Any genealogist worth his or her salt has accumulated an extensive collection of cemeteries. We spend an inordinate amount of time traipsing around them, searching for the names, birth and death dates, spouses and children of our elusive relatives. We come out with ticks; flea, chigger, and mosquito bites; twisted ankles; sunburn; poison ivy (if we are really unlucky); and dirty fingernails from pulling back the grass from the headstones so we can photograph them.
Despite all the energy expended, we don’t necessarily find the information we were hoping for! Sometimes the headstone is missing—or so worn it may as well be gone. Sometimes the people aren’t actually there. No, we don’t always know where the bodies are buried! Sometimes the headstone is there . . . and also in another cemetery . . . because the family couldn’t quite decide/agree about where the person should be buried.
Cemeteries come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to have their own personalities, too. That’s mostly a function of how old it is, where in the country it is located, and the type of headstones or monuments placed in it. An above ground cemetery in New Orleans feels much different than a colonial cemetery in Massachusetts, or a prairie cemetery in Illinois. One isn’t necessarily better or worse—just different!
Then there are cemeteries with split personalities. You know, the ones parked right next to each other, pretending to be two cemeteries, but you know deep down it’s really just one cemetery with two different halves. It’s a lot like your college dorm room with the roommate you barely got along with. There may not have been masking tape down the middle of the floor, but there may as well have been. One half was “yours” and the other half wasn’t—and you really needed to stay off that side!
I have one of those cemeteries in my family; Mooney/St. Mary on Ridge Road, Highland Park, Illinois, just north of Deerfield Road. In Chicagoland, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a “St. Mary Cemetery” somewhere. Unless you are very careful to distinguish one from the other, people will be confused about which one you mean. Even though Mooney/St. Mary is across the county line, in Lake County, it’s close enough that you still want to be careful. Consequently, one usually hears the combined name used.
St. Mary is obviously a Catholic cemetery; Mooney is not. I have people buried in both. Each has a road that loops into the cemetery and back to Ridge Road. The two loops aren’t connected, but there’s also no fence separating the two properties. I learned about them in the mid-late 1970s, and have been there several times, though my first photos weren’t taken until October, 1996. On the St. Mary side, I have:
- Stephen Charles Meintzer, second cousin, a twin who died at birth on 5 January 1947. He’s on a headstone with his parents (my godparents)
- Willard Charles Meintzer, Mom’s cousin, 12 September 1922-6 November 1981 and
- Lois E. Palmer Meintzer, 20 July 1923-12 September 2004.
Heading over to the Mooney side, we find:
- Jacob Meintzer, (Willard’s father) 12 February 1876-24 August 1949 (Bearded and Nature)
- Caroline Frances Trute Meintzer, (Willard’s mother) January or March 1886-9 October 1929 and their 2nd youngest son
- Lowell H. Meintzer, April 1914-8 February 1939, in California, from TB
Along with Jacob’s oldest sister,
- Sophie Meintzer Kranz (Valentine), 3 May 1868-12 December 1963, her husband
- Edward M. Kranz, 1 February 1855-23 March 1939, and one of their sons
- August Albert Kranz, 17 June 1899-16 June 1999 (yes, the day before his 100th birthday!)
And another sister,
- Carolina Meintzer Kranz, 20 January 1872-20 February 1965, her husband (Edward’s brother)
- Adam Henry Kranz (In the News), 1 April 1863-2 April 1955
Lastly, we find the parents of the three of them
- Christian Meintzer (Colorful), 3 April 1830-28 January 1922 and
- Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo), 17 August 1842-7 September 1913
Even when we think we know where our people are buried, cemeteries like to surprise us! When Lois (my godmother) died in 2004, I was at a point in life where I could actually get up to a funeral with minimum disruption to our household. Mike ran point on parenting the children still at home, and I drove up to my parents’ house. My cousin Janice (who lived closer, but had younger kids) was at Lois’s Funeral Mass with her young daughter, and went to St. Mary Cemetery for the graveside service.
