourth is not a part of our family and yet, we were missing a family member too. There was a husband and wife and then the mother of the husband but where was the father? Many of the headstones were broken, fallen over, grow into the ground, etc, but no sign of one like that with the same style headstone in the plot. We went to the church office and there found a very friendly and helpful pastor who was enthusiastic about restoring the cemetery. He explained that sadly, there are no records of who was buried there so they are at the mercy of being able to read the stones. He also explained that originally, the individuals were buried in the front of the church but when the building was rebuilt, the headstones had been moved to the back (but not the bodies). I suspect that during the move, someone wrongly associated the unrelated individual because it had the same style headstone so they were all lumped together. I also suspect that my missing ancestor was buried there but at some point, whether before or after the move, his headstone was lost or grown over.

The church is certainly lucky to have a pastor there who is dedicating his time and efforts to restore what is left of the cemetery. He showed us some of the gravestones he'd already carefully restored and they looked very good. He even encouraged us to come back with some shovels to remove the first few inches of grass and dirt to see if we could find the missing headstone! Unfortunately, we didn't have time for that during this trip but maybe someday.

Also interesting was that I found another one of my ancestors buried at Zion Lutheran Church aka Union Cemetery of Whitemarsh (not to be confused with Whitemarsh Cemetery) but he had previously been married in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Wikipedia tells me that some Presbyterian churches have "entered into unions with other churches such as Congregationalists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists." So perhaps it was not so strange for my ancestor to make this change of religion. He was, after all, born in England and a member of the Church of England before immigrating so it wasn't his first switch. It will make an interesting tidbit in my family history writings.

At another cemetery at the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, we found two of my ancestors buried there and behind them were four headstones with the names of (some of) their children but no date.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking about that more at the time and asking the office about it. Especially when I came home and looking at my tree, found I had records of some of them buried elsewhere. Did the parents buy the plot and headstones in preparation for their children but later the children decided to be buried elsewhere? Or were some of them just never paid to have the dates added? More investigation is needed on that. If anyone else has come across something like this, please let me know what you found!

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