Thursday, May 4, 2023

Of Grave Concern


One of the first concerns I had when I began the search for Sarah Howard Ijams, my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, was the lack of tangible documentation of her brief life. Not only was I unable to find paperwork acknowledging her existence by name, but I couldn't even find her grave.

Obviously, a woman who was said to have been born in 1796 would, by now, be dead. But where was she buried?

In mulling over that question—especially since there was no memorial handily posted at Find A Grave—I recalled an old resource I had found online, thankfully saving the link to that web page. The resource was a combined list of headstones and burial records noted over the decades for the crumbling remains in the old section of Saint Joseph Cemetery in Somerset, Ohio. Since so many of my mother-in-law's ancestors were of the Catholic faith, I thought I'd look for Sarah there. Unfortunately, she wasn't included in that listing.

Sarah's first child, after her marriage to John Jay Jackson, was a daughter whom the couple named Elizabeth—likely after Sarah's own mother, Elizabeth Howard Ijams. The girl unfortunately died in 1842, barely in her twenties. Confirming my guess that the family might have been Catholic, I found her Find a Grave memorial. She had been buried in the Holy Trinity Cemetery in Somerset, Ohio. The headstone, thankfully still legible, indicated that Elizabeth was daughter of "JJ and SH Jackson," which likely was John Jay and Sarah Howard Jackson. But there was no indication that she was buried near her mother, who had supposedly died there in 1829.

Since Elizabeth's mother had died thirteen years before her own burial, could Sarah have been buried with her father? I checked the Stevenson Ruffner Cemetery back in Fairfield County, Ohio, where William Ijams had been buried in 1816. Unfortunately, his own headstone has badly sunken into the ground, though at least it shows his name. But no other memorials listed at that cemetery in Find A Grave show up for Sarah Jackson.

It is extremely doubtful that there were any alternate reasons why Sarah dropped out of the scene at the Jackson household in 1829. Though her husband, John Jay Jackson, remarried in Perry County on August 28, 1829, to Mary Grate, it would be highly doubtful that that event had been preceded by a divorce. Yet, looking at John Jay Jackson's own burial location in the off chance that his first wife had been included in the family plot, I saw no indication of such an arrangement.

With no leads from burial records, we still can turn to other records to indirectly verify Sarah's key life events. Our task now turns to locating any mention of her name in the records of her relatives.

When her father, William Ijams, died in early 1816, his will was filed in Lancaster, county seat for Fairfield County, Ohio, where the family had settled after leaving Maryland. But did that will mention the names of all his children? For the sons, yes. But the daughters—however many of them there may have been—were only mentioned in the collective.

In the will's final item, William gave his personal property to be divided equally "between my daughters," possibly indicating there were only two. However, an earlier item in the will directed that property be sold and the proceeds divided "among my daughters," a word more likely used for groups of three or more. At any rate, daughter Sarah most likely would have been included in that group, pointing me to pursue further records at the Fairfield County courthouse. When the books were settled by the executors to her father's will, surely someone had to detail the legatees' receipts by name. We'll see what we can find there next.


  1. Burial mysteries are difficult to solve. One of my great grandmothers is buried in a different cemetery than either of her 2 husbands or her parents. We finally learned that was because she died shortly after a huge flood that washed out the road and bridge, so they couldn't get her body to the other cemetery.

    1. It is helpful to learn stories like that, Sara--and thanks for sharing your experience. It is likely that I will have to take in the bigger picture in this case, as well.


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