I came back to NY today and on the way I stopped in Wellington, PA. There is a Quaker meeting house there off Rte. 74 (Warrington Meeting House) and my sixth great grandfather Rev. Alexander Underwood was one of its key, founding members. He helped raise money to purchase the land and was a very well known minister within the Quaker community.
Alexander was born in 1688 in Maryland and died in 1767 (on Oct. 31) in Wellington, Pa. He is buried in the cemetery of the Warrington Meeting house (part of which, along with the original meeting house, you can see in my photo above). I wasn’t able to find his stone, which was frustrating. I thought that I had found that of my fifth great grandmother – his daughter Ann Ailes Fraizor, nee Underwood (I’m descended from her via her husband S. Ailes) but it was the wife of another Underwood (tangentially related). It was a sad fact that many stones were worn almost to illegibility and many of the oldest stones were quite simply unreadable.
That was actually one of many frustrating parts of this visit. Now it may simply have been that St. Luke’s cemetery was such an intense experience and that I was simply still bowled over from that, but I got absolutely nothing – no contact at all—from the Warrington graves.
Now this is my biological mother’s paternal line (her father’s paternal line specifically) and that entire line is a bit vexed. There have been many challenges and blockages as I try to uncover ancestor information. I’ve made some strides (identifying Rev. Underwood for instance as my sixth great grandfather) but it’s still frustrating and very slow going when compared to my mother’s maternal line.
I spent a significant amount of time today walking through the cemetery searching pretty much all the stones (the cemetery was not that large). I spoke with members of the congregation as they were setting up for a morning Meeting. They weren’t sure which of the Underwoods were buried there or where and the person who knew wouldn’t be in today, but I received permission to wander to my heart’s content through the cemetery. Even better, I got the chance to walk into and see the meeting house that my sixth great grandfather helped found. That was pretty damned cool. (I’m sure they would have allowed me to remain for the service but I’m not Quaker and I refuse to be one of those people who ogles other religious practitioners like they’re specimens under a microscope. I’ve experienced that too much as a polytheist when visitors attend our services to do it to someone else. I moved my car so that I wouldn’t bother anyone when my friend MAG and I left and got down to the business of making offerings). Not being able to find the graves, I found an old tree in the cemetery, one that I liked, prayed, poured out offerings and eventually left.
I tried to suss out why there was so much silence tonight once I got home, but div was inconclusive. Part of it may have been that I always have a cadre of military dead with me and Quakers are pacifists (though there were several in the cemetery who served in the War of 1812 or the Civil War); part of it may have been that there was a Meeting in progress, in fact I got a strong sense that was significant; and I’m sure there were other reasons too. It was, however, frustrating. I had a feeling last night though that this particular leg of my visit wasn’t going to be particularly productive. I considered just going straight home but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It’s just not time for that line to open up to me yet and that’s ok.
Today I started a very mini-pilgrimage. Mostly I’m down in MD to visit family, but on the way, I very deliberately sought out a cemetery where I know a number of my relatives are buried. (I intend to visit another from a different part of my lineage on the way home. Both are in the same county in PA). It was…overwhelming. I walked into the cemetery and realized immediately that I am related, quite directly too, to at least 95% of the people there. I’ve never been in a cemetery where I had more than one or two relatives, certainly not one that has six plus generations of my maternal line! It was dizzying and I quickly became disoriented. I don’t think I can quite describe the sensation of walking amongst that many of my dead, or of sinking down before my third great grandparents’ stones and communing with them. It was powerful to say the least.
Since I have difficulty driving long distances because of my back and neck injuries, my friend MAG drove me down and is accompanying me on the ancestor pieces of this journey. She is a good travel buddy and very good at playing handler for me if need be—and today I needed it. We left NY at five am and made it into York County, PA by ten thirty but it took us almost another hour to find the cemetery. We knew it was off rte 425 but even so, it was not the easiest thing to find. When we did, it hit me like a punch in the solar plexus, literally knocking the wind right out of me. I saw it as we crested a hill and I knew “that one ‘s mine.”
My primary purpose was to visit the grave of my first cousin twice removed (I think I go that right! An error in my genealogy had me thinking he was my second great uncle for awhile.) Wesley Heffner who died on June 5 from wounds sustained in WWI.
