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Why, you ask, is such an ordinary headstone her “Headstone of the Week?”  You’ve seen hundreds just like it, and it is a common shape and just a plain old headstone, after all.

Well!  The thing that makes this my headstone of the week, is the fact that I stumbled across it accidentally while I was looking for another, and it happens to be my 6th great grandmother!  Not only is it my 6th great grandmother, but a grandson of hers that I never knew existed is buried with her!

I had been to this cemetery behind Elizabethtown’s Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on numerous occasions but had never seen this, until I started studying the ones that are very hard to read!  The ones written in German and worn from years and years of weather. . . .those are the ones I concentrated on this visit.

I cannot translate her information, word for word, but it basically says:

In Memory of Magadalena Axer
Wife of Michael Axer, Sr.
Died June 16, 1816

The bottom part of the stone gave me all kinds of information!

Michael Axer Smith departed this life on the
29th day of January AD 1832
Aged 8 months and 27 days

This three line blurb gave me another branch of the family. What this told me was:

  • Conrad Smith who married a Catharine Axer, was indeed, a member of my family.  I had found information on a marriage for the couple years before but wasn’t sure which “Catharine Axer” it referred to.
  • The stone also told me that Conrad and Catharine had a child that didn’t live to maturity and
  • the parents were either unprepared for a burial of one so young, or they couldn’t afford a stone for their only child.

Magdalena had never known this grandson and now he was her’s for eternity, and that is why Magdalena Wilhelm Axer’s headstone is my

Headstone of the Week for Week #7


Framed and on the wall in my office is a DAR application that my Grandmother filled out many, many years ago. She was going to join the DAR but never got around to it. At one point she tore the application in half, but my father rescued it and had it framed in the 1970’s. It was passed on to me in the hopes that I would join. I never have.

The application states that our ancestor,

  • Joseph Britton enlisted in Limerick Township, Montgomery Co., Pa. in the spring of 1776 in Capt. Caleb North’s Co, in Col. Anthony Wayne’s Pa Reg. and served until the spring of 1777. 
  • Lieutenant Jos. Briton appears on the rolls of returned Officers of Malitia (sic) in the County Of Philadelphia Pa. Tues July 3, 1792 (Executive minutes 1790 & 1817 Pa. Archives. Vol IV, 6th Series, page 114) 
  • Joseph Britton applied for liberty to raise a company of minute men; which was granted Oct. 9, 1775 (American Archives, 4th Series, Vol. IV, page 1729
  • Joseph Britton was a Captain in Col. Gist’s Pa. Reg. 1778. He applied for a pension May 20, 1818 at which time he was 63 years old and a resident of Union Co., Pa.
 There are only two sentences on that application that are factual; the first one and the last one. He did serve, but not as a Captain or Lieutenant, but a mere Private. You see, Joseph Britton was illiterate. He signed his own will with an “X“. This is not to say that he is not a hero, because he is. Any foot soldier who states under oath that “After being enlisted and taken to Ticontoraga (sic) being there in the winter laying in tents where he had his feet frosted and got criplet(sic)*” is a hero in my book, be it my ancestor or yours!

Joseph Britton’s headstone can be found in Grubbs Churchyard, Port Trevorton, Snyder County, Pennsylvania. There is no doubt that Joseph was one of the earliest settler’s in this area of Snyder County. The question as to “when” is up for grabs, however.

Joseph married Hannah Frane on Christmas Day, 1790 in Montgomery County. At some undetermined point he left that area and settled in Snyder County.

According to his service record, he enlisted in Limerick Township, Montgomery County in 1776. Another reference lists earliest settlers in the area and states: “. . . Then Henry Rine about 1763, Joseph Britian, Adam Nerhood, Frederick Kreitzer, Peter Lahr, who came among the earlier pioners into this section.**” It is uncomprehensible that Joseph would settle in Snyder County, and then travel to Montgomery County to enlist. More logical would be he settled in this county with his young family after he completed his service to our new country, since he did not purchase his property until 28 April 1812, the date the property was conveyed to him by Andrew and Susanna Mittour.

