The family plot

You might think it would be easy to find the final resting places of ancestors from my mother’s side of the family who lived in nearby New Jersey and only died within the last century. Think again.

In earlier posts, I have written about afternoons spent poking around Garden State cemeteries. On occasion, persistence paid off. There was the time my sister Cathy and I wandered about in the sweltering sun looking for ancestors from the Wyckoff family in Hopewell, N.J. It turned out that one grave – of our third great-grandfather Jacob James Wyckoff (1791-1867) – was actually visible from Cathy’s front porch!

We also found the grave site of our Civil War veteran ancestor Samuel Davis Agin (1841-1915) and his wife Rhoda Wyckoff (1850-1907) at an upscale cemetery in Princeton, N.J. We were disappointed to learn there was no tombstone, but working with an Agin family cousin I met through this blog we were able to get an official Union Army grave marker for Davis. I would still like to place a marker to remember Rhoda.

After a bit of sleuthing, I was also able to locate the graves of my Slovak immigrant great-grandparents Andrej (Andrew) Sabol (1872-1938) and Maria (Mary) Daniel (1880-1968) at the New Cemetery in Somerville, N.J.

And yet, three New Jersey ancestors have continued to elude me:

  • My great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin (1868-1928), a native of Hopewell who lived for many years in Kingston, N.J. working as a drill operator in a local quarry. In the last decade of his life, he moved the family to nearby New Brunswick where he worked as a security guard.
  • Jacob’s wife Mathilde (Tillie) Miller (c. 1872-?), who emigrated from Germany with her widowed mother in the 1880s. My aunt Nancy Agin tells me Tillie remarried after Jacob’s death and was still living as recently as the early 1950s. It has been hard to find much of a paper trail for Tillie. No immigration record, no marriage record, no petition for naturalization and no death certificate. The last trace of her in the records is census return from 1920.
  • Tillie’s mother – and my great-great-grandmother – Mary Miller Vannote (c. 1850-1923), the immigrant widow who had two other marriages after coming to America. Her first marriage to an abusive husband named George (or was it Gus?) Hendrick (or was it Hendrock?) ended in divorce. Then, in 1903 she married William Vannote (c. 1850-1919), a famed “woman hater,” in a ceremony that became tabloid fodder from coast to coast.

Two years ago, my sisters Mary and Cathy and I went to the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery. Cathy remembered how our grandmother Anna Agin (1904-1988) wanted to go there in the late 1980s, shortly before she died. They visited a spot along the cemetery’s east wall to pay respects to Mary Vannote, who died three months before Anna (then 18) married my grandfather Harry Agin (1900-1970). It’s interesting to think that after six decades, my grandmother still had fond memories of her husband’s German grandmother. (Her mother-in-law, I’m told, was another story.)

At the time of our visit I had proof, in the form of a notebook ledger entry from church records available on microfilm at the Family History Library, that William and Mary Vannote were buried at Kingston Presbyterian in 1919 and 1923 respectively. But the record didn’t provide a specific plot number.

Page from book of burial records from the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery showing that Mary Vannote was buried there in July 1924.

Page from book of burial records from the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery showing that Mary Vannote was buried there in July 1923.

We scoured that cemetery but could not find a grave marker for either of them. At the spot Cathy remembered, we did see one or two headstones that said simply “Vannote.” Alas, there was no office at this old, historic graveyard where we might ask for help.

Grave marker in the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, marked simply Vannote. Could this be where my great-great-grandmother Mary Miller Vannote is buried?

Grave marker in the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, marked simply Vannote. Could this be where my great-great-grandmother Mary Miller Vannote is buried?

A year later, I later found proof that Jacob Agin was most likely buried there too. Jacob’s 1928 obituary in the New Brunswick Home News states he was buried at “the family plot in Kingston.”

1928 obituary for my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin from the New Brunswick Home News. It notes that he was buried in a "family plot" in Kingston.

1928 obituary for my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin from the New Brunswick Home News. It notes that he was buried in “the family plot” in Kingston, NJ.

Recently, I went back to the Family History Library to see what else they had from the Kingston Presbyterian Church. I ordered two more microfilm reels and recently began to review them. Buried in those records was a terrific find: a cemetery map that gets us closer to figuring out where Jacob, William and Mary – and possibly even Tillie – were buried.

Along the cemetery’s east wall (at the bottom of the map by the road to Rocky Hill), at the spot where Grandma brought Cathy all those years ago, are three cemetery plots owned by William’s father, Peter Vannote. Peter was born around 1799 in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and eventually settled in Kingston. He married three times – first to Susan Hunt, then to a woman named Sarah and finally to Margaret South. He died on May 10, 1872.

Peter had at least six children. William was the fifth of these, the son of Margaret South, born around 1850 when Peter was already over 50 years old.

It seems very plausible that William and his wife Mary, not exactly people of means, would be buried in one of those three family plots, five decades after Peter’s death. Why else would Peter own three separate plots, except to provide a way for family members to be buried together?

Map of the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, from the Family History Library, Click to enlarge.

Map of the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, from the Family History Library, Click to enlarge.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by Peter Vannote.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by Peter Vannote.

Also, in the map’s northeast corner, where the cemetery drive bends left by a tool shed, we see two large plots owned by a Jacob Akin. I did a search on ancestry.com and there is no evidence of a Jacob Akin living in that area at any time in the past 150 years. But we do know there was a Jacob Agin – and that he owned a family plot in Kingston. So this has to be him!

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by a "Jacob Akin." I believe these were actually owned by my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by a “Jacob Akin.” I believe these were actually owned by my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin.

Those two “Akin” plots are fairly large. I wonder who else might be buried there. I know from the old notebook that recorded the burials of William and Mary Vannote that Jacob’s youngest daughter Vivian Agin (1916-1920) – my grand aunt – was also buried there in February 1920. I know from a death certificate I found at the New Jersey state archives that little Vivian died of bronchial pneumonia and pertussis. I assumed she was buried with William, but now I’m wondering if Jacob and Vivian are buried together. Who else might be buried there? Could this also be the final resting place of my great-grandmother Tillie? Could this be the clue that helps me figure out Tillie’s final chapter?

My next step is to visit the church, armed with this map, to get confirmation of the exact burial locations. Then it would be nice to erect grave markers to remember these long-forgotten ancestors.

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