Found a tombstone. Now I have a mystery to solve.

This weekend I continued my streak of finding bizarre #bafflingthriftfinds with one of the weirdest ones even for me.  An actual, used tombstone.  I shared it online because this is what I do and because my twitter friends are incredibly entertaining:

 

It felt weird leaving a tombstone in a resale shop but it also felt weird buying a tombstone that might have been stolen.  A quick look on find-a-grave shows that Sahra has a new (if slightly boring) tombstone as of 2007 but I’m not sure if it was replaced because it was stolen or because it was broken.  So I decided to see if I could solve this weird mystery and I contacted some of her family members on Ancestry.com but so far none have responded to my “I found your great-great-great granny’s tombstone in a store if you want it” emails.  Then I emailed someone from the local tombstone historical society and they have not responded to my “Are you missing a tombstone because I think I know where it is” email, which I assume will be met with a restraining order.

This post doesn’t have an end.

Yet.

 

124 thoughts on “Found a tombstone. Now I have a mystery to solve.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. What! You have not immediately been contacted by relatives saying, “So THAT’S where we left granny’s stone.”

    The younger generation, sheesh.

  2. If you look at the Find-A-Grave entry, there is an actual photo of Sahra on the listing. There is a link to contact the person that added that photo. It seems likely since she had that photo, she my have a personal connection.

  3. Hey, Claire Here, Archaeologist and member of the Association for Gravestone Studies. Would you like some help with this? I may be able to help or find another member who could. Our national conference is coming up in a month and the best minds in gravestones will be there. If you want more detailed information about what I can see, give me an email. I would be more than happy to help!

    (Sending you an email now. Thanks! ~ Jenny)

  4. I guess if the finger was pointing down, people would be all “um…duh dumbass.”.

  5. We have a couple of tombstones in our back yard. The person who built our house in the 1870s apparently thought tombstones would make a good foundation. (Not that good, it turns out, the reason we had to dig up the floor was because a cement foundation needed to be poured). They are small and a little broken. Maybe they were remaindered due to misspellings? A big hit with visiting children. … Also, Second Chance Thrift and Architectural Salvage in Baltimore had a couple of large granite used tombstones for sale. Leftover from a House of Cards cemetery scene. Didn’t buy but when I went back, someone had.

  6. We found an old tombstone in my uncle’s garage once. He said it came with the blocks he used to build it. I don’t know but I didn’t want to go to his garage anymore.

  7. If you expand the flowers on the memorial, there’s a second gr-granddaughter that left virtual flowers for her, clicking through to her FAG profile gives you her email address.

  8. According to what I’ve looked up – in the past – about tombstones that fall down. Because they’re like toddlers in that way…and because I worked at a church that had a graveyard that wasn’t theirs (LOST: one giant graveyard?). Apparently you have to leave them, where they lie, like drunk trees in a forest who pass out randomly, and who knows if they make a sound – what do trees even drink to get drunk? But no one has time to go behind them and pick them up. So the tombstone should have been left in place. And I would totally buy it and put it back. Because if you put it in your yard, then people will think you took Sahra. Or maybe she took herself – and dropped the tombstone off to make some quick cash? I mean its been a while, and maybe she didn’t have enough loose change for a new outfit. Or transportation. Or food.

  9. So Sahra’s husband found the secret to eternal life and is now 218 and partying like it’s 1799? I say forget trying to find the heirs, let’s find Robert!

  10. I can’t wait to find out how this mystery ends. If it was me, I’d want Granny’s headstone back for my garden. Then the neighbours would know not to mess with me.

  11. Maybe they only check their Ancestry account once in a blue moon? I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a used tombstone. Unless as a Halloween decoration, but that seems disrespectful.

  12. Given how expensive funerals are, a used tombstone seems to be a good way to go. I could just cover the current words with Gaff tape and then use coloured Gaff tape to put “Here lies Gary. Born dd/mm/yyyy Died dd/mm/yyyy He was a quiet bloke”

  13. I bought a house last year that came with a tombstone (but not a body). I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I’m getting used to seeing it whenever I drive in.

