What to Do with Unclaimed Cremains

Guest blog by Cris Nagla, posted with her permission. Cris and her partner, Dennis Allen, are well known genealogists in the Midwest. They also manage Avon Cemetery in Polk County, Iowa and host a website that provides funeral home and cemetery records, www.gentreasures.com
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Have you ever wondered what happens to unclaimed cremains?  It is sad that families do not claim the cremation of their loved ones.  As child, parent and grandparent how can you not claim your deceased love one?  This just boggles our minds.  We would do anything in our power to make sure our loved ones were taken care of.   Here is a story that will tug at your heart strings.
          On Tuesday July 10, 2018 we were contacted by a lovely lady who had a question about the cemetery.  She wanted to know if we did mass burials.  While this is not heard of very often we did know of at least one in the city of Des Moines.  She went on to tell us how she got involved with a funeral home that had a few unclaimed cremains of infants and one teenage child.  This woman and a group from her church took these unclaimed children and gave them some much needed attention.  They recorded all the information for each of them such as birth and death dates and gave each of them blankets and toys to be placed in the vault with them.  The group then handmade a pine vault for the seven cremains to be placed in.   They made sure it was waterproof, so they would be safe and snug.   After talking to her we told her to give us a few minutes and we would see what we could do to help her bury these babies.  Our first thought was to contact the trustees about donating a spot in the cemetery for them, but we then remembered a retired Des Moines Firefighter that had a bunch of spaces in our cemetery, so we contacted him to see if he was willing to donate one of his spaces for these babies.   He quickly agreed to do so.  Now our next step was to tell the trustees of the cemetery and they said it would be fine if everything was above board and in compliance with the State of Iowa rules.  With everything now in place that left our gravedigger’s fee.  So, we contacted him and tugged at his heart strings a little and told him the story and he agreed to dig the one for the babies at no charge.  Next, we called the lady back and told her everything was set up and we were good to go.  One of the local monument companies is donating a headstone for the children with their names on it.
            Now, you would think the story would stop here but of course not.  While talking to her we learned that the funeral home had additional cremains that need to find a final resting place.   So, we contacted the funeral home and inquired about the remaining cremations.  The funeral home said they had contacted the city of Des Moines about donating a spot in one of their cemeteries and they were told that they would only allow scattering of ashes.  The funeral home preferred to keep the ashes in tack.  So once again we went to the trustees and asked about donating a couple of graves in the cemetery for the remaining cremations.  They agreed to allow us to do the mass burial if all the documentation was in order.  So, we contact the funeral home and told them that we would give them two spaces to bury the remaining cremations.  All of them are going to be in a vault with their information recorded.  Both burials will be taking place sometime this Fall.
            So, a very special thank you to a group of people who took these loved ones under their wings to make sure they had a final resting place.

Reciting the Declaration of Independence…1905

“The Osage Journal,” Pawhuska, OK, reported in the July 1, 1905 edition:
In an article, “4th of July Planned,” it is noted that W.S. Samuel will
recite the Declaration of Independence from memory at 10:30 a.m.

Then in the July 8 edition of the “The Osage Journal”:
“After the invocation music by the band, the Declaration of Independence was recited by W. S. Samuel in a very acceptable manner.”

Winfield Scott Samuel (1861-1918) was a pharmacist in Pawhuska, Oklahoma in the early 1900’s.

 

Records of the Dearly Departed

Genealogical Treasures(GT) is a new website created by Cris Nagla and Dennis Allen, of Des Moines, both well known to Iowa genealogists. Cris and Dennis not only ably teach genealogy courses throughout Iowa and the Midwest states, but also manage and operate a cemetery in the Des Moines area.
 
Genealogical Treasures.com is indeed a treasure! Cemetery and funeral home records hold valuable details about the dearly departed, and their families too – family researchers should not overlook these resources. GT has digitalized thousands of records from Iowa cemeteries and funeral homes which are now available to site members to search, explore and find out more about their dearly departed kin.
 
Cemeteries and funeral home records hold far more information about the deceased than the grave marker. Files are created for each deceased person containing details of the funeral and burial arrangements, family involved and relationships, maybe a picture of the deceased, costs and who paid (organization or military perhaps), or the eulogy and the name of the minister who delivered the remarks.
 

Cemetery Records – GT contains digitalized records of cemetery files from cemeteries across Iowa and elsewhere. Cemetery records may include burial details, biographical info on the deceased, obituary, names of family members, address at death.

