Not far from downtown Baton Rouge is what’s locally called the old Catholic cemetery. The official name is St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery.
The oldest markers date to 1827. However, it probably contains the remains of people who died as early as the 1790s. The cemetery used to be located in downtown Baton Rouge until the stench prompted its move. The reburials were placed in the new cemetery’s Section 1.
The cemetery has a website and a fascinating plot map. There’s even a newsletter and a Facebook page. The dedication to preserving the final resting place of so many of Baton Rouge’s early settlers is touching.
When I think about the founding families of Gibson in Terrebonne Parish (yes, I’ve been on quite the Gibson tear lately), a few names come to mind: Sick, Walther and Fandal. They were the major landowners in the days after the Civil War. In fact, a lot of the homes that stand today in Gibson are on parcels of land cut from those families’ original holdings.
The Fandals started with Frederick “Fritz” Fandal, who immigrated from Germany and somehow found his way to a tiny swamp town in Louisiana. Supposedly, he invested the profits from hunting alligators into buying property. Eventually, he started a lumber mill and fathered a dozen children. Today, there’s still a street named for him in Gibson although it’s misspelled as Fandall.
Half a century after his death, Fandal’s story was retold in a local newspaper article about his great-great grandson’s tragic death. You can read it below.
My grandmother devoted decades to genealogy research – mostly concentrating on Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Missouri. However, since she moved to Louisiana in her late 20s and became friendly with other genealogy buffs in Terrebonne Parish, her files include stray Louisiana genealogy notes. I’ve been looking through her files to preserve them, and I keep finding Easter eggs.
Today, for example, I found a typed list of some of the graves in the “Catholic Graveyard – Gibson, Louisiana.” The list is typed on the kind of transparent paper I used in high school to write to my overseas pen pal in Sweden because it was light and cheap to mail. Now, I should caution that this list comes with a lot of unknowns. I don’t know who typed it. I don’t know who sharpened a pencil and made notes in the margins. I don’t know what the source was. What I do know is the list contains graves that aren’t in evidence today.
The Catholic Graveyard – Gibson, Louisiana is St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery along the bayou in the Terrebonne Parish village of Gibson. My grandparents from the other side of the family are buried there so I visit periodically to put plastic flowers on their graves.
Visiting the cemetery was one of the highlights of childhood visits to Gibson because we had to cross the bridge to reach it. The single-car bridge had a pedestrian bridge that hovered right above the water. It was metal, which rang like rain on a tin roof when you ran across it. Very satisfying to tiny feet – and we always walked to the cemetery. Gibson was fun in those days: a country store with gingerbread planks, a post office with a rows of gleaming postal boxes, a circular library and the cemetery.
I know just about every grave in that cemetery because I spent a lot of time studying them while Granny whitewashed my grandfather’s grave. I’ve never seen the Schmitt plot.
Joseph Schmitt married Lizzie Templet, who was the baby sister of my great-great grandmother. Joseph worked at the lumber mill in Gibson. Lizzie busied herself having six children. Lizzie’s life wasn’t a long one. She died age 42 in Gibson. Her youngest would have been 12. Joseph died a few years later.
Like I said, there is no Schmitt plot in the Gibson cemetery. Except – according to the notes in my grandmother’s files – there once was an enclosed plot for them. I’m not certain what’s meant by an enclosed plot. But apparently, Joe, Lizzie, sons Ed and Louis and daughter Julia and her husband are all buried in it.
Here’s the thing: Markers aren’t permanent. They have to be maintained. It’s possible I’ve walked past the Schmitt graves without realizing it because the markers are unreadable or the caretaker knocked a mower into them.
Never rely just on markers when doing genealogy research. Look at burial records if they exist. Study old genealogy magazines for grave lists. Sometimes, families couldn’t afford a marker. Other times, markers disappear.
Certainly, the next time I’m in Gibson, I’ll look for an “enclosed plot” with unreadable or missing markers. I’d like to leave some flowers for my vanished relatives.
The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries may not sound like the coolest website in the world, but it’s actually pretty nifty.
