Cemetery Records: Episode 207 <<

Beth’s Story: Grave Matters

Three years ago, just after she started her family history research, Beth Uyehara decided to take her first genealogical field trip. She headed to Pennsylvania, armed with optimism and what turned out to be a remarkable streak of beginner’s luck.

Her journey began in Schuylkill County, where she managed to locate her great-grandfather’s grave and accidentally stumbled onto some valuable family papers in the local courthouse. To learn more about this first unexpected find, please see Beth’s story in In Search of Our Ancestors

From there, she headed west a few hundred miles to research another line. At the Clearfield County Historical Society, Beth learned where another great-grandfather was likely to be buried. When she found his grave, his old, marble headstone was leaning at a dangerous angle, ready to topple. So in addition to buying flowers, she called a local monument company and arranged for the stone to be repaired and straightened.

She was positive that her great-grandfather had not lived long enough after immigrating to apply for citizenship, but on her way out of town she stopped at the courthouse anyway. Beth asked the woman at the counter about 1870s naturalization records. She pulled out a little index box, and there was his name. The woman found his file, and inside was not only his final certificate of citizenship, but also his own personal copy of the Declaration of Intention. He must have left it behind at his swearing-in as a citizen. Since he had died just 12 days after becoming a citizen, he had never returned to pick it up – and there it sat for 120 years. “This belonged to him,” the clerk said handing it to Beth. “We have our own copy. Why don’t you keep it?”

As Beth and the woman examined the file together, the woman gave a little gasp. “Good heavens,” she said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s signature.” Her ancestor had been the character witness for Beth’s ancestor when he applied for citizenship, so they had obviously been friends. The two stared at each other, then hugged and exchanged family information and addresses. The genealogical kicker to all this is that the certificate included the great-grandfather’s date of immigration and port of entry, which Beth had not known before.

When she left the courthouse, she headed 30 miles back to the cemetery, instead of to the turnpike. Feeling slightly foolish, she patted the wobbly old stone and whispered, “Hey, I just met your old pal Richard’s great-granddaughter. And I found the Declaration you left behind. I’m going to frame it and pass it along to future generations.” And she added as she left, “Thanks!”

Beth was especially moved to have found the final resting place of this immigrant ancestor because he had all but been forgotten as his family moved on and made its way in the New World. She was delighted to be able to resurrect his memory through his cemetery and naturalization records. She has a sneaking suspicion that the flowers helped in her search!