52 Ancestors: My Introduction to Cemetery Research

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

St. Peter Cemetery (aka Merriam), Mount Carmel, Northumberland Co., PA.

St. Peter Cemetery (aka Merriam), Mount Carmel, Northumberland Co., PA.


When I began researching my family in the late 1990s, anyone who might have had any knowledge of our family was deceased. I was the eldest left (except for my mother’s youngest sister, but she had no information. I knew the given and surnames of my parents with their birth dates, and the names of my grandparents and their children. I knew my Dad’s family came from the Mount Carmel area and my Mom’s family came from an area called Ranshaw in Coal Township near the city of Shamokin, all in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. That was it.

I immediately subscribed to Ancestry, which at that time did not have many indexes. After my lost summer browsing through the 1930 US census, I had a list of those in the Northumberland county areas of Mount Carmel and Coal Township who may be related to me. I quickly realized that that I needed more information to determine if they were in my lines or not.

I decided to take a road trip to Mount Carmel and see what I could learn. I particularly wanted to visit the Roman Catholic cemeteries in the area to try to get birth and death dates, at a minimum. This was my introduction to cemetery research.

The first cemetery I visited was St. Peter’s cemetery (aka Merriam Hill) in Mount Carmel. St. Peter’s was where I was baptized. It was the Tyrolean church. Mount Carmel was and still is an ethnic melting pot. Each group of immigrants had their own church. The city was also known as the “City of Churches”, although some of the churches are currently closed. St. Peter’s cemetery is set on the side of the mountain right outside the city proper. It is a beautiful setting and the view is spectacular.

The cemetery is well-maintained. I had seen it for the first time in 1973, when our family traveled to Mount Carmel on the death of my paternal grandmother. My grandmother’s parents are buried there and their tombstone, which you see as soon as you enter the cemetery is the one in this photo. I have written about the graves I found in my Tombstone Tuesday posts.

The next cemetery I found was St. Mary’s Cemetery, where I found several of my mother’s Noble line and a few of my paternal relatives. This cemetery is situated in a grouping of several cemeteries. When I visited, I remember asking where I might find Nobles and was directed to the ‘Irish’ cemetery. Although, I did walk through this cemetery, I may have missed some of the graves, thinking they were in one of the other cemeteries. As I found out later, this cemetery housed the grave of my 2nd great-grandfather, Edward Noble, who was my immigrant Irish ancestor. For this story and a photo of the tombstone, please see “Tombstone Tuesday – Edward Noble (1827 – 1872)”.

St. Mary’s cemetery houses one famous (or maybe infamous) internment, Patrick Hester, convicted murderer. He was one of the 19 Molly Maguires condemned to death by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the years 1877 and 1878 and portrayed in the 1970s movie starring Sean Connery. Why this interests me is that his daughter Helen [Ellen] Hester was a witness at the marriage of my great-grandparents, Thomas and Margaret (McGinn) Noble.

These were the only two cemeteries visited in this first trip. I later discovered the following Northumberland cemeteries: St. Edward’s in Coal Township, Shamokin Cemetery in Shamokin and St. Joseph’s in Locust Gap. All of them contain a great many of my maternal ancestors. There is so much to be found in our cemeteries.


All photos are courtesy of Eileen Furlani Souza.


The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The guesswork of “who should I write about” is taken care of. This week’s theme is Cemetery.

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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: My Introduction to Cemetery Research

  1. Cemetery browsing may seem bizarre to those not interested in genealogy. But to those on the ‘hunt,’ it’s an experience that can’t be matched by digital searching.

  2. Teresa says:

    A fascinating post – great details. How lucky not to have to cross the pond to see your ancestors’ final resting places. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment. I am lucky to find so many of my immigrant ancestors burials, but I still need to trace their parents, grandparents, etc., across the pond and find out where they are buried.

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