The listing of “hospital cemetery” as the place of burial is a major clue to where she died. Ordinary hospitals don’t have a hospital – as convenient as that would be. Edna died in Jackson, Louisiana, which is home to the East Louisiana State Hospital. To this day, it tends to the mentally ill.
I don’t know when the decision was made to create a cemetery for the hospital. It probably didn’t take long to decide one was needed. The dead have to be buried, even if their family doesn’t have the resources or the care to do it.
Edna died of tuberculosis just three days after Christmas 1913. She did indeed die at the mental hospital in Jackson, Louisiana. If the scant information on her death certificate is to be believed, she’d been there two years and no one knew much about her other than her name.
I came across her death certificate while researching the Vining family. Vining is an unusual name that came into my family tree when Evy Vining married my granny’s aunt.
Edna Vining likely wasn’t related to Evy Vining, but her death certificate pulled me in.
Being sick over Christmas is bad enough. Dying of tuberculosis is even worse. And the person filling out Edna’s death certificate didn’t know her age, her parents’ names or even her usual place of residence other than a vague reference to East Feliciana Parish.
The day after her death, Edna was buried in the hospital cemetery.
In Edna’s time, it was called the insane asylum although I don’t believe it was unusual to be placed there because of a tuberculosis diagnosis.
The census taker recorded Edna at the insane asylum in 1910. She was 35 at the time and married. She would’ve been around 38 when she died a few years later. Curiously, the census taker recorded her name as Etna – not Edna.
And that’s all I know about Edna or Etna. Her road ended at an insane asylum in a small town.
I have a confession. Most people think my name is Ava because I started this blog using a junk email address that bore my cat’s name. My name is actually Michelle. Nice to meet you!
Why Michelle, you ask? There was a popular Beatles song with the name Michelle in it many years before I was born. It was so popular that here I am along with thousands of other Michelles.
I often wish I had a more unusual name. But I also often wish I didn’t have freckles, which do make me unusual. There’s no pleasing me.
My family tree is riddled with names no longer in fashion: Anaise, Florentin, Cordelier. Well, I could go on and on.
It’s interesting how names are decided. My great grandfather was named for a rich, childless uncle. It didn’t work. The money became an educational trust. My aunt was named for a pretty girl who worked the drugstore counter. For years, we’ve debated why my father-in-law was named Baker. We can’t come up with an explanation. Maybe his mother – who died young – read it in a book.
I encountered an entirely new name this past weekend when we visited my in laws’ graves in Jefferson Davis Parish (yes, we’re aware that name should be changed).
My in laws are buried on part of the family farm near Kinder. Buried near them is Poley Hebert. When was the last time you met a Poley? A Pokey, sure. But Poley? Was his name Napoleon?
I don’t know much about Poley other than that he was a tall farmer of medium build. One of his sisters was named Ariese.
I spent Easter weekend in Shreveport, where I saw the Oscar-winning Coda, visited the auditorium where a young Elvis Presley forged his musical career, met my youngest nephew (he screamed every time I tried to hold him), drove through a historic cemetery and ate pastries, ham, turkey, fish and chips, a shrimpbuster (it’s a Shreveport thing), salmon, loaded potatoes, hot cross buns and God’s knows what else. I’m never eating again as soon as I finish this bag of Skinny Pop.
But back to the cemetery … I love visiting cemeteries, and Oakland Cemetery in downtown Shreveport is a must for history buffs. It’s the oldest, existing cemetery in Shreveport and sits on the outskirts of downtown. It’s not in the best part of town -although it’s directly across from Municipal Auditorium – so it’s best to bring a friend with you and visit during broad daylight. Just be aware of your surroundings.
Oakland is the final resting place of multiple mayors, at least four congressmen, an ambassador, yellow fever victims, a madam, Martha Washington’s great-great granddaughter and the first Shreveport police officer killed in the line of duty. You’ll also find members of Shreveport’s founding families here. The cemetery is no longer in the business of burying people so it’s very much a tribute to the past.
The Smith family’s plot caught my eye on a recent visit. I decided to find out who they were.
