No matter how long you've researched your family history, there are always those elusive ancestors who just don't seem to want to be found. My 2x great grandfather Harrison Gesner was one of those ancestors. Although I have photographs and other information, much of his story was still a mystery. I also encountered several dead-ends researching his wife and some of his kids. Contributing to this challenge was the fact that there was another Harrison Gesner from a distant branch of the family that was the same age and living in the same county.
My first break came when I discovered Harrison also went by E.H. Gesner and eventually I learned that his full name was Elihu Harrison Gesner, but he chose to go by the name Harrison. This uncovered a few more clues and I learned that one of his children who died at the age of thirteen was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in West Haven, CT.
I decided to drive to Oak Grove Cemetery on Saturday to investigate. Admittedly, I am a bit of a cemetery junkie (don't judge). When conducting research, I find cemeteries to be one of the most straightforward sources of information and have solved several mysteries by walking a cemetery. Researching in libraries and other repositories can result in hours and hours of searching through documents. Online research is great, but only a small percentage of available records are online. Researching cemeteries takes you outside, you get exercise and it can feel like an exciting hunt. There's also no better feeling than when you find what you're looking for.
As I walked amongst the graves at Oak Grove, I came across a few Gesner stones, but not the family I was looking for. After about 20 minutes I passed a small family plot of footstones. Jackpot! it was the family plot of E.H. Gesner.
One of the great surprises about this plot was that each stone identified the relationship of the individual. There were a total of eight stones including my 2x and 3x great grandmothers including their surnames. Birth and death dates were on each stone and those clues will provide me the opportunity to research further.
This isn't the first time cemeteries have solved mysteries for me. In past research, I've discovered stones identifying the town/county/country the individual was born in, occupations, relationships and other clues.
So, if your research has stalled and you know where your ancestor was buried, visit the cemetery and take a walk. Make notes of anyone with the same surname or even better take pictures of the stones. Cemeteries can be tricky, most have very little information online and it's often difficult to get assistance over the phone. If you get frustrated, don't give up. Get help from a professional genealogist with experience in researching cemeteries. Happy Hunting!!