Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Finding Vincent Graves/In Which I Ruin Yet Another Manicure

Section of French Cemetery

     Thursday, October 6th dawned clear and sunny.  By mid-day when my chauffeur husband and I began the 40 mile trek to Victory, New York where French Cemetery lay, the mercury had risen into the high seventies.  Perfect weather for grave hunting.  Victory is located in Cayuga County and is a very rural place with farms and fields interspersed between wooded areas.

     As we drove deeper into the countryside I couldn't help but wonder what had compelled anyone to move there in the first place?  There was no industry, no canal, no port or railroad to draw them; all I could think is that most likely it was due to Victory being part of New York's "military tract", land the state set aside to reward Revolutionary War soldiers.  After a wrong turn or two we came upon the cemetery on a slight rise along the road.  French Cemetery is a very unassuming burial place and not terribly large, good news since I had never been there before and had no idea where my people rested.  At that point though, something unusual happened.  I stepped out of the car and began walking south, but immediately stopped.  I then turned around and quickly walked north to the far end of the cemetery, and straight to the
grave of my twice widowed 4th great-grandmother Mary Clements Vincent Howland in the back row.  I couldn't even read her stained stone until I was standing right in front of it, but something drew me to that spot.

     Before we left home I had pulled up the online inventory of the cemetery and given my husband a list of names to look for, but of course I had already found Grandma Mary and right there next to her was her two year old granddaughter Mary Jane Wetherel, the child of her daughter Janet Vincent.  To the right of Mary Jane were two partially buried tombstones, one of which was snapped in two.  I looked down at them and experienced a case of deja vu-- it was Uncle Milo's stone all over again.  There was only one thing to do, I got down and started digging.  I had no tools (when will I ever learn?) other than the bottle opener on my key-chain.  (I'm fond of Guinness--it doesn't have a screw top-- don't judge me.)

     I set my husband on lookout duty for wildlife, as the day before our trip there had been an attack by a rabid coyote one town over and I wasn't taking any chances, genealogy and hydrophobia do not mix.  I finally uncovered most of the broken stone, and while I
Matilda Vincent Wife of John Irish
could read only the first few letters of the name, "MA", I could clearly make out the words,"wife of John Irish".  This was Matilda Vincent, another of Mary Clements Vincent Howland's daughters!  The day was getting hotter, and the second stone was buried even deeper than the broken one; I was getting a little discouraged when my husband retrieved a claw hammer from the car, the perfect tool for ripping turf.  Bit by bit the inscription was revealed, it was the grave of Thomas Vincent, son of Mary, brother of Matilda and Uncle of Mary Jane!  

THMs Vincent

     This was what I'd been hoping to find ever since I read their names in the online inventory, which was an alphabetized list giving no indication of who was buried next to whom.  Each of these individuals had a different last name, Howland, Wetherel, Irish, Vincent--but they were family, my family, and they were right there together just as family should be.  A short distance away was the grave of Anna Irish, sister-in-law of Matilda. 

     My husband retreated to the air conditioning of the car leaving me a few moments alone graveside.  It's puzzling how close one can feel to ancestors one has never met; as I stood there looking down on their graves I though of how over one hundred and sixty years ago ancestors of mine had stood in the same spot where I now stood, grieving as they bade farewell to their loved ones. They had done so several times in the summer of 1847 when an epidemic swept through town taking Matilda and Mary Jane.  Two of Matilda's children also died at that time and are probably there with their mother but apparently have no stones.  I raised my eyes and gazed over the rolling countryside, which seemed to be completely unchanged from the days they were here and felt such a connection to them.  Thomas' stone had the following epitaph:

Upon his grave shall blessings rest
Kind good & pious were his ways
They loved him most who knew him
And their affection speaks his praise    

     But it was three simple words carved near the bottom of little Mary Jane's stone that brought tears to my eyes:

All is well

Mary Jane
daughter of
Darius & Janet
died Aug 12, 1847
Aged 2 yrs 3 mo
& 15 ds



  1. It's amazing how you were drawn to her grave, Ellie, as if she was expecting you. Have to say, I never had a 'serendipity moment' chasing my ancestors - I'll have to register a complaint!

  2. It took decades for this to happen so give it time Dara, lol.