The patriarch of this plot was Joseph B. Smith, who died in 1889 at age 58. Known as J.B. Smith, he was born in Kentucky but moved to Shreveport as a young man. He went into the pharmacy business under his brother. Eventually, he and a partner opened their own hardware store in downtown Shreveport.
Smith prospered in Shreveport. The business flourished and he built a handsome home to accommodate his wife and their five sons. His death was sudden and relatively unexpected. He’d been feeling poorly for a few weeks but had seemed to rally until he suddenly came down with congestion and died minutes later. This is according to The Shreveport Times, which described him as clear-headed, cautious and painstaking.
It appears that Smith’s wife, Mary, took over the family business. She hastened to assure the good people of Shreveport that the hardware business would continue.
Mary, who was 15 years younger than J.B., would outlive him by more than three decades. She is also buried at Oakland although her marker is much more modest. Instead of a monument reaching toward the sky, she’s remembered with a simple marker set in the ground. It seems fitting that the headline for her news obit simply summarized her as the widow of a prominent businessman (who had been dead for 43 years).
Near Mary is her son Leon Rutherford, who was just 14 when his father died. Leon got a grand marker with a wreath and tribute in stone, perhaps because he died rather tragically.
Remember on Downton Abbey when Lavinia rather conveniently died from the Spanish flu, paving the way for Mary to wed her true love and stay in her childhood home? There was nothing convenient about Leon’s death, but he did die from the Spanish flu that was sweeping Shreveport at the time. In fact, the flu was so feared that the family skipped a church funeral and just did services at the grave.
Like I said, Leon was just 14 when his father died. He’d been away at school but he came home to help with the family business. Leon explored a lot of interests before landing on a career. He worked for a jeweler and a bank and ultimately decided to go to law school. He went into practice with a former governor.
From the law, it was a natural move into politics. Leon first served on the School Board before winning election to the Louisiana Legislature. It was at a speech that he likely caught the Spanish flu. He developed pneumonia and died two weeks later at his home on Fairfield Avenue.
Leon is one of two of J.B. and Mary Smith’s children who is buried at Oakland (the rest of their sons are at another Shreveport cemetery). The other is Joseph Bruce Smith, who died in 1942. It appears that Joseph, who was a real estate agent, never married.
Highland Cemetery isn’t one of those flashy graveyards with giant mausoleums or serene statues. The graves here are crumbling and lie tucked away in a neighborhood near the roar of Tiger Stadium. The veterans buried here tend to have fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. By the time the Civil War swept into Louisiana, Highland Cemetery had been forgotten.
Today, the cemetery soldiers on with the help of history enthusiasts who are giving it the due it deserves as Baton Rouge’s oldest cemetery. The cemetery sits on the Highland Ridge, an area settled by Germans and Acadians through Spanish land grants (according to a helpful sign in the cemetery). The settlers’ surnames included Adams, Anglehart, Babin (related!), Daigre (related!), Garig, Hillen, Landry (related!), Kleinpeter (as in the dairy people, I assume) and Sharp (as in Sharp Road, I assume).
The cemetery dates to 1813, when a landowner named George Garig gave a piece of his property to the community. This was common for settlers with an abundance of land. People had to be buried somewhere, and George had all that property and he wasn’t even farming all of it (which is how I’d imagine the gentle prodding went). The fact that it wasn’t consecrated must have weighed on George’s mind because less than a decade later he asked the Catholic Church to take ownership of the cemetery. In 1825, George would be laid to rest in the now consecrated cemetery that he carved out for the community.
Although technically owned by the Catholic Church, the little cemetery was always too far from the nearest place of worship to be tended to or even used much by the church. The cemetery was a family affair with relatives and friends attending to the loved ones buried there.
The cemetery’s religious issues didn’t end with Garig’s death. Half of his plantation was purchased by a Protestant named Robert Penny. Penny took a piece of land adjacent to the cemetery and turned it into a Protestant cemetery since it wouldn’t do to get buried in land consecrated for Catholics. Now a corner of the cemetery is known as the Protestant section.
Newspaper articles reveal other notables buried in the cemetery:
Josephine Favrot, whose sweetheart, Louis de Grand Pre, who was the only casualty when the Fort of Baton Rouge fell in 1810. Josephine never married and became a poet.
