The Old Cemetery in Morenci 2009.04.15

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

When walking through Morenci’s Old Cemetery on North Street, it doesn’t take long to comprehend a basic fact of life from the 19th century.

The tombstones show the painful reality that more than half of those buried there never made it to adulthood. Forty-three percent died before reaching their teen years.cemetery_trees.jpg

Two people listed among the 271 cemetery records lived into their 80s and 10 made it into their 70s, but disease claimed many young lives in the 1800s when childhood death was a common occurrence.

An effort by members of the county’s Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter was launched in 1939 to make an inventory of the names and dates on the Old Cemetery tombstones. A followup inventory was completed in 1996 by Mary and Walt Teeter.

“A lot of the stones from the 1930s are gone now,” Mary said, “so we went by the 1939 records.”

The Teeters’ findings are listed on the Lenawee County Genealogy website (www.geocities.com/lenaweemi) and every so often the phrase “not found” appears. Many of the old tombstones have toppled over and are no longer in place.

When Oak Grove cemetery opened in 1857, several graves were moved up the road to the new graveyard. In addition, some families chose to move remains from area farms for reburial in the new location.

“They have surprisingly good records from that cemetery,” Mary said, and they’re available on-line up through 1947.

Newer records can be read only in a printed format through the Lenawee County Family Researchers organization.

Checking records proved to be quite a challenge, Mary said, as the sandstone tombstones often sink into the soil and continue to weather away. Many are no longer legible, but genealogists have their ways of coaxing hidden details into sight.

“There are a lot of little tricks you can use,” Mary said.

For years people have used chalk rubbings, although that’s now discouraged because of effects it may have on the stone. Spraying water or vinegar onto the stone can also help, along with positioning yourself in just the right place to get the most help from sunlight.

Shaving cream can be spread onto stones to reveal the faint data, but it might come down to a careful touch.

“Sometimes you use your fingers, like Braille,” Mary said.

Names

Common names from the first half of the 19th century can complicate matters when genealogists try to sort through family relationships. There are so many occurrences of the name Sarah, Jane and Elizabeth, William, John and Charles.

On the other hand, researchers encounter plenty of names that rarely appear anymore. From Morenci’s Old Cemetery come the first names Almond, Ancy, Aurelia, Cassius, Delia, Elihu, Electa, Elmina, Gideon, Lovincy, Lunette, Philander, Philena, Philinda, Phoebe, Salome, Scoby, Theodacia and Viletta.

Many surnames are no longer known in this area, either.

“A lot of the pioneer names are gone,” Mary said. “So many families are no longer here.”

From the Beckwiths, Barkeys and Barers to the Waldens, Wesleys and Worths, many families apparently moved on by the time Morenci’s 1919 telephone book was published.

Mary receives several requests every week for assistance in tracking down relatives. She does her best to help out, first by searching through records.

“If I don’t have the records here, I go out and look for them.”

She’s been interested in genealogy for most of her life. She gained a fellow researcher when she married Walt and he was drawn into the interesting pastime.

“My mother was into genealogy and she got me into it when I was a kid,” said the West Unity native. “That was our entertainment—to go out and look at cemeteries.”

They generally are serene locations to spend a few hours, although there can be surprises such as the cemetery inside a golf course the Teeters visited when Walt searched for family members in Pennsylvania.

“The Lenawee County Family Researchers are trying to get records on-line of the entire county,” Mary said, “but only two or three townships are done. It’s a long, hard process.”

Mary knows that well from the countless hours she’s spent in cemeteries, but she sees the effort as a valuable use of time.

Genealogists quote an old Russian proverb that states, “We live as long as we are remembered.”

Mary intends to help keep those memories alive.

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