As cemetery enthusiasts, we’ve seen the many ways people around the world honor their dead, from the moss-covered mausoleums of Edinburgh to candle-lit cemeteries in Italy. We’ve admired the small stones placed on Jewish graves in Jerusalem, the walls of urns in Japan, and Paris’ catacombs where bones are stacked and patterned in the underground ossuary. We love wandering through cemeteries with shady paths that invite us to meander and read the epitaphs to those gone before.
However a person is laid to rest, there is one thing all of these places have in common – they are vast libraries of unknown and untold stories. Sometimes the stories come to us easily, like following a gently worn path our ancestors left for us many years ago. Other times, the stories take hours of time and research to uncover. Each headstone, rock, photograph, or candle represents a life lived. A life that was undoubtedly filled with hopes and dreams, happiness and heartbreak. Each lie in rest with their mark left behind, their mark on our lives and also what was left in remembrance on their marker. Why do Find a Grave volunteers spend so much time photographing and documenting graves? Because we understand that this small act of service opens the door for others to discover their ancestors’ stories.
Frank Delaney said, “To understand and reconnect with our stories, the stories of the ancestors, is to build our identities.” When one walks up to a tombstone or a memorial site, there arises a feeling of brevity and wonder. You might run a finger across the etched birth and death dates. You know that between birth and death, there is a lifetime of stories. An understanding arises that they have been where you are now – and someday you will be where they now rest. When you stand before the grave of a loved one, you understand that their story intermingles with yours. Their influence has contributed to your own story.
One of our contributors, Paul Vogt, was recently on the receiving end of an amazing act of kindness. Paul’s great aunt Mary passed away in Detroit, Michigan, in 1905. Contaminated water caused a typhoid fever epidemic that swept through the city. Mary contracted the disease and died when she was just 22. Her family was devastated by the loss of their beautiful, dark-haired daughter. They purchased a marble headstone and Mary’s memory was immortalized. Years turned into decades and those who knew Mary passed on.
A few months back, Paul received a message from Jacquie, another contributor. In her research regarding cemeteries in Detroit she came across a memorial with information about headstones found underwater in a lake, about an hour outside of the city. She searched Find a Grave and learned that Paul managed a memorial matching the description of one of the headstones included with that information. Jacquie messaged Paul and ultimately she connected him with another friend who helped with her research and knew more about two of the Detroit cemeteries and a gravestone monument company. Like following a trail of breadcrumbs, Paul was led to where the stone could be found. He located the property owner and learned the stone was still in the lake (nobody knows how it got there!). It’s possible that the headstones found in the lake were were not originally placed on the graves because they had an inscription mistake.
Amazingly, the timing was perfect as the new owner was having his breakwall redone and offered to retrieve the headstone from the water if possible. Crews salvaged the headstone and Paul immediately came to retrieve it. He took his truck (and a strong friend) and picked up the 400-pound marble memorial to Mary. Because the cemetery where Mary is buried no longer allows marble markers, they brought the stone back to Paul’s home where it remains.
For Paul, this series of coincidences was more than that. “It’s amazing that my aunt was in the news after 110 years, amazing that a Find a Grave member informed me of the lost stone, amazing that I was able to retrieve the stone, and right after that, found a family scrapbook that had a picture of Mary in it.” Mary’s story is now connected to Paul’s story. He will never be able to look at Mary’s photo without contemplating the miracle of finding her memorial. We like to think Mary is smiling over the relationship she has formed with her great-nephew from beyond the grave.
Photo credit: Paul Vogt
The poet Rumi wrote, “On the day I die, when I’m being carried toward the grave, don’t weep. Don’t say, He’s gone! He’s gone. Death has nothing to do with going away. The sun sets and the moon sets, but they’re not gone. Death is a coming together. The tomb looks like a prison, but it’s really release into union. The human seed goes down in the ground like a bucket into the well… It grows and comes up full of some unimagined beauty.” The stories we discover and share are that unimagined beauty coming into full light.