Current county boundaries – in Louisiana we call them parishes because we’re tres French once you’re a few miles south of Alexandria – evolved over the years. You may think your ancestor always lived in a particular county or parish. But their county/parish probably was carved out of another county/parish.
Louisiana, for example, didn’t always have 64 parishes. After the Louisiana Purchase and statehood, we slowly started divvying up our boot. Before that, parts of Louisiana were known as the German Coast and Attakapas – terms that have largely been lost to time.
Back in the day, you didn’t have to be a debutante or a lady who lunches to make the newspaper society column. Something as ordinary as having company qualified for a mention.
My great-great grandmother was Mrs. Augustin Giroir (nee Elizabeth Montet). In 1919, relatives came to call from Lafourche Parish. I don’t know who the Mrs. Montet and sons were. It may have been her cousin Desire’s wife and sons.
Plug your ancestor’s name into a newspaper engine and see who came to call on them!
I tumbled down a rabbit hole today in search of a Louisiana newspaper that existed for just a few years in the 1840s. What I found was a “vituperative” Irish newspaperman in 1840s Napoleonville.
Word of the day: Vituperative means bitter and aggressive. More on that in a minute.
“The Star of Assumption” – such an ambitious name for such a short-lived publication – was published by John Keays. Keays lived in Louisiana for nearly 30 years after immigrating from Ireland. He edited several newspapers before publishing “The Star.” He died of a fever in 1844.
As far as I know, no issues of “The Star of Assumption” survive. They were swept into the dustbin of history.
Other newspapers, however, dutifully read the competition and reported on the contents to their own readers.
In April 1843, “the Times-Picayune” reported the launch of the “Star of Assumption” with a writeup by Keays on the state of things in Napoleonville. Apparently, the town boasted a modest number of dwelling houses, a courthouse, a jail, a fire proof brick office, a store, two coffee houses, one billiard table and a religious meeting house. There was no doctor or resident lawyer, but fresh oysters were in abundant supply on a daily basis.
Soon, the newspaper was immersing itself in local politics and sparring with rival publications. Apparently, there was quite a dustup later that year over the removal of a land office from Donaldsonville. “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” sniffed that “the Star of Assumption’s” take on the matter was spirited because of its length – not its import on the matter.
A dispute between “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” and “the Star of Assumption” apparently went beyond reporting on a land office. Also in 1843, the Baton Rouge newspaper took John Keays to task for his “vituperative language against the late editor of this paper.” I don’t know what that language was, but the “Gazette” told Keays “you may foam and rant, friend, but your end will never be like his.”
“The Gazette” was kind in reporting on the “Star’s” demise less than a year later.
What did the “Star” in was a new state law involving the advertisement of sheriff’s sales. I don’t know what the law was – only that it killed rural papers.
Keays removed himself to Texas only to die the same year his newspaper met its demise. Let’s hope he got a glorious end despite the ill wishes of “The Baton-Rouge Gazette.”
I love the tags for this photo: portraits, mustaches, bus drivers and French Americans. Those sum up this picture of Joseph Cazeaux.
Joseph’s photograph is included in the Historic Photos of Southwest Louisiana in Louisiana Digital Library. The caption says he was a “peppery little driver of the bus from the depot to the town’s hostelries.”
The collection totals 5,000 photographs and documents McNeese State University, Lake Charles and Calcasieu (Lake Charles’ parish). It includes photos collected by public health nurse Maude Reid. In her spare time, Maude gathered photographs, newspaper clippings and other historical records. She pasted them into scrapbooks. Among her photographs was the picture of Joseph.
Thank goodness for amateur historians like Maude, who preserved slice-of-life moments in everyday America.
Here’s another picture captured by Maude. I assume this is a mother with her children. Because they didn’t speak English (probably spoke French), Maude couldn’t find out.
Maude also took pictures of homes, like this one that once stood at 527 Pujo Street in Lake Charles. She snapped this shortly before the house was demolished. It belonged to Mr. and Mrs. S. Arthur Knapp. I looked on Google maps. The lot is vacant with a single surviving tree.
Here’s a baptism in the Calcasieu River. Notice the women’s white dresses.
