Crazy Cemetery Ladies of Lenawee Co., MI

Farmland News Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Volume 49, Number 32, pg 1

Front page reads:

The Crazy Cemetery Ladies Know!

Whose Grave Is Where?

                Poking around in cemeteries and copying information off old tombstones might not sound like fun to most people.

                But to Margie Alcock Keller and Michele Blain-Olson, both of Sand Creek, spending the day in a cemetery is way more

                enjoyable than walking in a park.

                “We’re genealogy researchers,” says 74-year-old Margie, “and we’re going through all 112 cemeteries in Lenawee County.

                “We hope all the information off the tombstones and then put it on line… free of charge.

                “We also try to find the original records to double check our information.

                “We go to museums and to the library… where we read through old newspapers… and we search death records in township

                 houses or at the courthouse.

                “Our objective is to make it easier for people who cant come here in person to find their ancestors’ information.

                “People in this area have started calling us The Crazy Cemetery Ladies of Lenawee County.”

                 In fact, Margie and Michele met while researching their roots.

An Internet Connection

                Back in the ‘90s, Margie was searching for the final resting place of her great-great-grandmother, Catherine

                VanSantford Ferguson.

                “She’d married James Ferguson, but he’d died in 1846 in Fairfield Twp,” she says.

                “He was probably buried on the farm and then it was sold after he died.

                “She was widowed at a very

Under picture:  The headstone of Solomon Force, Sr is what brought Margie and Michele together.  Margie was searching for the grave of her great-great-grandmother, Catherine… Solomon’s wife.  At the same time, Michele was looking for the burial site of her great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon.  He’s buried in the Fairfield Cemetery, but they still haven’t located Catherine’s final resting place.

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                young age and she later married a man named Solomon Force Sr.

                “I know she died here in the county in 1897, but I haven’t been able to locate her grave.

                “We’ll probably never know where it is.

                “Most of the rest of my relatives are buried in Detroit, where we lived most of my life.”

                It just so happened that at the same time Margie was looking for her great-great-great-grandmother’s grave,

                38-year-old Michele as searching for the cemetery where her great-great-grandfather, Solomon Force, Sr was buried.

                “Margie and I actually met first on the internet,” Michele says.

                “In the beginning, we had no idea we had a common ancestor.

                “My husband Randy and I lived in Flint at that time, but I knew my relatives were buried here.

                “Margie and I e-mailed back and forth for about three years before we found out we’re blood relatives!”

 

Hunting For Catherine’s Grave

                It seems that Margie’s great-grandmother was born to Catherine and her first husband, James.

                “Michele’s grandfather was the son of Catherine and Solomon,” Margie says.

                “That makes us second cousins, three times removed.

                “Both our families have been in Lenawee County since the 1830’s, which is why we’re so interested in its history.

                “Our roots run really deep here.”

                She and Michele shared information over the internet, but were careful not to reveal too much about their personal lives online.

                “You hear of so many crazy things happening,” says Michele.

                “We kept writing back and forth, trying to find Catherine’s grave.

                “We still haven’t found it, but we’re not ready to give up.

                “You just never know when we’ll run across the one clue that leads us to her.”

 

It’s Long Overdue

                When Michele, Randy and their children got the chance to buy her grandmother’s house, they moved to Sand Creek.

                “By then I felt safe enough with Margie to give her our new address,” she says.

                “when I e-mailed her and told her we now lived in Sand Creek, she got all excited and asked me exactly WHERE in Sand Creek.

                “I didn’t know it, but she lives in Sand Creek, too… only a few miles from us.

                “It was an amazing coincidence!

                “I’m sure were meant to find each other.

                “That’s why I’m so certain we’ll find Catherine’s grave.”

                Although a few local people are hesitant to give the women any information about THEIR relatives, most are happy to

                do so when they find out what they’re doing with it.

                “Overall it’s been a positive experience,” Michele says.

                “We’ve had lots of people thank us and tell us that what we’re doing has been needed for a long time.”

 

Pay Dirt!

                In mid-April, Margie made an exciting discovery.

                “I found some of my husband Howard’s relatives and now we can trace his family history back ten generations,” she says.

                “To do what Michele and I do, you really have to like history.”

                “We do what we can to help others find their relatives, too,” Mi-

 

Under top picture:

Michele sprays the tombstone of her great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon Force, Sr., with headstone cleaner to remove the years of dirt, dust and mold it has accumulated.  She then scrubs it with a stiff brush and rinses it with water.

