Thursday, August 6, 2020

Little Old Cemetery On Our Place

Nestled in the densely forested grounds of the Dawes Arboretum is one of the oldest cemeteries in Licking County, Ohio.

The Beard-Green Cemetery is the final resting place for several of my paternal ancestors.

A historical marker details the backgrounds of the 210-year-old cemetery's namesakes, including Benjamin Green and his family who were the first legal settlers in spring 1800 of the area that would become Licking County in 1808. The marker also indicates that John Beard's family settled in 1808. 

Beard-Green Cemetery historical marker, photo by author

John Beard, who was married to Margaret Kirk, actually settled in the area at least two years prior to 1808. John was enumerated on the 1806 tax list for Fairfield County (the predecessor to Licking County), and purchased 400 acres in Licking Township, Fairfield County in January 1807. That deed indicated that John was "of Fairfield County..." and not just an out-of-towner buying up land.

But quibbles about the accuracy of the historical marker aside, the cemetery is an important place for my family history. 

John and Margaret Beard were, I believe, uncle and aunt to my fifth great-grandfather Thomas Kirk and his likely sister Mary (Kirk) Geiger - both of whom are also buried in the cemetery grounds. I believe John Beard was a father figure - if not legal guardian - for Thomas and Mary following the death of their father Joseph Kirk in Berkeley County, Virginia in about 1784. 

Missing and Deteriorating Headstones

Sadly, the passage of time has not been kind to many of the cemetery's headstones. While John Beard's marker stands prominent and majestically more than 200 years after his 1814 death, others are crumbling with weathered inscriptions or altogether missing.

Gone is the headstone for John's wife, Margaret. Presumably she was laid to rest beside her husband, but which side? There's a crumbled stone embedded in the ground to the right of John's marker (behind the flag in the picture below). However, there's no legible engraving. I've long assumed that was all that remained of Margaret's marker.

John Beard 1814 headstone, photo by author

Among the deteriorating memorials are fragments of the tombstones for my fifth great-grandparents Thomas and Sarah (Bonar) Kirk. Regrettably, the upper portion of their stones - with the invaluable biographical data - is now missing. A caretaker of the cemetery told me that many of the broken stones were buried in the northwest corner of the cemetery. 

In 2017, I worked with other Kirk descendants to lay a new headstone, which was placed between the stumps of their original headstones and commemorated their role as early settlers of Licking County.

Thomas and Sarah Kirk graves, photo by author

An exact date of death

I've long wondered what was engraved on Thomas' original tombstone. Did it provide his exact death date?

A family history published in the 1990's gave his death date as December 3, 1846, but there was no citation for where that date came from. Did it come from the tombstone?

The author of that history had visited Beard-Green and included a grainy photograph of Thomas' original headstone when it was still intact (albeit barely hanging on, clamped together by metal braces). Perhaps the stone was legible and the exact death date was pulled from the marker.

In June 1970, a local genealogy society conducted a census of burials - recording the basic bio-data that was still readable. Thomas' headstone was standing, but the information recorded was pretty basic.

Great, I had the birth and death years. I didn't want to be too greedy, but it sure would be nice to know what exactly was on the stone. Many of the markers in the cemetery give the deceased's name, exact death date and the age at death, which can then be used to calculate the birth year. 

Was that the case for Thomas?

Notes on a cemetery

During a recent visit to the genealogical society in Newark, Ohio, I landed on a new document that provided more insights. 

It was a photocopy of a notebook kept by Bertie Dawes (1872-1958), co-owner and caretaker for the surrounding Dawes grounds on which the cemetery is situated, titled, "Little Old Cemetery on our place."

The journal includes a map of burial locations (Margaret Beard was buried to the left of her husband!) and an index detailing the known burials in 1940. It also provides more of the information inscribed on each stone, including for Thomas.

In a handwritten list of burials ordered chronologically by year, Dawes recorded Thomas Kirk under 1846.

There it was in black and white. Thomas Kirk's tombstone gave his death date as December 3, 1846 at the age of 68 years, which suggested a birth year of 1778. 

This was the first time I had confirmation that the stone was the source of this information.

Although the data wasn't entirely new, Dawes' notebook provided a reference point, a citation that I could point to as corroborating evidence of Thomas' birth and death dates. That's important in any genealogy and strengthens my Kirk family history. 


  1. I'm always amazed at the simpeliest lines that give confirmation. My 4th Step Grandfather was 4 sentences long in a newspaper buried so small & tiny that gave a another source as to his death. Wonderful post. Love the photos.

    1. It underscores the importance of thorough exhaustive searches. You just never know what new piece of information you'll uncover no matter how small the tidbit.

  2. Your persistence is amazing. Congratulations on the find!

    1. I think it's probably a full-blown obsession now. :)

  3. What a great find! I remember being at the FHL in SLC and finding on a microfilm an old listing of burials from a cemetery in Michigan. The stones do not stand today. We can be thankful to these early cemetery volunteers. It is always a great pleasure reading your posts, Michael!

    1. We're really fortunate to have had those folks who took the time to trudge through the cemeteries and transcribe what I'm sure were very difficult to read headstones. A great service to future generations.

      Thank you for reading, Diane. I appreciate it.

  4. Isn't it odd how some stones weather the years fine or almost fine, and others deteriorate? Is it the type of stone? The location in the cemetery? The type of engraving used in the stone?

    Great find, Michael! And how nice to place an new stone.

    1. You raise a good point. I would have thought the Kirk stones, which are more secluded, would have been better protected from the elements than John Beard's which is out in the open. I just chalk it up to the Kirk curse (burnt courthouses, missing record books, destroyed census enumerations, you name it it's afflicted my Kirk research).