BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As Monclova Township’s cemetery sexton, Ken Bucher regularly gets phone calls from people who are filling in the branches of a family tree.
“It’s hit or miss,” he said of the information he could provide.
Bucher would search the sexton’s log, ledgers and file cards, but at times the records on those buried in the nearly 200-year-old Swan Creek Cemetery were difficult to locate, especially since a fire is believed to have destroyed all of the records prior to 1932.
Now, thanks to the Lucas County Cemeteries Hist-orical Association (LCCHA), the gaps in those records have been filled in, as members of the nonprofit organization spent the last six months researching and documenting the 2,327 burials in the township’s oldest public cemetery.
“These guys have phenomenal resources, and what they’ve done has all been at no charge,” Bucher said.
Gary Franks, a retired engineer and published author of historical books, took the lead on the LCCHA project, devoting over 600 hours to find, correct or verify names. First, he drew detailed maps of the cemetery and reviewed existing paper records, including maps dating back to the 1930s.
Then, he set out to recreate the sexton’s log from 1825 – the earliest date of death listed on a gravestone. That was Epharm Leaming, born in 1783. However, Franks said, it’s more likely that Swan Creek Cemetery was formed in the early 1830s because most of the earlier gravestones date to 1834.
An 1861 map shows that the Strayer family owned the cemetery property, which was gifted or sold to the township at a low price.
Strayer is one of the early families with grave markers in the cemetery. Other early settlers buried in the cemetery include the names Butz, Coder and Salisbury.
To start his research, Franks reviewed a 1971 Northwest Ohio Genealog-ical Society reading, old lot ownership maps, 2,300 pages of county probate court records and 1,320 pages of death records from 1858 to 1901. He also sought out information from genealogical websites Anc-estry.com, Familysearch .com and Find-A-Grave. com. In the process, Franks made 25 trips to the cemetery to verify details and try to read the grave markers.
Along the way, he found and corrected missing pieces, incorrect dates of death and name misspellings. By cross-checking with different resources, he found that Carrie and Otis Strawbridge, both born in 1883, were listed as Straub.
He found that Peter Strayer has two headstones: One is with his wife Catherine and the other with the Strayer family monument. Daniel Trapp Jr. and Daniel Trapp Sr. both had wives named Sarah. The younger Trapp was first married to Sally. He is buried in a second location with Sarah but listed with Sally. Franks corrected name misspellings, such as variations with Mollenkopf and Mollenkopp, Nailor vs Naylor and Randall vs. Randell.
Many individuals had the same name, including Clara Abel, James Anderson, John Baumhower, William Black, Daniel Dart and Hezekiah Hubbell. Civil War soldiers are listed on a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) monument and also had individual Veterans Administra-tion markers that have no dates of death.
Some graves contain several bodies, usually an adult with children who are unidentified. In pioneer families, infant deaths were rarely shared with the county because they had no estate to go through probate, and sending word to the county office would have been difficult.
Others are buried in the potter’s field, an area that is still open to the indigent who cannot afford a grave. Even within the past few years, Bucher has buried a nursing home resident who had no next of kin to pay for the funeral.
In the process of his research, Franks was able to verify the names and residency of six Monclova Township veterans whose names will be added to the Veterans Memorial Park wall of those killed in action. Ernest Stine Parker, Kenneth Orre Parker, Frank August Kohn, Earl Alfred Evanoff and Robert Lee Weissenberger were killed during World War II, as well as Glen Joseph Hoover, who is already listed on the wall.
When Franks wrapped up this fall, he was able to document 855 burials prior to 1932; bring the sexton’s log up to date with 2,327 burials; correct the log with spellings and death dates; and take photos of 1,670 gravestones. When added to the existing cemetery records that volunteer Sandra Mohr copied, the township and LCCHA now have a complete record that will be beneficial from a historical, genealogical and practical perspective.
The 24-foot-long lots that are sold to families may contain vaults or boxes that aren’t marked above with a headstone, so often when conducting a burial in the still-active cemetery, Bucher will have to probe carefully to make sure that excavators won’t disturb an existing grave.
“I’m very cautious,” Bucher said. “That’s why we prefer cremations. It’s a shallow hole and box.”
Having more details and a map showing the burials aids in the process of conducting those burials, Bucher said.
The LCCHA also completed the same process with Roth Cemetery on Keener Road. Founded in 1960, that cemetery already had good maps and logs to start with and didn’t take much time.
The LCCHA has finished research on all but about 15 of the 85 Lucas County cemeteries, a project that started with historic Forrest Cemetery in Toledo.
“I’m thankful for people like Gary,” Bucher said.
As he spends a lot of time in cemeteries, Franks said he’s appreciative of the care that Bucher and his crew have given to Swan Creek and Roth cemeteries. Often, he finds monuments knocked over or nicked during mowing.
For more information on the LCCHA, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.