Cemeteries are the best part of a genealogist’s research

Todd’s Chapel Cemetery, located on top of a hill west of Richmond, is in a beautiful spot with many old graves. (Photo by Linda Emley)

Todd’s Chapel Cemetery, located on top of a hill west of Richmond, is in a beautiful spot with many old graves. (Photo by Linda Emley)

By Linda Emley

One of my favorite things to do on a nice sunny day is walk the cemeteries of Ray County. I’m sure this sounds strange to some, but I’m a genealogist that loves researching my family tree. There are few things more exciting than finding the grave of one of my ancestors or helping some one else locate someone from their family.

Many of my vacations have at least one cemetery visit on my list of things to do. In Hawaii we visited the famous Punch Bowl Cemetery that is located high on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor. All of my trips to Washington D.C. include a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. It’s an amazing place full of historical people who made our country great. One year, my boys and I flew to Washington state just to see the grave of George Washington Emley. It was a trip that none of us will ever forget.

My love of cemeteries goes back to my childhood when I helped my grandmother, Mildred Kell Schooler, decorate our family graves each year for Memorial Day. We had one rule, never use anything but real flowers. Her mother, Lou Kell, told her that she never wanted plastic flowers on her grave. It was always a job to pick flowers and keep them in the refrigerator until Memorial Day weekend arrived.

The final resting place of many of the early settlers of Ray County are not known. We seldom find graves that are older than the 1850s. I’ve often wondered who was the first settler buried in our county. The 1881 Ray County History book gives us one possible answer, “A son born to Katie, wife of John Proffitt in the year 1816, was the first male child born in the county, but he died in infancy.” I don’t have a clue where he is buried, but I will keep looking.

The oldest Ray County grave that I’ve found in my family is John Phillips, who died June 8, 1852, and is buried in Pettus Cemetery. I finally got to visit his grave a few years ago thanks to Dwight Pettus and his pickup truck. We traveled though several pastures before reaching this cemetery, but it was so worth the bumpy ride.

When I started looking for my ancestors, there was only one way of finding where they were buried. You had to go to Ray County Library or Ray County Museum and search their cemetery books. Many of these books are hand written and seldom give good directions in which to find the cemetery. The 1973 Ray County History book has a map, which lists 133 cemeteries. In 1983, I got a Ray County Plat book and started adding more cemeteries as I found them and soon I had more than the 133 listed. Thurman Funeral Home helped the cause by printing a book listing their burials beginning in 1906. This book is updated regularly and is a wonderful place to start when looking for a lost ancestor.

In 1995, a man named Jim Tipton changed my world by creating the Find A Grave website. It took a while for the site to build up its content, but it’s now a worldwide resource for finding graves. It’s amazing how easy it is to find a picture of a tombstone of a relative that lived in a far off land or may just be buried in your own backyard. Some people spend their extra time taking pictures of gravestones that someone in another state has requested. Thanks to the Find A Grave database, we now have over 250 documented cemeteries in Ray County. There are still many gravestones missing, but we are getting closer to filling in some of the gaps.

People have asked me which is my favorite cemetery in Ray County. That’s like asking a mother which child is their favorite. I’m going to share a few of my favorite stories, but there are many more out there.

The cemetery in the picture is Todd’s Chapel Cemetery. It has always been one of my favorites because it’s such a beautiful location on top of a hill west of Richmond. This is an old cemetery that has many hidden stories tied to the people buried there. The cemetery has a road that goes straight through the middle of it, which always makes me wonder why it ended up like this. I hope to find the reason for it someday.

Richmond Pioneer Cemetery, also known as Mormon Cemetery is the most visited cemetery in Ray County throughout the year, other than Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the final resting place of most of Richmond’s early residents, along with members of the Whitmer family, and has connections with the Mormon Church. It also contains the grave of Capt Bill Anderson, a famous Missouri partisan ranger during the Civil War. The first burial in this cemetery was Francis Richardson in 1845 and the last one was Margaret Turner in 1881. After this cemetery closed, many of the people of Richmond were buried in Richmond City Cemtery, which is next to Sunny Slope on the west side of town.

Another famous cemetery is Hardin Cemetery that sustained major damage in the great flood of 1993. This cemetery made national news when many of the coffins buried there were washed away by flood waters. It was a terrible event that effected many local families because some of their ancestors were never recovered. One family told a story about how their aunt always wanted to go to New Orleans and since her coffin was never found, they assumed she finally got her trip down the Missouri River to New Orleans. In 2013, author, Kenneth Kieser wrote a book about “Missouri’s Great Flood of ‘93.” The first chapter is about Hardin Cemetery. Kieser visited with locals at Ray County Museum to collect stories for this book and later returned for a book signing.

I found an interesting story years ago regarding Thomson Cemetery, located in northern Ray County. I was looking for John Stone Davis, who died in 1935. He was named after his two grandfathers, John Stone and John Davis. I found him buried next to his three wives. One was buried next to him and the other two were buried on his other side. His first wife, Alwilda Teegarden died in 1882. He then married her sister Cinderella Teegarden who died in 1899. His third wife Laura died in 1915. Poor John Stone Davis spent his last 20 years without a wife. He had several daughters, and then one day I found the rest of the story for John. One of his wives died in childbirth. Their infant son also died. I’ve often wondered how his life might have been different if his son had lived. In the old days, it was common to lose at least half of your children before they reached adulthood.

One of the favorite parts of my job at the museum is helping someone find a cemetery they are looking for. Last October, three people came from Texas looking for their ancestors. They wanted to visit Haynes Cemetery, which is located in a wooded area off Highway B. I’ve traveled B Highway all my life, and always dreamed of finding this cemetery. Jean Hamacher and Jan Jackson told me they had been mushroom hunting in the wooded area for many years and had seen the tombstones. I always assumed the cemetery would be hard to find, but one phone call is all it took for us to jump in a big pickup and locate the graves. It was a very simple task of diving into a backyard and finding the cemetery just a few feet away from the edge of the woods. The Texas folks were happy and I was shocked that I wasted so many years worrying about finding this cemetery.

A few more miles east on B Highway is the old homestead where I spent my first 11 years. I remember there being two tombstones across the road from our house, but my great uncle moved them some time in the late 1960s. My grandmother told me there was a person named Anderson buried there during the Civil War. They were buried in the middle of the field because they were afraind to take them to the church cemetery a few miles away due to bushwhackers being in the area. I’ve had this small cemetery in my mind for many years and finally did some research on it this week. I was driving by there late in the evening last Friday, when the lights went out on my car. I was driving a little fast and somehow got my lights back on before I ran off the road. I took this as a sign that I better step out of the dark and find out about these graves. After a little research, I found John Anderson who had owned this land and died in January 1864. His wife Sarah died in 1879, so she may be buried here with him.

There are many more stories about the cemeteries of Ray County. Chapter two is coming soon.

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