Search billions of records on

September Newsletter

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor

          Newsletter Archives   |  E-mail                    

Hunting Ancestors in Cemeteries - by Carol Sanderson

        There comes a time for all of us to visit a cemetery where some of our ancestors are buried. Perhaps we were there a few times when relatives were buried. At that time you didn't pay much attention to the family plot or the new plot whichever it was. I know I have done that and I was an adult at the time.

        Now, we néed to go look at some of these places. Do we know the location of the family plot? If not we should contact the cemetery caretakers or the town for the location unless you want to spend time hunting. Once you know the location of the cemetery and also the location of the plot you are all set to go. But wait. What do you want to take with you?

Camera -

        When you find your ancestors grave, you most certainly want to take a photograph of it. I also take photographs of the headstones / footstones as well as the larger marker for that plot. It is also a good idea to take pictures of the stones in the plots near your ancestors even if the names are none that you recognize. They may be family that you didn't know or recognize. These photographs, will if they come out well, show you the ancestors name, dates of birth, definitely death date and sometimes there is other information. Be sure to look at the cemetery records as they may have more information than the gravestones. Taking pictures of the newer stones isn't as difficult as taking those of older stones. Time of day and the light of the day will make a difference in the quality of picture. It is a good idea to take the picture as an angle as the lettering will show up better. One person who likes to take pictures of old gravestones sets his camera on the ground angled up. He also uses a mask on the flash for less reflection.

Other Items -

        It would also be a good thing to take a trimmer to remove any grass that is growing over, or close to the gravestone. A trowel might also come in handy. Other things would be a soft brush for brushing debris away from the inscription, paper and chalk for stone rubbings if you want. Someone told me recently that pellon (fabric) could be used with the large crayons that are made for young children for rubbings also. The pellon doesn't stretch ot tear so that makes it better than paper. Also take some reflective material that you can arrange to direct more light on the inscription. Some people would say take something that you can spray on and wipe off so that the inscription is enhanced. If you are inclined to do that please consult with the cemetery as to what they will allow or better yet consult someone who is a professional in cleaning gravestones about what to use that would not be harmful to the gravestones.

        If the cemetery is still being used for current burials is should be relatively well kept. What if the cemetery has been closed for burials? It isn't as apt to be mowed and care taken of the graves.

        I visited one in upper New York State some years ago. We were looking for my husband's great grandfather. We had no idea as to where he was buried other than the town. Sure, go to the town offices. In this case we couldn't as we were there on a whim of mine and it was a long holiday weekend. There were cousins, albeit distant, in that town and we called one and then went to visit for a short time. I asked if he knew where great grandfather was buried. He didn't know. "Well are there any cemeteries that are not in use today?" "Yes there is one." "When was it closed, do you know." "It was closed in 1914." Great grandfather died in that year. I felt that was where he was buried as our daughter had spent all of one day looking for him in all the other cemeteries in town. I asked for and received directions to it.

        After a short while we thanked this man and were on our way to find this place. The directions were good and we found it with no difficulty. Upon entering, we looked around. There were lots of graves of people from this family. We found great grandfather and took pictures of the stones. One was of a daughter who died at the age of two. None of us had ever known that they had more than the one husband's grandfather. You never know what you will find. I was so thankful that I had put my camera in the car that day. A digital camera, if you have one is good to use, also.

        I had spent months pouring over notes from an aunt and putting this family together. I started looking around at stones of others of this family. I wandered and at one end of the cemetery there were some plots that were overgrown. The stones there were of slate and were much older than others in the other section. I was about to turn away when I actually stumbled and found a group of three stones. One still upright and the others toppled with grass growing up around and over them. The name on one was the same family name that we had been looking at in the newer section. Who was it? I sat on the grass and started to pull the grass next to one of the toppled ones. It would have been easier if I had some grass trimmers or even scissors with me and also a trowel or something with which to dig. I used my fingers to gently remove some of what had grown on the stone itself...a soft brush would have helped. Gradually I could see some of the inscription. I brushed with my fingers and the lettering appeared. This was the gravesite of great great grandfather, his wife and another lady. I recognized all the names. The other woman was the mother of a cousin who had come to that part of the state when it was opened up to settlers.

