Thursday, February 7, 2013

On Headstones and Being Skeptical of What is Written in Stone

The idiom, or figure of speech, "written in stone" means that the information one is providing is permanent and not subject to change like that of a headstone. That which is written, or more accurately, that which is chiseled into stone is not always accurate though. No, really, it's not.

I don't often have this problem with trusting headstone information because, well, most of my relatives don't have headstones. A good 90% of the time when I go looking for a relative's grave I get there to find there is no stone. I think that is because, in general, my family has been historically working-class poor. I often say that if I came into an absurd amount of money I would invest in giving these souls a marker of some sort. And when discussions of my own mortality and final wishes arise I can often be quoted as stating, "Just promise to get me a headstone, you cheap bastards." I call them bastards in jest of course.

Case in point, though, the Fay Family headstone located at St. Mary of the Snow's Cemetery in Saugerties, NY.

For several years I put a great deal of time trying to find the burial location of my great-great grandfather, Michael Fay. You can read about that search and discovery an earlier post; called Finding my Michael Fay. After I found Mikey, I set about to find out as much as I could about his parents; Bridget and Lawrence Fay.

By gleaning through census records and the New York City Death Index I learned that both Bridget and Lawrence Fay had died in the City of New York. It was not until I observed their death certificate though that I came to learn that they were both interned in a small Catholic cemetery in Saugerties, NY which is located approximately 2 hours north of Manhattan on the great Hudson River.

Saugerties? Yes, Saugerties. It's a lovely little city. Presently, I have cousins from a different line who lives there. It's quite nice. But all I really knew about Saugerties at the time of my discovery of the Fay Family plot was that Jimmy Fallon of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon grew up in Saugerties and that there is a huge Garlic Festival there every September. And really, if you ask me, that's quite a bit to know about you've never been before.

Once I had obtained this family plot information though, my first step was to contact the church to see what records they had on the Fay family. I received a lovely letter back from a woman at St. Mary of the Snow sharing the information she had found in the church registers.

Aside from the fact that Lawrence and Bridget Fay are interned in this plot, the information presented here is incomplete and worse, incorrect.

Lawrence Fay, whose date of birth is unknown to me, died on December 23, 1879. Bridget Fay, who again I do not have a date of birth for, died on March 3, 1892. Without a date of birth I can not attest to their ages at the time of their deaths. 

Additionally, this couple is buried with 3 of their children. The plot was opened initially for their son Carroll Fay who died at the age of 2 on April 30, 1886. The second to be interned in the plot was their daughter, Annie, who died at the age of 18 on July 27, 1887 due to consumption. The last to be buried in this plot was Joseph Fay, age 40 who died on May 19, 1906.

I do not know when the headstone was erected or who purchased it. I do know that they had the very best of intentions and wanted their loved ones to be remembered; for that I have much respect and deep appreciation.

How did these mistakes get made though, you ask. Well, maybe you didn't ask but I'm going to give you my hypothesis. 

I suspect that several years after Bridget died some relative, perhaps a child or grandchild, thought it only right the couple get a proper headstone.  He or she obviously didn't know the dates of birth and death for Lawrence and Bridget. Maybe they didn't know others were buried in the plot. And even he/she did know others were in the plot, headstones are expensive. The less you chose to have engraved on the stone, the more affordable it is. And so, I gather, that this unknown relative just wanted their family marked and used what ever "information" they thought they knew to have this stone made.

The moral of the story, don't take the information on a headstone as absolutely correct. Document, document, document.

1 comment:

  1. Headstones can be tricky, because like you said, they can be erected at any time - they could've been by someone who never even met the people buried there. But they do give you a good starting point - if you're lucky enough to even have one! ;)