Regardless of when he settled in the area, he was a farmer, as were most in the area during that period, and a father of two girls. His oldest daughter, Mary, was my ancestor. By the end of 1820 he was disabled, almost penniless and owed over $200. He states”I have no family except my wife, Hannah aged about 50 years, and I am now by old age and bodily infirmities unable to support myself without the assistance from my country.” He had to itemize exactly what he owned:

  • 1 piece of land about 70 acres of Hill land valued at 3 per acre
  • 1 bed and bedstead
  • 1 Table and two potts
  • 1/2 Dozen of knives & forks 1/2 dozen of Delf plates
  • 3 Dishes Earthen
  • 1 Stove
  • 2 Horses old
  • Horse  Geers
  • 2 Cows
  • 2 Calves
  • 1 Plough and Harrow
  • 1 Old Wagon
  • 4 small Hogs
By 1827 he was no longer “to pursue his occupation being afflicted with rheumatism and nearly blind.” He died three short years later on 26 September 1830 and is buried in the Graveyard of the Church he attended. When my grandmother filled out that error filled application his headstone said “He was a Revoluntionary War Soldier” Although a factual statement, the stone that marks his passage no longer says that. When the headstone was replaced is not known.
What is known is that Joseph Britton was a true patriot and fought for the liberties we enjoy today. For that reason, I’ve decided his should be
Linda’s Headstone of the Week; Week #6
*30 May 1818, Court of Common Pleas, Union County, Pennsylvania, Associate Judge, J. Bolander
**”The History of Grubb’s Church,” Snyder County Historical Society, 11 August 1948,

The further back I get in my family’s history, the harder it gets to find a headstone for an ancestor. This week I had a total of two to choose from for my headstone of the week. My 4th great grandfather, Samuel Leader is my choice this week.

Union Meeting House, Marietta, Pennsylvania

As you enter Marietta you see it. The Old Union Meeting House, a large brick building, surrounded by aging headstones, some you can read, some you can barely read and some you can’t read at all. And then there are those that are no longer where they once stood tall and proud. Samuel Leader’s is among those in the last category, with one exception. His is in pieces, some remain and other pieces have either vanished or are buried under sod, leaves, or whatever it is that blows through a cemetery, year after year, after year.

The person in the spotlight is the easiest person to research, but information on an ancestor who just gets by day to day, gets harder to find the further back you go. Samuel falls into the second category.

Samuel was the 1st of at least 9 children born to Ludwick (Lewis) Leader and his 1st wife, probably Catharine Miller. He was born the same year our country was, in York County, Pennsylvania. Since his father and family moved from York County to that new developing area of Marietta on the other side of the Susquehanna River by 1804, it is assumed that Samuel followed him shortly thereafter. He kept below the radar up until 1811 when he was listed as a Joiner (carpenter) on tax lists. The fact that he was a carpenter is no surprise since there were many Lumber Mills in Marietta. He and his wife, Susannah Bischoff (Bishop), had three children, his eldest and only daughter would become my ancestor. He signed petitions, was active in Marietta affairs and bought a house and then lost the house in foreclosure. 1839 is the first year he does not appear on the Tax Lists. This is Samuel’s life in a nutshell, that dash on a headstone between the dates . . . . which brings us back to those broken pieces of his headstone.

Next to the fence, far from Samuel’s original burial site is a neatly stacked pile of broken pieces of stones that once marked the passage of a life. I believe Samuel’s headstone to be in this pile, and I have several reasons why.

  • 1820 Census shows Samuel Leader in Marietta with one male 45 and over
  • 1830 Census shows Samuel Leader in Marietta with one male 40 -50.
  • When the Cemetery was transcribed in the 1950’s there was a broken stone transcribed right after Lewis and Sarah Leader.  It showed a  person aged 63 yrs, d. 4 ? 1839.  
  • Newspaper article found in “Marietta Scrapbook” at Lancaster County Historical Society, lists Samuel as eldest son of Lewis.
  • Bible in my possession belonging to Samuel’s widow, Susannah has a date of April 15, 1839.  Susannah was illiterate and had no reason for a Bible. (my theory is it was given to Susannah at Samuel’s funeral.)
  • 1839 is the first tax year Samuel does NOT appear on the tax list for Marietta Borough.  (falls right into line with the above Bible and headstone date)
  • Susannah purchases a home in a neighboring town taking possession in her name only in 1840.
Those stones are way too heavy for me to move, and Jim said he do almost anything in the world for me, but moving heavy pieces of rock is not one of those. Since I sincerely believe Samuel’s headstone is in that stack, I’ve decided to bestow him with the honor of being

Linda’s Headstone of the Week for Week #5

My selection for headstone of the week is Joseph Britton Carvell, my great-great-great grandfather.  He is buried in cemetery at Otterbein United Methodist Church in East Salem, Juniata County,  Pennsylvania, next to his 2nd wife, Mary Hile Carvell. Born on 1 February 1821 in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, he was the first son out of 14 children born to William Carvell and Mary Britton. He was named for his grandfather, Joseph Britton, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

When Joseph was 20 years old, he married Rebecca Mark who bore him at least 5 children, my great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Mark Carvell, being one of them. In November of 1847, Rebecca passed on to glory, leaving Joseph with 3 children under 5 years of age. It is of no surprise that he had remarried by the following September. The marriage to Mary Hyle lasted 44 years until Mary died in 1887. She had borne him at least 12 children.The picture is a copy of a copy, and therefore not a good one, but it shows the couple and shows Joseph as who he was – a hardworking man, doing his best to support his family. The work boots on his feet show he was just a working man.

Joseph and Mary Carvell lived in Thompsontown, Delaware Township in Juniata County. Delaware Township is just 29 square miles with under 2,000 residents today. During their life time the population was probably a lot less. Another researcher tells of two of his granddaughters who remember their grandfather living in a house directly off the square in Thompsontown. He made his living by making brooms and peddling them throughout the countryside. Although several things point to the couple owning property, nothing conclusive can be found, and it is doubtful the couple ever did.

My selection for Headstone of the Week is for a man I know little about. What I do know however makes me respect his values. The process of making a broom from growing, harvesting, and drying the broom straw thru the assembly on specially cut and finished wood handles and then peddling them yourself would make anyone worthy of being my choice for

Linda’s Headstone of the Week; Week #4.

In keeping with the theme (and it wasn’t really a theme, it just kinda happened) my headstone of the week belongs to one of my great-great-grandfathers. Picking just one was the hard thing this week! I had a couple of great candidates to pick from! Which one should I pick? My great grandmother’s father? He has a great story and and had an obituary a column and a half long and accomplished a lot in his short 51 year life, or would I pick her father-in-law who was a common working man, just getting by in life? Well, after a lot of thought, I picked her father-in-law, Ephraim H. Niess, and for a very good reason, as you will soon see.

Ephraim, the oldest son of John and Elizabeth Hauenstein Niess, was born October 21, 1841 in Lititz, Pennsylvania. He  died on November 25, 1915 and is buried in Harrisburg Cemetery along with his wife and 5 of his children. His very devout wife’s diary had four short words to mark his passing: “He took my husband.”

During the Civil War, Ephraim enlisted in Pennsylvania Volunteers, 122nd Regiment, Company E in August of 1862. He was 21 years old. When he mustered out in May of 1863, as a Private, he had just seen the action in Chancellorsville and experienced the horrors of war. A year later he married Catharine L. Auxer, a marriage that lasted over 50 years and produced 10 children, 4 of which lived to adulthood.

Ephraim H. and Catharine L. Auxer Niess

Harrisburg City Directory lists his occupation as Laborer, Bricklayer, Furnace Maker, Furnace Builder, Fireman and finally, Foreman. Want to know what he really did for a living?

Each day he walked to his job at Bailey Iron Works, just across the tracks from his home. Since the huge brick furnaces were essential to their operation, letting a furnace cool down to change bricks that needed replacement was not an option.  Somebody had to put on 6 layers of clothing and go into that furnace to change the bricks, and that somebody was my great-great grandfather. Yet he kept going to work, day in and day out. He had a job, a commitment and an obligation.

Life was not easy for the family. Catharine’s diary tells of past due bills, family deaths, illnesses, and depression.

He had no fancy education, just the bare minimum to get by, but his children were all educated. His daughter got piano lessons along with her schooling and his son got a University education before furthering himself with a law degree.

A man’s position in life, be it owner of a business or the lowest paid worker is not the total of his worth. His experiences, his values, principles and stick-to-itness speak more of who he is than piles of money and/or degrees attached to his name.

My great-great grandfather went thru Hell and back, from Chancellorsville to the furnaces at Bailey Iron Works, but he didn’t give up. He raised a successful family, celebrated his 50th anniversary with the bride of his youth, and kept going into that furnace, changing those bricks, day after day after day.

. . . and that is why I selected his headstone for

Linda’s Headstone of the Week for Week #3

Finding a candidate for my “Headstone of the Week” isn’t hard for me. I have literally thousands of headstone pictures in my database. Narrowing it down to just one is what is hard! This week, I decided on another Grandfather ~ a Great-Grandfather, this time!William Adolphus George von Breyman was born in Harburg, Hanover, Germany in 1835 and died in Cortina, Colusa County, California in 1901. He is buried in a cemetery in the small town of Arbuckle, California.

Headstones tell a part of the story, a very small part! By the time my great-grandfather was 15 years old, he was in California. Family legend has it that his older sisters got him employed on a ship that was sailing to California where he jumped ship in San Francisco. For a short while he panned for gold, as many did, and then decided the real way to make money was to pack in supplies and sell them to the gold seekers. He became a naturalized citizen in 1859. References have been found to him being a packer, farmer, vet surgeon, postmaster and at one time even co-owned a Fence Company in Sacramento. He spoke his native German in addition to English and Spanish and could write in each language, as well.

In 1854 when he was in this country for about 4 years, Wilhemine Sophia “Minnie” Goda was born in New York. Their paths crossed in California and in 1877 they would marry and become the parents of 10 children, with the 9th one being my grandmother, Bertha Emma. She was six years old when her father died at the young age of 66.

With many thanks to his children and their children, his story has been preserved. His eldest son was a prolific letter writer. Copies of his letters with tales of W.A.G. von Breyman’s values, work ethic and exploits have been shared with me. My great-grandfather’s diary, written in English and at times, Spanish, has also been shared. Life offered him many opportunites and he grabbed them as he passed thru.

That is why his headstone is my choice for Headstone of the Week #2.

Since we visited Arlington National Cemetery for Christmas, my first headstone of the week is one I specifically went to first ~ that of my grandfather. Interestingly enough, I knew exactly where it was, even though it had been a number of years since I’d been there. (over 10 to be exact!)William Francis Sherman, II (according to him) is buried in Section 12, Site #1415, within view of the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier.When I got to the grave, I wondered about the dip in the ground and what appeared to be dead grass around it, until it dawned on me about all the recent news stories about errors in burials in that cemetery. If the grave falls behind the headstone, the one reinterred was not my grandfather, but the veteran who’s headstone is in front of his. It was hard to photograph what the naked eye saw, but I tried.

As I stood at my Grandfather’s final resting place, I asked him “Who are you??” He had told my father that he had lied about his age to join the service because he was too young to enlist but doubtful that was the reason. I think he also lied about his name. He has entered several different dates of birth on documents I have found, different birthplaces and now my brother’s DNA does NOT match any other Sherman on record! The closest match we can find is to the Ziegler family and that is within 5 generations!

He is my very own grandfather, and my very own block wall!  Since my grandparents got a divorce the family never spoke of him. His death certificate information was not factual since it was completed with information he had furnished his family. And you would think that the Veterans Department would have a great file on this man and they probably did . . . until that dreaded fire in St. Louis.

This man took his secrets to the grave with him and I wish he’d tell me just a couple of them . . .

It was something we had wanted to see for a number of years – beautiful green wreaths, each with a large red bow, decorating row after row of headstones turned white with the passing of time. Christmas Day, 2011 was the perfect time to do it!From the General of the Armies of the United States, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to a Chief Warrant Officer, Thomas W. O’Connor, they had wreaths.Now, that is not to say that all 300,000 + headstones had wreaths, because they didn’t. The section that my grandfather is in didn’t get them this year, but I’m sure it did in years past.The sections with recent burials were covered with wreaths and flowers. Out of respect for the families of these heroes, I did not take pictures or even go into the areas. There were too many grieving family members and this was not the time to intrude upon their privacy. Our hearts ached for them, fathers comforting mothers and young widows sitting silently at the graveside of their lost love.
Of course the Unknown soldiers from each war (World War I, World War II, and Korea) had a wreath. There was also a wreath placed on the Vietnam space, now empty because the unknown who had been interred there had been identified.