Jean Baptiste Kleinpeter, who served with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.
Charles Daniel Comeaux, who had the great misfortune of flinging his cap onto his bedpost after coming home from the battle at Port Hudson. A stray bullet hit the cap, ricocheted and killed him while he slept.
A huge change for the cemetery came in the 1920s, when the College Town neighborhood was built. Someone conveniently forgot to include the cemetery on the subdivision plans. Of the 280 people buried in the cemetery, 100 are underneath a sprawling house.
A 1940 survey map shows the cemetery is half the size it was nearly a century ago. The cemetery once stretched all the way to Amherst Avenue. Oops.
Today, the cemetery is a pleasant place to spend a spring afternoon. There are benches for sitting, trees for shade and a gazebo for an impromptu concert. You can be Catholic or Protestant to enjoy the peace before venturing back into the insanity that is Baton Rouge traffic.
Here’s a list of burials and possible burials from the History Highland Cemetery Inc.:
Aubin, Aurelius Victorin, s/o Victorin, 1850 – 1885, no marker Aubin, Elizabeth, w/o Victorin, 1825 – 1858, no marker Aubin, Victorin, s/o Francois, 1825 – 1880, no marker Aucoin, Albert Florestin, C.S.A., s/o J. Florentin, 1821 – 1863, no marker Aucoin, J. Florentin, s/o Pierre Firmin, 1798 – 1847, no marker Aucoin, Julia Zeolide Doiron, w/o A.F., 1831 – ___, no marker Babin, Balthazar, s/o Gregoire, 1814 – 1884, no marker Babin, Martha Buckner, 1824 – 1884, w/o Balthazar, no marker Brackin, “Nettie” Brunetta Stokes, w/o Albert D., 1868 – 1894, no marker Buckner, George W., s/o Lewis, h/o Margaret Phillips, 1822 – 1855, no marker Buckner, Susannah, d/o Margaret Buckner, ? – 1857, no marker Comeaux, Charles Daniel, 1817 – 1892, no marker Comeaux, Charles Daniel, War of 1812, 1787 – 1850, no marker Daigre, Alfred Huguet, s/o Denis Daigre, Junior, 1880 -1891, no marker Daigre, Benjamin M., hsb/o Pauline Daigre, 1836 -1914, no marker Daigre, Carmelite Daigre, d/o Paul, w/o Olivier Francois, 1796 – 1855, no marker Daigre, Denis Olivier, s/o Olivier Francis, 1820 – 1875, no marker Daigre, Denis Olivier, Jr., 1853 – c1917, no marker Daigre, Genevieve Buckner, w/o Denis O., Sr. 1821 – ?, no marker Daigre, Gordon, s/o Benjamin M., ? – 1912, no marker Daigre, Josie Huguet, d/o John S. Huguet, 1860 – 1884, no marker Daigre, Mary Martha, d/o Denis & Genevieve, 1855 – 1858, no marker Daigre, Olivier Francois, s/o Francois, 1793 – 1843, no marker Daigre, Pauline Daigre, w/o Benjamin M., ? – 1886, no marker Daigre, Victor Templet, s/o Denis O. Sr., 1857 – ?, no marker Davis, Elizabeth Sharp, w/o Ersin Slaughter & Wm. Davis, ? – 1825, no marker Doiron, Henrietta Malvina, d/o J.V., 1847 – 1887, no marker Doiron, John Villeneuve, s/o John Remi, 1821 – 1879, no marker Duke, William Ensley, infant of Wiley, 7 mo., 1921 – 1921, no marker Duplantier, Armand Allard, Continental Army, War of 1812, 1753 – 1827, marker Duplantier, Augustin, s/o Armand, 1806 – 1860, no marker Duplantier, Constance Rochon, w/o John Joyce & Armand Duplantier, 1766 – 1841, marker Duplantier, Didier, s/o Armand, 1809 – 1834, marker Duplantier, Fergus, War