Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Have You Visited an Ancestral Town?

In this week's installment of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver asks us to comment on some of our genealogical travels.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music), is:

(1) Have you ever visited one of your ancestral towns?  If so, tell us the town, where it is, when you went, and who your ancestors are from that town.

(2) Share your experience with us in a blog post of your own, a comment on this blog post, or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a comment on this post to lead us to your story.

I have visited more than one of my ancestral towns, but the one I spent the most time exploring is Mt. Holly (and surrounding area), New Jersey.  It is in Burlington County, not far from Philadelphia.

I went there in 2005 on a side trip to the Bahamas (long story).  My paternal grandfather was born in Mount Holly in 1903, and my paternal grandmother was born nearby in 1893.  Both of their families had long-established roots in the area dating back decades, if not centuries.

One of the main reasons I visited Mount Holly was to try to find my great-grandfather's grave and see if he had a tombstone.  My grandfather's sister Betty wanted to know if her father had a stone, and if not we were going to get one for him.

I learned from Elmer's death certificate that he was buried in Brotherhood Cemetery, which technically is not in Mount Holly proper.  It's that small red circle just to the west of the Mount Holly city line in the map above.

When I visited the cemetery, I discovered it was fairly small, so I thought it wouldn't be difficult to find the grave.  Boy, was I wrong.  I walked up and down every row at least three times and couldn't find him.  I knew from having spoken to the cemetery sexton before leaving for my trip that he was unavailable during the day, so I tried to figure out who else might be able to help me.

The only place I could think of that might have knowledge of the layout of the cemetery was the funeral home which had taken care of Elmer's burial in 1918 and which was still in business (at the time it was the second-oldest family-owned funeral home in the state, although I don't know if that is still true today).  So I called the Perinchief Funeral Home and explained my predicament.  I was totally surprised when the owner and his son (both Perinchiefs, of course) offered to come out to the cemetery to help me look!

And that they did.  The three of us walked through the cemetery, up and down and across, and none of us could find Elmer.  I thanked them very much for making the effort and waited until that evening to call Mr. Szelc, the sexton.  I explained the two searches undertaken that day and our singular lack of success.  He told me to go back to the cemetery in the morning and that he would mark Elmer's grave with a small orange flag.

The next morning I dutifully returned to Brotherhood and walked up and down the rows yet again.  Even with Mr. Szelc's instructions, I almost missed the (very) small orange flag he had placed.  Once I found it, I realized why even the three of us searching the day before had missed the stone.  It was a very small half-circle made of marble, and it had heavily eroded in the intervening almost 90 years.  Even with the flag next to it, I could barely discern the name "SELLERS" on the stone.

So the good news was that I could tell my grand-aunt that yes, her father did have a tombstone.  When she heard about the condition, she wanted to have a replacement made.  I thought that would be easy to accomplish, as Mr. Szelc, along with being the cemetery sexton, was also a stonecutter (nice cross-over business).  Surprisingly, I could never get Mr. Szelc to return my calls after that, and we were unable to have a new stone made before my aunt passed away (and in fact I still haven't had the stone replaced).

The other important thing I did while visiting around Mount Holly was find the house in which my grandmother was born, in Masonville.  My father had visited some years earlier while traveling with my stepmother and told other family members about the sign over the door noting the date of the home's original deed, but somehow (!) he had neglected to take a photograph of the house for the rest of us (even though he's spent most of his life taking photos).  I made sure to take care of that omission on my trip.


  1. That was quite a cemetery adventure. I've had a couple like that when my husband wanted to give up and leave, but I refused to go until I found who I came looking for. And I did! Aren't visits to the ancestral homes fun?

    1. Never give up! Genealogists are stubborn that way. :) I agree, ancestral visits are great.

  2. This post took part in the July 2021 Genealogy Blog Party theme of "Research Trip!"


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