A colleague and old friend delights in killing people off: that is, finding the death and burial information of ancestors and other family members. When we are content to list a relative as having been born and later married, with no end date or place in our record-keeping, we are forgoing information that might explain biographical mysteries. By focusing on our direct ancestry without sparing a glance to collateral relatives or unexplained members of a household, we might well be overlooking the answer to an intractable research problem. I recently made the rounds of many of the cemeteries where my relatives are buried, but one that I did not visit this winter led me, years ago, to a break-through on my matrilineal line.
In 1876, my great-great-grandfather William Boucher, Jr., lost his eldest surviving child (Elizabeth Sophia Boucher [1849–1876]) as well as his youngest son, Ernest Gabriel Boucher, named in honor of William’s grandfather Gabriel Boucher of Hamburg. As I have mentioned, several of William Boucher’s other children had died by this date, and his first wife and their children were all buried in Baltimore Cemetery, in the northeastern section of the city. In the weeks following Aunt Sophia and Uncle Ernest’s deaths, however, William and his second wife Frances decided to move the family burial plot to New Cathedral Cemetery on the Old Frederick Road, where they erected an imposing monument.
When I first visited Baltimore in the 1990s, I drove out to see both cemeteries. In those days, Baltimore Cemetery was shut tight, or at least it was the day I visited; today, one can tour its dramatic setting and the tombs of local celebrities. On my visit to New Cathedral Cemetery, I wandered around for some time before I realized that the family monument most obviously memorialized the second Mrs. Boucher’s mother, Mary Josephine Eliza (McNulty) Malloy (1825?–1891), about whom I knew nothing at the time.
The Boucher plot is a large one, dominated by the monument, on whom fourteen family members are named: M. J. Eliza Malloy; William and Frances Boucher; Mary Agnes (O’Brien) Boucher, William’s first wife, and two of their children (Sophia and Victor Emile Boucher [1860–1878]); six of Frances’ children (Ernest , Carlos Herman [1877–1968], Florence Estella [1879–1972], Emile [1880–1881], Marie Constance , and Emile Gabriel Boucher [1886–1950]); Uncle Emile’s wife Ida Lerew Boucher (1889–1948); and Uncle Frank Boucher’s daughter Anna Estella Boucher (1880–1881).
Another one of Frances’ daughters, Marie Boucher Hogan (1874–1938), is buried nearby with her husband and their son, who died during the First World War. All around the Boucher monument are grave markers, and the ones marked Victor (for a son who died at 17) and Estella (for a granddaughter who died in infancy) are especially affecting.
For almost one hundred years, members of the Boucher family were buried at New Cathedral Cemetery, beginning with Mary Agnes Boucher and her children, who had died as early as the 1840s and who were removed to the new family plot in 1876. The last burial, I think, was that of Aunt Florence Boucher, who died in 1972 at the age of 93.
Beginning with Mary Agnes Boucher and her contemporary Eliza Malloy, about 150 years are encompassed in this one burying ground. My mother met Aunt Florence and some of her siblings, although I think it was (naturally) my grandmother’s generation – born between 1877 and 1925 – who really knew Aunt Florence and her mother Frances Giles Boucher (1843–1923). Only Aunt Marie, Uncle Carlos, Aunt Florence, and Uncle Emile (2d) can have known their grandmother – my matrilineal great-great-great-grandmother, M. J. Eliza Malloy, the godmother of many of William and Frances’ children and evidently the oldest person to be buried in the family plot. Puzzling out Mrs. Malloy’s connection to the Bouchers through cemetery and other records enriched my understanding of the larger family dynamics.
All photographs courtesy of Constance Burch McGrain
The series continues here.
3 thoughts on “Family plots”
I love knowing the cause of death as well as the date for my ancestors. My family thinks it’s morbid, but I don’t care. I think it’s a fascinating glimpse into history.
Our family too has discovered many ancestral aunts & uncles by researching & visiting graves around NY, New England & MO. I am a volunteer photographer/transcriber for Find-a-Grave and it’s so satisfying helping people find their ancestors. Often they’ll ask for 1 or 2 graves and they’re surprised to find they’re located in a large family plot. And I agree, researching the aunts, uncles and cousins of our direct ancestors gives a much clearer picture of who our ‘directs’ were.
Knowing of what your ancestors died can give you vital hints for you to maintain your own health. It can be a lifesaving piece of information. so, no, it is not morbid.