In 1998 when 1Lt Michael Joseph Blassie had been identified by that new science, DNA testing, his remains had been claimed by his family to be reinterred in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The spot reserved for an Unknown from the Vietnam era is now marked with a marble slab and the words “Honoring and Keeping the Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.” If you are making a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, you must, and I repeat, you must, see the Changing of the Guards! These men are disciplined and are dedicated to their mission. Before you see the ceremony, however, you should read what these men do to prepare for their duty shift. They each take their job seriously and have gone through rigorous training just to qualify for a place in the Honor Guard. The picture shows the Relief Commander inspecting the Honor Guard’s weapon. At this point he has already inspected his dress uniform, looking him up and down, front and back. He is now inspecting the weapon, running his white glove over the whole thing. This is an impressive thing to watch.

Each Honor Guard serves a one hour shift, walking 21 paces each way, turning on the 21st step to face the Tomb for 21 seconds, then turns to face the other way, changes his weapon to the right shoulder, waits for another 21 seconds and then repeats the process. The 21 steps is the same as the 21 gun salute, the highest honor given in the military. The Guard does this without changing his expression for the entire hour!

The man on the inside is the new guard, the man in the middle the man he is replacing and the only man with his rank showing is the Relief Commander. At the end of the ceremony, the replacement starts his 21 step walk and the Relief Comander and the man he is replacing step off with him. What you see above is the point where the two leave him and he takes over his duties.
As we were getting ready to leave the Relief Commander appeared and announced there would be a Wreath Laying Ceremony and there would be silence. At that the Honor Guard marched out of the Memorial Amphitheater and lined up for the ceremony. To conclude the short ceremony a Bugler played the traditional Taps and the Honor Guard left in the same perfect, rigid order in which they had entered. The additional wreath was placed directly in front of the other wreaths.This was not the end of our day, but was probably the highlight of our day. Seeing not only one, but two ceremonies honoring those who have sacrificed so much was definitely moving and something we were glad we had the opportunity to witness.

It was our Christmas Blessing.

Making New Year’s resolution seems to be a tradition many of us follow. Breaking New Year’s resolutions seems to be another tradition! Will this year be different? I hope so since I have several I’d like to make. My first resolution involves my blogging.

Several years ago I had a “Headstone of the Week” blog, and I had fun doing it. I made it all the way to week #46 before something happened and I did not complete the year. I disappointed myself, and hopefully a few followers. This year I resolve to make it through the end of the year and post all 52 blogs!

Perhaps putting it in print will help me follow through with this resolution! 

Yes, we did. We visited three different United States Presidents’ Grave sites for Christmas, 2011!  First stop was to our 16th President, James Buchanan’s grave in Woodward Hill Cemetery, right here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Woodward Hill was once a beautiful cemetery, but as the city grew, the area it is in became surrounded by “less than desirable” housing and the cemetery fell into disrepair. We were disappointed that there wasn’t even a Christmas Wreath honoring this former President. His home is decorated beautifully, his final resting place isn’t. (To be fair, James Buchanan’s home is maintained by a completely different organization than the cemetery is, and they aren’t responsible for what happens in the cemetery!)The second President we visited was our 27th President, William Howard Taft. He was so admired by Theodore Roosevelt that he had been “hand picked” to be his successor as President, and it’s easy to see why since he wasn’t only our President, but he was also, United States Secretary of War, Governor of the Philippines and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

. . . and of course if you’re visiting Presidents and you’re visiting Arlington National Cemetery, you must visit the Eternal Flame and JFK’s Memorial. Since we had not been there for years, we stopped by to pay our respect to our 35th President and his family.This was probably one of the most popular sites in the cemetery, with people ignoring “Authorized Vehicles Only” signs to drive right to it. They also ignored this sign, and any others they could find.The site for this President sits right under the Arlington House, former residence of Robert E. Lee. The Kennedy site sits land managed by the Army, which at the time of Kennedy’s death, controlled Arlington Cemetery and close to the land the Arlington House sits on, which was controlled by the National Park Service.
This was just part of our Christmas journey to Washington D.C., but a part that will be forever etched in our hearts and mind.