We chatted a bit after the service, and I casually mentioned that our great-grandparents, Christian & Sophia, were buried in the “other” cemetery. Janice had no idea, so we decided to walk over so she could see. There’s no fence separating the two cemeteries, remember? We found the headstones easily enough, and I was explaining that Aunt Sophie & Aunt Carrie were also nearby. As I did a sweeping motion and turn to indicate they were “somewhere over there,” my eyes landed on Catharine Smith—Aunt Kate (Favorite Name)—on the other side of the drive. Surprise!
“Oh, look! Here’s Aunt Kate. I didn’t know she was here, too!” Granted, “Catharine Smith”¹ isn’t the most unusual name in the world, but fortunately her second husband was named Morton—far less common! Even without having her birth and death dates handy, I knew it was her.
Just like people, cemeteries have histories, too. As I was writing this, I got to wondering about the two cemeteries; how they started and how they are related, since they are literally “joined at the hip.”
Mooney Cemetery started in 1899,² when the old St. Mary’s of the Woods church (near Green Bay and Lincoln), and the churchyard around it, were sold for development. The church was abandoned when the congregation relocated in 1872, and no one was really keeping up the cemetery. With the property sale, remains had to be removed and relocated. John Mooney retrieved the remains of his father (James, who died in the 1850s) and other family members, and reinterred them on a section of his land on Ridge Road. He allowed others to add their family members. Mooney Cemetery was born. The land was officially surveyed in 1907.
A similar plat map was created for St. Mary Cemetery in 1908, when John Mooney transferred land south of Mooney Cemetery to the Archdiocese of Chicago, retaining Mooney as a private cemetery. It remained private until 1960, when Cecilia Zahnle Mooney deeded the property to Deerfield Township (now Moraine Township).
Apparently, the record-keeping for Mooney was a bit of a mess. It consisted of typed index cards (undated), with notes overwritten (undated), sometimes with a contradictory index card (ALSO undated!). The original plot sales were recorded at the county seat (Waukegan), but later transfers were not. Attempts in the past to confirm grave locations and ownership had questionable success, and lots sold more recently have sometimes had to be reassigned when it was discovered they were already occupied!
The grave markers don’t necessarily provide much help, either. Tombstones (if present) were haphazardly placed—sometimes at the head of the grave, sometimes at the foot, and not always exactly lined up with the grave. For new burials, they use a special rod to determine if a vault is already below the grave they intend to use. During the winter that process can take all day—undoubtedly due to frozen ground.
A Winter 2010 Township Newsletter asked residents to bring in original deeds, so the records could be updated with hopefully more accurate information. By the Summer Issue 2010,³ they were talking about bringing in an expert to examine the property (ground-penetrating radar?) to determine what was going on beneath the surface.
I couldn’t locate any later articles to see what the results were, but they seem to be making an effort to straighten out the burial records. Both cemeteries seem nicely kept up, so I’m happy some family members are there. I’m also glad I took a little time to find out more about both cemeteries. It’s nice to know the backstory of people’s final resting place.
Note: St. Mary is managed by the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries. On that website, it is listed as “St. Mary.” If you look at Find A Grave, they list it as “St. Marys” (no apostrophe). Other writers may add in an apostrophe. I chose to use the spelling of the Archdiocese, which is consistent with the name chiseled on the rock at the cemetery entrance (viewable in Google Maps street view)—which isn’t necessarily an old marker! Even if others weren’t consistent, I wanted to be.
¹Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 1 June 2019, memorial 23770538, Catharine SMITH, (1865-1949), Mooney Cemetery, Highland Park, Lake, Illinois.
²”Mooney,” Talk of the Township, Winter Issue 2010, online posting of article at the Moraine Township, Illinois web site. (https://www.morainetownship.org/super/CemMooney_article.html)
³”Mooney,” Talk of the Township, Summer Issue 2010, online posting of article at the Moraine Township, Illinois web site. (https://www.morainetownship.org/super/CemMooney_article.html)