It’s funny how something tangible helps make history credible. I love stumbling upon books containing vignettes of family members from long ago, or even visiting old cemeteries with the headstones of long-lost relatives. Seeing and touching tokens of our past—that makes all the difference in converting history into reality in my mind. Otherwise, even if we’re talking about the microhistory of our own families, distant dates have a way of morphing into the realm of “Once Upon a Time…”
I’m handicapped in trying to determine which members of the extensive Flowers family of Berks County, Pennsylvania, made it to the other side of the Appalachians back in the early 1800s. Death records for the state of Ohio generally weren’t consistently collected until 1867. While Perry County held marriage records from the time of the county’s formation in 1818, those documents wouldn’t prove helpful in this case. The members of this family most likely moved en masse from their old home before that date. Already married, the siblings who accompanied my husband’s direct ancestor—the elder Joseph Flowers—in some cases already had children of their own. (Actually, tracking the birthplace of each of those children can help target a possible year the extended family made the move—if they did move en masse to Ohio. I’ll explore that in a later post.)
There are, however, other tokens of Flowers family members in the Perry County area. As I uncover—or, in some cases, revisit—transcriptions of old records, I begin to see a connect-the-dots pattern interlacing various Flowers family names with earlier and earlier records in the Perry County churches, cemeteries, and documents.
Take the old cemetery records from the county’s first Catholic Church, Saint Joseph in Somerset. Thanks to a concerted effort by several concerned individuals, nearly-lost information gleaned over the years from stacks of broken and crumbling headstones has provided a reconstituted record of burials at that early cemetery. Though some of the stones represent burials as early as 1812 (and perhaps even earlier), the weathered condition of these markers is a humbling reminder of how fleeting these “set in stone” memorials eventually become.
Within the records, I’ve strained my eyes, seeking some familiar Flowers family names. Because of the difficulty of adherence to naming patterns within this extended family, in some cases I’m not sure which individual is represented within these records. However, the composite data for one entry catches my eye:
As the website itself explains, the various dates entered on this transcription reflect the source of the original readings. Depending on which numbers are used for the age—and whether either of the entries is, itself, correct—Elizabeth was either born at the beginning of 1774, or late in the previous year.Elizabeth, wife of Joseph FLOWERS Sr., d. 9 Mar 1861, age 87y, 0(3)m, 3(5)d
While discovering this entry in a document online was so encouraging, finding a visual representation makes the discovery all the more tangible. I was fortunate, while working on my data in Ancestry.com, to be alerted to the availability of a photo of the headstone. I emailed the photographer—who may very well be a distant cousin to my husband—and asked for permission to post the photograph here, which I received the other day.
This monument is all that’s left to commemorate the life of Elizabeth Ambrose Flowers, wife of the elder Joseph Flowers. She and Joseph, along with her younger sister Susannah who had married Joseph’s older brother John Henry, made the four hundred mile trek to Ohio with their young families. While the span of dates marking her earlier life fell before the era of government documentation, I can at least be satisfied that this one token still stands to share the reality of her life. No matter how little else I may realize of her eighty seven years, I can claim this as-yet still solid representation of her existence.
Above left: photograph of 1861 headstone of Elizabeth Ambrose Flowers, wife of Joseph Flowers, senior, buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Somerset, Perry County, Ohio; courtesy Kittie199; used by permission of photographer.