of 1812, s/o Armand, 1783 – 1844, marker Duplantier, Guy, War of 1812, s/o Armand, 1790 – 1835, no marker Duplantier, Joseph, s/o of Alberic, 1844 – 1884, no marker Duplantier, Josephine Joyce, w/o Fergus, 1791 – 1859, marker Duplantier, Matilda Brown, 2nd w/o Alberic, 1844 – ?, no marker Duplantier, Nicholas Alberic, s/o Armand, 1806 – 1891, no marker Edmonston, Lillie E. Aucoin, w/o J. Walter, 1861 – 1893, no marker Favrot, (unnamed), s/o Louis, 1824 -1824, marker Favrot, Augustine Eulalie Duplantier, w/o Louis, 1799 – 1864, marker Favrot, Aurore, d/o Bouvier & Aurora, 1832 – 1911, marker Favrot, Eulalie Pulcherie, d/o Pierre, 1803 – 1846, no marker Favrot, Francoise Gerard, w/o Pierre, 1763 – 1842, marker Favrot, Henri Bouvier, s/o Pierre, War of 1812, 1799 – 1881, marker Favrot, Henry Neuville, s/o Bouvier, 1835 – 1847, marker Favrot, Josephine, d/o Bouvier, 1840 – 1913, marker Favrot, Josephine, d/o Pierre, 1785 – 1836, marker Favrot, Louis Stephen, s/o Pierre, War of 1812, 1788 – 1872, marker Favrot, Marie Aurora Villers, w/o Bouvier, 1809 – 1877, marker Favrot, Octavine, d/o Bouvier, 1848 – 1939, marker Favrot, Octavine C., d/o Pierre, 1795 – 1868, marker Favrot, Philogene Bernard, s/o Bouvier, 1845 – 1852, marker Favrot, Philogene Joseph, s/o Pierre, USA: War of 1812. 1791 – 1822 ( His government marker is mislabeled “T.R. Favrot”), marker Favrot, Pierre Joseph, Galvez Expedition of 1779, LA Legislature, 1749 – 1824, marker Foreman, John C., hsb/o Nancy Garig, 1806 – 1870, marker Foreman, John M., infant s/o Oscar H., 1862 – 1870, marker Foreman, John M., s/o John C. & Nancy, C.S.A., 1838 – 1905, no marker Foreman, Linda F., d/o Oscar H., 1863 – 1866, marker Foreman, Nancy Garig, d/o George Garig, w/o John C., 1812 – ?, no marker Foreman, Oscar Heady, Jr., 1868 – 1872, marker Foreman, Oscar Heady, Sr., 1833 – 1905, no marker Foreman, Therese Addie Rowley, w/o Oscar H., 1840 – 1913, no marker Fortin, Adele Duplantier, w/o Joseph J.G. George Fortin, no dates, no marker Garig, George, s/o Adam, h/o Mary Barbara Thomas, ? – 1825, no marker Garig, Guilliame, s/o George, 1815 – ?, no marker Garig, Henrique, s/o George, 1798 – ?, no marker Garig, Juan, s/o George, 1795 – ?, no marker Garig, Maria, d/o George, 1801 – ?, no marker Germany, Aurelia Ann Foreman, w/o Henry James, 1833 – 1898, marker Hodges, Aurelius B., s/o I.B.A. Hodges, 1832 – 1854, marker Huguet, John Stephen, M.D., s/o Juan, C.S.A., 1825 – 1891, no marker Huguet, Mary Elvira Kleinpeter, w/o John S., 1832 – 1899, no marker Huguet, William Pike, s/o John S., 1852 – 1853, no marker Joyce, William, s/o John, c 1790 – 1846, marker fragment Kleinpeter, Andrew, s/o Joseph, 1801 – 1853, marker Kleinpeter, Benjamin Franklin, s/o John Bapt. & Rose, 1845 – 1858, memorial marker Kleinpeter, John Baptiste, s/o George, 1797 – 1861, no marker Kleinpeter, John J., infant s/o Andrew, 1847 -1847, marker Kleinpeter, John L., s/o Joseph, c 1797 – 1837, no marker Kleinpeter, Mary Rose Bouillion, w/o John Baptist, 1805 – 1878, no marker Kleinpeter, Oscar Andrew, s/o Andrew, 1844 – 1858, marker Kleinpeter, Zachary Pinckney, s/o Andrew, 1849 – 1857, no marker Lener, Mary, 1887 – 1888, no marker Lopez, Anna