Exploring Almost Forgotten Gravesites in the Great State of Ohio

Dedicated to cemetery preservation in the great state of Ohio

"A cemetery may be considered as abandoned when all or practically all of the bodies have been Removed therefrom and no bodies have been buried therein for a great many years, and the cemetery has been so long neglected as entirely to lose its identity as such, and is no longer known, recognized and respected by the public as a cemetery. 1953 OAG 2978."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Maple Grove Cemetery - North Lewisburg, Champaign County, Ohio - Additional Information

Further information provided by Ralph Lowell Coleman, Jr.

Record keeping from 1837 - the present in Maple Grove Cemetery AND Woodstock Cemetery, Rush Township, Champaign County, Ohio.

The township records ARE the cemetery records. The township trustees are responsible for burials in Maple Grove and Woodstock Cemetery. Those burials within North Lewisburg (Butcher Cemetery and Friends Cemetery) did not come under the jurisdiction of the township trustees.

Yes, when a cemetery plot is purchased a deed is issued; that's Ohio state law. Cemetery deeds for Maple Grove Cemetery started in 1892, and sold for $5 per gravesite. These were eventually upped in price over the years to the present approximate $1000 per Lot (4 graves). These deed records are kept under lock-and-key in the Rush Township clerk's office, in North Lewisburg.

I had access to the original records from May - August 2009. I have made an index of ALL of the grave deeds for Maple Grove Cemetery from 1892 - 2009. I prepared a hard copy for the trustees of Rush Township, a copy for myself, and have all of that data in a digital database on my computer. Everyone who purchased a Square, Lot, or Gravesite is listed in either the original deed records, the hard copy index, or in my digital database. This also includes transfers of ownership from one party (the original owner) to another over the course of the years. Deeds to cemetery plots, as held by family members, are often passed on to succeeding generations via wills. (As an example, I have never purchased a gravesite in Maple Grove, but the deeds to five gravesites in various locations of the cemetery have been passed on to me by members of my family. My name now appears in the deeds record book as owner, based upon transfer of ownership).

Can you imagine how many generations have done this over the years? Often, a relative who did not personally own a gravesite was buried in a family plot owned by others. The plot was already paid for; the family merely had to pay the fees for opening and closing the gravesite. Often, that same family, strapped by a lack of cash or for other reasons, never placed a headstone at the gravesite. Sometimes deed owners of the gravesites were not even buried in them; they moved on to another town, or were subsequent buried in yet another cemetery plot, or their burials were not recorded.

In a perfect world, all of this original data would have followed some logical, set pattern when recorded on those recordbook pages over the years. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Sextons came and went; trustees were elected every two or four years over the past 120 years; standards were not set and maintained.

Each of the pages in the original record book for burials was written on, by hand, in pencil, red pencil, ink or ballpoint pen by the sextons of the cemetery over the course of the time that Maple Grove has been in existance. Some of those sextons (who dug the graves) could neither read nor write, so no annotations were made in the book. Or, annotations made in the book were sketchy...often listing very little information, no first names, no burial dates, etc. Sometimes the gravesite of a wife who died and was buried was merely listed as "Mrs." with no first, maiden, or last name. In thousands of cases, the burial dates were not listed.

The funeral home(s) were responsible for maintaining a record of the burials. Unfortunately, the records of the home in North Lewisburg were borrowed by individuals over the years to transcribe them into other records. As a result, many records (to include complete years) have been lost forever.

I have carefully compiled records from the Freeman--Freshwater-Ferguson-McDonald-Vernon funeral home for the years which I indicated (1890-1910, 1926-1956). The records for the missing years cannot be reconstructed by the present ownership of the funeral home.

Today, when a burial becomes necessary, a gravesite is purchased, or a member of a family is able to ascertain ownership of the proposed burial plot. A member of the family walks with the sexton or trustee representative to the actual site to ascertain exactly where the individual is to be buried. This was not always the case in by-gone years.

I hope this information helps you understand the history of recordkeeping in Rush Township. And, that you appreciate the fact that since the 1970s a genuine, concerted effort, and standardization of recordkeeping in the township's cemeteries has been followed by the sextons and the trustees. In point-of-fact, Gene Coleman, Don Coleman, Cinda Bailey, and Mark Westfall have done a great job in helping to record burials property at Maple Grove for the better part of the past 30 years.