        I took pictures of all three stones at different angles. I also had paper and pencil and wrote what I saw and felt of the letters on the stones under my fingers...just like reading Braille.

        I have learned from that experience and when I go with photographing old gravestones in mind, I make sure that I have proper tools with me. I hope this will give you an idea as to what you may want with you.

Striking it Rich - by Charles Hansen

        The July / August 2002 issue of Heritage Quest magazine has an interesting article on the estate of Pelham Humphries of Texas that was supposedly established in the 1830s in Texas. The land he had claim on was one of the biggest oil fields in Texas, so the estate should be worth about $300 BILLION by now. Numbers this large get the attention of everyone with the surname Humphries and they want to see if they have a Pelham Humphries in their family. The article is very long so this is my condensed version of the article, as it appeared in Heritage Quest Magazine:  Striking it Rich: The Pelham Humphries Story - A Case Study in Genealogy Fraud - by James W. Petty, AG, CG.*

        On September 27, 1834 a man named Humphries stepped into the land office at San Augustine and filed a claim for a league and labor of land (a league of land was 4,428 acres and a labor of land is 177.1 acres). He signed with a mark, but it was recorded as "Pelham Humphries". Land was surveyed and 5 months later on February 14, 1835 a league of land was granted to "Pelham Humphries". Sixty-six years later a well was sunk on this league of land and the first Texas gusher was struck. Soon that league was covered with wells and the rush was on to prove that Pelham was related to all the Humphries families in the south.

        People brought in bibles showing Pelham as an uncle, or great uncle, etc. They had census records from 1820 and 1830 showing a male of the correct age to be Pelham, but the name Pelham never showed in any census records. They argued he was not old enough to be listed as head of a household, and by the time he was old enough he was in Texas claiming the land and that he died before the next census. The author then goes into a few pages on checking out the records of the people claiming they are related to Pelham. However, the only place "Pelham" shows is on this original 1834 document. The original also had the name William written over Pelham. People argued that was just a mistake and surely that would have been noticed before the land was surveyed. The one problem with all this is there is no record anywhere with the name Pelham Humphries other than the land record. No marriage, no birth, no probate and as I said before no census record.

        The author was able to document a Joseph Humphries coming to Texas in 1823 with his family including a son William. A William Umphries [sic] filed a Certificate of Character was required of a land grant before a judge. Pelham had filed none. On October 6, 1835 William Humphries filed an appeal to the court saying that the name Pelham had been inserted during the survey and it should have been William. William English as an agent for William Umphries [sic] filed it. The Pelham Humphries supporters then say that is where the fraud starts, because on February 14, 1836 William Humphries sells his entire claim to William English. Polly Humphries, wife of William, filed a deposition stating she approved of the sale.

        What does this show? Most genealogists would quickly see that the records show there was no "Pelham". That William was the owner of the league of land and he sold it years before any oil was found there, but the chance to "Strike it Rich" brought out a lot of people willing to forge bible records, and try to prove that their "Uncle Pelham" had been swindled out of his land. Then every 25 or 30 years after the first gusher a new group of Humphries is confronted with the same story, you may be an heir of Pelham Humphries and for a few dollars we will help you prove it.

        This kind of reminds me of is some of the genealogies you can find on the Internet today. Although there is proof that part of or all of these are wrong, they get spread around the Internet faster than a speeding bullet. Be sure to check out the original records to see if you come to the same conclusions.

* Original article:  Heritage Quest Magazine -
Striking it Rich: The Pelham Humphries Story - A Case Study in Genealogy Fraud - by James W. Petty, AG, CG.

Webmaster's note:  11/20/2008 - The information (in bold print) added at the request of Mr. Hansen, to cite the Author of the original article, his professional creditation and the publication in which it appeared.

||— Contact GHLL —||— Policy Statements —||— Site Map —||
Go to: Go to: Archive Gateway | GHLL Home

May 2, 2002— Aug, 13, 2012 = 1,517,267 visitors.

New Visitors:
    Free Web Counter    since Aug 14, 2012

Free Counters