Laona Cemetery

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.

Merrill, Frances
Wednesday, June 5, 1935 // Dunkirk Evening Observer

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–Jamie

17 thoughts on “Laona Cemetery

  1. Sounds like a good one. The “creepier” the better, in my opinion! 😄 The ones that do not inspire are like where my Halse grandparents and uncle are – flat stones level with the grass to make for easy mowing. Ho hum.

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    1. Pinterest is the best for genealogy–I love it for finding maps of my ancestors’ hometowns, especially. You’ve got another follower!

      Find-a-Grave is the best! I think I’ve been a member for almost 10 years now–where has the time gone? It’s a great platform for sharing your family’s story, and it’s made the stones so much more accessible. I mean, there’s no way I can travel to Seattle right now to visit my great-great-grandmother’s grave, but I still have a photo–it’s incredible.

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  2. I am reading this just after returning from a funeral at the cemetery here in Tret, Italy. I do a ton of work on FindaGrave in both Italy and the U.S. and I spend quite a bit of time restoring grave stones in Italy for Americans who can’t come here personally to do the work. I have also written a book about the cemetery in Cloz, Italy…. So, yes I like cemeteries immensely (although my wife / transcriptionist does not).

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    1. At least she goes with you! So far, none of my ancestors are buried in Italy, but a few relatives are at Normandy. I’d love to visit one day–your work to restore graves when others cannot is admirable!

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  3. When I moved to New Hampshire, I was surprised at the number of abandoned graveyards. They’re all over the place, where you least expect them (by the side of the highway, in the middle of the woods, in people’s yards). There’s even one right down the street from my house. They’re left over from the days of the family farms which now are no longer.

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    1. The same is true in North Carolina, but it doesn’t even phase me. I have a friend who moved here from California, though, and she brought cemeteries up one day–she said they’re much more hidden where she’s from, and you have to go out of your way to get to them and pay your respects. It creeped her out that they’re dotting the sides of the road here, but I had never thought about it!

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  4. Cemeteries are some of my favorite places. We have a very old one near where I live and I love to go walk there and read the gravestones. They also give tours and each year do what they call the “lamplighter” events near Halloween where volunteers dress up like historical characters in the graveyard and do vignettes about the people and how they died.

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    1. Aren’t they peaceful? I’d love to go to the lamplighter events you’re describing, too–that sounds like THE BEST Halloween activity. So jealous! Have you ever volunteered?

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    1. It’s a weird cemetery for sure, but I love how eclectic and quirky it is. I looked up tombstone options, and it gets expensive pretty quickly–but here’s hoping I can put something together soon! Thank you for stopping by!

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