Thursday, April 29, 2010

What I Learned - The Case of Catharine Moyer Brane

Yesterday I took my youngest son on a college visit. It just so happened this college is the one my older son attends and is located not far from where I will be taking my research trip in just about one week.

It also happens that the second wife (Catharine Moyer Brane) of my great-great-great grandfather is buried in the cemetery in this small town.  I knew my day would be full with planned events at the college but I really hoped to find time to slip away to visit the cemetery and grab a photo.  The temptation to do so was incredibly overwhelming (as I'm sure all of you can understand!)

My opportunity came just after lunch when my youngest would be sitting in on a class.  If I skipped the Admissions Panel meeting I would have 70 minutes to locate the cemetery, find Catharine in the cemetery and take that photo.  Having attended a similar panel discussion at the same college a little more than 1 year ago was my justification for skipping out.  And when my oldest told me he knew just where the cemetery was because he ran there and back everyday (3 miles) that sealed the deal!

I had no trouble locating the cemetery from the directions my oldest gave me but when I first saw it, my heart sank.  I don't know what I was thinking!  I guess I thought, small town, small cemetery.  But that was not the case.  It may be that this is the only cemetery in town because it is large.  And the only information I had in my head was her name and an approximate date of death.  There was no way I could walk this cemetery in the time allotted.

I did a quick drive through and determined where the oldest part of the cemetery was, section 1, parked the van and began walking the rows.  After about 15 minutes of this the sexton pulled in and asked me if he could help me find a stone.  Hallelujah!  I thought I had been saved!  Not so fast.  His records showed that she was not buried there.  Now I got the information that she was buried there from a volunteer on Find A Grave.  I had total trust in this volunteers information and, besides, my gut told me she was there. 

I continued walking section 1 and when time ran out, headed back to the college to pick up my youngest.  Thank goodness both of my sons are used to their mom visiting cemeteries because when Andy got in the car I asked him if he would mined if I stopped into the town library to have a look at any records they had for the cemetery.  He agreed and even offered to help!  Again, being a small town, we had no trouble locating the library or finding the book we needed.  On page 6 there she was, Catharine Brane.  She was definitly buried there and now I had a section, 2B,  and row number, 3,  to work with.  Our total time spent in the library was less than 15 minutes. 

Back at the cemetery Andy quickly located section 2B and began calling off names.  I looked on the photo copies I made for the section and none of those names appeared.  I began to get frustrated and nearly gave up when Andy yelled out from section 3 that he had found one of the names.  And then he found another and another until he located this one:

Next to her was her son Jesse, daughter Mary, son William and one row over, daughter Sarah and her husband!  Andy's good eyes had saved the day and got me the photo I came for. 

So what did I learn from this case?

1.  Do your research before heading to the cemetery.  If I had made that stop into the library before heading directly to the cemetery I would have saved myself a second trip.  It only took 15 minutes to find the record but I spent over 70 minutes walking the cemetry.

2.  Listen to your gut instinct.  Even though the sexton said she wasn't buried there and the library records had her in a different section, I "felt" like she was there.  Following that instinct and searching out other records was crucial.

And I guess it also doesn't hurt to have a younger pair of eyes with you!  Thank you, Andy, for finding her stone and thank you Catharine Moyer Brane for another lesson learned.


  1. You can ask your son, now that he is a loyal helper to go some day and snap some shots. I bet he would someday when he just wants to make a break from the others.

    I asked my son to make some shots for me, told him his camera was better than mine. Probably now though he has forgotten. But he might have!

    Of course you have many other trips there I suppose too. I used to plan antique shop stops when ever I had trip planned to daughter city. It just helps motivate other than the privilidge of seeing the kids again.

  2. I've had that same sinking feeling when pulling up to an unfamiliar cemetery with limited time, and seeing that it goes on for *miles*... and all you want is one little grave. :)

    A cemetery sexton had no record of my gr-gr-grandmother being buried in his cemetery, but sure enough, she was there! And here I thought cemetery records were as complete as it gets!

    Thanks for an informative post.

  3. How great that you found the grave. I haven't been to a cemetery with family markers in it yet. They are so far away and it seems that no one wants to go with me. I'm going to compile a list of grave locations, though, as you suggested, in the off chance someone in my family will agree to go with me. Your photograph of the marker came out so clear!

  4. So glad you did find the grave! Yes, doing the research before hand is always useful, but sometimes we get so excited to see a headstone (or something else relating to our ancestor), so I can't blame you for jumping right in!

  5. Good thing you didn't give up after all the discouraging misinformation!

  6. What a great discovery! While that pre-planning time is valuable, sometimes, our excitement wins out over our reasoning. And for me, I love that feeling of excitement and anticipation so much, I don't think it's a bad thing to let it "win" every once in awhile! And how lucky you are to have sons who are willing to enjoy the search as well! I'm jealous!

  7. See, I knew you all would understand! I just couldn't resist that trip to the cemetery! I'm going back this coming weekend for 2 days and hope to get much more accomplished. I'm doing my research beforehand this time!