Euphemie, d/o Joseph Onieda, 1879 – 1884, no marker Lopez, Henri, s/o Joseph Onieda, 1875 – 1876, no marker Lopez, Joseph Onieda, s/o Joseph Adonis, 1845 – 1896, no marker Lundquest, William, no dates, no marker Lundquest, John, no dates, no marker Maurison, Mary V., 1871 – 1885, no marker McGehee, Ann Scott, d/o Abraham & Mary C., 1831 – 1836, marker McGehee, Mary C., 1809 – 1836, marker Neilson, Capt. John James, s/o James, U.S.A., ? -1813 at Baton Rouge Fort, no marker (1st husband of Pauline Gras) Neilson, James, h/o Elizabeth, f/o Capt. John, ? – 1831, no marker Parker, Nan Pecue, d/o John Pecue, w/o Mack Parker, no dates, no marker Pecue, (Picou, Picaud), John Baptiste Jr., h/o Odile & Victoria Aucoin, 1829 – 1905, no marker Pecue, Odile Elizabeth Aucoin, w/o John, 1835 – 1865, no marker Peniston, Anthony, hsb/o Euphemie Duplantier, c 1800 – 1826, marker Peniston, Euphemie Duplantier, w/o Anthony, 1804 – 1826, marker Penny, Matilda G., w/o Burns & Robert Penny, ? – 1846, no marker Penny, Robert H., s/o James, ? – 1849, no marker Phillips, Isabella Foreman, w/o Albert, no dates, no marker Phillips, Plaisant, Jr., 1838 – 1859, no marker Phillips, Plaisant, Sr., husb/o Elizabeth Babin, ? – 1845, no marker Phillips, Theodore, s/o Plaisant Sr., 1845 – 1861, no marker Piker, Fluvia, d/o John F., c 1864 – ?, no marker Piker, John F., s/o Frederick, 1817 – 1869, partial marker Piker, Mary C. Foreman, w/o John F., 1830 – 1903, memorial marker Pilant, George Zitzman, s/o Wm. Jr., 1912 – ca 1920, no marker Pilant, Sarah Clair, d/o Wm. Jr., 1909 – ca 1920, no marker Pilant, Marie Julia LeBlanc, w/o Wm. Sr., 1837 – 1920, no marker Pilant, William Sr., ? – 1899, no marker Randolph, Catherine Kleinpeter, w/o John, 1786 – 1847, marker Randolph, Ellen M. Smith, w/o George, 1834 – 1856, marker Randolph, John, s/o John, 1818 – 1856, marker Randolph, John, War of 1812, 1777 – 1837, marker Riviere, Anne Marie Renee Aime Douezan, w/o Jean Baptiste Riviere, 1766 – 1849, marker Roberts, Constance Kleinpeter, w/o Gilbert Comeaux & Stephen Roberts, d/o George Kleinpeter, ? – 1851, no marker Kleinpeter, George, ? – 1851, no marker Smith, Jacob, 1814 – 1857, no marker Smith, Mary Barbara Thomas, w/o Jacob, 1813 – 1872, no marker Staring, Kathryn J. Hillman, 1st w/o George H. Staring, 1870 – 1898, memorial marker Stokes, James, s/o William & Nettie, 1872 – 1903, marker Stokes, Sidney, s/o William & Nettie, 1878 – 1896, marker Stokes, William, s/o Alexander & Virginia, 1873 – 1912, C.S.A., marker Stokes, Willie F., s/o William & Nettie, 1870 – 1896, marker Thomas, Antoinette Caroline, d/o Jefferson P., ? – 1857, marker Thomas, Buffington J., s/o Jefferson P., no date, marker Thomas, Elizabeth, widow/o Benj. Parker Thomas, d/o Gen. Philemon Thomas, mother/o Jefferson P., ? – 1841, no marker Thomas, Florence, d/o Jefferson P., ? – 1857, marker Thomas, William E., s/o Jefferson P., no dates, marker Trousdale, Kleinpeter, Randolph, Mary Catherine, w/o Andrew Kleinpeter, 1822 – abt. 1874
Unconfirmed And Possible Burials
