Thursday, December 6, 2018

Where He Actually Was

When the obituary says one of your ancestors was laid to rest in a specific cemetery, do you take the newspaper's word for it?

Not that I doubt the Kelsonian when it concluded its lengthy article on the deceased Peter Jones Knapp with the statement, "with final services at the Portland Crematorium." After all, though the Crematorium was not specifically named, Peter's death certificate did give a date of burial as April 16, 1924, with the location as Portland, Oregon.

The only catch was: Peter wasn't there.

Well, he was there...sort of. But not in the way you'd expect, at a cemetery. As one particular Knapp researcher discovered when she went to the Crematorium to inquire about his burial records, it turns out neither Peter nor his wife—Georgiana Eliza Pierson—were actually buried.

Eventually, the two missing persons were found, not in a niche, but on a shelf. They had never received that formal burial the newspaper had asserted was going to happen.

That discovery set in motion a process which led to a proper military ceremony for the last remaining Civil War veteran, eighty eight years—to the day—following Peter Knapp's death in April of 1924.

It was the wife of a descendant of this Peter Knapp's namesake—the infant Peter (Jackson) Knapp whose photo I've sent her way—who told me about this entire story, sharing the links to news coverage of the event, itself. If you are not usually one to click on links and follow the story elsewhere, I urge you to make one exception today and check out the links this Knapp researcher sent me.

Of course, the information on Peter Jones Knapp's obituary article in his Cowlitz County, Washington, hometown, along with a photo of him in his later years, is posted on his memorial at Find A Grave. In addition, Civil War veteran Peter's eventual burial with full military honors at Willamette National Cemetery, in 2012, is documented—with an interesting twist—in a report by CBS News. And for those who like to feel as if they are part of the event, a three minute long YouTube presentation captures the highlights of that day.

Reading all those reports and watching the video—plus exchanging emails with the researcher who discovered all this information—didn't just serve to inform me of one family's history. Besides the Knapp family story, I am now wondering just how many others may have similar stories. Our local genealogical society, for instance, became aware of many such cremains still lodged in storage for lack of the contact information on a close family member. Some were indigents, whose remains are now considered the responsibility of a county governmental agency, for instance, but there are many researchers who have the skills to help reunite these missing people with their family members, who surely have questions about just what became of their relative.

This Knapp story also reminds me of the vital importance of having a photo of a burial site on Find A Grave—or any other such program. While that doesn't necessarily guarantee that the person actually lies beneath the monument or marker, it at least signifies an official memorial for that family member.

What is reported on a death record may not turn out to be what actually became of an ancestor after his or her passing; the act of seeking confirmation may turn up some surprising details, as we saw in Peter Jones Knapp's case. While such instances may be rare, I am confident Peter Knapp's is not the only example.

Above: Excerpt from Peter Jones Knapp's 1924 Washington state death certificate showing the "place of burial, cremation, or removal." Image courtesy      


  1. I just read the CBS story and I remember this! What an amazing story and how wonderful you were able to connect with her. I can't imagine how satisfying this all was for you.

    1. It's been really interesting, Miss Merry, to be able to contact researchers who belong to this extended Knapp family. There are a few who are quite thorough and experienced in doing their genealogical research--not to mention, willing to share their findings with other researchers, as well.

      And yes--it's been quite satisfying to send those photos home to people who evidently care a great deal about the history of their own family.

  2. Find a Grave has it short comings... a real photo of the plot would go a long way to help. I have two relatives that are suppose to be such and such place... but they are not as they don't really exist.... dates are close but not the same... and trying to get it "corrected" has just run ME in circles. Perhaps next year I will figure it all out. That said when I was green green newbie find a grave found several people who family just had stories about no facts... with the find a grave facts was able to find documents etc. so it works both ways.

    1. You're right about that, Susie Q: it can work both ways. I consider it a "fish meal"--eat the meat, toss the bones...a caveat emptor case, a possibility to follow the trail of a trailblazer, always remembering that the "trail" may lead you in the wrong direction. But, like you are, I'm glad to have the resource. And I absolutely rely on the photographs for everything from visualizing location to confirming the names and dates are transcribed correctly.

  3. What a great story! I see Find A Grave as coming to an end, with cremations and ashes spread...:(

    1. Find A Grave will always have a place in the genealogist's tool box, despite the issues with cremation choices. They are trying to adapt to this alternate possibility by allowing for "virtual" memorials when location of ashes is unknown. But for the most part, we all still need to find records for the burial of ancestors, many of whom were buried in traditional ways--some, in previous centuries, buried but in private family plots with location now unknown, so we still have those elusive few who stump us!


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