Wesley was part of Co. B 26th Infantry which was part of the first American forces to arrive in France as part of Pershing’s Expeditionary Force. They were immediately deployed to the front. According to the wiki entry on this regiment, they earned more campaign streamers than any other regiment but at a terrible cost, losing nearly half their forces. (1) They did, however, help turn the tide of the war. “…Soldiers of that regiment were quintessential doughboys: part of the first American division to arrive in France, the 26th Infantry was first to enter combat, first to sustain a casualty, first to take the offensive, and first to enter Germany after the Armistice.” (2) Wesley didn’t make it to the Armistice. He died before the battle of Soissons. I’m still trying to track down where his company would have been in May-June 1918 but I haven’t had much luck. Near as I can tell, probably Cantigny, maybe Amiens, but I’m not sure. I’ve a bit of research ahead of me.
Anyway, I went to visit his grave and I knew I had a couple more ancestors buried there but I had no idea, just…no idea exactly how many. Usually when I go into a graveyard, after having made some preliminary offerings, I can find who I’m looking for almost immediately. That was not the case here. There were just too many and I was completely overwhelmed. I finally asked Private Heffner ‘I’m here to honor you, I need some help finding you!” and heard clear as day “look to your right.” And there he was. Later, he helped me find his grandparents (I finally thought to ask him again after I nearly passed out from the heat after a very long time tramping through in the graveyard. I tried to douse and it all but exploded in my hands because there were just so many of my ancestors there. Again, when I asked, he immediately pointed them out).
I have a certain protocol that I follow when I come into a cemetery to do this type of work. First I cover my head and I greet the cemetery spirit itself. I make offerings to the cemetery and then general offerings to those buried there, explaining my purpose. I ask the help of the cemetery itself and my own ancestors in locating them. Usually it’s not a problem but this was so intense. I don’t have words to explain. If there is anywhere in the United States that is my ancestral land, it’s Chanceford Township. To this day, Heffners, Schoffs, Runkles et al people the place. This cemetery was filled with my people, my ancestors, generation after generation after generation and they recognized me, and so did the land itself. It’s the only time in the US that I’ve had that experience (it has happened occasionally at certain places in Europe). There was a depth of connection there that I’d never experienced before. Usually when I go into a cemetery in MD or PA I might have one or two ancestors there, maybe half a dozen but not dozens, not multiple generations (as in seven, eight, nine and more generations), not that many directly linked, my direct antecedants. It was so incredibly dizzying.
So after staggering around the cemetery pouring out offerings for about a half hour, I finally realized I needed to focus. I made a general offering to all of my ancestors there and explained first I wanted to find Wesley, and then having asked his help I did that. I spent a good half hour making offerings. The photo of the young man above is very likely the only extant picture of him. Soldiers were (and I believe still are) photographed when they enlist, just in case they die in service, which he did.
I made offerings at his stone, having divined last night about their appropriateness. (For those new to reading my blog, reverencing the dead is a major tenet of my religion. We are expected to tend our ancestors’ graves, visit them, make offerings, know our genealogy, maintain a household ancestor shrine, etc. We use divination to ensure that our offerings and actions are correct and welcome).
Then I double checked my list (I had a list of ancestors that I knew were buried in that cemetery. It was…to say the least…incomplete! While I was hunting for Wesley, a woman came and made a grave rubbing of one of the stones for a client (she was a genealogist), and spoke with my friend MAG. She gave MAG a website where another genealogist had taken photographs of every stone in that cemetery. It was very helpful. MAG passed it onto me and I was able to see what a stone looked like, which narrowed down the process of finding it (no small thing given that my head was just spinning the whole time I was there. Writing this now, hours and hours later, I feel as though I was hit by a mack truck and I’m not sure if it’s from the long drive or the time with my dead!)(3)
I cried when I found the graves of my third great grandparents Jesse Runkle and Elizabeth Runkle (nee Oberlander). Their stones are side by side and as with Wesley I was able to sit for a long time in front of them talking, praying, and making offerings. I’ve never quite experienced anything like sitting there on that ground with them and I wish I could have stayed for a much longer time. There simply wasn’t enough time and I hope to soon return, perhaps in a few months, and spend a significant amount of time in a mini utiseta.(4)
Here is Jesse’s stone by itself:
Here is a photo (poor quality for which I apologize!) of him and Elizabeth as adult seniors (copied from the Runkle Genealogy book by J .Grove. She was kind enough to send me a photocopy of the images as we are both descended from Jesse. I do not know who originally took these portraits as both of my third great grandparents died well before I was born!):
And here is her stone by itself:
After a stumbling, staggering struggle (and nearly passing out from the heat, which I ignored far too long in a dogged desire to find their stone), I managed to find with Wesley’s help, the stones of my second great grandparents William Henry Heffner and Catherine Heffner (nee Runkle).