Aucoin, Elizabeth Verdon, w/o J. Florentin, no dates Bills, John A., husb/o Mary Garig, ? – 1841 Bills, Mary Garig, w/o John A., c. 1812 – 1860 Comeaux, Florestine Sylvannie Tullier, w/o Chas. D. Jr., 1825 – ? Comeaux, Mary Carmelite Hebert, w/o Chas. D. Sr. Daigre, Francis Paul, s/o Denis O. Daigre, Sr., 1850 – 1892 Daigre, Jean Baptiste Bouvier, s/o Olivier, c 1810 – 1840 Daigre, Mrs. Mary C., w/o Gilbert, ? – 1879 Davis, William, War of 1812, h/o Elizabeth Sharp, ? – c.1825 Doiron, Alzie Daigle, w/o Francis G., ? – c.1910 Duplantier, Marguerite Mary Lopez, w/o Augustin, 1815 – ? Edmonston, J. Walter, C.S.A., husb/o Lillie E. Aucoin Fulton, Helene de Grand Pre, d/o Gov. Carlos de Grand Pre, 1782 – 1855 Fulton, Col. Samuel, husb/o Helene, ? – c.1827 Garig, Elizabeth, d/o George & Mary B., c.1809 – ? Garig, George, s/o George & Mary B., 1807 – 1868, C.S.A. McDonald, Mary Barbara Thomas, w/o Joshua McDonald & Geo. Garig, 1777 – 1852 Neilson, Elizabeth, widow of James Neilson who d. 1831 Neilson, William, s/o James & Elizabeth, ? – c.1833, bachelor Parker, Mack, husb/o Nan Pecue Pecue, Victoria Coralie Aucoin, w/o John Pecue, 1842 – 1921 Penny, Marian A., d/o Robert & Matilda, c. 1840 – 1846 Penny, Ann W., d/o Robert & Matilda, 1835 – 1850 Penny, Lucy Ann, d/o Robert & Matilda, c 1839 – c 1846 Phillips, Elizabeth Babin, w/o Plaisant, Sr. Randolph, George, husb/o Ellen M. Smith, (m. 5-13-1852) Randolph, John, 17?? – 1822, father of John (1777 – 1837 ) Sharp, Joseph, husb/o Pauline Gras, Widow Neilson, ? – 1820 Sheppers, Pauline Gras, widow of Neilson & Joseph Sharp, w/o Louis Sheppers who survived her and m. Her sister, Olympia, 1796 – 1822 Thomas, Benjamin Parker, husb/o Elizabeth Thomas, son-in-law of General Philemon Thomas, 1782 – 1835 Thomas, Caroline E. Trager, w/o Jefferson Plummer Thomas, d/o John Trager & Julia Kleinpeter, c 1827 – c.1871 Thomas, Jefferson Plummer, grandson of General Philemon Thomas, s/o Benjamin Parker Thomas, father of 4 children buried in Highland
I’ve driven past this church for years. It’s off a state highway that runs through Napoleonville. That little archway has always beckoned me. This weekend I finally pulled over and explored the world behind it.
Long weekends are made for rambles. This is Christ Episcopal, which was designed by an NYC architect. For some reason, he wanted it to have the feel of an English country church even though it’s in a Louisiana country town. This church was an English-speaking oasis in French-speaking Napoleonville.
A cemetery is at the back of the church. This lovely statue holds watch over the graves, all of them magnificent even though some are crumbling.
The church dates to 1853 and was built at a cost of $9,500. Time hasn’t always been kind to it. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used it as a barracks and later a stable. The stained glass became a target for shooting practice.
The creation of the church was a true collaboration by the Episcopal members of a largely Catholic community. Napoleonville was very Cajun in the 1850s, but a few residents weren’t Catholic and they wanted their own church. New Hampshire native Ebeneezer Eaton Kittredge donated a corner of his plantation for the church and cemetery. Col. William Whitmell Pugh supplied the cypress and bricks. George Ament oversaw the construction and is buried in the church cemetery.