Funeral Home Records – digitalized records also available on GT, are similar in content to cemetery files, but also include funeral arrangements, minister, family names, possibly cause of death, where died, where to be interned and who paid the bill!

 Marriage Records – just a few for now, but like all our databases, this category will grow.  Other helpful resources – Medical terminology list, genealogical educational events,  surname list, and a monthly blog to keep you updated on new GT database additions and “breaking” news too.
 

GT databases continue to grow as more cemetery and funeral home records are digitalized and added online….so check back often! To find out more about Genealogical Treasures, the records and membership go to: https://www.GenTreasures.com .

 

 

 
 

 

Ya Gotta Know the Territory!

Your ancestors lived in and were a part of a community. They may have purchased land, attended school, voted, celebrated life events, gone to war, owned a local business, advertised in the local paper, attended church, or broke the law! And there could be a record of any one of those everyday occurrences in a life. Clues, possible records await, but as the Music Man said, “yah gotta know the territory.”

Family historians often hunt for the most obvious of life event records – birth, marriage, death – but with some knowledge of the place, the life of your ancestors could become far more complete, even colorful! A study of place, within the timeframe of your ancestor(s) life there will very likely yield new discoveries about them.

Recently,  I wrote about Eva Gillan and her siblings, who in the 1870-80’s attended Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. Eva’s parents, James and Sarah McClure Gillan, were Irish immigrants from County Antrim, arriving in Philadelphia about 1846, where they stayed about 2 years. According to James’ obit in 1907, the family migrated to Tazewell County, Illinois, “traveling by steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Pekin [Illinois].”

What no wagon train?! No, the Gillan family traveled from Philadelphia to Pekin, Illinois by waterways (this tidbit found in a county history). This is a researchable moment…was this a common mode of travel in the 1850’s? What records exist of the steamboats and river travel of the time? Maybe passenger records exist. How much would it have cost? How long did it take?

After a few years in Tazewell County, James and Sarah moved to the next county, McLean (1865). James bought a large farm of 600 acres. At that time, McLean County was a prosperous place with a sizable population, flourishing businesses and train service. In 1850, Illinois Wesleyan College was established in Bloomington, Illinois.

From my research, I found that James help establish a school in his area, gave land for a cemetery, served as a county supervisor and Justice of the Peace in McLean County. He and Sarah were literate and educated people who sent at least 5 of their 10 children through school and on to college at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State at Normal….daughters too!

How did I find out the Gillan children went to Illinois Wesleyan…or that James was so active in his community? Hints in daughter, Eva’s obit about her going to Wesleyan and Illinois State. So I contacted both schools and was able to get transcripts and other details on siblings who attended. Schools have archives and I’ve found helpful historians and librarians at schools who are glad to help. The archivist at Wesleyan also sent me a copy of book about the history of not only Wesleyan, but the development of McLean County.

Getting to know McLean County involved contacting the area libraries, courthouses, exploring county history books and genealogy journals and newspapers in the area. The local courthouse, too, yielded land records, estate and death records. I was able to find Gillan relatives and descendants of James or his siblings still living in the area, leading to a fruitful exchange of family research and adding cousins too. There was even a story of James’ horses running off with his buggy in the local press!

James Gillan (wife, Sarah died 1880) lived in Martin township, McLean County from 1865 till his death in 1907. It was a time of great changes in that county and “knowing more about the territory” certainly led to finding more about my ancestors’ lives and led to the records that told their stories.

Keeping History Alive

In 1976, Alex Haley’s book, Roots, was an instant best seller. In 1977, Roots, became a TV miniseries that broke records for viewership. It was the compelling story of Kunta Kinte, a man captured in Ghana, enslaved and brought to the United States. Kunta Kinte never forgot his African family and heritage, proudly and passionately passing on his ancestor’s names and stories.

Roots and Kunta Kinte’s story awakened viewers curiosity and a desire to know about one’s own family and history. Genealogy, once a primarily scholarly pursuit, was now the “hobby” of people everywhere. In the 10-15 years following Roots, I and many thousands of Americans haunted the libraries, courthouses, archives, cemeteries and other repositories of family and historical data. We used the postal system to request records and kept findings on paper and filed our research in binders and filing cabinets.

Many libraries offered genealogy classes, provided family group and pedigree forms and help to the new wave of researchers. State and county genealogical societies emerged and grew. Existing national genealogy groups reached out to the new researchers and urged them to become members. Of course, the commercial market recognized the potential in the genealogy craze and how-to books, subscription magazines and journals sprang up, as did designer pedigree charts.