Wesley is their grandson. His parents, Amos and Della Heffner were there too.
It was odd, I kept wondering why everyone wasn’t grouped together ‘why aren’t you buried next to relatives?” except they are. The entire cemetery is related. I’m still boggled by it. I realize why people fight to the death to protect their ancestral burial grounds. I always understood it mentally but now I get it on a gut level. I understand to the marrow of my being. These are my people and this land that holds their bones is sacred.
It is late now and I am exhausted and will be spending the next two days with (living) relatives. I have more to tell and more photos but for now I’ll conclude with this image. Those rolling fields and many more like them once sustained my ancestors. It’s a good place to live and a very good place to rest and when the land speaks carrying the bones of one’s dead, it’s very hard not to listen.
I’m lucky too. I kept finding Civil War soldiers amongst my direct antecedents and MAG helpfully pointed out that I must have had soldiers who fought at Gettysburg – it isn’t that far from here and all of my folks were in PA regiments. It was, for awhile 50/50 as to whether we’d be making a side trip to the battlefield. It’s still a possibility.
Later, after the cemetery visit, I met a cousin (twice over, though we haven’t calculated the exact relationship, how many times removed, etc.) who has helped me in the past with my genealogy. Ms. J. as I’ll call her here told me that Elizabeth was a remarkable woman. She had sixteen children and all of them survived to adulthood, something almost unheard of in her time. These women were tough. It wasn’t uncommon to have ten, thirteen, sixteen, seventeen, and more children at home and sans painkiller or modern medicine. They had grit.
I’m a little stunned as I write this. I spent the day visiting relatives and ended up, as per a promise I made to my ancestors in November, hunting down the cemetery where my great-great-grandfather is buried. After that, things got beautifully weird.
To start with, I had no idea exactly where this cemetery was. I knew it was in Peach Bottom, PA but that’s it. I couldn’t find an address for it, not even on google. I figured it seems to be on or near Rte. 222 so let’s just drive that and if we have to, we can ask someone at a gas station or something. We’d no sooner crossed the PA border than we came upon an old, small cemetery. I had no idea if this was the right one and it seemed rather too close to the MD/PA border to be so but I had a feeling so I told my friend who was driving to stop and I got out.
Almost immediately I found my great great grandfather’s stone.
His name is Stephen J. Hanna and he is the father of Perry Barnes Hanna who is the father of Roland Isaac Hanna who is my grandfather (on my mother’s side). When I visited MD on Thanksgiving, I had found his wife’s grave (Elizabeth Johnson) at West Nottingham cemetery and I’d wondered at the time where he was. It seems he died first and was buried in Rock Spring Cemetery in PA, with a lot of Hannas. A LOT of them. She died twenty years later and from what I can tell, was buried near her children who were part of the local parish.
In addition, and purely by chance, dumb luck, and my ancestors being sneaky, I also found the graves of my great-great-great grandparents, James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874) and Esther Ailes Hanna (1798-1887).
Esther Ailes Hanna
I poured out water to them and to all the Hannas buried there and thanked them for being my ancestors, for guiding me to the grave, and I showed respect by bowing to the ground.
I didn’t think anything more about it. We had my aunt in the car and she was hungry and so were my travel buddies so we went to lunch. When I got home I started researching a bit, curious as to whether or not I could find a few more graves in the area and I didn’t, but I did get a major gift from my dead. I managed to trace a couple of the lines back to the 1600s , lines I’d been trying to research for months and months with no luck.
I’m not actually able to input a genealogy chart here (I wish I could, it would be far easier) so let me break it down.
I’ll start with Perry Barnes Hanna (21 April 1876-17 April 1949), my great grandfather. He is buried at West Nottingham Cemetery in Colora, MD along with his mother Elizabeth Johnson (1836-1909). His father Stephen J. Hanna (1832-1897) is buried in Rock Springs Baptist Cemetery in Peach Bottom, PA.
Stephen J. Hanna’s parents, James Andrew Hanna, Esq. (1800-1874) and Esther Ailes (1798-1887) are also buried in Rock Springs Cemetery though there is some question as to whether or not they were Baptist or Quaker.
I was able today to trace James Andrew’s parents: John Hanna (1773-1857) and Martha Jenkins (1781-1857). They married in 1799. I don’t know where exactly they’re buried yet. (I didn’t see their graves in Rock Springs but I may go back tomorrow to check again). John Hanna’s father was James Hanna (1725–10 December 1798) and Elizabeth Glenn (1731-1808ish) They married on 15 July 1748. I guess John was born late in life to his father. Interesting fact about James Hanna: he served as a private in Captain John Graham’s company, 1st battalion militia in the Revolutionary War and was born in Ulster county, Ireland. That’s as far back as I’ve gone on that side of the Hanna line. (Ironically, I may be eligible through him for the DAR!) Let’s continue with Esther Ailes’ line. This is information I’ve been dying to find out and today it just fell into my lap.
