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Brick Wall

Genealogy is often like pulling the arm of a slot machine. Sometimes you do it just to watch the symbols spin by without any real expectation that you’re going to hit a jackpot. But it’s pretty amazing when you do and 30 years of arm pulling finally pays off. This past week I made an unexpected find in the form of an obituary for Elizabeth E. Ferry. This particular brick wall (not the best way to talk about your great great great grandmother!) stemmed from the fact that none of Elizabeth’s 10 surviving children seemed to know the name of her mother. The line for Mother’s Maiden Name on Elizabeth’s Certificate of Death reads “Don’t Know”. The death certificates of Elizabeth’s children were no more helpful. How could people not know the name of their grandmother? I still don’t have an answer to that, but I do now know her name.

You might be thinking “Why didn’t you look for an obituary earlier?” I did look and often. I’ve spent untold hours combing through old York county and Maryland newspapers. In fact, I have a couple obituaries and newspaper memorials for Elizabeth, but they didn’t give any information not already included on her Certificate of Death. This past Friday however, I stumbled upon an obituary in “The (York) Gazette and Daily” dated 14 Apr 1937. It was longer than the others and packed with names, not surprising for a woman with 12 children. A quick skim revealed no mention of parents. There were however a grouping of unfamiliar names listed after her children. My slot machine jackpot read as follows:

Also surviving are three half-sisters and one half-brother, as follows: Mrs. Amanda Miller, York; Mrs. Hannah Harding, Texas, Md.; Mrs. Sadie Harmon, Cockeysville, Md.; and J. E. Knopp, Rocks, Md.

All I needed were leads and now I had four. Elizabeth’s father was John Ferry; that’s all I know about him. If the people listed in the obituary were half-siblings, that meant Elizabeth’s unnamed mother was married at least twice. It took no time at all to find Joseph E. Knopp, Jr. of Rocks, Maryland (and his wife Amanda and their ten children). Next, I found Hannah J. (née Grafton) Harding of Texas, Maryland (and her husband Ephraim and their five children). Notice the maiden name? Mr. Grafton is Husband #3 for Elizabeth’s mother. Third, I found Amanda (née Grafton) Miller of York, Pennsylvania (and her husband Thomas and their five children). Lastly, I found Sarah (née Grafton) Harmon of Cockeysville, Maryland (and her husband Samuel; still digging-up information on them). So who is the mother?

In 1920, Thomas and Amanda Miller lived at 588 North Water Street in York, Pennsylvania. Thomas was a signal repairman for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Every night he’d come home to his lovely wife, four children, and his mother-in-law — Sarah Grafton. We have a name! Sarah was 79 years old and widowed, probably for the third time. Finding Sarah before 1920 has been difficult, she does however appear in 1860 under the name Sarah Knopp, married to Joseph E. Knopp Sr., with a one year old daughter (who was not living at the time of Elizabeth’s obituary). In that census, Sarah is living with her parents, John and Susanna (née Cramer) Harman.

One breakthrough just gave me two generations and an abundance of family to research. The question is, why didn’t the Channells know who she was? Elizabeth used to visit her sisters in Texas, Maryland (near Cockeysville) from time to time. Whoever wrote the obituary knew every surviving Channell and their whereabouts (including Clarence who was imprisoned in Denver at the time) and the names and locations of Elizabeth’s half-siblings. What happened to Elizabeth’s husbands? Did she have a special mushroom soup recipe that she served when it was time to move on (thanks Tamara!)? There will never be an end to the questions but there was one more thing to do before diving back into the census records, newspaper archives, death certificates, etc. This morning, I threw the kids in the car and we took a trip to Ashland Presbyterian Church in Cockeysville. I didn’t recognize the area by GPS but when we got close I realized that I’d passed that place countless times before. The little stone church sits on a dangerous curve along Paper Mill Road, a route we used every time we went to visit Uncle Albert and Aunt Diane as kids. There, in the second row, plainly visible from the street, stands the stone of Sarah J. (née Harman) Grafton, my great great great grandmother.

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Grandma Sarah, pleased to meet you! I promise not to call you a “brick wall” ever again.

Grove Cemetery

This past Thursday, I visited New Brighton, Pennsylvania for the very first time. More specifically, I visited Grove Cemetery in the hopes of finding my 3x great and 4x great grandparents. I’ve been to and through Pittsburgh on a number of occasions, but never visited Beaver County before now. The Devinney family that I was searching for has never been high on my research list. The nearest relative being Annie Elizabeth Devenny (the spelling seems to vary with every generation), my 2x great grandmother on my dad’s mom’s mom’s side.