Back in those days, many family researchers were dedicated to good methodologies, accuracy and took pride in their findings. Many others were happy to find ancestors and fill in pedigree charts to take to their family reunions. Then there were many whose genealogy research fell somewhere between serious researchers and pedigree chartists.

Through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s technology and the internet were developing fast, becoming accessible to anyone. In 1983 Ancestry launched a genealogy newsletter, then a popular subscription magazine that accelerated the growth of family research enthusiasts. In 1996, Ancestry opened an online, fee based, searchable database, which was an immediate success! Other databases and informational sites quickly populated the internet with genealogy offerings – most fee based, some free.

Today genealogy is a $2 billion industry and holds 2nd place as the most popular “hobby” in the United States. But is genealogy a “hobby” or a serious research endeavor? That depends. Our national genealogical organizations have changed their message over the past few years, from “hobby” status offerings to greater emphasis on the scholarly research process, documentation and proof standards.

There are many reasons for this change of focus, not the least of which was pressure from research professionals, a question of sustainability of the “hobby” status, and market feasibility. Family researchers were showing signs of frustration, realizing they lacked the resource knowledge and research skills to compile a “real family tree.” Many wanted to “get organized” and understand how to research effectively.

As a result, we began to see a shift in programming and the marketing message resulting in emphasis on research skills, documentation, analysis of evidence and writing accurate family stories. The shift in focus also precipitated new revenue in genealogical resources.

National and state conferences now regularly headline speakers known for their expertise in research skills and methods, organization and writing classes too. The Genealogy Proof Standard and DNA are essential course offerings too. Genealogical and Public Libraries also offer ongoing programming in these subjects – classes fill quickly.

There are still varying tiers of those pursuing their family histories, but the more focused family historian is a rapidly growing segment. That segment needs the libraries, the archives and ethnic museums, court houses, cemeteries, vital records, military papers, historical venues, and technology and the internet too. Perhaps even more important is that segment is helping keep history alive.

 

Bonnie Samuel, All Rights Reserved,©2018

AncestryResearchIowa blog

 

Getting to Know Archibald Samuel

Published Boston, 1817

Published Boston, 1817

Archibald Samuel, born about 1749, is my 4th Great Grandfather. And he is my “brick wall.” My research has uncovered many facts about Archibald from the 1780’s to his death in 1832 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Archibald was a prominent part of the establishment of Caswell County in 1777, a property owner, obviously of means, a lawyer, County Commissioner, husband, father – all these life details found in deeds, books and various old documents. Even with much documented proof of his occupation and community activities,  the mystery remains as to where he was born, his parents’ names or how he is related to the other people of the Samuel surname in the county!

The search for ancestors often yields only the outline of their lives…birth, marriage, death, maybe occupation or military records too. When we happen on evidence of the person they were, their interests, beliefs, interactions, maybe sense of humor, it is rewarding indeed.

And so it was with Archibald Samuel when I discovered his purchase of a set of books in 1817. I found reference to this purchase in William S. Powell’s book,  When the Past Refused to Die, History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977, as follows:  “In 1819, seven sets of the ‘State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency‘ were purchased in Caswell County. Only fourteen subscribers throughout the state bought this twelve-volume set. Those who added this useful source book to their libraries were John Daniel, James Daniel, Fred W. Pleasants, Archibald Samuel, James Sanders, Joseph Sanders and Charles Wilson.” (p. 408)

Archibald Samuel had lived through the American Revolution and is said to have served in the Army too. He lived in an geographic area where battles were close by, most of the men of the area were patriots, many served as Officers in the military and were loyal to the cause. Archibald was also involved in the legal processes, business and development of his county. It can be assumed that Archibald Samuel was well read and as a patriot himself, an admirer of George Washington. He was no doubt delighted in purchasing, owning and reading this 12 volume set of books. Did Archibald have a library in his home in Milton, North Carolina?

I wondered if the book set, State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency, might still exist today, shelved in libraries today. Yes! Found it on “Open Library” and is available for reading in a variety of formats. WorldCat has it catalogued and it is available for inter-library loan.

Archibald bought his set of these volumes in 1819 and likely they were the second edition printed and published in 1817 “under the patronage of Congress, including confidential documents, now first published.” (1817 edition published by T.B. Watt and Sons, Boston). I can picture Archibald Samuel, sitting by his fireside with candles burning, reading his books. I wonder if he made notes in the margins….