They're Only Stones

A couple of stories about the local cemeteries and the importance of preservation.

Who's Henry?

A 47-year-old question.

The Forgotten Ones

Preserving our history.

WCCPS Invited to Seneca County

Assisting other groups.

Mike McCann Documents and Confirms Information He Finds on Area Graves

Success in Medina County by WCCPS member.

Students Looking for Graves

Positive association with the College of Wooster.

Graveyard Preservation

Some suggestions by Lynette Strangstad.

Please, Please, Please Treat Cemeteries with Respect

Up Front with NGS

The Forgotten Ones

The Post
April 9, 2006

Every year thousands of family tragedies occur across the country when a family member succumbs to an accident or declining health. Each death is devastating to the surviving members of the family and quite often they have the feeling that they are the only ones to “know the pain of personal loss.” But, while trying not to detract from the legitimacy of their pain, we must remember that these very same tragedies have happened many times every year ever since our pioneer ancestors arrived here.

Many sad stories can be read in the local history books such as how Simeon Shoemaker was killed during a barn raising accident at a young age leaving a widow and young children to fend for themselves. Another referred to the Cramer family who contracted the plague and were quarantined in their cabin. As they became weakened and started dying one by one, the only possible help at the time was coming from the township trustees who were dropping food off near the house for them.

Quite often a visit to the cemetery can confirm those old stories. Sometimes all the family members are buried in the same row with the children placed in between the parents. Examination of the death dates many times will prove that they must have died of some contagious disease, because they all passed through the pearly gates within two or three weeks of each other. That would have been quite a devastating blow to any of the remaining family members at the time. Today only an occasional passer-by might get an idea of what tragedies had struck the community way back then in the 1800’s by comparing tombstone death dates.

Also, many of us have those “lost family members” that left home and disappeared. As Ohio became populated in the early days, many things were happening. Scores of new settlers were appearing here every week. Many of them planted permanent roots and became well known in the community. Others only stayed long enough to check out what land was still available and then they moved on to better pastures.

A large portion of Ohio’s population, brothers and sisters and children of our pioneers, moved on west to Indiana and Illinois almost immediately after first settling here. The flow westward picked up much more in the 1840’s and the numbers increased steadily and peaked about the time of the Civil War, but movement never stopped. Over the years I have heard numerous stories about how so and so went all the way out to Kansas and Nebraska in the 1880’s and didn’t like it, so the whole family packed up and moved back to Ohio. Of course all of those persons have to be buried somewhere. How many of them are still right here in the county? They may have been here all along or maybe they quietly returned home to Wayne County from out west without any funds and simply have no tombstone to prove it.

One known instance of unmarked burials of transients in Wayne County involves a wagon train made up of a dozen or so families, mostly Troxels, who came down with some unknown sickness while camping in Plain Township. Many of the party died and were buried along what is now Angling Road. The surviving members of the wagon train formed the beginnings of the Troxel Family in Ashland County. The exact position of their burial is unknown at present, but it is known that whatever tombstones had been erected are now missing. The graves are there, but those brave pioneers first names are now lost.

For all the stories printed in the local history books, genealogies and old newspapers, how many more of those names of early inhabitants were never recorded in any manner, including being carved into a tombstone? Most of us involved in genealogy have learned about earlier family members who experienced family tragedies and most of us can lead anyone straight to the tombstone that shows the record of that eventful time.

Ohio was a very busy crossroads of activity in the 1800’s and as in any society, deaths occur. But, not every family was prosperous enough to afford a nice and long lasting tombstone. As we have all witnessed in most cemeteries, the size, shape and apparent cost of the whole range of markers may vary from cheap and tiny to the very most expensive and extraordinarily extravagant. All were paid for by surviving members of the family.

While helping to record tombstone inscriptions in the Wooster Cemetery for the new burial book, Bonnie and I stumbled upon an interesting fact. Similar to many other genealogists, we had never realized how many burials in a cemetery are not marked. It can be an unusually high number! Bonnie and I were amazed. The cemetery burial records supplied to us at the beginning of the job were good and they listed a name for almost every possible space available. Many of the spaces outside the marked areas had even been filled in with what we supposed were indigent burials. Hardly a space in either of our two whole sections had been unused. Even a few of the ancient driveways running between different areas had been dug up and filled in with burials!

In comparing Wooster Cemetery to many of the other church and city owned cemeteries in this part of the state it must be concluded that “filling in the edges” must be more common than we realize. I remember hearing the term “buried outside the fence” being used. It refers to non-believers or non-church members who were allowed to be buried just outside the normal perimeter of the church cemetery. That old saying also brings to mind a practice that may have been quite common at one time but is now rarely discussed. Until the 1840’s a few of the original inhabitants, American Indians, were still living in Wayne County. After all their land had been sold off to the new settlers, they had no place to be buried when they died. Their burials may make up a reasonable number of the “outside the fence” plots. An example of that happened when the very southernmost part of the Old Associates Cemetery in Wooster was disturbed by construction in the 1970’s. The body of an American Indian was discovered.

Also, because slavery was frowned upon in this area, a few free negros must have resided in Wayne County. If so, then their deceased family members would probably make up another percentage of those unmarked burials.

We must remember that in those early days of Wayne County the tombstones were all ordered from far distant cities where they had to be hand cut and then brought in sometimes months later to be placed over the final resting place. So, many families could neither afford to buy or stick around long enough for a quality and long lasting stone to be prepared. In some of those cases a wooden marker would have been placed over the grave. Still today, small modern wooden crosses can be found in many cemeteries where the family probably didn’t have the funds to purchase a permanent marker.

My belief is that much of the present “empty space” inside of and around the known perimeter of many of the older, especially church, cemeteries has been used for the same purposes as mentioned above. In most cases, the original burial records no longer exist and since no lasting marker was placed over the grave, the general public tends to think that those spaces are vacant. But are they really? I believe that they are the forgotten ones.