First, let’s look at her paternal line. Her father was Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) and her mother Sarah Byland (1773-1830). Let’s follow her father’s line.
Stephen Ailes’ parents were Stephen Michael Ailes (5 March 1750–21 Sept. 1828) and Elizabeth Swayne (1751- January 26, 1820). Stephen Michael’s parents were Stephen Ailes (1717-1754) and Ann Underwood (1718-1767). I’m a little saddened by those dates. Apparently Stephen Michael was only four when his father died and a teenager when his mother died. That’s as far as I can go with his paternal line. Stephen Ailes’ (1771-1816) mother was Elizabeth Swayne. Let’s trace her line:
Her father was Edward Swayne (20 November 1702- 24 April 1776). He was born in Binfield, Berkshire, UK. Given his date of death, I’m wondering if he fought in the Revolutionary war and on what side (more research will be necessary). He died in Pa. Her mother was Sarah Fincher (1703- 1 November 1804). It looks like she was born in London Grove, Pa. They married April 25, 1727 in New Garden, Chester County, PA. HER parents were John Fincher (1679-1747) and Martha Taylor (3 January 1680-1713). Edward Swayne’s parents were Francis Swayne (19 February 1665 – 30 November 1721). He was born in Binfield, Berkshire, UK. He married Elizabeth Melton (1667-1727), also born in the UK. They both died in East Marlborough, Chester County, PA so I think they were the first in this line to immigrate to the US (though it was the colonies, not the US then).
Elizabeth Swayne’s mother Sarah Fincher was born to John Fincher (born 28 January 1678 in Wolverly, Wyre Forest district Worcestershire in the UK, died 24 November 1747 in PA) and Martha Taylor. They married 1699. John’s parents were Francis Fincher (nicknamed “the Immigrant”, or “the Quaker”—so at least we know he was Quaker!) ( 2 October 1626- 1 June 1684) and Mary Achelly (1636 – 1699). They married on 3 April 1678. (He was first married to Elizabeth Mary Sibthorpe, but she died in 1676 ). Right now, that’s as far as I can take the Swayne line. John Fincher may have arrived, as per Quaker meeting notes, in the colonies on 14 March 1683. His father Francis died by drowning in Philadelphia and was a glover.
Finally, let’s return to Sarah Byland, Esther’s mother. She is the daughter of John Byland and Susannah Ailes. That’s all I have so far, but it’s so very much more than I had this morning! It’s like I poured out a couple of bottles of water on their graves to refresh and honor my dead and BAM! They opened up the line a little bit more for me.
So I am thrilled though I have a ton more research to do to verify all of this fully. This is not the first time I’ve visited graves, made offerings and had information fall out of the blue in my lap though. Honoring the ancestors….it works. 🙂
Before I returned home from my MD visit, I did go back to the cemetery where my maternal grandmother and her parents (as well as a brother) are buried. I’d taken photos when I first visited, but after I made offerings. One of the offerings was pouring good, fresh water over the stones (to refresh the dead). It almost totally obscured the inscriptions, something I didn’t realize until I got home and looked through my photos. I wanted a good picture for my files, for my memory, as a touchstone of connection so I went back the next day and took these.
This is my grandmother’s gravestone.
And this is the stone of her parents and one of her brothers. May they ever be remembered.
November is always a time for me to remember the Veterans in my family, and to honor my military dead. I wish I lived near my family’s graves (I’m several states away). I’d go today to clean the gravestones, pour libations of fresh water over them, set out flags and candles, flowers and incense all to let them know they are remembered and loved. I can’t do it at family graves, but I can do it at my ancestor shrine where i have pictures of as many of my ancestors as I can, and plenty of room for candles.
In the meantime, a thank you to all our Veterans as we begin the slow march toward Veteran’s Day. You are remembered. Your sacrifices mean something. You are part of something so much bigger than yourselves. I wish that as a nation we could look to you and question the devastation of war before we throw ourselves gaily forward into another one. I wish that we could see the price that our Veterans pay and allow that to inform our decisions of how much life we’re willing to expend for our nation’s dubious glory. In the meantime to every man and woman serving: respect.
(Photo by Angela B. Pan — i found it floating around Facebook)