  14. I love you, but perhaps you should lower the snark level when emailing people that you actually want information from? (Or, maybe you just jazzed up your messages to them for the blog entry?)

  15. Seriously, you should buy it. Move it to your front yard, and set up a nice faux gravesite. Perhaps a nice cement bench to go with it, a few plants a place to put cut flowers. Be sure to leave room for other tombstones you find. If your never haven’t petitioned to remove you yet, they shouldn’t mind this. It would be even cooler if you replaced your existing vehicle with a hearse. I’d go with magenta with metal fleck for the hearse, but that’s me.

  16. To Claire, Archaeologist and member of the Association for Gravestone Studies (Comment #7):
    Yes, please, please, please tell us what you see! How lucky we are to have an authority in our midst! Please interpret this hallowed object for us gravestone amateurs.

  17. Whoever carved it had good intentions but couldn’t spell worth shit. Obviously, iy supposed to be SARAH!

  18. Wow! Crazy. My thought is that whoever had it and put it in the thrift shop shouldn’t have. It’s possible it was broken (it’s very old) and/or was fallen down and someone took it as a prank and then it ended up in a thrift store somehow. Which could explain why there’s a replacement. Hard to say. Unless a family ancestor decided to replace the stone, but it’s not common to do that unless the stone is completely illegible and/or gone. I visit a lot of old cemeteries to take photos of mortuary iconography (yes, that’s a thing) and old gravestones like that are very valuable in that they are a lost art. Sometimes if the cemetery is located near water or flood plains, floods can sometimes carry away old gravestones that have fallen down. Hopefully it wasn’t stolen by vandals and if it was, can be returned!

  19. The cemetery office might have a record. If family replaced it and kept the original (or if stolen and kept) it could have come up at an estate sale and not sold so ended up at a resale shop. I wonder if there is a protocol for what to do with the old ones…..and I wonder if all resale shops would take an actual apparently used tombstone. It also has a smaller letter G so maybe it was an error and found at a stone masons shop where they make them.

  20. Gramma! She’s my gramma. Ok, not really, but I’d buy that from you in a second.

  21. I’m not sure it’s the same person, but the Find a Grave picture that comes up when you look for that name looks exactly as I expected…

  22. Of course it’s supposed to be Sarah, not Sahra. Her husband couldn’t spell any better than mine can. The poor woman probably died from having all those kids without an epidural., bless her heart. I absolutely would never had made it as a pioneer woman!

  23. I initially thought it said “Phone Home” and was seriously nonplussed for at least 2 minutes.

  24. One of her children’s name is Valentine and she died on Valentine’s Day. That’s too much of a coincidence, she clearly faked her death.

  25. I almost feel like it should be illegal to sell a used tombstone. Also, she lived quite a long life for someone born in the 18th century!

  26. I wonder how long poor Sarah had to sleep under that damned misprint before someone finally fixed it. Apparently a whole lot of people who knew Sarah just thought “Ah, nevermind! It’s close enough.” I can only hope that my children don’t screw up ‘Lori’ because that would mean they aren’t nearly as smart as I think they are. Also, I used to get mail intended for some guy named ‘Rori’. It took the post office several months to figure it out. So I’m not overly surprised that a headstone would have a typo. :o)

  27. Actually, Sahra was, and is, an accepted alternative spelling of the name Sara.

  28. How is there not an ancient law in place that makes selling this illegal????

  29. At first glance, I read the top inscription as “one bone,” and after I stopped giggling (because I am apparently a 12 year old boy), I wondered if that was accurate and they just buried one of her bones under that stone. Then I wondered if it was part of a scavenger hunt sort of thing, with her bones buried one by one across the country and the family member who found them all would get all her money…
    Discovering that it says “gone home” was deeply disappointing.

  30. This is what Facebook is for. There are lots of genealogy pages there you can post to.

  31. I wish I had seen this in my feed. And at my thrift store. I’d have bought it for the garden. What a unique deterrent for burglars. “Not messing with this chick, man. She’s hard core!”