Under bottom left picture:

Michele and Margie sometimes rub colored chalk onto a shattered headstone to make the lettering show up better.  They re-assembled most of the broken stones in the Lowe Cemetery flat on the ground, while propping others up with some of the broken pieces.

Under bottom right picture:

“Taking photographs of every headstone in each cemetery takes a lot of time and patience,” says Margie.  This is one of the newer markers in the Lowe Cemetery.

 

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                chele  adds.

                “We can give them information that would take hours or even weeks to research on their own.

                “It makes us feel good when we can help someone solve a mystery about his or her missing ancestors.

                “I do a lot of the physical work.

                “But without Margie’s knowledge of the cemeteries, it would be just me out here, probing and digging by myself.

                “She knows nearly everyone in the county and she’s really opened a lot of doors that would never have been opened to me.

                “I think we make a great team!”

 

The Lowe Cemetery

                A few years ago, a man named John Harsh took it upon himself to let people know that there was an old graveyard on a hilltop

                just off Arnold Highway.

                “He said it had never been taken care of and was all grown over with brush, small trees, poison ivy and other weeds and

                plants,” Margie says.

                “The Lowe… or Brock, as local people call it… Cemetery was a mess.

                “Beer bottles and trash were strewn everywhere and pieces of old bones were scattered in the dirt.”

                “It just broke my heart to see it in such bad shape,” Michele says.

                “The first time we came out here and walked through it, we had to duck under the brush.

                “There were so many big holes… either from groundhogs or from the pine boxes deteriorating… that every once in a while my

                 leg would sink down into the hole clear up to my hip.”

 

John’s The Man!

                “John went to the courthouse and looked up ownership and other

 

Under left picture:

This piece of bone, about four inches long, is one of many found in the Lowe cemetery.  “We don’t know if its animal or human,” says Michele, “But I’m not touching it!”

Under right picture:

Michele and Margie tried to reassemble the tombstones in the Lowe Cemetery and put them back into their proper places.  Many had been broken and the pieces were strewn over a wide area.  The oak tree at the back of the cemetery measures 15 feet around and there’s a Civil War soldiers grave beneath it.

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items of interest, including newspaper stories and then contacted older local people and got their stores about the cemetery,” Margie says.

                “He went in and made a map of it, using stones that were visible and landmarks.

                “Then Anita Craig joined in and helped, too.

                “There was a whole group of people who went in and cut weeds, sawed down brush and worked to make the cemetery presentable.

                “Then Michele and Anita did the final part… digging up the tombstones they could find and placing them in rows.

                “John also convinced the township to build a stone road up to the cemetery.

                “It was a huge improvement to that area.”

                “When we got the cemetery uncovered, we found that nearly every headstone had been broken,” Michele says.

                “Some of the pieces had been thrown from one side of the cemetery the other.

                “We measured and marked every ten feet with flags then ran wires to make the grid.

                “From old records we found at the library and in the township hall, we tried to put the stones back as close to their original locations as possible.

                “We just laid them flat on the ground, rather than trying to stand then upright again.”

 

Where IS Catherine Buried?

                Michele and Margie would like to ask a favor of the other residents of Lenawee County.

                “If they know of any small private cemeteries or single graves or headstones on their property, please contact us,” says Michele.

                “We can make arrangements to have the bodies exhumed and relocated to one of the cemeteries.

                “We don’t reveal our sources, so they’re not going to get into any kind of trouble.

                “And if people have ANY old Bibles, scrapbooks, photo albums or pieces of information of any kind about the cemeteries, please don’t throw them away,” adds Michele.

                “We ask that they take them to the library, a museum or their township house.

                “Or they can contact us and we’ll make arrangements to pick them up.

                “To them, the books might look like junk,

                “But they could contain the missing links we need to locate someone’s grave.

                “And MAYBE they’ll help us find Catherine’s!”

Judy’s Note:  To contact the Crazy Cemetery Ladies, you may visit their website at crazycemeteryladiesof lenaweeco.webs.com/

 

Under top picture:

Margie takes a picture of the headstone of John and Sally Hagerman in Lowe Cemtery.

Under bottom picture:

In the Hagaman Cemetery, possibly the oldest in Lenawee County, a tree with four trunks has grown between the headstone of Peter and Mary Bachman’s grave marker.  Peter passed away in 1903 and Mary died in 1917.

Thank You!

Thank you to Judy who wrote this wonderful article!  She really did a great job!

News1@FarmlandNews.com