In the end, not everyone’s resting place is going to be the same. It may be a manicured or overgrown cemetery, ashes scattered over a waterfall, a respectfully placed urn, a raised mound under the shade of a tree, or a marble stone immersed in a lake. Each grave represents the story of those who came before us. Thank you to all of our Find a Grave contributors. Your efforts help others uncover new stories every day!
What a great find. So amazing what we can find without even trying. Love the story and what a great ending
Thank you for having this site..I found my Fathers grave stone. .Unfortunitly who ever orders the stone did not get his Middle name spelt correctly.. But it’s ok so happy to have been able to c it..Im in Illinois and he is buried in South Carolina. So again, THANK YOU..
We too had a “misspelling” on our great great grandmothers headstone… we have “2 Ms” in our name, but one M was dropped in the engraving … I think it may have been a space constraint and not necessarily a true misspelling… she intrigues me the most as she came here at the age of 51 with 4 of her 7 children in 1875… I can’t imagine that trip…
You said: “Our great great grandmother came here ?at the age of 51 with 4 of her 7 children in 1875…”
Question: Hi Trish, where did your great great grandmother come from (?) and where did she arrive (where is “here?”)
Im confused, did he find her grave? Is there a stone on it?
There is a picture of her smaller headstone at Find a Grave, at Mt Olivet in Detroit.
I’m writing a story about my relatives and understand how those connections feel. I was deeply moved. My great great grandparents are buried I believe in a cemetery in Mofilev.
Great story, I love Find a Grave, I have found many of my ancestors headstones and when they have connected families together, I have more clues to who’s in my line or not.
Great article and so very interesting. Thank you for all of your hard work.
Wonderful story. I assume from the ending the gravestone had the correct dates on it and therefore was not placed in the lake due to incorrect inscriptions. Perhaps someone can solve the mystery of how the head stone was put into the lake.
I was surprised to find a cemetery, named after a distant relative, just miles from a property we spent summers at. Discovered a large number of family members were buried there and I didn’t even know it existed when I was up there and could have retrieved the information.
Find A Grave also let me see my father’s headstone since I was asked not to come to his funeral by his second wife. I live 300+ miles away and have not been back to the area since he passed away.
She sounds like a B word.
Paul’s story is very touching, it looks like incredible!
I’m Italian, My parents lay in Tuscany. I know for certain that none of my relatives have never been buried in USA. But I was lucky all the same: i found information about people I’ve studied about in their gravestone . They belong to my life now. Sometimes I come to see if something new was added, and it happened. That’s why I’m grateful to Find A Grave. I mentioned it in my book about Ida Cox. Thank you!
(p.s. Sorry for my defective American-English, I hope you can understand what I mean)
Your English is fabulous!
We thank all of you who are doing this wonderful work in helping us find our ancestor’s tombstones. The connections to other family tombstones in the same cemeteries has helped
greatly piecing families together. There is a huge family plot in one of our cemeteries that has
at least 15 adults and 4 infants/small children with ZERO head or foot stones. I hope to one day
start having foot stones for each of them over time. I am going to pick stones that tell some of
each one’s history. Everyone should have a headstone or foot stone. I’m getting to know each of
them through my family research, I’m feeling connected to them. They are in fact my grandfather’s family. Thanks for all of you…
I am glad his story had a good ending, however if the head stone was originally in the cemetery, then it should be put back where it belongs. I mean what did they do with all the other head stones that were not flat? Are they still in the cemetery where Paul’s family member was? Like I said it should go back where it belongs. JMO.
The story says the cemetery no longer allows marble headstones. Therefore it couldn’t be returned there.
Why would the cemetery not allow marble markers?
Because they don’t want to have to trim around them. They can just mow over the flat ones. In our local Cemetery it cost twice as much for a space where the vertical monuments are allowed.
I think Find a Grave is a fantastic website. It has helped me find many of my relatives and their history. I have also contributed as much as I can so that others in my future family will be able to search and find family info.