  32. I like her old tombstone better… much more pointy. She went “up”.

  33. Creepy and cool! I think someone else mentioned this, but on Find-A-Grave there is usually contact information for the person who created the post. I have contacted people that way, while working on a genealogy project, and have had success. I suppose everyone is different though.

  34. This is a well-known thing among marbleyards. People DO come in and have older tombstones switched out, sometimes to replace a broken stone, others because they want all the stones on the family lot to be matchy-matchy. (Yes, that really IS a thing.) When an older stone is replaced the family generally doesn’t want it back, so the monument company gradually acquires a back lot full of “trade-ins”.

    I found this out when, as a boy, my father bought the land a monument company had been on and we inherited all the trade-in stones with the rest of the property. A number of them are in use at my mother’s house as stonework for retaining walls; I carried around two huge footings from the yard in my pickup while I was in high school, to keep the rear end from drifting and skidding in curves. The truck was over-sprung, and very bad to skid if the bed was empty. 500 or 600 pounds of granite and limestone blocks helped a lot.

  35. …well, that’s pretty weird. But I have a friend in Winnipeg who just bought a house, and when he started to put in his garden, he quickly realized that he’d have to replan TOUT SUITE. Found an ACTUAL COFFIN in the yard. About 12″ from the surface. I’m thinking Jimmy Hoffa, personally, he’s just pissed that this went undisclosed. No marker at all. They’re all just grateful to not be haunted by the tinny tune to “Pop Goes the Weasel”!

  36. True story. I interviewed a retiring farmer and once the camera was off he said “Did you have family in the area? Because I have a tombstone in my barn with your name on it.” He did but it wasn’t me thank goodness. He’d found a great-great-great-aunt’s headstone in an abandoned cemetery on his land that was uncovered when he was cutting hay.

  37. Maybe you should contact her husband. Apparently he is 218 years old since there is no date of death for him (Maybe he became a vampire like that one that offered you the option a few months back). Maybe he sold the old one and replaced it with the new one.

  38. The thing that baffles me is that the thrift shop bought this…thinking it had resale value? Because…the Addams family lives nearby and is constantly redecorating?

  39. I always love these twitter mystery sagas like where did the small taxidermy duck come form. These really make my year. Can’t wait to hear the rest.

  40. The pointing hand: after thinking that’s nice, Sahra has her final reward (and she won’t be turning up on the front porch some day), the scary movie trope recognition lobe in my brain would go uh-uh, seen this before and tell me “look up”.

  41. Hi you dont know me but I kinda know you I’ve lost count how many times I’ve listened to your book on the nights where I hurt for no good reason I find comfort in your book on the days where I scream my lungs out from having my only thought of happy ripped away I drift off into sleep listening to you talk about random things your book makes me feel less alone I never remember turning on the book but I wake up and hear you still talking to me you really have helped me Jenny. PS My mum bought me ‘You Are Here’ On sunday and it got here today. My older brother doesn’t like audio books so we also bought ‘Furiously Happy’ so we could get him to read it and even if he won’t say so he really need that book. so if I ever met you I have two books I would love to get signed!

    with lot of love (and cats),
    Violet~

    PPS Hailey looks so pretty!! you did good and will continue to do so also Hailey and I are around the same age! I dont really know why but that always makes me happy to think about hehe~~

  42. Re: Comment #66

    I was all set to be buried in a vase with a tree or cremated but now I’m reconsidering because jazz hands on my gravestone would just be awesome.

  43. Wow this is pretty bizarre even for YOU, the queen of the bizarre. Not sure if I should congratulate you or tell you to be afraid of hauntings.

  44. Why can’t I find stuff like this in thrift stores?! All I ever find are ugly old dishes and peeling furniture.

  45. I think you have found the subject for your next book! So many ways to take this — even your stuffed rodents would be jealous. IF you want to form a support group, I believe there may be one of these in my garage, placed there by my ex (who threw his back out dragging it home.) He was president of the historical society at the time and someone donated it. People did used to replace tombstones when they had more money for a fancier one, or wanted to put up a big family memento. One of my friends has a used one as the doorstep of her very old home. Apparently they really meant it when they said”Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

  46. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a used headstone for sale before. Weird. I hope the historians give you some insight, because I am waiting impatiently for the end to this story!

