Sunday, August 25, 2013

Finding Family

Friday was a different kind of road trip for me and my wife as I took her to visit some of my family members whom she had never met before. In fact, I had never been there either as my family isn’t one that visits cemeteries. As I had no idea of where we were going it was time to call for backup so I had my mom join us for the four hour trip that took us to Roxborough (Philadelphia), Lafayette Hill, and Conshohocken.

None of the locations are very far from our apartment but each stop was a completely different world in comparison to our previous excursions. Getting to the different places was a breeze as my mom knew exactly where to go but, after that, the specific locations of the graves had been lost in the twenty to forty years since her last visit. It made for an interesting afternoon of searching but that wasn’t what held us up and took the most time.

Our first stop was to Leverington Cemetery on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. No longer active, graves there date back to the mid 1700’s and serve as a microcosm of the history of Philadelphia and, in broader terms, the evolution of our country. Unfortunately, curiosity and a sense of history were not the dominant feelings that washed over us as we entered through the old iron gate. Instead I was overwhelmed by shocked sadness as I guided the car along the ruts that ran down the middle and looked out the window at the broken, tipped over, and unmarked graves that litter the cemetery.

One of the few legible markers still remaining. Notice the empty spaces between headstones that shouldn't exist in a full cemetery (there are maybe one or two flush markers in this picture).
While I did come across one family marker…

We found the Uttley's... we think. The original stone had the names of John and Adah Uttley on it. we don't know when it was replaced or who had it done.

…and another potential relative (still working on the surname in our tree)…

Family plot of the Hansell family... I have traced back to the surname and this location but I have yet to locate the grave of anyone in my direct bloodline.

…we were unable to locate one of the other headstones that I know is on those grounds or any with the Wirth surname for that matter. With nearly 50% of the headstones missing, broken, sunken, tipped over, or illegible I am not surprised. As if there wasn’t enough on the genealogical research list I am now going to have to see who owns / runs the cemetery (the church no longer does), find the burial records, and get in touch with both the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (many of the unkempt graves are those of Masons) as well as the Philadelphia Police Department to see if they are willing to mark my family’s grave (John Uttley was a Philadelphia Police Officer in Roxborough (Ward 5)). I guess we will just have to see what happens.

After an exhaustive search for headstones no longer at Leverington we made our way to Barren Hill Cemetery in Lafayette Hill. Many of the family names found in Leverington can also be found in Barren Hill as, over the generations, families slowly moved further away from the city / Roxborough and into the suburbs / Lafayette Hill. Of course, there was also the fact that city cemeteries tend to become full after about 150-200 years and people need to look into alternatives.

Barren hill was a much quicker and more pleasant experience as the grounds were well maintained (just a few tilting headstones which is to be expected) and everything, at least in the section we were in, was legible. What made it exceptionally easy was that the family plot could be seen from the small, but paved, road that ran through the middle.

This is the view from the paved road that goes down the middle of the cemetery. Makes the family easy to find.

And on the headstone was 2 ½ generations of my mom’s family from the first born in the United States in 1868 after the family came over from Ireland (along with his wife and her brother)…

This is the first generation McKannan to be born in the United States. While born under the name McKenna by the time William McKannan died the family name had been changed to McKannan (newspaper articles mentioning him during his time with the Pennsylvania Railroad also refer to him as McKannan).

…to my great grandfather along with his two wives (his first wife died when she was 30) along with the unused plots (marked but not updated since his death in 1981) for my grandfather and his brother (unfortunately his sisters are in the family plot as they passed away when they were three and four years old). As you can see there are many different families represented and many different people listed on both sides of the headstone.

William Jacob McKannan was buried along side both of his wive and his two daughters. My grandfather, William Reuben, and his brother, Robert, were etched on the stone but never joined their parents in the cemetery.

From Lafayette Hill we made our way to Gulph Christian Cemetery in Conshohocken. Here we found two generations of my dad’s family. Again, this is a cemetery that is very easy to get to and our family plots are actually visible from the main road if you know where to look.

The Hallman headstones are further away than the Teaford graves but can still be seen from the road. Makes it really easy to visit if you know where to look.

Even being so close this was still my first time to the cemetery. These graves represent my family’s move up from Virginia and into Pennsylvania as both my grandparents and great grandparents are buried there.

I never had the chance to get to know my grandparents but that doesn't mean I can't still visit them. My grandfather is the reason why the family is in Pennsylvania. His parents are buried beside him along with his sister who passed away from cancer when she was a teenager.

It is also the only marked veteran’s grave that we came across during our afternoon travels as my great grandfather’s headstone marks his participation in World War I.

John Lewis Hallman served, along with his brother, in World War I. The flag that was in the holder was only briefly removed so that this picture was taken and it was immediately put back. The family is in the process of getting the same holder put on my grandfather's headstone.

I specifically used the word marked because my uncle is working on getting a flag holder on my grandfather’s headstone to mark his service in World War II. Graves previously found, and missing, also need to be marked in such a fashion.

In the end, it was a day of mixed emotions. I am glad that I was finally able to go visit these cemeteries for the first time but I am also left with a great sadness in the state of Leverington and in the fact that I have not previously gone out and looked for my relatives. At least now I know what needs to be done and I am motivated to do all I can to preserve my family’s history and the memory of those who should still be honored even by those of us who are a part of a generation who never knew them in life.

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