Climbing Family Trees: The Search For My Great Grandmother by Ed Murfin

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Search For My Great Grandmother by Ed Murfin

“The Search For My Great Grandmother”
Ed Murfin

I traveled to a little cemetery in 2004 and found some treasure. I was visiting the Lancaster, County, Pennsylvania area, as an Amish Country tourist and as a family genealogist – both delightful activities in that area. My grandfather, John Burkhart Garman (1855-1938) was born and raised in Lancaster County. I had attended a Garman/Steffy family picnic reunion in a park in Ephrata, PA where about 40 persons were present. It rained off and on all that week in that area.

The next day I used the best information I had from the family records, that this particular cemetery was in a clump of trees with about 7 tombstones, located behind a little school house on a side road off Hwy 23. I drove up and down that highway and along several side roads that afternoon. I saw several little schoolhouses, but none that fit the description. I went up one road and found a man working in his upholstery shop in his backyard. I engaged him in conversation. He wanted to give me the life history of the Patton family (he traces back through General Patton). I thought I’d never get away from him! He told me there was an old school house “up thataway and up thisaway.” When I told him I was looking for Garman people he finally told me that quite a few Garmans lived on a nearby road, about a mile away.

I eventually located the road and stopped at the beautiful frame house behind a mailbox that read “Noah Garman.” A sweet little old Mennonite lady welcomed me and told me that her husband Noah had passed away a year ago, but that if I went across the road to see Aaron Garman, he'd probably help me locate the school and cemetery behind his house. I was getting nervous by now. Aaron (black beard, black hat, black suspenders and black trousers) was at his barn near his house. They were using gasoline tractors in the field, but there was no sign of an automobile. He told me that there was a little school house at the back of his cornfield and that there was a clump of trees with tombstones in it. “One of them is Elizabeth Garman,” he said. “Another is a small child, David.” He didn’t know who the others were.

He told me I was welcome to go through the edge of his cornfield to see and photograph the tombstones, and to please come back and tell him of my find. I could nervously see the school and trees in the distance. He hurried out into the field to join a co-worker. I was able to drive on a paved road about a half mile and around the corner a little distance to the white, wooden one-room schoolhouse. I had to go past it to find a place to pull off the road and find enough room to park my car. There was a chain-link fence surrounding the school. My heart sank – I thought I was at a dead-end because the full corn field was right up against the side fence all around the schoolyard, with no room for me to walk, especially with shorts on.

To my surprise, the big double gate along the highway was not locked, so I proceeded to go into the schoolyard. Walking back through the yard, I saw that there was a single gate at the back. From that point I could see the aforementioned trees, just 20 yards away. I only had to walk by the edge of the cornfield ten yards to get to the gravesite. It was covered thickly with weeds and poison oak. I tramped down all that I could safely take care of. Remember, I was wearing shorts, and this clump of trees was full of waist-high weeds laden with poison oak vines!

I was able to read the name (Elizabeth Garman) and the date (1858) on the only accessible stone, but little else. I could not get close enough to any of the other stones to be able to read them. I did take digital pictures and video profusely, however, and they show the proof in excellent detail. Of course, I stayed there for awhile, visiting with my ancestors. I excitedly went back to the farmhouse and found Aaron, his wife (dressed in traditional black with blue trim dress), and two lovely, smiling, blue-eyed, auburn-haired teenaged daughters waiting on me. Their dresses bore the signs of hard work in the field, with reddish brown smudges from the knees down. The mother was seated on a stone bench, with her husband standing at her side and the two girls standing beside her. I really wished I could have taken a picture of their gorgeous family, but I knew better than to ask. Thankfully, he had not objected to my using the camera in his field.

They were very friendly and very inquisitive about my family background. They were very much interested in the fact that I was a retired Methodist minister and that my grandfather had been a lay Mennonite preacher in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They showed me a printed book of the history of his Garman family. There was nothing in it that rang a bell in relation to anything in my family line. I would love to have been able to copy some of that material. They did tell me that their family stories say that someone in Aaron's family raised the son of the woman who was buried in their field. They could not give me any specifics, however, and could not name me anyone who might know more.

I came just that close to finding a close touch to my grandfather's childhood. All I know is that he was born and raised in Bowmansville, just to the northeast of that location. My mother is recorded as having said that her father and his sister were raised by an aunt. I drove through the town of Bowmansville on the way to this site, but found no one who knew of this story. I also saw his sister, Anna Burkhart Garman Glass's, grave in Adamstown. He is buried with my grandmother, Grace Truman Scott Young, his second wife, in lower PA, near Hancock, MD, a grave site I have visited many times.

My grandfather, John Burkhart Garman, was only three years old when his mother, Elizabeth, died. He died when I was just three years old. After the death of his first wife he had gone to Austell, GA, near Atlanta for work, where he met and married my grandmother in 1902. His sister, Anna B. Garman was just 15 months old when their mother died. Other family stories say that their father, David C. Garman, gave the two of them to two different Mennonite families to raise, but no one knows who they were. David then went on to marry a much younger woman (14 years his junior), with whom he had 11 more children. There is no mention that they ever took John and Anna into their home. Apparently, the new young wife did not want to raise children that were born when she was just eleven years old. Could the “David grave” be a small child from that family not mentioned in family logs? And who would be in the other graves there?

On July 21, I visited with descendants of my grandfather by his first wife, at a family reunion in Ephrata, near Lancaster. My family has always kept a close tie with those half-relatives, and also the half-relatives by his father's second wife, Mary Ellen Davis. Since my grandmother was married and widowed before she met my grandfather, that makes for an awful lot of half-relatives in that part of my family! Keeping up with all of them is fun. We now have an enduring relationship as friends and second cousins once-removed. He says all of his Glass family records have been lost due to a family rift in the generation ahead of him. As far as he knows, everything was destroyed that had any detailed information in it. I have been able to obtain a good bit of Glass information in my research on his family, but it yields nothing in relation to Anna and the “mysterious mother-in-law.” I never thought that I was going to get this close until it happened one overcast day in mid-July, 2004.

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