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Adopting Graves: Some genealogy on our little Johnnie and his family…

In my last post I shared with you my new autumn tradition of adopting older graves. I was so very excited to share the two that I chose… the resting places of Johnnie and Clara. The two graves are in different cemeteries, and even though I did my best to be drawn to the graves naturally, both happen to be the resting places of children who died at around the same age of five.

 

Johnnie Michel (1879 – 1884)

Though I was not able to find family photos in my research on our little  Johnnie and his family, I was able to find a significant amount of information and documents.

Johnnie’s father, Franz Heinrich (Henry) Michel (1842 – 1920), was a prominent member of the Wentzville, Missouri community by 1876. He married Johnnie’s mother, Mathilda Michel (Brockman) (1844 – 1928), daughter of “well-to-do farmers” in the county, in 1873 in St. Louis. They were members of the Lutheran Church. It is said that they had “many sincere and true friends.”

Henry Michel grew up poor, but eventually found success in Wentzville. In 1876 he built and opened a general store on Main Street in Wentzville, where Mathilda “kept house” and the family on the 2nd floor. To my knowledge, it appears the general store stayed in business until at least 1910. Johnnie had an older sister who died in 1953 and a younger sister who lived to be 92 years old. Depending on the census, apparently several clerks and salesmen for the store shared the upstairs living quarters with the family throughout the years, as well as a few cousins, Johnnie’s grandfather, and the husband of one of Johnnie’s sisters. It must have been an exciting household! By 1920, according to the census from that year, Johnnie’s older sister was the only other person sharing the house with her parents. By that time she was 33, while her parents were 75 and 77. (I’ve contacted the Wentzville Historical Society and hope to hear back from them with information regarding the general store, the location, if the building still exists, or if anyone has photos.)

A tobacco pouch from Johnnie's father's general store in Wentzville, Missouri.

A tobacco pouch from Johnnie’s father’s general store in Wentzville, Missouri.

According to an 1895 book with biographies of prominent and representative citizens from the surrounding counties, “In the business circles of the place Mr. Michel is highly and justly esteemed as an honorable and upright man, whose word is as good as his note, and who endeavors to fill to the letter every contract and obligation. Politically he is, like his father, an enthusiastic Republican.”

Unfortunately, other than one mention of a 6 month old Johnnie on a census form and the date of death from the head stone I found, no other information is known.

 

Johnnie's grandparents rest only a few feet away.

Johnnie’s grandparents rest only a few feet away.

A touching side note: The large head stone behind Johnnie’s in the photo on the right is the grave of his grandparents, Johann and Maria Michel, immigrants from Hannover in Germany. It warms my heart to know that they are buried close. I’ll have to check when I return, but I don’t believe there were any other Michels buried nearby. Johnnie’s father Henry is buried in the St. Peters Cemetery in nearby Washington, Missouri. Mother Mathilda and older sister Ella (most likely younger sister Katherine as well) are buried in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Santa Ana, California. 

 

 

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Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)...

Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)…


Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)…

Inspired by the amazing Renae Rude – The Paranormalist, who is a fellow lover of all things autumn and spooky, I decided to begin a new autumn tradition of adopting one or two gravesites. 

In my mind, the idea is to choose an older grave, perhaps forgotten (of course how does one really know this?) that may also need to be tended to. The two local cemeteries that I chose happen to be fairly well cared for. I would think you’d want to choose a grave that really speaks to you, either metaphorically or literally. As someone who finds cemeteries fascinating and enjoys spending time and taking photos in them, I found it hard to not just gravitate toward the interesting and most beautiful graves. But at the same time, I didn’t want to ignore those feelings. Lastly, a requirement for me was to be able to identify a name on the marker. This is often hard to do in cemeteries. You might argue that a grave that has lost the identity of the body resting there would be more in need of adoption, but for my first experience at this, I really wanted to be able to connect with a name as well. It is also my hope that after this initial post I’ll be able to research genealogy and share that with you as well. After selecting my graves, I’d commit to returning every so often throughout the season, keeping their soul in my thoughts and praying that they are at peace. 

So this last Saturday I was very excited to set out to adopt two graves for an early autumn kickoff. I wanted to choose one grave at two different cemeteries. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I was honored that Joe was willing to accompany me. (Normally this would be a little weird for him.) We went and picked up two beautiful bunches of flowers for a total of $10 and headed for Linn Cemetery in Wentzville, Missouri. Linn Cemetery is a place I’ve visited a few times in the last few years. Click HERE for photos from my first visit to Linn Cemetery.

 

Johnnie Michel, son of Henry and Matilda Michel, July 5, 1879 – January 21, 1884

Johnnie was four and a half years old at the time of his death. He was buried near two or three other Michels, but we found no Henry or Matilda Michel (his parents, according to the marker) near Johnnie. We wondered why the parents weren’t buried here, or at least nearby. Did life take them somewhere else after this loss? Did they have other children that lived hopefully longer lives? And what happened to Johnnie? Was it sickness? An accident? 

Here’s a close up of the writing below the dates. 

To the best of my ability, it appears to read “Here ____ our Little Johnnie ____ his still and silent… ?? …till we meet again. God has called him home, he thought it best.”

I visited a bit with Johnnie, wondering out loud about his story and asked who the other Michels buried near him were. I promised to return a few times and keep him in my thoughts, hoping and praying he is at peace. 

Our next stop was the Gumbo Cemetery in Chesterfield, Missouri. I had come across this cemetery on accident only the day before. I was excited to stop by and check it out. 

 

Clara I. Gegenbauer, March 29, 1884 – March 17, 1889

Clara’s grave is up on a scenic hill along a tree line. Inscribed on her marker is the message “A voice we loved has fled.” That really touched me. Like Johnnie Michel, Clara died just short of her fifth birthday. In the photo it almost appears to be taken at dusk, due to the canopy of tree limbs overhead. Clara rests among seven other graves that are clearly grouped as a family. Clara’s grave stands proudly on the front left corner in the group. From my first step into the cemetery, this group of markers off in the distance and on top of the hill caught my attention. 

I visited with Clara, pondering the same questions that go through one’s mind when you see the resting place of any young child. I also left her with the same promise I gave Johnnie. 

 

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So was I meant to be drawn to the graves of two children, approximately the same age? Or did I subconsciously choose a little girl out of fairness after already choosing Johnnie? I also think it’s interesting that Clara was born just months after Johnnie died. At the risk of creating a dramatic plot that doesn’t exist, I wonder if there is some kind of connection between the two, whether it’s between the two families, or a great plan designed from the other side. What an interesting thought. Ha! Maybe I should write a book. 

I’d love to know what you think about this new tradition of mine. If you find it interesting, be sure to check out Renae Rude’s fascinating post in the related articles below. Stay tuned in the coming months as I hope to piece together just a bit of the history of these two families. This will be my first attempt at genealogy, so wish me luck.

 

Related Articles:

Graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries: spending an afternoon with the dead.

Graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries: spending an afternoon with the dead. (Renae Rude – The Paranormalist)

Click here for more cemetery posts, or visit the "Cemeteries" category on the right. (Big Séance)

Click here for more cemetery posts, or visit the “Cemeteries” category on the right. (Big Séance)


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