  47. “and this is how i ended up with 37 restraining orders”
    (now imagine jenny’s singing it because it’s totally going to be a chapter in her next book.)

  48. The stone in the store is so much cooler. Poor woman has a crappy McTombstone now.

    (Agreed. I love old tombstones. The flat-laying simple ones are so bland. ~ Jenny)

  49. Texas seems to have the best thrift shops! I never see anything like that when I go looking. Or maybe these things somehow find you.

  50. Yeah, when I was a kid, we found one of those in the basement of a house that my dad bought. Apparently, the relative of the deceased who was renting the house several years earlier had stolen it. The cemetery happily took it off our hands and stuck it back where it belonged.

  51. one mystery solved: if her husband had no death date, it’s because no one came after him to add it.
    And seriously, be very careful about Find a Grave sites. They tend to jump to conclusions and not always the right ones. There doesnt seem to be a lot of research in this group, and they are more inclined to guess about the stones rather than do research.

    All that aside, that is a very cool stone.

  52. This is just a great and interesting story…and I am super pleased that you also checked that it wasn’t stolen, or that it doesn’t really belong to a family member. I think sometimes we forget the value of restoring pieces of the past to the people who are missing them. Thanks for being a great example, and yet still making it a totally entertaining…

  53. I used to work at a cemetery. If her cemetery is anything like ours, it would not be the weirdest call ever if you asked them for some info. It would also give them something to say other than “pretty dead” when their family asks how work was that day.

  54. My family and I were visiting a cemetery last week, noticing the variety of headstone styles. I agree that Sahra’s original is much more stylish than the new one.

    We found some cylindrical markers (lying on their side). My first thought was “pillows,” but we came up with some more unsavory interpretations. Ah, family!

  55. I don’t know why it made me “anonymous”… But, Find A Grave is one of my favorite sites. 🙂

  56. Just throwing down some random knowledge. I used to design and cut head stones, first job out of high school. When my Mom passed I wanted to do her stone and that is when I found out the horrible truth. If a cemetery doesn’t have existing marble you have to do the bronze flat marker. So they can mow over it so lesson learned…buy a spot with marble already if you want a stone. and i totally had extra or oops stones. I also got screamed at for doing a rubbing on a child stone until I explained i was a mason and was cutting my first child stone and needed ideas cuz the whole thing had me freaking out.

  57. Zombies establishing their financial footing in the world. This is how it begins…

  58. When you sent the e-mails you didn’t use the “letters cut out of magazines” font did you? That tends to discourage responses, except maybe from the FBI. You might want to take a picture of the tombstone with today’s newspaper next to it so they’ll know you are serious.

  59. I wonder if her name was actually “Sarah” and she’s been haunting the shit out of the gravestone carver and his family for two centuries to get revenge for the mistake. Sounds like something I’d do, anyway.

  60. With the finger like that, it would be epic if it said “Phone Home” instead of Gone Home. Just Sayin. . ..

  61. I love everything about this. I hope you can find more information. Creepy af though that it ended up in a store.

  62. Jenny, I love your blog! It has inspired me to start my own blog about my anxiety disorder. Artxiety.wordpress.com

  63. When we put an addition on our house, they found a super old tombstone that was buried underground. I can’t help but think there are bones down there somewhere too.

  64. At one time they dumped stones in the river that they did misspellings on, I guess that caused problems for awhile near us. Add I knew someone who had their great uncles stone in their yard because they cut the wrong dates in it but the family figured it would be neat to have as a lawn ornament. Now that would be a great way to meet your daughters prom date….lets go have a talk near her last date boy…..lol, just hope he can’t figure the guys real age

  65. I’ve emailed the creator of the FindAGrave memorial directly, with a link to this blog.

  66. You must solve this, and I hope it doesn’t end up with a buncha tombstones under someones house and Carol Anne trying to help the lost souls. Just sayin, do not leave us hanging here Jenny!

