Sunday, October 25, 2015

The McLenithan boys - the small mystery of lot 85 in Fulton Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan

On the face of it, this looks pretty straight forward: two men, probbaly brothers (they were) who both served together in the Civl War and are buried next to each other: S. O. McLenithan of Company K and Joel Mclenithan of Company A, both of the 3rd Michigan infantry.

But then looks are deceiving in many a cemetery and most especially when the cemetery in question dates back to 1838. Lots of misplaced bodies, lost records and just missing people generally. So it may be here.

The "mystery" first came to my attention many years ago when I learned that Joel had in fact been living in Indiana for many years before he died in 1917. According to his death certificate and the review of markers Joel was buried in Sumption Prairie Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana. Simple, no? No.

A more in-depth look at the cemetery records for Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids further deepens the mystery in lot 85, division 1.

We know that next to Joel is a second government marker for "S. O. McLenithan." This was undoubtedly Stephen O. or D. McLenithan, Joel's younger brother. So far so good. There are no other family markers. We also know that the index of gravestones in the Local Historical Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library, lists Joel and one “S. O.” of Company K 3rd Michigan” as well as their mother Mary (who died in 1857) buried in lot no. 85 in Fulton, and no other burials are noted. No marker for Mary is found today and it probably disappeared long ago.

The transcribers for the D.A.R in the late 1920s identified the graves of Joe, Mary and one "S. C. McLenithan of Company K, 3rd Michigan" but no mention is made of Samuel. By the time the cemetery records were re-transcribed in the late 1990s, all four McLenithans are listed: Joel, Mary, S. O. and now Samuel (1847-1880).

However, the cemetery burial book lists Joel, mother Mary and “Samuel” as buried in Fulton cemetery, yet there is no marker for Samuel, who died in November of 1880 (see Grand Rapids Democrat November 24, 1880, p. 4 col. 1: “Died”). Indeed, the cemetery records list Samuel’s death date as well as his birth date, but there is no mention of Stephen McLenithan. (We also know that Samuel died indigent and possibly a resident of the city or county poorhouse. If that were indeed true, then who would have paid for the interment alongside his mother and/or brother?)

In the late 1930s Francis Hall attempted to identify all the Civil War veterans buried in Kent County and he knew of the markers for both Joel and "S. O." so it's quite likely the government stones were probably already in place by then. But who ordered them? Was Joel's body returned to Grand Rapids to be buried next to his mother and brothers? If so, who would have coordinated that? Is it possible that Joel's marker was ordered and put in place as a ""memorial"? If so, again, who would have arranged for that and why? We do know that Samuel McLenithan served in the 16th Michigan Infantry during the war and he has no marker at all. . .

Any thoughts?

Friday, August 07, 2015

Where is Casper Thenner?

Casper Thenner was born in 1831 in Germany. He stood 5’4” with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was a 30-year-old laborer possibly living in Shiawassee or Kent County when he enlisted in Company C on May 13, 1861. (Company C was made up largely of German and Dutch immigrants, many of whom lived on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids. This company was the descendant of the old Grand Rapids Rifles, also known as the “German Rifles,” a prewar local militia company composed solely of German troopers.)

Casper was taken prisoner on July 1 or 2, 1862, at White Oak Swamp, Virginia, confined at Richmond, Virginia, and paroled in mid-September. He was returned to the regiment on either November 15 at Alexandria, Virginia, or December 20, 1862, at Camp Pitcher, Virginia.

He reenlisted on December 21, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Grand Rapids’ 4th Ward, and was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864 and probably returned to the regiment on or about the first of February.

Thenner was transferred to Company I, 5th Michigan Infantry upon consolidation of the 3rd and 5th Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.

He  was  taken prisoner on December 6, 1864, at Jerusalem Plank road, near Petersburg, Virginia and was sent from Petersburg to Richmond on December 10, 1864. Casper was paroled at Cox’s Wharf, Virginia on February 5, 1865, and furloughed as a paroled prisoner of war.

Casper returned to Grand Rapids, where he was examined by Dr. Charles Hempel. Dr. Hempel certified on March 20, 1865, that Thenner was “suffering from chronic diarrhea and general debility and is not able to travel and I further certify that in my opinion he will not be fit for duty in less than twenty days.”

Casper died of chronic diarrhea on May 27, 1865, in Grand Rapids and "his funeral was attended and the remains followed to the grave by a company, under command of Captain [Theodore] Hetz, of heroes, once members of the old Third. According to a local newspaper he was buried in the “city cemetery”.

This much we know. What we don't know is exactly where he is buried.

According to the online resource, Casper was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery (Hall and Eastern streets). Certainly a number of men who died during the war are interred in the Watson GAR Post lot in Oak Hill but there was never any mention of Casper in the earliest records (newspaper or burial) and it seems unlikely he was interred there. Plus, the Grand Rapids Eagle reported that a procession of his former comrades "followed" the coffin to the grave, which lends credence to the theory that he was buried in Fulton since it was located right at the edge of town (Oak Hill was then out in the country). Finally, Fulton was the "city cemetery" during the war.

Since Casper was German- or Dutch-born it is, of course, possible that he was buried on the west side of the city but, again there is no reason to presume that to true beyond the simple fact that many European immigrants lived on that side of the river. Anyway, quite a few Dutch immigrants who died in the mid-nineteenth century are in fact buried in Fulton Cemetery. (For example, Martiena Van der Stolpe died in 1864 and Pieter Van der Stolpe died in 1866 and both and are buried in division 9 of Fulton.)

So, assuming Casper was buried in Fulton, where is his grave?

One starting place would be at what is today the back side of the cemetery but during the war a burial place of distinction. A number of other Old 3rd men who died during the war are interred at the top of the hill, in division 7: Lieutenants Peter Weber, Charles Cary, and Peter Bogardus and Captain Samuel Judd, while Brigadier General Stephen Champlin is buried in his own section right  next to division 7.

Along the same ridge is division 8 which then slops downward to division 9 and the western boundary of the cemetery. It is in division 9 that Margaret "Maggie" Ferguson was buried in 1861. She had sewn the regimental flag presented to the regiment by the ladies of the city shortly before the regiment left Grand Rapids on June 13, 1861. He grave remained unmarked until sometime after the war when the Old 3rd Association paid to have a marker erected on it.

While there is little evidence beyond "reasonable speculation" to assume he is buried in division 8 or 9, I believe that either would be, at this point, the "most likely" location. Barring the discovery of sexton's records dating back to the mid-1860s, we cannot confirm tCasper's burial location one way or the other.

So, the question remains: where is Casper Thenner?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Daniel Stocking of Company B is buried in Grattan Cemetery, not Wells Cemetery

Having walked both cemeteries this past week I can safely say that Dan Stocking, his wife Lucy and his parents as well as other family members are definitively buried in Grattan Cemetery, Kent County, and not in Wells Cemetery in Ottawa County. Oddly, each family member is listed in both places, but there are stones for them only in Grattan, as you can see (Dan in the middle with the flag):

Tucked away inside a facility for boarding horses, Wells Cemetery has plenty of missing stones to be sure but none that list Stocking:

Whitneyville Cemetery: the King brothers

Hiram King of the 5th Michigan Infantry, Alvin King of the 6th Michigan Cavalry and Myron King of the 3rd Michigan Infantry. Myron's stone is facing his two brothers and set back nearly out of the cemetery into the undergrowth, even though it's a relatively new stone. When I photographed this nearly a quarter f a century ago it was a very weather stone roughly in line with the other two King brothers.

Myron murdered his wife and then shot and killed himself.