This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “At the Cemetery,” and I’ve been at a loss for ideas. I considered writing about the most interesting tombstone in my family tree–my great-great-grandparents have a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary and hidden photos of themselves–but I’ve shared that story here before. All of my local cemeteries have already been indexed on Find-a-Grave, and I didn’t want to share a funeral story that would end up making everyone (correction: me) cry. So I’ve decided to write about my favorite cemetery instead–and the four generations of Petersons and Merrills buried there.
From my memory, Laona Cemetery in the town of Pomfret, New York is hidden behind a white farmhouse and rows of grapevines. My grandfather would take my sister and I with him to visit his family’s graves when we were kids, and I remember the cemetery appearing to be small from the road. It wasn’t, though: I loved Laona because it was a massive, sprawling cemetery concealed in the woods. The tombstones didn’t quite fit together–the different choices reflected every time period and fad for generations–and the plots seemed to have been drawn at random. And the stones really were hidden: behind trees, beneath vines and under piles of leaves or snow. I thought it was beautiful; my sister always called it “creepy.”
Four generations of the Merill and Peterson families lived in Pomfret, New York and were buried in Laona Cemetery. The trend started with my 4th great-grandparents, Lyman Burton Merrill and Content Longworthy Main: Lyman was a blacksmith from Vermont and married Content on January 31, 1825 in Bridgewater, New York. The couple purchased a plot in Laona but could not afford a tombstone, and it’s my dream to pay for one someday. Lyman and Content’s son, William Oliver Merrill, is also buried in Laona; he and his wife, Frances Annabelle Nelson, owned a farm nearby, and they raised six children together.
Five of William and Fannie’s children–Celestia Melvina (b. 1881); Jeremiah Sanford (b. 1884); Amy (b. 1886); Maude Ora (b. 1889); and Jenness Nelson (b. 1892)–are the third generation of Merrills in Laona. Celestia was my great-great-grandmother; she and her husband, John Edward Peterson, were firefighters in Fredonia, New York, and their every move–from family picnics to parties and pinochle games–was documented in the local newspapers. The fourth generation–Matilda Alvinia, Alberta Marie, Margaret Isabelle and John Merrill Peterson–were all buried in Laona, but what struck me most was Ralph Peterson’s grave. I stumbled on the name during one visit; my grandfather had no idea that he had an Uncle Ralph who died at three months old.
And that concludes my short series of ramblings on this rambling cemetery. Most of my family lines–notably the Hawkins, Cook and Bond families–traveled throughout the country in search of work or to spread their religious beliefs, and the families didn’t stick together and choose to be buried in a family plot–it just wasn’t possible. Laona Cemetery in Pomfret, New York–with its endless stones hidden among the trees–is the closest I can come to a “family cemetery;” it’s beautiful and peaceful and makes the best “At the Cemetery” subject I can think of; until next time–