I love this image of children saying grace at the First Ward School (principal was Mary Belle Williamson), probably because one little girl appears to be peeking at what the other children are doing instead of concentrating on her prayers. I tend to be a little over curious myself.
Here’s Sonya Davidson playing ball.
Finally, here’s Maude at age 3.
In addition to being quite the amateur photographer and scrapbooker, Maude was Calcasieu Parish’s first public health nurse. She established clinics that served the parish’s poor, allowing her to come across the scenes she photographed.
I’m not talking about the ghost towns of the Old West with wooden buildings battered by the wind and tumbleweeds blowing across layers of sun-baked dirt. I’m not even sure those towns exist outside “The Brady Bunch.”
What fascinates me are the places that once thrived only to slowly fade away. Places that once had stores selling RC cola and pink frosted gingerbread planks. Places where old people sat on their front porches and watched a very small world pass by. Places where people sang hymns on Sunday mornings and took naps on hot summer days.
A lot of ghost towns in Louisiana involve a saw mill.
Lumber companies would build saw mills and construct an entire village around them. My grandmother’s grandparents lived in a Texas saw mill town. Everything was owned by the saw mill, including the workers’ homes. When her grandfather died of a heart attack during his lunch break, the company kindly allowed his widow to live in their humble home until her own death.
Some saw mill towns even had their own schools and cemeteries. The communities tended to be short-lived. Once the mill closed, the town died. People drifted away in search of work.
Saw mill town in Louisiana include: Alco, Ashmore, Barham, Blanche, Carson, Chasmore, Fisher, Holdup, Hutton, Kurthwood, Lecompte, Longleaf, Longville, McNary, Meridian, Neame, Peason, Seiper, Victoria and Ward.
Not all of these are ghost towns. Lecompte is still around and serving fabulous pies at Lea’s.
In the summer of 1856, Zoe Emma Mille vacationed on Last Island at the tip of Louisiana with her parents, brothers, sister-in-law and a niece/nephew (the gender’s been lost to history). She was the only member of her party to survive the hurricane that struck the island.
Emma is remembered as the last living survivor of the Last Island hurricane (which hit in the days before hurricanes were named) – and that may be true. She was 97 when she died in 1936.
A year before her death, she shared her story with a New Orleans newspaper.
If you’ve been to Louisiana in July or August, then you can understand the appeal of an island awash in the breeze from the Gulf of Mexico. Located off the coast of Terrebonne Parish, Last Island had a big hotel and privately owned cottages. Emma’s father owned one of those cottages. It was their first time vacationing in it.
They boarded the ferry at Plaquemine and arrived to an island packed with vacationing families. Every cottage seemed to be occupied.
Quickly, though, the Milles started to worry. The waves were too high for wading. The wind was blowing hard. The temperature soared, a light rain began to fall and the wind picked up even more power.
It soon became clear this wasn’t a summer storm. A hurricane was hitting and would rip the island into pieces.
Other cottage occupants fled to the big hotel. The Milles stayed put because the baby was sick. That afternoon, crowded together in one room, they felt the house shake. Then the waves crashed in.
Emma saw her sister-in-law sweep past her. She was clutching her baby. They – along with Emma’s parents and brothers – drowned. Only Emma survived. She was one of the few who drifted back ashore after being washed out to the Gulf.
Another vacationer – Dr. Alfred Duperier – fled the hotel when the hurricane hit and dashed into a cottage, where he tied himself to an armoire. The next morning, he found himself on the beach looking at the ruins of the hotel.
Now an orphan, Emma left the island on the same boat as Dr. Duperier. He carried her in a chair off the ship because she was too weak to walk. Emma stayed with Dr. Duperier’s mother until her brother-in-law could collect her.
Before she left, Dr. Duperier gave Emma a book of religious poems. Inside was a note: “As Divine Providence saved us miraculously, it must be that we were destined for each other.”
Years ago, Ancestry had a wonderful newspaper database that was included in your subscription price. Then some bean counter told Ancestry to spin that database into a separate subscription service because people would pay extra for it. The bean counter was right.
I subscribe to Genealogy Bank and Newspapers.com. I’m not thrilled about the monthly cost, but I do use them. However, I would much rather donate money to a university digital project that makes historic newspapers free to all.