Monday, July 16, 2007

When You Can't Find the Cemetery of Your Ancestor

This has been a red-letter day in my genealogy calendar! I wrote in my last post of how I received a package of three CDs of scanned documents, photos and letters from scrapbooks belonging to members of my Robbins family--especially the memorabilia from my great-grandfather's World War I service. I received a letter from my mother's sister with some copies of commendation letters to my (step) grandfather DeVries for his many years of service in the U.S.P.S., as well as the obituary of my great-grandfather Hoekstra's second wife. AND, I received an e-mail from my mother's cousin with a copy of the death certificate of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Jan Martens HOEKSTRA. His anglicized name was John Martin HOEKSTRA, the same as his grandson/my great-grandfather.

I have been trying for several years to figure out where exactly Jan was buried. Our Family Record book, filled out by my Hoekstra great-grandparents, says he was buried in Muskegon, Michigan, which makes sense, since he lived there the last 14 years of his life, and I found his death record in the Muskegon County death libers (these county death records do not list cemetery information). But the Muskegon County Cemetery Records I ordered on microfiche did not list him, so I could not find the specific cemetery he was buried in. His wife, my ancestor Grietje JONKER, was buried in Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan, and the information in those records made it clear he was not buried near her. I have suspected for some time that the Muskegon County Cemetery Records which I viewed on microfiche, published by the Muskegon County Genealogical Society, were created from tombstone transcriptions, and not necessarily from cemetery office records. Family records of other ancestral lines residing in Muskegon County mentioned burials of individuals in Muskegon County cemeteries not listed in the published cemetery records. I figured that ordering a death certificate would give me the name of the cemetery, but that was further down on my list of records I needed to order. Thanks to Mom's cousin Kathy, I now have my own copy.

As you can see by clicking on the image above for a magnified view, Jan was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. There are two cemeteries by that name in the county; one in the city of Muskegon, and the other in Holton Township (often referred to as Holton Cemetery, or Holton/Oakwood Cemetery, to distinguish it from the one in the city of Muskegon). Using the logic that he lived and died in the city and that the family records stated he was buried in (the city of) Muskegon, I conclude that the death certificate is referring to Oakwood Cemetery in the Muskegon. I did a search in the online cemetery listings, using Google, as the site does not have a search engine, and still came up without any listings for Jan or John Hoekstra. So while I don't have a specific lot number, I do have evidence of his burial ground. I will be contacting the cemetery office soon to see if I can determine his exact burial place. I also have the name of the undertaker, which may lead me to a funeral home that can verify the body was disposed of at that cemetery.


Barbara said...

Hi Miriam,
That is very nice to hear about this!

I understand very well the difficulties. I only know about a few of my ancestor's burial places.
On my Carroll side, I have less information. It is on my Hansen side, that newspaper clippings and little cards with the date of death, documented me.
These are in our family collection, and were a great help!
You can see a few of the documents on my blog.

PA charges 9 dollars a copy, which is rather expensive. I had a genealogist do work in the Philly Testiment archives, and he came up with exact dates, and interesting family info.
Of course, there is no burial info. That's why I'am doing obit searches.

It's often a long road that leads us to the right cemetery...

Take care.

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you, Barbara! Yes, certificates can be costly. So many states now charge $20 or more for a copy of a certificate, and/or make it difficult to obtain one, that I consider any priced less than that a "good deal"!

Earlier death records--generally before 1900--do not normally list the burial place, which makes things challenging, indeed.

Thanks for commenting!