11 July 2009

Broken tombstone

Don't rely on transcriptions.

In the biography of my great-grandfather, John HUIGENS, from a 1912 history of Knox County, NE, it states "Mr. Huigens was born in Henry, Marshall county, Illinois, June 15, 1862, and reared just across the line in Putnam county; here he lived engaged in farming until his migration to Nebraska. He is a son of Edward and Catherine (Thoemas) Huigens, the former a native of Holland who died when the son was but two years old..." Based on this, we can surmise that my great-great-grandfather died about 1864 in Marshall County, IL.

In the 1860 U.S. Census of Hopewell Township, Marshall County, IL, the age of A. HIGGIN, my great-great-grandfather, is given as 32. That makes his birth year about 1828 and his age when he died around 36.

In searching for his place of burial, I came across the following entry in a transcription of grave markers in the Old Catholic Cemetery, Henry Township, Marshall County, IL:

Eberhard Heigens Died February 27, 1864. Aged 21 years.

The name was close and plausible. (As I've previously blogged, my great-great-grandfather's actual name is still a mystery.) The death year is also a match according to the info from his son's bio. But the age is about 15 years off. Is it him?

The Old Catholic Cemeteary (AKA the Old Irish Cemetery, Old St. Mary's Cemetery, Old German Catholic Cemetery, Old Settler's Cemetery, the Merritt Cemetery, the Apfel Cemetery, the Meridian Cemetery) is located in the middle of a corn field. Tom Bogner, who tends to the cemetery, first took my wife and me to visit it a couple of years ago. There I saw the grave marker for my great-great-great-mother, Maria TOEMMES. I also took a closer look at Eberhard's grave. His marker was in two pieces and appeared to be broken across a line of text, which was obscure by an overgrowth of grass. Unfortunately on that first trip, my camera malfunctioned, so I was not able to obtain any photographs. I also could not make out any of the writing after pushing the grass aside.

Last May, when my brother was visiting, we made a trip down to the cemetery. It took us a while to find it, but we trekked through the pouring rain and the mud and took several pictures.

While we were standing there, my brother, who took a little high school German, pointed out that the bottom half of the tombstone read "21 tage alt", 21 days old, not 21 years old. The first time that I had been there I had been so focused on the fact of the two halves and the illegible line of text that I hadn't noticed the obvious mistranslation. I had assumed tha the text gave Eberhard's birth date. With this new information, I was now convinced it would state his age in years and months at the time of his death.

After moving the grass away from the bottom of the top half of the stone, I was able to take a close up picture of the writing there. I was able to maniplate the image enough to be able to read most of it.

As near as I can tell, it says "36 jahre 2 ?????." I canot make out that last word. It should be "monate" for months. That would make Eberhard's age at the time of his death 36 years, 2 months and 21 days--a perfect match for the expected age of my great-great-grandfather.

So I've verfied that the grave is most likely that of my great-great-grandfather, Eberhard/Evert/Edward HEIGENS/HIGGIN/HEUIGEN, born 6-Dec-1827, died 27-Feb-1864.

I repeat, don't rely on trascriptions. Lesson learned.


  1. Hi

    I see that you were at the Old Catholic Cemetery in Marshall County earlier this month. I was in the area last week looking for the cemetery and was unable to find it. I remember once that someone said that it was near the Camp Grove road south of Henry. Was I any where near? Could you gigve me directions to the cemetery? (I am in Wisconsin)

    Dennis Day

  2. The cemetery is located in a corn field off of State Rt. 29, south of Henry. It's off to the left (east over the railroad tracks). There is a gate across the road, so you have to park beside the road and walk in. It's not visible from the road, but it's a short walk along the two-rut path through the field. Go to http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&GSln=heigens&GSbyrel=in&GSdyrel=in&GSob=n&GRid=30537886&CRid=2279103& and you'll see a map of it.