When I arrived in New Brighton, the fog had lifted but the morning remained cold and wet. It didn’t take long to find the cemetery. Using plot numbers found on Find-A-Grave, it didn’t take long to find the section where my family should be. Without a map of the lots, I would have to walk the hillside rows until I found them. No Devinneys. Grove cemetery is hot huge at 30 acres, but it’s far from small. I resigned myself to walk every row in every section (which weren’t clearly marked) until I found them. Hours later, I was climbing back into the car with my collapsing Totes umbrella, mud-caked Muck boots, and the camera around my neck. I had found a few Devinney graves, but no directs. Thinking I’d drive back empty handed, I checked my iPhone one last time and found an email from the caretaker asking me to call. I’d emailed him the day before but he hadn’t responded until I was already walking around the place. When I explained to him that I was at the cemetery he agreed to come by and meet me in the caretaker’s house. There we poured through some 150 year old ledgers and located every Devinney burial at Grove Cemetery. I photographed the pertinent ledger pages. He also handed me a small pile of section maps with numbered lots. I thanked him for his time and returned to the car. After entering all my new information into a spreadsheet, I then used the maps to plan my second trip among the stones.

I returned to Section D and counted right to left until I found (what I thought was) Lot 15. Single lots had multiple stones, so it wasn’t as simple as I first assumed. Initially, I found an empty plot of ground and assumed the worst, no stones. It was raining heavily by then, so I returned to the car to look over the maps once more. It occurred to me that maybe I was looking in the wrong place. From the car window I spotted another gravestone with the surname “Dickey”. That triggered a much needed light-bulb. The pages I’d photographed were all the early burials for surnames starting with D. I combed back through the page images until I found the Dickey burial. Once I knew which Section and Lot the Dickey stone was in, I discovered I was looking in the wrong row and was three lots to the right of where I should be. I grabbed my umbrella and camera and dashed back out into the rain.

I wish I could say that my adventure ended with an overturned stone (of which there were many) that I was able to tip over and find the name and dates for my 4x great grandfather perfectly emblazoned in clear letters and dates. That didn’t happen. What I found were two plinths, presumably belonging Percifer Devinney and his wife Rachel Ann. I stood staring at them for a moment, wondering how I could possibly know for sure that this was the correct place. That’s when I saw the points of a bronze star sticking out through the leaves. Brushing the leaves aside I found a Mexican War marker, the only one I had seen throughout the cemetery. Percifer was a career soldier, enlisting for service in 1829, 1834, 1840, and a five years span between 1844 and 1849. After his service, he returned to Beaver County, married Rachel Ann and worked as a laborer until his death in 1875. Percifer, his wife Rachel, their son Pierce, and daughter-in-law Sarah are all buried in the same lot. If not for a small bronze star, I might have walked over them without ever stopping to say “Hello”.

Mexican War marker

Mexican War marker

Looking for Baileys

I am currently for searching tombstones belonging to my 3rd great grand father, Jacob Bailey and his wife Barbara Ann Tracey. I know that they lived in the Parkton and Wiseburg areas of Baltimore county, Maryland where Jacob was a stone mason. Jacob’s death is mentioned in the 1870 census with a small notation that reads “died this day”. That page of the census was enumerated on 21 Jul 1870. His wife is believed to have died the year before. Jacob and Barbara had a large family with at least nine children, e.g., John Thomas, Warnel, Mary Catherine, Anna E., Jane, Mariam, William, Adam Isaiah, and Dora. Finding any of their children’s families would be helpful as well.

This Saturday, I dragged my family to yet another cemetery. We stopped at the Wiseburg United Methodist Church in White Hall and combed through the rows looking for Baileys. It didn’t take long to find Bailey stones, but it soon became apparent that either a) Jacob and Barbara weren’t there, or b) their stones weren’t there. Instead, I found the family of Adam Isaiah, his wife Annie, and their children. Most of these stones had already been cataloged on Find-A-Grave, but you can never be sure how thorough other volunteers might have been. There was no one in the office the day we stopped by. I may have to visit during the week if I’m going to have a chance of looking at the church records.

Next, we will be visiting other cemeteries in the area.