When I started my family history project, I didn’t think I’d be spending so much time on the topic of cemeteries. But when you keep coming upon roadblocks, as I have in my efforts to trace my New Jersey roots, the information etched on a tombstone seems like the last opportunity to make a breakthrough.
The first place to look is Find A Grave, a web database with information on 77 million graves. The records are all contributed by individual users, so the data is far from comprehensive. My grandparents’ graves are on the site along with other ancestors. But five of my ancestors, who all lived in New Jersey in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were not.
Jacob and Tillie Agin
I have written about my difficulty finding out very much about my American and German great-grandparents Jacob and Tillie Agin. From census records, I know they were married in 1893 or thereabouts but I couldn’t find their marriage certificate in the New Jersey state archives. They appear in the census in 1900, 1910 and 1920 but not in 1930. Did they die during the 1920s?
I know that Jacob was born in Hopewell, New Jersey in December 1868. But when was Tillie born? The 1900 census says she was born in December 1872. But the 1920 census places her year of birth around 1877.
Mary Miller Vannote
I have also written about Tillie’s mother Mary Miller Vannote, my great-great-grandmother, who emigrated from Germany as a young widow. It’s not clear when mother and daughter came or if they even traveled together. Tillie indicated in census records that she came to America in 1880 (1910 census) or 1883 (1920 census). Mary said she came in 1884 (1920 census) or 1888 (1910 census). Not very helpful.
I know from a newspaper article that Mary married three times – first to a German man by the name of Miller (or was it Müller?) who died and then twice here in the States. Her first American husband was a man named George Hendricks whom she divorced, sending him into a life of seclusion. She later married William Vannote who was reputed to be a “woman hater.” But while the article provides a precise date and location for the third marriage – the Vannotes “married quietly” in Kingston on the evening of Saturday, October 17, 1903 – there was no marriage certificate in the state archives. I was told that pastors were sometimes lax when it came to this. Maddening!
The article said that Mary “admits” to being 54 years old, which would place her year of birth as 1848 or 1849. Census records place her year of birth as either 1854 or 1855.
I was able to find Mary’s death certificate. She passed away in Kingston on July 19, 1924 – five years after William. The cause of death was chronic myocarditis. My grandfather Harry Agin, a 23 year old newlywed at the time, told the coroner that her age was “about 70” (suggesting she was born around 1854) and that she lived in Kingston for 30 years. He gave her place of birth as “Collenz, Germany” (did he mean Coblenz?) and said her father’s name was Miller. This last point doesn’t seem right. Miller (or Müller) must have been the name of her first husband (Tillie’s father).
Andrew and Mary Sabol
I have had better luck tracing the early life stories of my two Slovak great-grandparents Andrew and Mary Sabol. I located their marriage record in the New Jersey archives, which told me that Mary’s maiden name was Daniel. And since I learned that they were part of a closely knit Slovak Lutheran community in Raritan, New Jersey, I guessed – correctly – that they came from small villages near Obišovce, Slovakia. That led me to church records providing a wealth of information. I’m still trying to process it all.
The paper trail here in America is spottier. I have found the Sabols in four successive censuses (1900-1930). And I also knew that Mary Sabol lived until the late 1960s since I attended her funeral as a young boy. But when exactly did she die? And when did Andrew die?
Finally – some progress
After much sleuthing, I have actually figured out where two of these ancestors were buried.
Mary Vannote was laid to rest at the Presbyterian Cemetery in Kingston. My sister Cathy and I went there last summer because she remembered going there with our grandmother Anna Sabol Agin. It’s a small cemetery and we definitely saw a number of tombstones with the name Vannote. But after walking around in circles on a very hot day, we could not find a marker for Mary and William Vannote, and there didn’t seem to be an office where we could ask.
But I later saw that the Family History Library had microfilmed church records from the Kingston Presbyterian Church covering the period in question. A quick scroll through the microfilm turned up proof that Mary Vannote was indeed buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, next to her husband William. Also buried there was their granddaughter Vivian Agin, my grandfather’s youngest sister who died of pneumonia in 1920 when she was only three years old. So we will have to go back and look again.
I also have confirmation that Mary Sabol was buried in the New Cemetery in Somerville on June 18, 1968. I guessed she might be there after studying a death record for Andrew Sabol Jr., my grandmother’s older brother, who died of tuberculosis in 1943. Since he was buried at the New Cemetery, I wrote to inquire about his parents. Knowing she died in the late 1960s helped. They were able to provide an exact plot number.
They couldn’t provide information about Andrew because there were many people by that name buried in different locations, but I think there’s a good chance the couple was buried together.
Jacob and Tillie Agin, on the other hand, continue to elude me. I had a hunch they were buried at the Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick, where my grandparents are buried. But, alas, they were not. The cemetery staff suggested I try the Elmwood Cemetery nearby. Why is it so hard to figure out what became of them?