The original congregation numbered just 21 members. Not all were Episcopalian. Some were Catholics who wanted to participate in “so great a good.” Let’s face it: They were probably curious.
After the war, the congregation pulled together once again. They held church services in the courthouse down the road while rebuilding their ruin of a church.
The church would later be struck by lightning and ravaged by other acts of nature. Still, it endured.
At times, the church has been a bit of a hotbed for controversy. One clergyman, Quincy Ewing, embraced women’s suffrage and the equality of black people during the early 1900s. Enraged by a sermon on women’s suffrage, U.S. Sen. Walter Guion stormed out and quit the church. Ewing survived the controversy, largely because his family donated the land for the church.
Today, Christ Episcopal is one of the oldest Episcopal churches west of the Mississippi River. The grounds were quiet when we visited. We ignored the “private property” sign, kept to the pathways and respected the serene beauty. Hopefully, we didn’t offend.
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.
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.
La Balize (The Balize) hasn’t existed since the 1860s, when a hurricane swept it away once and for all. It was probably never a good idea to build a settlement where the Mississippi River pours into the Gulf of Mexico, but sometimes you have to learn things the hard way.
Balize once stood as the first port of entry in the Mississippi Valley. The Gulf tends to reclaim land at the deepest end of Louisiana, and that’s what happened to Balize.
Hurricanes battered the settlement until it was finally abandoned for good in the 1860s.
The last resident was a woman named Mrs. C. Laurie, who remembered a time when the town had three grocery stores, a dry goods store, a town hall and a fine church. Laurie called the town home from 1844 to 1862. She said she stayed three days longer than anyone else because her husband was looking for a good home for their relocation.
Only the dead stayed behind for good in a cemetery that now lies under the Gulf of Mexico. Balize was once home to 800 people. People were born there and died there. Others came from the East Coast or as far away as Ireland to find their final resting place at the tip Louisiana.
By 1921, all that remained of Balize were a few markers (the rest were lost in the marsh). One bore the name Joseph, son of Captain Joseph and Jemima Preble, died September 2, 1852, aged eight months, 25 days. That tomb probably has also slipped under the water.
We know about baby Joseph’s tomb because the New Orleans Item (a newspaper that no longer exists) sent someone to find the little cemetery in the marsh and record what remained.
The reporter also found markers for:
William Holliday, born June 3, 1837. Died March 30, 1841. Son of Robert and Mary Holliday.
Mary Holliday (young William’s mother) died in the 25th year of her age in the 5th day of April, 1844. Wife of Robert.
Susan Mitchell, wife of John Perrin. Born August 14, 1825. Died Sept. 7, 1843. Aged 18 years and 18 days. Remembered as someone loved who was snatched away.
Evelina Lemont, wife of Thomas Ruiz. Born at the Balize, Louisiana. Died Nov.30, 1860, aged 19 years, five months and four days.
Jourdan Yarborough, born Jan. 25, 1826. Died July 19, 1857. (a newspaper report from 1857 indicates he was a branch pilot who died suddenly of what appeared to be yellow fever).
John Parker, died on the 8th day of October 1848. Aged 37. A native of Boston, Mass.
Edward Taylor, son of Asa and Eliza S. Payson. Died March 5, 1818. Age 16 months and 21 days.
Margaret McNulty. Born August 7, 1817. Died July 19, 1842. In 1921, a bright crimson oleander bush adorned her grave.
Julia Glenon, consort of William Ellis. A native of County Westmeath, Ireland. Died at The Balize July 18, 1847, aged 58 years.
Josephine Barbara Ross, only child of James Baag and Adrionna Beaulard Ross. Born in the city of Savannah, Georgia, on the 15th day of June 1833, and died at The Balize, Louisiana, August the sixth, 1844.
Charlotte Webster, consort of H.B. Webster. Died Sept. 24, 1843, aged 38 years. A native of New York.
Other newspaper articles reveal others buried there:
Sarah Taboo, died at Balize in 1845.
Mary Jane Lamont, died in 1848.
Cyrus Lamont, a native of France and a branch pilot in New Orleans, who died in 1852.
John Sprigg, died in a steamboat explosion in 1840.
