A Sunken Stone, A Story Found

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.

Photo credit Michelle

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. 

Photo credit: Paul Vogt

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.

Photo credit: Paul Vogt

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! 

129 comments

  1. I am indebted to the volunteers who worked with Findagrave. I have found such interesting information about my ancestors and their families that I otherwise would never have known.

    • I agree 100%. As a child growing up in New England and coming from a large family Memorial Day always started with Mass at our parish church and then the entire day was spent visiting and decorating the graves of relatives and friends where we as children would be told the stories of all these people, many of whom we never really got to know. It built a strong family identity. Now that I am of that older generation and live far away, I can still visit, pray and remember the people, stories and give thanks. Blessings and gratitude to Find A Grave volunteers.

  2. I am very happy and grateful to the volunteers. I saw pictures of relatives I never saw in my life. Thank you!!

  3. I had a genealogist look for a, 1894, grave site in Detroit, Michigan and she found that the head stone was buried. Reason; the family didn’t have enough money to pay for it so the cemetery buried it. I was a “Happy Camper” to find my great grandfather’s stone in a like new condition.

  4. I see that the findagrave links to siblings and parents have been removed. Why was this done?
    . The link feature was very helpful in expanding my family research.

    • Hi George, you can learn more about linking family members here. Siblings show up when they are linked to the same parents. If you are having trouble adding family members to a specific memorial, please contact support@findagrave.com and send us screenshots and details. We’ll assist further. We’ve never removed the ability to link family members, so you should be able to!

      • Also, how is it possible to list a member of the family, if their grave is unknown, other than stating their name within the bio. I have a spouse and connect her to her other family members but cannot as she doesn’t have a memorial #.?

      • Thanks for this question. Here’s a link to an article where you can learn more about what to do when the burial is not known.

  5. What a beautifully-written story! Words cannot express how much the work of Find a Grave volunteers has benefitted me and my family. Bless you all.

  6. I was glad to find this website, contribute to it, and meet others who had the gravestone pictures needed for family members. Also thankful that it was the source which linked me to existing family in other countries.

  7. My dad has his great-great grandfather’s gravestone in his back yard because of a similar story. My grandfather found it when he was cleaning an irrigation ditch. His grandfather was buried in the church yard, and at some point, the gravestones were removed to landscape the yard. He took it home, and when he died and his home was sold, my dad took it home and put it in his garden.

  8. I had been looking for my Great Great Grandparents on my Dad’s side for years. My friend Debbie called me and showed me how to find a picture of them on find a grave. It was wonderful to be able to look at their faces. I was telling my family members that apparently aliens drop them off in Castine, Maine and told them to marry and have children. Thank you Debbie and Find A Grave.

    • Thank you Judy, and all the others who contribute. This is my favorite way to spend my “golden years”, reading your stories and researching my ancestors to build a story for my next generation who might be interested. Your work is so greatly appreciated. You can’t imagine how much!! Thank you.

  9. I have been a member and contributor of Find a Grave for over 10 years. It became a hobby of researching and finding relatives I knew nothing about. Thanks to two local men I met on Find a Grave who were restoring abandoned cemeteries, they took me to a cemetery which had many of my relatives from both sides of my family. I also enjoyed the “grave hopping” as I called it. I loved going to cemeteries and taking photos of headstones and markers and then adding them to my Ancestry.com tree. Unfortunately, my health has kept me from visiting the sites. Although the new format looks nicer than the old and is a “little” more user friendly, I miss some of the “stories” that we were able to add to the memorials. I do understand that anyone could write anything and then others would assume it was factual, when it may not have had all of the facts. It was a cumbersome system, but after I learned to use it, I have missed it. I am glad that Ancestry took on Find a Grave and it makes it easier to connect the dotted lines. I am not sure the current generation is going to appreciate all the work that has been put into these apps. Maybe someday when they are 50 or 60 and we are all gone, they can at least see the stories of their ancestors.

    Thanks to all my fellow contributors, grave hoppers and restoration groups. At least we can say we helped leave a trail for others to follow.

  10. Because of the work that they do, I found out that my father had a brother that no one knew about. Now we honor him. Thank you to all who help out.

  11. In 2003, to celebrate the Tercentennial of my 5x great-grandfather, silversmith Philip Syng Jr, friend of Franklin and creator of the Independence Hall Inkstand, I organized a family reunion held in Philadelphia. One of the task we set was a reproduction headstone for his grave in historic Christ Church Burial Ground. In 1864 someone had transcribed every markers inscription still legible. Philip’s inscription was reordered, but nothing for his wife Elizabeth who lived to be 74 years old, and had given birth to 18 children. All that remained of Syng’s stone was a rounded stump just a few inches tall. I met with the head of the Burial Ground to discuss the style of a replacement stone. I was lucky to go at the time of day that I did. As an artist with a sharp eye, I noticed a shadow just above the ground that I knew was not natural. With my finger I dug and uncovered lettering. Arrangements were made and the stone was raided. Perfectly preserved was the inscription for Elizabeth. The stone had fallen four feet below ground by 1864. Now there is a small marker next to the stone with Philip’s lost inscription. A few years later I had the honor of illustrating a Bird’s-Eye-View Map of Christ Church Burial Ground which includes the stones of Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Syngs, and my 3x great-grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, and other relatives and famous early Americans.

      • Thank you Judi. I am indeed bless with some great family stories. I am just finishing the first of what should be six books on famous ancestors.

  12. A fantastic group. With their help I found the grave of a dear old friend. I have been searching for his picture. But so far no results. Can you help? His name is Jesse Gene VanBuskirk. And he is buried in Fairfield Cemetery, LaJunta Colorado. Any help will be much appreciate.
    Katherine Eckstrom
    ceskyusa@yahoo.com

  13. My daughter, granddaughter and I went to several cemeteries to honor my great uncle, grandmother and great grandfather. With the help of Find A Grave and some genealogy apps, we found the graves and family history. At each grave we left a painted rock (painted by great granddaughter, age 8, with name of deceased & name of artist.) At my grandmother’s grave we left a stone for Lucy Branch painted by Lucie Wahn, her 5th great grandchild. I feel blessed to be able to visit these graves to honor them in some #mall way. Susan Johnson

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you-to all of you who do al that you do for the rest of us. Thank you, again.

  15. Wonderful organization and helps so many people find information on their relatives. One of the most admired sources for connecting information for researching in genealogy. Thank you to everyone who contributes their time and resources to this site. It has grown and developed into a mammoth part of history. Thanks to all who have contributed.

  16. Beautifully written and what a wonderful story.

    This has fired my enthusiasm to contribute, beginning with the tiny handful of graves in my own garden.

  17. I am grateful to the find a grave community as they have helped me in filling in information about my ancestors that I did not know or have any other way of learning.

  18. A genealogist probing for sunken headstones found my grandmother’s oldest brother. He died in 1895 at 5 days old. She was born in 1920, the youngest of 15 children, and had visited the grave with her mother once. At 93 years old, she could recall the approximate area, but it couldn’t be found. Then the genealogist contacted me one day since I managed the memorial. I had created a FB page for sharing genealogy info/pics with the 11 surviving family branches, and it was one of our most exciting and unexpected finds.
    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/132893866

    • I am also very grateful for everyone’s contributions. I manage a few and always suggest edits to ones I have additional info for. I also request a picture if none are added for my past ancestors. This is a great site to remember our loved ones. Thank you everyone.

  19. I have located many family members for friends. Just recently a sister no knew where she was buried and found a little hand made slab of an apparent baby. But not too happy about move to Ancestry.com which requires money for information that I used to access for free. Traced all my families back to Isle of Wight in England to Virginia. Other side from
    Around Northern England thru two DNA testings. But now all valuable information is directly switched to ancestry.com for membership piece. I love my years of Findagrave but can’t afford membership for records I used to get for free. Since maybe 2008 or 2007 my dna family tree was available.

  20. I had been having a very difficult time in finding info on my Great, Great Grandfather’s date of death and where he had died. One day, there was a link on Ancestry to Find a Grave that I checked out and BAM! there was the info I had been searching for as his obituary was attached to it. Not only his, but his wife’s (my Great, Great Grandmother. I was finally able to obtain both of their Death Certificates from the State of Michigan. Thank you so much to all the volunteers!

  21. I echo all the comments. I have found many in my ancestry on Find-A-Grave. But i am shocked to learn that the great monster Ancestry has gobbled up a great site. I have done years of research while avoiding the profit-minded gobbler of free sites. Some I used to use were absorbed in recent years and you are not able to comment, only to read what was posted sometimes years ago. So sad. I fear the great Find a Grave site will soon be ruined by the big hungry elephant.

    • Find a Grave was acquired by Ancestry in 2013 and is free for the public and membership is also free. You can read more about the history here. Since 2013, we’ve worked hard to improve the site for our members and will continue to do so!

  22. Can anyone assist me in finding my great grandmothers grave. Her name is Julia Ross I believe she passed in 1976 and was buried in Washington Park Cemetery in St. Louis Mo.

    • There is an Irene Julia Ross, DOD 1-5-1969, DOB 11-19-1887. Surviving spouse David Ross, Father Sanford Robinson and Mother Emma? Died at
      Robert Koch Hospital, Koch, MO (informant hospital records), and buried in the cemetery you list. There is no Find a Grave information listed in Ancestry just the death certificate. I pray you find her!

  23. I appreciate that Find a Grave has remained free. I received an email the other day from a cousin’s former wife who had lost track of him and did not know he passed away until she found Find a Grave info from an internet search. She was able to join Find a Grave and contact me. As a member of Ancestry first then Find a Grave I also appreciate the additional documentation available on Ancestry such as Death Certificates that list parents and cemeteries and assist in finding graves. In fact I first found Find a Grave through Ancestry. The combined information is extremely helpful.

  24. The cemetery office showed me my family bought 10 plots together in 1874, paid $30 for all. There is a large monument in the center with 5 on front and back. There was one 12×12 flat stone that had a name. As I was looking at many sunken stones around I wondered?
    So got a shovel and started digging where another might be. I am happy to say I brought up 6 more . The first stone I hit said Father, that’s it, I told my wife what the next one would say, yes Mother, but no name. On the opposite side one was down 2 feet, that said Mary 1874, so I concluded she was the first.
    I can’t tell you how happy I was bringing there stones back up. I put pebbles and fill dirt. I then paid for the first names of mother and dad to be added to the central monument that just had their last name.

  25. I contribute in a small way. My favorite research project was of Arthur Darwin. A distant relative requested a photo of his grave/headstone in a nearby cemetery. Mr. Darwin was the last person to live in Ten Thousand Islands National Park in Collier County, Florida. He was a hermit who lived in the islands for much of his life.

    There is no headstone on his grave but the county representative was able to help me locate the gravesite and she placed a small marker on it.

    I added some of the news articles and printed stories to his findagrave.org record. I hope people read about Mr. Darwin.

  26. This story about sunken stone leads me to ask a question. I look all over for headstones, I noticed a few years back that my mother & fathers headstones are sinking. Then when I went to LA I first noticed that Jimmy Stewart’s stone was sinking and as I looked around there are a lot of stones sinking and starting to get overgrown. I thought that a perpetual care cemetery did more than just cutting the grass. If the cemetery cannot fix, is there anything that I as a family member can do to “raise” the stone? The beautiful graves that I have seen while in Germany some of the families actually plant flower garden’s on the grave to care for their departed loved ones. How much more could we do for our loved ones than what we do currently?

