Category Archives: genealogy

Oldest town in Missouri

This month, we had a chance to visit Ste. Genevieve, billed as the “Oldest Town in Missouri.”  It may well be.  The original town was founded ca. 1735, but was washed away by a flood in 1785.  At that time, the town was moved to its current location.  The oldest structure still standing in town is from 1790.

The French history of Missouri is on display in town, from the artifacts in the small museum, to the use of the fleur de lis everywhere, to the language on the tombstones.  Here is just one example.


If you can read French, ponder this stone, and let me know if you can translate it.  I have a shaky knowledge of German, but not of French.

Ste. Genevieve offers more than some interesting epitaphs — of the five known examples of French Colonial vertical log construction in the United States, three are in town.  The town also boasts many small shops and restaurants.  We always make a point to eat at the Anvil because their onion rings are the best.

In fact, here’s me with an onion ring.



If you travel around the area to the town of Kaskaskia, you can also find the Liberty Bell of the West, which was rung on July 4, 1778, to commemorate the capture of the town from the British by George Rogers Clark. Though you might not realize that this area of the United States played a part in the Revolutionary War, it did. The western side of the river was under Spanish control, but everything east of the Mississippi was claimed by Britain, even though most of the residents were French.  Today, the river’s course has moved east so that Kaskaskia is accessible by road from Ste. Genevieve without crossing the river.  It is, in fact, a tiny of slice of Illinois on the Missouri side of the Mississippi.

But for the taphophile, the cemetery is the main draw.  It’s small but well-maintained and offers plenty of shade and intriguing stones.  It’s just a little interesting slice of early French-American life and, of course, death.


An accidental veteran


So on Memorial Day, my husband took a picture of this stone, thinking he was taking a picture of the marker of a veteran.

As it turned out, not so much, actually.

If you look carefully, this person’s name was Ida, and she died at the age of five weeks.  Her heartbroken parents have had engraved on her marker (admittedly in German): “Her life was a moment, a spring dream, an earthly happiness.”

I don’t begrudge her the flag.


The quest for the lost

Did you know that the remains of thousands of people who are cremated go unclaimed?  That creamatoria, funeral homes, and cemeteries often have shelves full of boxes awaiting family members to pick them up, and that these boxes may have been there for years, or decades?

I had no idea until I read an essay by Thomas Lynch in his book The Undertaking.  Lynch, a funeral director, realized his funeral home was storing a closet full of boxes of cremains.  Fortunately for him, he worked in a small town, and so locating a family member and encouraging him or her to come pick up Aunt Thelma wasn’t that difficult.

Most places have a much more difficult time connecting the dead with the living, once the dead have been forgotten.

One organization that wants to make a difference to many of the people who remain in their boxed earthly limbo is the Missing in America Project.  This organization, which went nationwide in 2007, is endeavoring to find the remains of forgotten veterans, and to provide them with the burial with full military honors they deserve.

To date, the organization has found and buried over 1900 veterans.

Check out their website to see how you can help make sure all of America’s veterans are located and properly honored.


A small corner of Georgia

War memorials can be found in many places.  One that I went specifically to find was this memorial for the 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Chickamauga, Georgia.

One of my ancestors, Thomas Elliott, was in the 51st Ohio and was wounded at Chickamauga.  The following is a transcription of a statement by one of his officers, which was given when Elliott applied for an invalid pension. The end of the statement is missing on my copy.  Although the officer here states that Elliott was wounded on the 20th, other documents I have show he was wounded on the 19th, listed as MIA, and discovered on the battlefield on the 20th.  One can only try to imagine the horror of lying wounded on the field all night among the dead and dying.

“I, William Moore, do hereby certify that I was Captain of Company I of the 51st Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, and am acquainted with Thomas Elliott, who was a member of my Company, and as I am informed is an applicant for an Invalid Pension.  That the said Thomas Elliott was mustered into service on or about the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1861, and discharged about the 17th day of October 1864 having become disabled from doing duty as a soldier from on or about the 2nd day of January A.D. 1863 while in the service of the United States, and in the line of duty as a soldier, in the manner and at the place as follows: at Battle of Stone River was shot and wounded by the enemy in the left leg above the knee, the ball passing through thigh it wholly disqualified him from further duty and sending him to the hospital causing an absence from the Co. of about five months. Also at Chickamauga Ga. in battle he was wounded again Sept 20, 1863 the ball entering his right side below the armpit passing around or through and making an exit on right side spinal column wholly disqualifying him from further duty and sending him to hospital causing his absence about seven months, all of which wounds were recd under my command as aforesaid being his comdg officer at the battle of Chickamauga. Was Lieutenant only at battle of Stone River.  That the said soldier was in good health at the time he entered the service, and the disability above referred to affected him while in the service, and at his discharge as follows: he was by his wounds wholly unfit for further service and should have been discharged by . . .”

25_51st ohio memorial

The more information on a stone…

…the happier you make your friendly neighborhood genealogist.

For much of the twentieth century, grave markers showed a name and two dates — and the dates may or may not have included month and day.  Chances are, the entirety of the information on the stone was this:



But eventually, the trend ran to giving more information.  People started placing short statements like “Always Missed” or “Forever in our Hearts” on markers.  That trend has taken off these days to include additional information like marriage dates and the names of a couple’s children.

And then there’s this stone, which should make any local historian happy.  It even lists the names of all the grandchildren.  Now that’s thorough.


An accidental Virginian

Nid oes a wna brydydd onid Duw a Nattur.

(Nothing makes a poet save God and Nature.)

In 1723 on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon), a boy was born who would grow up both troubled and greatly talented.  He is still celebrated as one of the great poets of Wales, who revitalized two ancient meters, the awdl and the cywydd. His name was Goronwy Owen and he died, strangely enough, in Virginia.

Like many creative people, he had difficulty holding on to regular employment.  He drank too much. He experienced great losses, not least of which was what amounted to exile from his homeland after 1746, being unable to find work there.  He buried two wives and several children.

Virginia was hardly a place Owen wanted to go.  For years, he had longed to return to his native island and wrote, “Pa bryd y caf weled f’anwylyd Mon doreithiog a’i man draethau?” (When shall I see my beloved fertile Mon and her tiny beaches?) Yet, with a family to support, he had to go wherever work could be found, and in 1756, that meant leaving Britain forever for a job at William & Mary.  He got on the ship with a pregnant wife and two children.  He arrived in Virginia with the children.

Once again, drinking and ‘riotous behavior’ meant he was not long employed.

The final ten years of his life, Owen was the pastor at St. Andrews in Brunswick County. He had a small farm where he grew tobacco.  No doubt he continued to pine for his homeland.

You can find more on Goronwy Owen online, or, you might be able to find a copy of Branwen Jarvis’ 1986 book Writers of Wales: Goronwy Owen.

I leave you with a short poem of Owen’s.

Diwedd sydd i flodeuyn

Ac unwedd fydd diwedd dyn.

Gnawd i ardd, ped fai’r harddaf,

Edwi, ‘n ol dihoeni haf.

(There is an end to a flower/And such is the end of man

The habit of a garden, though it be the loveliest

Is to wither, after the decline of summer.)

gravesite 01aa


The flowers in this picture are snowdrops, which not only bloom on Owen’s grave, but also bloom every year at his birthplace, Dafarn Goch.

Was ist das?

Sometimes, you’ll find stones that aren’t in English.  The language they’ll be in will differ depending on who settled in the area, but around here, the language that most often shows up is German. Two easy things to learn about German inscriptions are the “Geb.” and “Gest.” abbreviations.  Geb. is short for geboren, and is the birth date.  Gest. is short for gestorben and marks the death date.