The Case of the Relocated Ancestors

This case began when a family approached me to solve a mystery. It seemed that one of their ancestors, Maude, had been buried in Agnew Cemetery and later was moved to Grand Haven Township Cemetery. To deepen the mystery, family lore said that other family members had been buried in Grand Haven Cemetery. The family wondered why their ancestors, who had all lived and died in Ottawa County, were not buried together in the same cemetery.

I obtained the death certificate for Maude that indeed listed her death in 1928 and burial in Agnew Cemetery, but when I searched the web I was puzzled to find no Agnew Cemetery listed in Ottawa County or even in the state of Michigan. At this point, what should have been a simple and straightforward matter to find the grave and photograph the headstone, became quite the hunt after all.

Thinking it quite odd that a death certificate would list a non-existent cemetery, I called Grand Haven City Hall to inquire as to the whereabouts of Agnew Cemetery, and the clerk was as surprised as I to find no record of this cemetery in their books. I sent the clerk a copy of the death certificate, and together we looked it over and agreed that Agnew Cemetery was plainly stated as the burial place. The clerk suggested that I call Spring Lake City Hall, near the deceased’s last address, but they could find no record of this cemetery either.

Once again the game was afoot, and it was time to put on my well-worn Deerstalker cap.

In the local library, I found a map in a local history book of the county that showed outlines of a hamlet known as Agnew. I contacted Grand Haven City Hall again for a list of cemeteries located within the boundaries given by the map. Success!! Grand Haven Township Historic Cemetery was within the boundaries of Agnew, and I soon confirmed that Maude was indeed listed as a burial there. So, Agnew Cemetery had become Grand Haven Township Historic Cemetery.

Ah, but the hunt was not over yet! Maude’s son Charles died in 1929, one year after her death, and his death certificate listed a burial at Township Cemetery, so it seemed that Maude and her son had been buried in different cemeteries. Death certificates for Maude’s sister and her husband listed Grand Haven Township Cemetery as their burial places in 1953 and 1960, so it appeared that the family had been buried in three cemeteries; Agnew Cemetery, Township Cemetery and Grand Haven Township Cemetery.

As I pondered this problem at some length, the thought occurred that Township Cemetery might be another name for the newly-discovered Grand Haven Township Historic Cemetery. I called Grand Haven City Hall once again. Luck was with me that day, and these two were indeed the same cemetery.

The clerk arranged for me to meet the sexton, and with his knowledge of the cemetery and the maps and the burial records that had been handed down to him by his father (the previous sexton) we soon located the family plot. He then gave me the last piece of the puzzle, informing me that the City of Grand Haven had once owned this cemetery but had sold it to the township several years ago.

Here is a short summary of the history lesson that I learned:

  • Agnew Cemetery became Township Cemetery
  • Township Cemetery then became Grand Haven Township Cemetery
  • Grand Haven Cemetery finally became Grand Haven Township Historic Cemetery

The hunt was now over. I had solved the mystery of Maude, said to have been buried and relocated, as well as the family’s burials at several cemeteries, by finding them all together in one family plot. They had never moved, but had been hiding in plain sight as it were, while the cemetery name changed several times through the years.

Thus another history mystery has been solved, and another headstone hunt has been successful.

For further reading:

As a fitting end to this adventure, while driving to photograph the family’s headstones at the Grand Haven Township Historic Cemetery I saw a small sign on the highway with the name “Agnew” but with no population or other information about this village that now only belongs in the pages of history.

Little remains today of the village of Agnew, memorialized on the small road sign and its history recorded in books.

There is also a Wikipedia entry that gives additional information on the village of Agnew, Michigan.,_Michigan

Genealogy Huntress


About Hunting Down History

Megan Heyl is a genealogist, researcher and teacher and has been involved in genealogy for many years.
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