What a beautiful story about people caring for strangers, for each other, and for our family members who went before us and for keeping family members and memories, and history intact. Thanks for sharing. Sigh…one of my family burial grounds in rural PA was vandalized, headstones smashed, broken, in the oldest half of the cemetery (the other half is “perpetual care” and would have been restored…but this was the oldest section, with family graves dating back to early 1800, of persons born in early 1700’s, many of them the first settlers to the area). Whomever cleaned up the mess, just stacked the shards and stones somewhere in the back of the cemetery where “trash” and lawn cuttings go. I live 3,000 miles away, and usually only get to “visit” when I need to bury a family member. One of my fantasies is to move near in retirement or at least take long visits to there….and tend to that old part of the cemetery, perhaps be able to make a long-lasting display of those old, broken headstones for searching relatives…..
It’s interesting to hear about peoples past lives and what they went threw on there journey. I’m trying to find any info on my family as well as pictures (porter -firestone ) my grandfathers name on my moms side was William firestone his wife was Martha firestone ….. .we had always heard my grandmother was part Indian and my sister was wondering what tribe etc. If any one can help ,let me know ….. my email is email@example.com if u have any info or pictures , thank u !
I’m troubled by the death of my great aunt in 1898 at age 19 or 20. She was going to marry my grandfather, but died, so he married her sister 6 years later. I’ve been to her grave and even have her original high school diploma from 1896, but I don’t know how she died or what she looked like. Of course all who might have information are also deceased.
I’m curious about what happens when you don’t or are unable to visit passed family members that are buried in cemeteries? I just read Jannette Konings story and I’m concerned about my grandparents that are buried in a cemetery in Michigan nobody has visited and I’m not even sure which cemetery (I believe it’s in royal oak Michigan) it is I was told that there were headstones that were put at their grave but I do not know if anybody has been paying for those plots, how do I find out if my grandparents are still in there plots or a mass grave. I fine this very disturbing that people could be moved to a mass grave when they’ve already paid for the plots that they were buried in and the fact that the grave markers headstones could be used as gravel in the cemetery rather than to Mark the place where family members are buried. I would like to find out more about this.
I had one of the worst experiences, 6 years ago I was able to fly home, for a visit, after a long time being away, we went to go and see the grave of my grandparents, I had been there ones before when I was 17 or so. (60+ years ago) And I said to my sister, it has to be here somewhere, she said are you sure, because we couldn’t find it at all, Yes I’m sure it has to be here, nowhere to be found. We were lucky and found a place close by, that had a sign for office hour for the cemetery, we had 5 minutes before closing. So I rang the bell, the man said he was just closing up. I told him please I came, all the way from across the ocean. Finally he said alright, went back in to look on the computer, and said I’ll take you were they HAVE been. We have been at the right spot, but they dug them up, he said, because no-one had been paying since 2004 (When my father had died), He claimed he called everyone with their last name in my home town, my sister said, I didn’t get a call, neither did my cousins, and they were all listed. I asked so what DID you do with them, they ended up in ONE OF THE MASS GRAVES, but didn’t know which one. I wanted a picture, but they had smashed the stone and used it as a gravel on the path. My heart sunk, I still cry when I think about it. You have to pay every 10 years, or they dig them up, I didn’t even know that. We already had to pay all 3 of us for my parents grave 1600 euros per person. Sometimes I can make fun of that situation and say “Do I now have grandparents ONES REMOVED”. It’s still sad.
Whose responsibility is it to maintain the information in “Find a Grave,” like add pictures, information of birth, died and etc? It truly bothers me when I know that this person is buried in this cemetery and no information exists, not even their name.
The information on the stone is written in Polish. I’d be more interested to find out how she came to be in the US
Thank you so much for these stories, good and bad. My heart goes out to you all.
Jannet Koning, wouldn’t the town or county be charging taxes so someone could be hired to keep up the mowing of grass,etc. I’d like to know where this cemetery is? My sister & I visit a lot of cemeteries, Ne., lowa, Missouri, etc.
Comments are closed.