  67. We actually have a bunch of “used” headstones in our courtyard at work! A few yrs back they were renovating a local park, which had previously been a cemetery back in the 1800s. Apparently when it was originally made into a park, they put out announcements saying “hey, if you have family buried here, please come move them before it is a park”. When the renovation happened, we were hired to come move as many of the “leftovers” as we could find. Then the construction crew kept unearthing broken headstones that had been underground for 150+ yrs, and we would get called over to remove them (they still looked brand new, which was kind of cool). Supposedly the city is going to do something with them, but for now they are just sitting there…

  68. There’s a house in Petersburg, VA that is made entirely out of old tombstones. Yay for recycling. I also know of another place that used old tombstones for a walkway. And here I spaz out trying not to step on people’s graves whenever I visit my family’s burial sites.

    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/23091

  69. Isn’t it incredible how we all think we’re so unique and special and people should remember us long after we’re gone, when really, we are just bugs on God’s windshield?

  70. That would have made a great conversation piece. I mean haunting aside, it could have made a great addition to your garden.

  71. Hi! I’m one of the Sahra McMinn descendants that Jenny contacted via Find A Grave. Back in 2007 I went searching for the McMinn’s burial site and to my surprise, after walking most of the cemetery, found that I had parked almost directly in front of their new marker there. I had been searching for an older marker and never thought to look at the obviously new one. I do not know which of my fellow McMinn descendants had the new marker put in place. At the time the McMinn’s were a new discovery in the search for my ancestors so I had no information on the older marker.

    There is the possibility that when the new marker was placed, the old one was simply taken by the contractor who put in the new one and then found its way into the antiques market. Selling an old marker, even if broken, could encourage “pickers” to think it was OK to raid old graveyards and bring markers and statuary in to sell at market. It’s bad enough that metal markers and flower urns are stolen with such frequency by folks who take them to recycling centers for money. It’s all part and parcel of how we lose track of our ancestry.

    Without knowing the circumstances under which the new marker was placed, I really don’t think a case could be made about whether the older marker had been stolen, and we are well beyond the statute of limitations in any case.

  72. Sahra McMinn’s husband Robert (considered by some commenters to possibly be among the undead) was noted in the 1870 Federal Census mortality schedules as having died in the month of November 1869. The specific day of death is not given in those schedules and that is probably why it was not carved into the new marker. Might have located a photo of some old portraits of Sahra and Robert that another McMinn descendant sent to me some years ago. At the time we weren’t certain of the identity, but the woman looks a lot like the portrait of Sahra that was added to Find A Grave not long ago. Will forward to Jenny once I’ve confirmed with the source.

  73. . Sarah McMinn was my great great grandmother. She has a newer tombstone now.
    I even have a photo of her..

  74. At first glance, I thought this said ‘Phone Home’ and of course I thought OMG…THAT IS TOTALLY E.T.’S TOMBSTONE!!!

  75. WAY cool. I’m a die-hard (see what I did there?) graveyard lover. I could spend days exploring old cemeteries. Where I grew up, in Massachusetts, there were loads. Now, when I visit, I always put aside time to explore. The stories on old tombstones are amazing. However, I’ve NEVER seen a used tombstone for sale!

    Reading the link, I found 2 very interesting things: 1) Her last child was named “Valentine,” and Sarah died on Valentine’s Day, 1882. And 2) She died 105 years, exactly, before my husband and I got married, on Valentine’s 1987. See, love me some cemetery stuff.

  76. Sarah Mc Minn was my gggrandmother. Sahra was written with that spelling in church records of Hendersonville, NC, her home. I have many records of her, and I am apalled that someone would remove her stone, even if it was broken. I have noticed many broken or tipped stones in that old cemetery. My cousin bought new stones for Sarah and Robert as well as their son in law and daughter, also buried right next to the McMinns in Mountain View. I hope whoever took that stone will return it to the cemetery. That is where it belongs.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: