Follow along with my husband & I as we go traipsing through cemeteries photographing grave markers and transcribing tombstones. Hopefully, we'll learn a little about burial customs and the study of cemeteries along the way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Motivation Monday: It Was Here a Minute Ago

While wandering the cemeteries I’ve started to notice a few things. Time may heal all wounds, but it doesn’t do much for graves or grave stones. While tiptoeing through the tombstones, I found ample evidence of how those tombstones disappear over the years. Here are some examples:

1. Time: As time passes, grass continues to grow and all too soon the grass can reclaim a tombstone.

2. Gophers, ground squirrels and rabbits: Graveyards are known for their beauty and park like appearance. With the natural setting come the creatures that live in it, including those critters that like to dig and make holes. This can lead to two different problems. One, all that dug up earth can bury a gravestone. Two, tunnels under the tombstones can cause them to tilt, topple, or sink.

3. Vandalism: There are many reasons for vandalism. For some it’s to prove how “brave” they are against the dead. For others it’s because there’s “nothing better to do,” or just for pure wonton destruction. In ancient times this was done deliberately to “erase” the person from existence and for some it hasn’t changed. Once the stone is gone, so is the history that stone told. Sure, we keep records of who’s buried where, and we all know records never get lost or destroyed, right?
4. Modern Lawn care: You would think that along with maintaining the appearance of the graveyard that the primary concern would be to protect the gravestones from damage. But with the advent of modern lawn care equipment, we’ve seen more and more scenes like these. If you drive heavy equipment over something that was not designed for that kind of treatment you’re going to get:
5. Neglect: There are many graveyards that have seen better days and some are so overgrown and neglected that you need a GPS tracking system to find it. Some cemeteries have truly returned to their roots.
These are just a few of the problems facing we Graveyard Rabbits in our search of tombstones. We need to get motivated to prevent it! Do you donate to non-profit cemeteries? Are you a member of a cemetery preservation group? When you visit a cemetery, do you pick up the trash? Or brush off the tombstones? Pick a few weeds? If you said no to any of these, my question is simple ~ why not?
Tombstone Jack & Stachia

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day: Guard of Abraham Lincoln

I spotted this stone at Mt View Cemetery the other day. It didn't have much on it but I thought it would be fun to see who William H. Billings "Guard of Abraham Lincoln" might be. When I checked all I got was:

Birth: unknown
Ohio, USA
Death: unknown
San Bernardino County, California, USA
His birth date and death date are unknown, but his marker,
indicating he was a guard of President Lincoln, makes him very
well known in Mountain View Cemetery. Unable to verify any of
the info on the marker.
Posted in 2005

That sounded like a challenge so I did a little (pardon the pun) digging and came up with the following:

William H. Billings was born in 1836 and at the age of 26 enlisted in Company C of the 73rd Ohio Infantry Regiment on Aug 14, 1862. Joining his unit after the Second Battle of Bull Run, William saw duty in the Defense of Washington, D.C., until December. When his unit went on Reconnaissance to Bristoe Station and Warrenton Junction. They then marched to Fredericksburg, Va. on what became known as the "Mud March", January 20-24, 1863. In April of 1863 his unit fought in the Chancellorsville Campaign and at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Next they were called to Gettysburg Pa. and July 1-3 fought with distinction at the Battle of Gettysburg and pursued Lee and the Confedrate forces to Manassas Gap, Va. His unit was then moved to Bridgeport, Ala. Duty at Bridgeport and Stevenson, Ala. assisted in the reopening of the Tennessee River when on October 28-29 the unit fought in the Battle of Wauhatchie, Tenn. Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign in November was next along with Orchard Knob, Tunnel Hill and Mission Ridge. The 73rd was then sent to march to relief of Knoxville, Tenn. The Regiment reenlisted January 1, 1864 and William was transferred into the 18 Regiment, H Company U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps on Jan 3, 1864.

I had never heard of the Veteran Reserve Corps so upon looking them up I found that this was originally called the Invalid Corps but the name was changed it 1864 to the Veteran Reserve. These corps consisted of individuals that had due to either wounds too severe or illness were unable to continue with their combat units. Depending of disability, these men were assigned to hospitals, provost and garrision duty. Many of these men volunteered to continue and it was felt that these men had distinguished themselves enough in battle that they could still contribute to the war effort. They were thus given jobs to free other able bodied soldier to fight. for the more able bodied, these duties consisted of guard, patrol and provost duty throughout the states and in Washington DC, even manning the defenses of the city during Jubal Early’s raid in July, 1864.

So after his transfer, William was stationed in Washington DC and among many of his duties was the guarding of the President of the Republic and his family. He was mustered out of the 18th VRC in Washington, D.C. on July 31, 1865.

I couldn't find much after his discharge. Only that he applied for his pension in 1871 and again in 1907 and that William H. Billings died on April 3, 1929 in El Centro, CA and is buried in Mt View Cemetery, San Bernardino, CA.

Just another example of a Vet that heard the call and I found all this out because of a tombstone that said:

“Guard of Abraham Lincoln”

Isn't it fun digging up history?

(“)_(“) Tombstone Jack, Vet

Source Citation:
Ohio. The General Assembly; The Roster Commission. Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio. 11 vols. Cincinnati: Wilstach, Baldwin, 1886.
Journal-History of the Seventy-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry~ By Samuel H. Hurst
Civil War pension index card(

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Graveyard Rabbits Carnival: Genealogy on the Tombstone

The topic for the November 2010 edition of the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is: Genealogy On The Tombstone.  This topic was submitted by Diane Wright, who authors three GYR blogs: The Kansas Rabbit, The Wright Graveyard Stew, and The Grave Yard Rabbit Travels Wright.  Does the tombstone tell a family history?  You bet it does!  Have we found some genealogy clues embedded in stone? Absolutely! Even a tombstone can be genealogical paydirt!

Take, for example, the Willis family, buried in the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in San Bernardino, CA.  It looks ordinary enough, right?

Photo taken on Oct. 11, 2010 by Tombstone Jack
This one monument is chock full of genealogy... it contains birth and death information for eleven different people!

The front of the stone gives us information on Henry M. Willis (Sept. 21, 1831 - Sept. 1, 1895) and his wife Amelia who died on Aug. 12, 1889 at the age of 43 years.  You can calculate from that, that her year of birth was  1846.  Judging by the dates, I'd say these two are the patriarch and matriarch of this particular family grouping.
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
Side two, gives us the details on Judge Henry Montague Willis (Nov. 12, 1871 - Apr. 15, 1960) and his wife Clyda Ellen Willis (Dec. 13, 1885 - Nov. 9, 1977).  Below them, we have John William Willis (May 19, 1963 - Sept. 22, 1993).  From this, I would assume that Henry Montague is the son of Henry M., and that perhaps his M is really a Montague.  We also know that he was a judge.  If we didn't already know the name of his wife, we certainy do now.  To find her maiden name, I would start by searching California marriage records.  As for John William Willis, my guess would be that he is the son of Henry & Clyda due to the year of his birth.
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
Side three informs us about Amy Willis Hudson (Mar. 16, 1867 - Aug. 4, 1917), Louise Willis Dodsworth (Apr. 4, 1883 - June 2, 1955), and Elizabeth Willis (May 10, 1879 - Apr. 29, 1957).  I would say that all three are daughters of Henry & Amelia.  Although we don't have any husbands listed on this monument, we do know that Amy married a Hudson and and Louise married a Dodsworth.  More names to search the marriage records for!
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
And finally, the fourth side tells us about Edwin A Willis (who died May 28, 1871 at the age of 32 years), Jennie C. Willis (Aug. 3, 1875 - Apr. 9, 1948) and Matilda Willis Condee (Mar. 15, 1862 - May 15, 1948).  If Edwin was 32 when he died in 1871, that would mean he was born in 1839.  Obviously not a son of Henry M., but perhaps a younger brother?  Jennie C. would be another daughter, as would be Matilda.  We know Matilda married a Condee, so we have another marriage to research.
Photo by Tombstone Jack

This one tombstone answered several questions, raised a few more, and pointed us in the right direction for further research.  Isn't that what genealogy is all about?  We've got eleven names, birth and death dates, family relationships... and I haven't even touched Google yet!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday's Child: Eva, Percy and Grace Pool

Taken at Mt. View Cemetery by Tombstone Jack

This photo breaks my heart.  To loose a child is a terrible thing, but to loose three within three years!  I would have gone insane!  Eva was just over one year old when she died in 1890, Percy was exactly one year old and died on his birthday in 1892, and Grace, who born 12 days after the death of her brother, was only five months old when she died in 1982.  I can only imagine the grief and rage in their home.  Grief at the loss and rage at the unfairness of it all.  The verse beneath Eva's stone says it all:

She faltered by the wayside, and the angels took her home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Adventures of Tombstone Jack

At Pioneer Memorial Cemetery (photo by Tombstone Jack)

I've managed to get my husband addicted to genealogy.  It really wasn't that hard.  Getting him to go trudge through cemeteries to take pictures?  That was more difficult.  Until I told him I was considering joining the  Association of Graveyard Rabbits.  Which, I joked, would make him a Jack Rabbit. 

We're only a few blocks away from the Mt. View Cemetery in San Bernardino. I had a class to teach Monday morning and Jack had the day off since he's lucky enough to get Columbus Day as a paid holiday.  Much to my surprise, he was up and out to two different cemeteries to take pictures and try to fulfill a few photo requests from Find a Grave before I got back from class!

I was told that it's harder than you would expect it to be. He visited the main office and got a map of the cemetery.  Only one request had a plot location, so he asked if there was a way to look up where the other requests were buried. They kept his list of names and said they'd call him when they found the locations and showed him on the map where Mary Snouffer's grave was located. One small problem... it wasn't there. He searched all through Lawn K and there was no Mary Snouffer.

Since he didn't have any luck at the Mt. View Cemetery, he drove over to Pioneer Memorial Cemetery, which is apparantly under the control of the County. Which means there was no one at the front office to get a map of the layout from. Pioneer Memorial is huge. It wraps around an entire apartment complex. Without a map, there is no way to locate any particular plot. So he went home and logged onto Google Maps and printed an aerial photograph of the cemetery. (Which, I must admit, would never have occurred to me!)

By this time, I was home. So off the two of us went, back to Mt. View Cemetery since he noticed that the plot was listed as "BUBA, Lawn K" and there was a Bubah section listed on the map. So we both hopped out of the car and searched. Still no luck. Mary will have to wait until they call us back with the other grave sites.

Once we were at Poineer Memorial, he handed me his aerial map and a pen and informed me that we were going to create our own map. We spent the next 45 minutes or so driving through the entire cemetery looking for the curb markings to create our masterpiece.

Unfortunately we had to leave since I had a dentist appointment, but with the help of our map I'm betting our return trip will fulfill several requests for gravestone photos.