    • Hi – I have family buried in plots just south of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I spoke with the yeoman there and they were in the middle of a project to remove all monuments, pour a four foot deep, eighteen inch wide footer along entire rows, and then remount all monuments on that new massive footer. They said they were solving the problem of markers and monuments sinking. I thought that was a great idea, but it was because they had a fund to pay for such things. I’m sure the vast minority of cemeteries can afford such a thing. I spoke to a monument company recently and they said they can pour footers like that over individual graves, but the cost was shockingly spectacular. I can make a footer and put it in place myself, but I haven’t found too many cemeteries that allow the average Joe to go make modifications to a gravesite like that.

  27. I have found most of my family information from “Newspaper Archives “; an enormous resource! It was like I was right there with the family members I never met. No matter what state, just put in the family name and see what it opens. Then I was able to make the connections to add to ancestry.com and Find a Grave.

  28. We had experiences at two different cemeteries where the headstones of family members were beginning to sink. In both cases we contacted cemetery officials and they fixed the problem.

  29. I think the cemetery should allow the marker to be returned since it should have been placed there when marble markers were allowed.

    • One would think that marble tombstones would have been legally “grandfathered” in, so it wouldn’t/couldn’t have been removed in the future. You might want to pursue trying to have it put back in place.

  30. Findagrave has been beyond helpful in locating the resting places of the people I research. Often there is other burial detail that provides additional clues. In return, whenever possible I try to post what little I have found in the way of additional research in order to add to or complete the story of the individual(s) buried therein. I hope those stories get added to the memorial information.

  31. My husband and I adore being Find a Grave volunteers and work well as a team. He loves the ‘hunting’ and we both clean up the grave stones. I take photos, edit them, and upload them to the website. We get thank you notes from all over the world from requesters. We approach people who we see wandering around the same area we are in and offer to assist. We are also approached by folks who have questions or need help. We love to help others! So glad to be part of the team of searchers on behalf of others!

  32. Has anyone had experience with cemeteries that won’t allow photography inside the cemetery? I visited a cemetery in New Orleans with a friend who has maternal family members buried there. We weren’t allowed on the cemetery grounds unescorted, and no photography was allowed on the cemetery grounds specifically because the cemetery “owners” didn’t want photos of the graves on FindaGrave. I was shocked! How does FindaGrave deal with these situations? I know my friend’s family members do not have memorials on FindaGrave. Its a shame that family ancestry is unavailable because of situations like this.

  33. A large number of my relatives are buried in a small village in northern Wisconsin. In an old cemetery where my great-great Grand parents lie, is a special stone. When I place flowers for my relatives, I place some at this special stone as well. My father had started it and I try to continue it when I visit. It’s a simple rough cast cement block. Just the name and a cross were scratched into the wet cement. Out of respect, we place flowers. It seems right.

  34. As I have searched Ancestry for ancestors and descendants I have found that Find A Grave has been one of the greatest resources for information. The information is usually remarkably accurate as I have found that the information so very often confirms other information sources. So this is my thank you to all of those who contribute.

  35. I am so appreciative of the time people have spent contributing to this amazing site. It has helped me locate stones of ancestors, making it easier to find them when I go visit the cemetery.

    • I am looking to find my grandfather’s brother’s grave in Monarch, Colorado. He died at 6 months of age and his name was Ernest Melbourne Howe. He was buried in Monarch but I don’t have any information as to cemeteries. Any info would be appreciated.

      Tim Howe

      • I should say that regarding above post: Ernest died in 1895 in Monarch if that helps.
        Thanks

  36. Never had heard of this group! Sounds very interesting to me, so how does one connect for volunteering?
    Always had a “pull” towards finding family members grave sites but didn’t have the time to pursue, so now I have the time & need a new hobby.

    • Hi Hugh, we’re glad to hear you’d like to volunteer. You can find out more on our Help site here. Thank you for spending your time in helping others!

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