Anna Maria, daughter of Joseph and Jemima Preble. Died Nov. 2, 1859, aged 3 years, 3 months, 5 days.
John Bennett, died in 1857 during a voyage from New York onboard the Rebecca.
Paul Lucie (son of Francois Lucie and Catherine Cap Chedome). Born May 5, 1800. Died June 11, 1841. (This is taken from church records, which note he died as a result of wounds received at Bayou Lime-Klim by the troops of Gen. Smith. There seemed to have been some debate on whether he was a pirate).
Finally, the following were probably buried at Balize since they died there. Diocese of New Orleans records are unclear:
Joseph Rios (son of Juan Rios and Agueda Carballo). A native of Palma in the Canary Islands. 46 years old. A sailor. A bachelor. Died April 20, 1791.
Antonio de la Ossa (son of Balthasar de la Ossa and Magdalena de la Ossa). Native of Granada. 77 years old. A sailor. A bachelor. Died Oct. 11, 1791.
Juan Garcia. A sailor. Died April 17, 1794.
Miguel Nabarro (son of Joseph Nabarro and Maria del Rosario De Roxas). A native of Cuba. 53 years old. A sailor. A bachelor. Died May 6, 1795.
In 1935, when someone cataloged the graves in St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Amelia, my great-grandmother didn’t make the list even though she died in 1917.
There’s a reason for that. Isabelle didn’t get a marker until 1969, when her brother died. It was a nice thought to include her, but my granny was dismayed when she looked at the marker. She knew she was 4 – not 5 – when her mother died. Isabelle died in August 1917, not July 1918. Oh, well. At least there’s a marker for her in the little cemetery along the bayou in St. Mary Parish.
The 1935 list of graves is valuable because graves deteriorate over time. Sometimes they become unreadable. Other times, the maintenance man knocks them with the weedeater. Stuff happens.
The list also is valuable because it’s annotated. That means someone added genealogy notes about the dead: who their parents were, who their spouses were, where they were born. These were just what little tidbits they knew.
So, think about stretching beyond findagrave. Look on usgenweb for cemetery lists or thumb through old genealogy periodicals. Often, you’ll find annotated cemetery lists made by people who are long gone themselves.
Among the odder things I’ve learned during endless amounts of time at home during the pandemic: There’s a travel forum discussion about whether it’s taboo to drink martinis in cemeteries.
When I saw the thread, I instantly knew what the inspiration was. It’s been years since I read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” but I vividly remember the scene in which an old woman mixes up a silver shaker of martinis and heads to the cemetery for an afternoon sit. It’s one of the few things I do remember about the book. Long-term memory has never been my strength.
However, I can understand the desire to spend a lazy afternoon wandering a cemetery. I don’t bring a martini shaker with me, but I always enjoy looking at the markers and wondering about the people buried there. Those markers tell a lot of stories, from women who died with their babies in childbirth to young men who went off to war and returned home in a wooden box.
Quite often, I bring the dog with me. And I do wonder if that’s taboo. She trots down the rows and gazes longingly at the woods or the cane fields (depending on which cemetery I’ve chosen). I let her run around to her heart’s content until she forgets herself and jumps onto a whitewashed vault. Then the leash goes back on and we go home.
It’s a good idea to visit cemeteries. A virtual visit to findagrave is useful but not the same.
Cemeteries are like little villages, especially in Louisiana, which is famed for burying the dead above the ground (we’re slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico). To me, our above ground tombs look like little houses. They’re fascinating.
My husband comes from a farming family. Because land was in abundance, they have a family cemetery on part of the farm. He used to wander the cemetery as a child and developed a fascination with a grave decorated with marbles.
In New Orleans, you can take tours to visit the more famous cemeteries. A tour is actually a good idea. People have been robbed in these cemeteries. Welcome to New Orleans.
I tend to visit cemeteries in Plattenville and Gibson, where family members are buried. One of these days, if I ever win the lottery, I’ll fix the crumbling family tomb in Plattenville and put a marker that lists everyone interred in it.
For now, I just wander the aisles and put flowers on my grandparents’ graves while the dog dreams of chasing field mice.
Cemeteries don’t have to be a sad place, even if you forget your martini shaker at home.